I love tabletop board games and role-playing games. There’s something super satisfying about skimming through your hand of cards, moving physical pieces around, and seeing the ‘action’ unfold on a physical play space with imaginary combat. Recently there has been a huge push for tabletop-type experiences digitally, with games like Tabletop Simulator becoming increasingly popular—especially with the pandemic still raging around us. That’s why I’m so excited for Demeo–because it represents the future of remote tabletop interactions.
Demeo is a virtual reality turn-based strategy role-playing game that you can play solo or with up to three friends. But instead of traditional controls, Demeo plays just like a tabletop game that’s a mix between a pen and paper tabletop role-playing game, and a board game. You move your character around the virtual tabletop in a classic dungeon crawl, and choose abilities from a hand of up to ten cards. It gives the illusion of the tactile sensation of moving actual pieces around a game board, but without all the number crunching usually associated with it. You can physically roll dice and move your character, but you don’t have to crunch any numbers, worry about initiative, damages plus bonuses, etc. since the computer does all of that for you. Take it from this forever GM/DM: it’s nice to let a computer handle all of the calculations sometimes.
As a computer game, Demeo obviously doesn’t have the flexibility of a real tabletop role-playing game. And while it definitely has the feeling of an old school dungeon crawl, it will feel completely familiar to anyone that’s played a strategy board game or even a turn-based strategy video game. As you explore the dungeon, you will encounter enemies to fight, money to collect, and chests to unlock. There aren’t any character levels or gear to unlock, rather, you’ll get cards that work as items, spells, attacks, power-ups, etc. Some of these cards stay in your hand, even after use, and are replenished after a cooldown. Others are used-up once cast, and have to be looted from a chest, or earned by accumulating enough experience to be granted a new card. There are two types of cards you can find: generalized cards like health potions, and class specific cards which can only be discovered by that class.
There are four classes you can play as in Demeo: Sorceror, Guardian, Assassin and Hunter. The Sorcerer wields magic, does area of effect damage and has a bit of crowd control with his stun. The guardian is the tank of the group with her repairable armor that allows her to take hits and keep going, but she can also dish out damage with her whirlwind and charge. The Assassin can become invisible to enemies, uses poison and gets a damage bonus backstabbing enemies. The Hunter deals damage with her bow from a distance, can damage groups of enemies with her hail of arrows, and charm enemies to fight at her side.
While there isn’t really character progression, there is account progression—but only with cosmetics. The more you play, the more experience you’ll accumulate. But instead of unlocking levels, you’ll unlock new masks for your avatar to wear, different colored dice, etc. You’ll also unlock costume changes for the characters you play with, but again, it’s all cosmetic.
Since Demeo is a virtual tabletop, it should be mentioned how it feels to manipulate that tabletop. Picking up pieces, and throwing dice are done with a click of the trigger. I was playing with an Index, and my partner with a Rift S. The controls on both are very intuitive when it comes to moving characters, using your available cards, and manipulating the board to get a better vantage point. It’s pretty much like pinch to zoom, but using the grip instead. You can even zoom in really close, or stay zoomed out for a tactical vantage point. By default, Demeo is played in an 80’s themed basement, which really drives home Demeo’s tabletop vibe, but you can choose to play against a black backdrop if you prefer. I think the basement backdrop really ties the game together.
It’s an absolute joy playing Demeo, and it’s easily my favorite VR experience this year. It’s a bummer, then, that there’s only one module available to play. We sat through several playthroughs, using different combinations of characters, and played through it in an afternoon. Time-wise, that’s on the short end for an OSR-style dungeon crawl. It’s pretty difficult, however, as you’re always under threat from various monsters. Unfortunately, there’s not much in the way of dungeon traps or puzzles—just fight, find the key, and get to the exit. But there are environmental items in the form of various types of lamps that can be used against your enemies—or used against you and your party, if you’re not careful. Luckily, the single module that is available is fun and just difficult enough to make us want to dip back into it. But we’re definitely looking forward to the future modules, with Realm of the Rat King slated to release this as a free update this summer.
I love Demeo, and I’m eager to get into it with more friends. It’s very much what I want in a virtual tabletop experience, and I definitely can’t wait for more. It’s that perfect intersection of tabletop game and computer game. I would love to the ability to customize modules, as I could see myself creating an OSR-style campaign for my friends to play through. Unfortunately, the biggest drawback to Demeo is its lack of content—which will be addressed with a new module, Realm of the Rat King, which releases this summer. But I fear that might not be enough, even with its promise of new environments, enemies, and ability cards.
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