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Dicey Dungeons - a roguelike dicebuilder

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Every games fan has that one idea, right? The game they would make if they were a developer. Mine, knocking about in my head for a decade while I refused to learn to make games, was about anthropomorphic dice. Ones that would fight, and transform, and they'd all do cool different things depending on the roll! Fire and ice and poison and stuff!

 

Bloody hell, someone's only made it. I'd be annoyed, if it wasn't Terry Cavanagh, creator of two of my favourite ever games. He's done it again, the rogue.

 

Austin Walker's article does a good job explaining why it's a nice example of a new genre, but it's not a genre I've really played at all: I'm just immediately enraptured with this. I love dice: they're exciting, tactile, culturally storied. And in the best dice games, they present a little puzzle to be solved - what can a six do for me here? Should I re-roll the three? This game is a rapid succession of those delightful small puzzles, asking you to plan well and react to unpredictable opposition. And the choices are tricky but quick and breezy, rather than half-hour crunchy thinkers, which really appeals to me.

 

It looks and sounds gorgeous. Yet another reason this is targeted straight into my dome is that the design (intentionally or not I wonder?) echoes The Suffering Game, my favourite arc in podcast phenomenon The Adventure Zone.

 

I'm very early on, but here are some spoilers about what is probably my favourite moment in games since Breath of the Wild. And genuine spoilers: I have no idea how likely you are to find the same thing, even though it's low-level!

Spoiler

After finishing the first dungeon-crawl, with the Warrior, I am presented with the Thief, and dive straight in. Immediately, the whole play space is very different, and I begin to understand how class differences work. Thieves can access one of the opponent's attacks right from the off in every fight - that's amazing! A few fights into the crawl I encounter a monster* with a fun loadout: three big-hitting attacks that require good dice to activate, plus a fourth with the frankly incredible description: "Heal 8HP and turn into a bear".

 

Happily, that is the skill that my thief class grants me access to**. Obviously do that - throw all my good dice into activating it. As promised, I heal 8HP, and my attack options all become Bear Swipe. Haha! I'm a bear now! I Bear Swipe my opponent to death easily, because bears are strong, and I take a moment to consider my next fight. Until - hold on. Back at the dungeon map, I look at my adorable Thief dice and he's... wait, I assumed this was just for the battle...

 

I'm a bear now, for the rest of this run. My attacks are bear-like; the new skills I discover are distinctly ursine; and the shopkeeper who sells new skills compliments me on my pelt, but has nothing that fits my size. At least the smith can sharpen my claws. It's amazing fun - and indeed feels a bit OP, as I flatten fools on the way to the boss, and put him down too. But I was supposed to be learning how to play Thief!

 

Well, that'll be the next game. And to be fair, the description on that action I stole didn't say anything about turning back from being a bear. Caveat Emptor.

 

*can't remember which - maybe a Dryad?

**was that predetermined, or did I get lucky here? No idea.

 

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Another lovely moment:

Spoiler

Some cards (Actions? Attacks? I don't have my head around the game's vocab yet) enable you to split a dice in two, e.g. turn a 5 into a 3 and a 2. By accident, I discovered a brilliant thing: if you try to split a 1, you get two 1s! And that knowledge just saved me in a down-to-the-wire fight. I'm already wanting a fan wiki with tactics and characters: I might have to consider starting it.

 

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Episodes are a really good idea, like preset Slay the Spire's daily challenges but with a progression aspect for each character.

 

I did the one where all your cards are upgraded earlier but you're cursed every turn and ended up with 5 Battle Axe+ in my hand by the end which pretty much negated the curse because I was wrecking (die) faces.

 

Is the boss choice fixed for each episode? I got the perfect card (and its upgrade) to win the Worse Than A Curse episode against this boss, as she can only ever attack once per turn. If it had been any other one, game over due to the low HP.

 

 

 


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this is nice - don't do steam but got the mac version via itch.io (shame its not in the official app store as makes updates much easier)

 

I'm no expert on these things but can see people who like Slay the Spire enjoying this too.

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love the mechanic on the 3rd character, the robot - where you have a gambling element in terms of pushing the extra dice rolls but can use it cleverly by using in the right order to get some hits in before taking a punt on busting the limit.

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Finished a run with the 5th character! It was weirdly anticlimactic - I'd never seen the boss, but it turns out my build almost totally negated her. Stroke of luck.

 

For those interested in the details,

Spoiler

1 Cauldron

2 Magic Dagger

3 Shock Wave? (Forgotten its name! Does [  ] [  ] Dmg + 1 Shock, or +2 shock when upgraded. MVP.)

4 Life Drain

5 Duplicate (I hardly ever used this - it was a useful backup when Hall of Mirrors failed but there must be something better here)

6 Hall of Mirrors (So good)

+ 3 Upgraded Spell Slots (Much better than prepared slots!)

 

The boss was Aoife, whose gimmick is raising her shield defence super fucking high, then bashing you to death with it. The thing is, she only has two actions; and I could shock them both every turn, while also doing other things. She could always break the shock to raise more defence, but couldn't turn it into damage. I was soon at 7 dice per turn and it became academic.

 

This character definitely warrants the 5* difficulty rating - took a lot of puzzling out. This run also had a massively hairy moment against the Snowman, where he rolled a complete blank one turn and I was able to rebuild from minimal health. The Witch is inscrutable but rewarding, like an expansion from a good but heavy board game. The cauldron still has room for experimentation.

 

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So I've played this for a few hours now and finished a run with each of the first 5 characters.

 

I think it's neat, but honestly a bit lightweight. As a Terry Cavanagh fan, that's a little disappointing. I have a feeling this is because I've only played the first ep for each character, which seems to be very heavily tutorialising each character's mechanics, so it's understandable you might want to hold any truly weighty decisions back until the player feels they have the lay of the land. Seems like there's plenty of content to get through though, so I'm very much hoping it'll get a bit more interesting as it goes on.

 

I think perhaps my biggest barrier to enjoyment so far is the UX though. First of all, it's harmless enough, but I'm not a huge fan of the Kate Beaton / Tumblry art style. And as much as I love the Chipzel tracks in Super Hexagon, the music in this is waaay too extra. Some of the chiller tracks are nice, but the 10,000 BPM battle themes start to grate extremely quickly. I don't feel it really fits the art or even the playstyle of the game - I want to sit back and ponder my choices, but it's like the music is yelling at me to GO GO GO! My biggest UX gripe is the controls though. For one it's pretty clear you're beta testing a future tablet app - the layout and complete lack of hotkeys for basic and repeated actions like checking the enemy's attacks and ending your turn get annoying fairly quickly. Also, the simple act of placing a die on a card feels sadly weightless. I would love it if this were juiced up a tiny bit with good sound effects of a tiny bit of screen shake or something to sell the physicality of using dice, as it is now it all just feels a bit flat and placeholder.

 

The classes are all interesting though, and I like all their gimmicks. Especially 3 and 5. Those are rad. 4 can fuck right off though. Love the heartbreaking decisions you're forced to make when the game makes you choose which of your beloved (and likely upgraded) cards you must sacrifice, but I feel like choosing the wrong gizmo can mean instant failure in the next fight, meaning knowledge of your next opponent is a bit more relevant than the other characters. Which seems especially harsh as there's no way to see which enemy you're fighting next on the map when you're making your choice of gizmo to create - or even check what your current gizmo is when looking at your inventory screen - a crazy oversight IMO!

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I can see a lot of that, but truth be told I'm still rather enraptured with it. It tickles some really particular likes, I enjoy the aesthetic, and the lightweight-ness is a big benefit for me. I just don't get on with most in-depth strategy games.

 

I've gone through almost all the bonus content with the Warrior, and it's pretty entertaining how things are mixed up. I think I'm seeing some improvement in my own skill and judgement at creating good builds too, although it still doesn't come that naturally.

 

There definitely could be some quality of life improvements, hopefully we'll see some in updates. :)

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I'm finding the Thief's second episode a real stumper, even though it's basically the same as the first. Still experimenting though - I think I just got terribly unlucky on a very good poison-based build, something I've not tried before. Poison Needle+ and things that give you more dice are a happy combination.

 

Also, I hate the Loud Bird so much. An excellently designed annoying enemy.

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I’ve played a couple of hours and I’m enjoying this, too. It’s very satisfying when the overall strategy of the builds click into place. 

 

So far it’s a lot more accessible than Slay the Spire, my other experience in the genre. However, I’ve only finished 3 of the characters first runs so I guess there’s a lot of room to get trickier and trickier. 

 

Definitely agree with the above comment about this being a test run of a tablet game. I can see this doing VERY well on phones/Switch with the right push - maybe there’s room in Apple’s upcoming keynotes?

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