Now for my thoughts about Dungeon Scroll vs. Bookworm Adventures.
When Dungeon Scroll was first pointed out to me, it was with the assessment that Bookworm Adventures was “basically a polished version of Dungeon Scroll.” On the one hand, this is not an unfair summary. On the other, Bookworm Adventures really adds elements that I think are critical to delivering on the Dungeon Scroll concept, so it’s putting a heavy burden on the word “polish.”
See, the thing is, the whole concept is that you’re having a dungeon-delving adventure of some sort, where you defeat monsters by spelling words. Okay.
But Dungeon Scroll doesn’t feel like a dungeon/spelling game. It just feels like a spelling game. To an outside observer it probably looks like a dungeon/spelling game, but this is really lost on me as a player in a way that really isn’t the case at all in Bookworm Adventures. So, why is that?
The single most critical thing that Bookworm Adventures does to deliver on this concept is not, in fact, the superior animation, variety of monsters, addition of a narrative framework, inclusion of debilitating status ailments, or addition of magical treasure inventory. All of those Dungeons & Dragons tropes are important, to be sure. But that’s not the key thing.
The key thing is that Dungeon Scroll is “real time” (in the videogame parlance sense that means that the action happens continuously) and Bookworm Adventures is turn-based.
In Dungeon Scroll, you almost never even look at the little animated fantasy monster in the corner of your screen, because you’re too busy looking at the letters. If you’re not looking at the letters, you’re not spelling words, and if you’re not spelling words, you’re being punished. You are punished for paying attention to the very thing that’s supposed to be the game’s distinctive hook.
In Bookworm Adventures, conversely, when there’s something going on onscreen, you’re allowed to look at it. In fact, you can’t spell things during the monster’s turn, so you might as well sit back and enjoy the animation of it attacking you.
This isn’t a problem with a straight-up fantasy adventure game, because the action is happening in the same place as the fantasy is being presented. So those games can be “real-time” or turn-based, at the designer’s option. But the tile field in these dungeon/spelling games pulls your eye away from the fantasy adventure elements of the game, so in order to deliver on their concept they need to allow your eye the opportunity to pull back.
Ultimately, I don’t think the most important thing that Bookworm Adventures brings to the table is any of the production and gameplay embellishments that one normally thinks of as “polish.” It’s a change in the gameplay fundamentals, without which all the fantasy trappings you care to ladle on are terribly undermined.
So, I think that’s pretty interesting.