Playing a game at a convention can be a game of chance. It’s often a highly controlled selection of the game in question that can sometimes be far removed from the final release. DICEY DUNGEONS was one such game, which is quite different from its final release than it was just a few months ago. Its summer preview build had dozens of enemies and weapons but the actual numbers in the final version are more down to Earth. The fact that this smaller scope isn’t disappointing goes to show how great the core of Terry Cavanagh’s latest game truly is.
You play as one of five contestants to a mad game show run by Lady Luck. Before climbing into the deadly stage, the host transforms you into a walking die. This also transforms all your attacks into dice-related maneuvers. You’ll rely on random rolls for every move you make against the pirates, jesters, and sickly porcupines you’ll face. Each level has a set number of spaces with assorted enemies, shops, and upgrade stations to keep yourself as powerful as your opposition. Each contestant also plays differently. As you progress, you go from the warrior’s simple sword swings to the robot’s random slot machine rolls. Even if you’ll see a lot of repeated content as you go, there’s plenty of variety in how you play from run to run.
Dicey Dungeons Review | Setting up the board
Once you choose your character, you start with a set number of attacks and an innate character ability. During combat, you slot dice into these attacks, each with specific rules for how they function. A “Claw” might deal a certain amount of damage plus one poison status effect, but it will only accept rolls up to five. If you happen to just have that attack and a six on the die, you’re just plain out of luck, which can be a little frustrating at times. Enemies also have set attacks, each different from your pool and tuned to their own personalities. It’s more than a little like Undertale, sporting a rogues’ gallery filled with offbeat designs and clever ideas for how they might strike back.
While Dicey Dungeons can be classified as a roguelike, but it’s more like a single-player card game that requires a bit of luck to succeed. Because of this, so much of your success and failure depends on random chance in both the abilities you find as you play and your dice rolls. The strategy comes in knowing how to utilize every roll to its fullest potential on every turn. It’s the type of gameplay that can get you in the zone, just like a good round of Magic: The Gathering. Once you build up your perfect set of attacks, it’s all about optimizing your rolls and getting the most damage out of them every turn. Moves become automatic and times just seems to slip away.
Dicey Dungeons Review | Rolling for initiative
Also similar to a card game, sometimes luck just isn’t in your favor. There’s not a lot of maneuvering around some of your defeats, which will be frustrating to a lot of players. You also don’t make much progress when you lose once you unlock all the characters. That’s fine, however, as the turn-based gameplay more than stands on its own. It’s just another thing that makes it stand apart from today’s accepted roguelike conventions. Having a bit more agency as you kept going deeper in the dungeon would be great, though. You collect attacks from chests and leveling up, perhaps you could sell extras for healing items or further upgrades? As it stands, your inventory fills with what feels like it is full of wasted resources. You often don’t want to change your strategy halfway through a run anyway.
The gameplay isn’t the only thing that will keep players going. The design and presentation of Dicey Dungeons is top of the line. Art is simultaneously simplistic, highly detailed, and full of character. Even if there’s not a lot of motion from these characters, you can get a sense of them simply from the way they’re drawn. Of course, even if they look evil, they’ll often chat you up after a battle, revealing that everyone is in on this twisted game show setup. It’s a rather smart way to ensure that Dicey Dungeons works for all ages while also not skimping on the combat that is pretty much required for this style of game.
Dicey Dungeons Review | Turning the tables
In fact, the enemy characters have so much charm that it is hard not to want to utilize their unique mechanics. While there are some attacks thrown in that you have access to later on, others have entire systems all to themselves. A specific enemy with a stormy theme has sets of attacks based on the weather and a move to change between them. There’s a fish space marine that’s all about charging a single laser cannon. These are unique designs and some of them would be interesting to get a hold of. It would obviously require a bit of rebalancing, but the developer has a path forward for future expansions if he wants to go that route.
While Dicey Dungeons isn’t an infinitely replayable dungeon crawler, that’s probably for the best. So many roguelikes demand that players devote themselves for hours and hours to see everything the game has to offer. In Dicey Dungeons, everything is already on the table. It’s a highly replayable game that you can pick up for short sessions whenever the moment strikes. Lady Luck will be waiting to whisk you through battles and a boss fight before giving your character a highly improbable chance at winning your goal. That’s fine though. It gives you plenty of reasons to come on down again and again.
GameRevolution reviewed Dicey Dungeons on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer.