Are you familiar with The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk? If you’re not a fantasy enthusiast who enjoys listening to Continental European audio dramas from the early 2000s, the answer may be no. The French role-playing parody hit the internet airwaves in 2001, telling the tale of a party of adventurers traveling across a Dungeons & Dragons-esque world brimming with the usual magical escapades and imaginary inhabitants. There are elves, dwarves, rangers and barbarians, cities with names like Glargh, and a big bad called Zangdar that keeps stirring trouble.
It’s all very satirical and has continued in the years since the conclusion of the original audio series through novels, comic books, tabletop games, and now, for the second time, a video game.
Naheulbeuk's Dungeon Master sets the medieval parody into the mold of a dungeon builder and gives you control of the disembodied hand that oversees it all. Much like in Bullfrog’s classic Dungeon Keeper series, your task is to carve out the rooms of a lair—this time a precarious multi-story tower rather than a subterranean labyrinth—fill them with various facilities to attract new patrons, and gather enough wealth to expand your den, all while launching raids against rival dungeons to eliminate the competition.
Your underlings won't always play nice, leaving you spinning plates to keep them all happy so they don’t burst into fights or, worse, eat each other. “If you don’t manage these correctly, you will face countless strikes and HR problems,” Tom Lenourichel, producer at developer Artefacts Studio, says. Let those problems fester, and you might find yourself caught out in even worse ways. “As your dungeon gains a reputation, you will have to hire soldiers and mages to defend it from looters and adventurers using traps and other tools,” Lenourichel says.
If dealing with HR concerns and employee complaints seems somewhat out of step with the game’s wider fantasy world, you need only understand Artefact Studio’s chief source of inspiration. Lenourichel describes Naheulbeuk's Dungeon Master as a “hybrid between the Dungeon Keeper series and the Two Point series.” I can quickly detect both in its core setup: the semi-isometric room placement smacks of Two Point Studios’ beloved Big Pharma sim, and its art style shares more than a fleeting resemblance. And, the underground warrens here are straight out of a DreamWorks animation, filled with cartoonish obstacles and bumbling characters that bounce about its corridors. They can be personalized, of course, with each dungeon floor divided into large areas ready to be customized and fitted with various props.
“Dungeons are meant to be dirty, full of traps, full of treasures and artifacts,” Lenourichel says (even if the dirt here is less medieval grub and more cartoon Disney dust). Decor doesn’t just make for extra eye candy; it is essential in satisfying the competing demands of the orcs, elves, humans, and dwarves who call your dungeon their home.
“Each object adds to the reputation and is an element that can improve your progression,” Lenourichel says. It again reminds me of Two Point Hospital, filling rooms with extra items to improve their desirability and the efficiency of the staff who work in them.
Earn enough reputation, though, and it won’t just be fresh underlings trying to find their way inside your domain. Adventurers looking to steal from your treasure rooms will launch raids against you.
You’ll need to fend them off with guards and traps or use more creative means to distract them mid-plunder. Show a party of Dwarves a tray of full tankards, or a band of Elves a bunch of stuffed animals, for instance, and they’ll stop in their tracks. Capture them to add to your own raiding parties, or dispatch them then and there to take their loot for yourself.
Lenourichel hopes those raids will be one of the more novel parts of the game, as will its emphasis on the wider Dungeon of Naheulbeuk world. “It brings its vast universe and characters and the quirky humor,” he says, suggesting that a central narrative leading your dungeoneering might feel fresh among the sandbox management sims that have become the genre's norm. You won’t need to know anything about The Dungeon of Naheulbeuk to follow it, but after the game launches later this year, maybe a few more people will.