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Angband» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Well Into Its Second Decade Angband Still Delights rss

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Laurence Savage
United Kingdom
Whitwell
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I first came across Angband in a freeware catalog in the early 90's. I must have been about 8 years old at the time and my dad would occasionally mail order a 5 1/2" floppy or two normally filled with random bits of dev kit or what passed for utilities back then. Completely on a whim (with only a little nagging from me) he used Angband to fill up a bit of space left over on one of his disks. My lifelong infactuation with Angband began and it should tell you something that 20 years later I am still playing this game.

Angband is a roguelike game - a family of games named after a dungeon crawler called 'Rogue'. Angband itself is a pretty direct descendant of another similar game called Moria. Although tiles are now available, the classic (and in my opinion the only) way to play this is with good old ASCII graphics. The theme is a dungeon delving game, based very loosely on the works of Tolkien from which the game borrows little more than names and mixes these creatures with other, more generic fantasy monsters.

The overall goal of the game is to kill Morgoth by battling down through the 100 level dungeons underneath the town where you start. At the beginning of the game you generate a character, having the option to choose from some pretty stock fantasy archetypes (rogue, warrior, wizard, priest, paladin etc). As you progress through the game your character becomes hardier and you acquire increasingly powerful weapons, equipment and skills allowing you to delve deeper to... well... get more powerful weapons, equipment and skills. Each level in the dungeon is randomly generated as you step into it so even if you have cleared out a certain depth before, as soon as you leave and step back in it is all fresh and undiscovered. Although this might seem like a drawback it is actually one of the game's great strengths. There is not actually a limit to how many different levels you can play and the game always has something new to throw at you.

Fans of the tabletop RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons will find a number of things familiar, the system is quite 'bare bones' and many of the numbers driving the interactions are on show throughout where in more modern games they might be represented by coloured bars or graphics (if at all). Character stats, weapon & spell damages and modifiers are all visible and although you don't need to be a mathematical genius it will help you a lot if you can grasp simple concepts like the difference between 3d4 and 2d6.

The first lesson you will learn as you play the game is just how squishy your character is. You will die, a lot and when you die you will stay dead. Yes, every time you die you re-roll a new character and stat from scratch. One of the highlights of the game for me is looking through the hall of fame which lists all the characters that have died and the thoroughly stupid and infuriating ways in which this has happened.

If you can get your character to survive - at least for a short while then one of the main challenges of the game is inventory management. Characters require a steady supply of consumables such as food, light, potions and magical scrolls unless they intend to spend the entire game hovering nervously in the upper levels killing creatures such as the grey mushroom patch or the equally not very frightening spotted jelly. The game is filled with a multitude of creatures and events which can cause theft, loss, freezing, spontaneous combustion or random disappearance of anything in your pack at practically any time. Add this to the challenge of randomly generated levels with uncertain exit location and there is a considerable risk of you being marooned somewhere in the dungeon with no light and only a pint of fine grade mush to keep you going as you trudge around hoping to find a scroll of word of recall which will take you back to the town... of course you never do find one.

Sadly, compared to today's games the learning curve is pretty steep. The game allows a multitude of actions all of which are assigned their own key, a new player will constantly be opening and scanning the game's help prompt which contains a list of all the available actions. Back in the day I didn't know any better but I think I would have noticed the embuggerance a great deal more if I were to come at it now having been spoiled by the slick controls of a modern game. Whether it is truly worth it for a new player with no feeling of nostalgia or other attachment is of course anybody's guess, I somehow suspect that for most people it probably isn't.

I would heartily recommend Angband to everybody but at the same time I realise not everybody's going to see the game I do. Some people will just see a bunch of text characters smashed up on a screen and a lot of undecipherable jargon that supposedly 'explains' what is going on. Since you've come this far and read this review you could at least think about downloading it - it is freeware after all - then maybe we could have a review by someone who isn't a self-confessed fanboy. Sadly though it may just be a thing of the past, how I hope I'm wrong.
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Nice review! Have you tried any of the variants? I have played Hengband (a ZAngband variant) a lot and vanilla Angband feels a bit bland to me now (I haven't played it recently though).
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Laurence Savage
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Thanks!

I have played a number of the variants. I have fond memories of Discband the Discworld variant and I have played a fair few games of Zangband. I did enjoy my few forays into new territory however I always end up coming back to vanilla for some reason.

Perhaps I should revisit this review to mention the variants, now I think about it it was a bit of an omission.
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Andrew Schoonmaker
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The variants that I spent any time on were Z (mostly back before it got an overworld, although a little bit after), O (Leon Marrick, the variant author, manages to capture the feeling of Vanilla Angband better than Vanilla Angband does, IMO, although I haven't played much Vanilla since 2.9.x), and S (the recentish version, also by Leon). Also SCth, because apparently I'm a sucker for skill-based systems (and if you like SCth's, you should also take a look at Crawl).

I did also dabble in Zce, which forked from Z at some point, got a little bit of development, and stopped. As I recall, the tagline was "now with more Cyberdemons!"
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