BlizzCon: Kobolds & Catacombs = Dominion & Ascension Lovechild

Constantly reinventing a video game cannot be easy. Today’s major products are meant to be a platform. A source of entertainment that people will constantly return to. Burnout is the enemy. In a collectible card game even more so. That’s why Hearthstone has launched numerous expansions and adventure packs. To keep the game fresh, players flush with cards and meta to analyze. The latest expansion and adventure pack is Kobolds & Catacombs that promises to deliver on all those points, a dose for the competitive and single player scenes.

I’m not going to try to dive into the meta for Kobolds & Catacombs. It’s not my jam (I suck too much). I’ll stick to my strengths and give you the skinny on the all new single-player mode Dungeon Run. Ben Brode introduced the feature in the most appropriate way, being the dungeon master for the first ever dungeon run during the BlizzCon Opening Ceremony. What was demoed there was awesome, but not exactly the way it is going to be presented to tavern goers.

In the preview, the Dungeon Run option is yet another mode you can select. Once you’ve laced up your boots you are presented with another familiar choice, your class. This build only had three playable, Warrior, Mage and Priest. Making that decision unlocks a pre-built deck for the class that focuses on its core strengths, a spell-based deck for Anduin and a berserker deck for Garrosh, before moving us directly into the dungeon run. From here spelunkers are at the hands of the RNG gods. There’s no more standard experience that you can easily plan for. It’s time to put up or shut up. Unfortunately, the build lacked the enjoyable choice between lanes with colorful commentary. That’s not to say it won’t be there at launch in some form similar to what was presented in the reveal, but it wasn’t available at BlizzCon.

Each dungeon delve pits a greedy Gus against eight unique bosses. Bosses that feature unique abilities, decks, including traps and other new cards, and become more and more difficult the further one is from daylight. Each kobold crusade is built anew from a pool of bosses that are randomly selected and organized. This enables heroes hoping for loot to strategize ahead of time if only a bit. Protip: don’t spend too much time doing homework. The pool of bosses isn’t exactly small. Although we couldn’t get Blizzard to commit to a number.

During pillage party raiders will be able to select two powerful Treasure cards that boost the deck throughout the run. The most skilled catacomb competitors will not see the full trove of treasure for quite some time. Each attempt will only reveal six of the possible 40 or so treasure cards. These treasure are so powerful that they’d be game breaking in another other mode. Thus, they’re exclusive here. In addition, the brave and the bold can acquire Legendary weapons for the class and Spellstones that grow in power each time its condition is met. The other strategic choice comes after each successful boss kill. Winners loot the room and are able to walk out with a themed collection of three cards, seemingly randomly thrown together from certain categories. Duplicates are possible, as are similar categories as selections. Thieves must chose strategically. This is where meta RNG can damn a dungeon run to failure or make it a breeze. It’s unwise to change the strategy mid stream.

The BlizzCon build cut off the run at three bosses, but it was clear that randomness plays a large part in the challenge. My initial priest run was one of required strategy. I needed every trick to get by all but the opening defense by one Giant Rat. Later. My Warrior run was quite the opposite. There was no real defense of the treasure to speak of. I cut my way through three bosses without a scratch. Each excursion was of interest, tickling the brain with the vagaries of the loot choices, enabling different builds based on your selected treasure and class. Sometimes it was the least bad option, others an embarrassment of riches. There is no doubt that Dungeon Run mode in Kobolds & Catacombs opens up a whopping amount of replayability on par with deck building classics Dominion and Ascension. I foresee people running dungeons for the foreseeable future. A drastic difference to the pure themepark adventures of Naxxramas or League of Explorers.

I was left with a few unanswered questions. None as important to a Dungeon Run as the deck itself. I was unable to get a straight answer on how many cards a deck may have. If we’re collecting three cards per kill we’d be over the expected max deck size towards the end of a run. This begets the follow up question, can a deck be customized at all? Can we remove cards we may not particularly want in the mix or is everything included and we can go beyond 30? We suspect the decks won’t be customizable at all, sticking us with additional randomness. Like random nerfs to Reno Jackson and Kazakus cards.

Still here? Naturally, Blizzard is offering Kobolds & Catacombs for pre-order with 50 card packs. That’ll run you $49.99 and come with a unique card back as a bonus. You’ll have to wait until the December 2017 release to see what’s inside those packs.