Even in the current renaissance of tabletop gaming, the industry hasn't seen anything like Dungeon Degenerates: Hand of Doom.
Think of it as an underground stoner-metal take on classic swords-and-sorcery fantasy board games. Set in the decaying eastern provinces of the Würstreich empire, players join forces to complete successively more dangerous missions and, in the process, garner additional skills and weapons for coming adventures.
Launched by Sean Äaberg, head of Portland's Goblinko design studio and co-publisher of Pork magazine, what truly sets the game apart is the illustrator's distinct, cartoon-punk design aesthetic. But its underlying framework began taking shape far earlier, during Äaberg's dungeon-master youth.
"We had rule systems all typed up on a dot matrix printer," Äaberg says, "and our own little crew of the smartest, weirdest kids would play them at lunchtime in the library. We were always building up our own worlds."
Hoping to capitalize on a few previously sketched character designs, Äaberg asked friend and fellow RPG enthusiast Eric Radey to develop a simplified fighting card game—"like Magic but much dumber"—but Radey returned with a vastly more involved idea centered on a game board.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign garnered over $80,000, Äaberg spent a year and a half fleshing out the concept before its release last Halloween. Priced at $70 each, the initial run of 2,000 boxes has since sold out and received glowing reviews from gaming critics. With "Witch Smeller" and "Outlaw Alchemist" among the character classes and an entire region under the sway of hallucinatory spells, the game play is informed by the same sort of underground sensibilities as the Ratfink-does-Groo artwork.
A recent crowdfunding pitch for the second printing met its $35,000 goal in 33 hours and nearly doubled that amount within a week. Goblinko continues rolling out miniature pewter figurines and expansion packs. Whenever demand begins to cool for the Hand of Doom, Äaberg intends to further explore the world of Würstreich.
"We have everything mapped out for three more boards," he says. "We're idea people. There's no end. At some point, I want to do a theme park."
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