Mini-Review: Infinity Dungeon
As part of a continuing endeavor to review all the games in the Minigame Library from Level 99 Games (note to self: do not include the word “game” in any future game companies), I sat down with a group of friends last night to figure out just what on earth Infinity Dungeon is all about. What follows is a true account of our passage through the three stages of Infinity Dungeon grief. Brace yourself.
Stage One: Confusion
“I’m a Pirate,” says Adam. “I’ve sailed into this dangerous dungeon in search of treasure marked on an old map you — I mean I — acquired. You — argh, I never run out of rum. I must steal something from every room in which I make a plan.” He looks back up from his character card. “Okay, so now what?”
Now what indeed. We’ve all introduced ourselves to each other. Other than Adam’s Pirate, Somerset is a Doom Cultist out to awaken her alien masters, I’m a Space Marine with a bunch of futuristic weapons and super-strength, and Geoff is a Big Game Hunter who can kill anything — and that means anything, from inanimate objects to metaphysical concepts. It’s our first time playing Infinity Dungeon, and none of us are sure what the point of the game is. Everyone’s rather quick to point that out, actually.
“What’s the point of this game?” Somerset asks.
I go through it again, explaining it as clearly as the manual laid out: all of us are characters trapped in the Infinity Dungeon, and we need to work together to get out. Once we’ve all picked a character (you get to choose one of the two randomly dealt to you), we figure out what room we’re trapped in by placing a room card and filling it with the objects found along the bottom part of other room cards. Which means in this instance, we’re in a “Big Key Room.” The only way out is through a gigantic steel door with a massive lock set into it, and the door is apparently indestructible even to the Big Game Hunter; one of the quirks inherent an interdimensional dungeon, we suppose. The key to the door is inside a huge cast-iron chest in the center of the room. We’re not sure whether it’s indestructible too.
The room is hardly bare. Other than the big chest and bigger door, there’s a can of pepper spray, a jumbotron, a helicopter gunship, some hi-tech goggles, and a convenience store.
“Okay,” Somerset says. “But what’s the point of this game?”
There are two “active” players, I explain. One is the Game Master, who can answer any questions about the room, though only about visible phenomena. The other is the one who needs to come up with a plan on how to escape the room.
I’m the Game Master for this room, so everyone starts asking me about it. The jumbotron turns out to belong to the Broncos, and is mounted high overhead, definitely out of reach. The helicopter gunship is out of fuel, and its weapons systems are pointed uselessly at one of the chamber’s bare walls. The hi-tech goggles can see straight through clothing, but nothing else. And the convenience store is owned by a Sikh man named Qurbani who was a medical doctor back home, though his license hasn’t been accepted in the dungeon. And yes, he stocks lockpicks, though he doesn’t do trades and he’s become pretty good at protecting his store from Infinity Dungeon looters. No, we have no money, does your character card say you have money? No? Then we have no money. Sheesh guys.
Somerset’s plan is simple enough: the armored Space Marine pepper sprays Qurbani, the Pirate plunders the lockpicks, we use them to pick into the chest, take the big key, and use the big key on the door.
Now we vote on the plan, I say.
“What for?” everyone asks.
Well, if you like the plan, vote for it to succeed. If you think it can be improved, vote it down. But if you do, you need to give Somerset some way to improve it — like, say, “This plan needs more explosions.”
I don’t want to give Somerset a hard time, so I vote for the plan succeed. Both Adam and Geoff vote against it. When Somerset asks what they want, Geoff says he’d like to kill something, and Adam points out that Somerset needs to sacrifice something to her dark gods every time she makes a plan. So she makes some additions: now we pepper spray Qurbani, Adam steals the lockpicks, Geoff shoots the jumbotron down to block the now-enraged Sikh from pursuing us, we break into the locked chest with the picks and take the big key, and while my Space Marine hefts it into the main door, Somerset sacrifices the helicopter to her alien overlords.
I look at some numerical values, flip over a card, do some counting that nobody understands but me — in truth, I’m only half-aware of what I’m doing either — and then I announce it: “Okay, we’ve passed this room. We move on.”
“Wait,” says Somerset. “What’s the point of this game again?”
Stage Two: Annoyance
I’ve heard a few reviewers say Infinity Dungeon isn’t a game. Personally, I’m hesitant to make that call. It reminds me a little bit of when people try to define which things qualify as art and which things don’t. Those people strike me as self-appointed gatekeepers standing vigil at some garden path that nobody asked, needed, or wanted to be protected, and now their engrossment with the topic is bugging the whole neighborhood.
Though right now, with Geoff falling asleep because he’s bored, Somerset still guessing at the point of the game, and Adam taking a really long time to figure out the perfect name for his native guide (his Pirate died in our most recent room thanks to a still-mysterious failure that nobody at the table really understands, and his new character is an Archaeologist), I’m inclined to agree.
I may not be able to define what elements are necessary of a game, but right now I’m thinking that it should at least be possible to lose. Or have “gamey” elements, like competition between characters, or points, or anything.
While I listen to everyone at the table grow less and less interested, their recommendations coming more slowly and their attention going off in a dozen other directions, my doubts about Infinity Dungeon start bleeding into everything else. Am I as bad a host as I feel right now? Why doesn’t that one guy come around to board game night anymore? Have I become the sort of person who makes everyone sit down at a table to play these non-games? Did I make him play a non-game too? We were such good friends when we were younger. Where did those good times go? I’m only twenty-six, for heaven’s sakes. How are we supposed to escape this room again? Is the Infinity Dungeon room a metaphor for this inescapable room, filled with these inescapable strangers and these pointless items?
Other players are asking to see the manual, a surefire indication they think I’ve missed something. Hell, I think maybe I’ve missed something. Surely there’s more to it than just a bunch of people talking about dungeon rooms and making plans to escape them.
Stage Three: Acceptance / Fun
It hits us like the flu, so slowly that it’s unnoticeable until the moment it’s apparent we’ve caught it.
Infinity Dungeon is a bunch of people talking about dungeon rooms and making plans to escape them.
It’s not a game. It’s an activity. A creative exercise. A storytelling session. An opportunity, if only for half an hour, to saw off the crowns of your friends’ skulls, climb into their brains, and wriggle around. To see how strange and vibrant and wonderful it can be in there. To hear your wife request that you explain how you killed Lucy from Charlie Brown, and to hear yourself answer that you stuck a sticky-bomb to her forehead and walked away as she exploded. In slow motion.
To hear a friend say that the movie monster in the room was the Rancor from Star Wars, complete with a sobbing keeper when you slay the beast.
To learn that the first celebrity to pop into your oldest bud’s head is Gary Busey. For some damn reason.
To discover that a taxidermied moose means very different things — and has very different applications when it comes to dungeon-escaping — to people you thought you knew much better than that.
So maybe Infinity Dungeon isn’t a game. And it only lasts as long as you have cards to burn through, and since this is a minigame there really aren’t all that many. And the sole gamey element, which determines whether you passed through a room or not with the aid of mysterious arithmetic, is the weakest part of the whole experience.
But who cares? It’s still some kind of sorcery.