When you’re busy, you don’t often find time to sit down with your favorite console and crank out an achievement or two. This means that when you start craving adventure and fun, you need to look elsewhere. For some people, this could take the form of card games, board games, or any number of things. As for me, I sometimes like to explore the world of mobile games, often unsuccessfully. There’s a lot of cool apps out there, but there’s also a whole lot of bad ones.
However, recently I stumbled across an app called Dungeon, Inc.: Idle Clicker. This game, made by a group called PikPok, launched in May of 2017. At this time of writing, it’s sitting pretty with a 4.4 user rating from 24,000 people on Google Play, which makes me kind of surprised I hadn’t heard about it until now. Most of the comments are the same: The game is cute, funny, and engaging, without being all-consuming.
Dungeon, Inc. is set in a fantasy world. Dragons, ogres and orcs not only exist, they run complicated businesses with horrible conditions. When you first open the game, you’re introduced to the big boss. His first task for you: Help him commit insurance fraud. From there, you’re sent down the rabbithole of fantastical business, building up a wealth of gold coins from the labor of goblins, then tearing it all down and building it better.
Being a “clicker” game, the controls are relatively simple: You’re given a small amount of gold to start, and you use it to build a room in your dungeon. Your first office space is relatively humble, but it gets the job done. As you begin to upgrade it, your income increases to support the eventual addition of a second level, then a third, then a fourth. As you build, you still have the option to allocate some of your funds to upgrading previous layers, and this option becomes very important.
Over the course of the game, players encounter two threats: NPCs and other players. NPCs are “auditors,” who dress as knights and adventurers to storm your dungeon. Naturally, they can’t be left alive, and you can employ creatures to fight them. Similarly, other players can fight through your dungeon, defeating your guards to earn rewards. Protecting the top few levels of your dungeon, the ones you started with, is key to stopping both of those threats in their tracks. In this way, Dungeon, Inc. finds a way to keep players focused on balancing new and old aspects of their businesses as they advance, so they don’t lose interest, and that challenge increases as their businesses grow.
Aside from the core structure, there’s a lot of reasons to love this game. The art style is animated and expressive, showing a variety of fantastical characters with clever twists. Fans of Dungeons & Dragons might get a special laugh out of some NPCs, most notably the “Gelatinous Cubicle.” The game’s tutorial is simple and sweet, outlining how to play without making the player feel railroaded. All in all, a beautiful and polished game – and it’s free.
In the mobile gaming world, “Free” tends to mean “Free*,” with an asterisk. There are always strings attached. Maybe the ads will be constant banners, or maybe they’ll be full splash screens that show every 30 minutes. Maybe there will be a difficult-to-find premium currency, or – god forbid – lootboxes, in 2018. However, this game features very little of this. Although there is a premium currency, it isn’t difficult to find. It’s quite easy, and players will regularly receive amounts of it through normal play. There are ads, but they aren’t intrusive. Players are given the option to watch ads and receive a reward to assist them, but it’s entirely optional. I do it because I’m impatient, but I’ve never felt pressured to watch an ad, and I’ve never found myself annoyed by their presence. It really seems like PikPok found the perfect happy medium for monetizing free mobile games.