Terry Cavanagh is a talented game developer with a knack for taking a simple concept and expanding on it in a fun and creative way. In two of his previous titles, VVVVV and Super Hexagon, he created incredibly difficult games with basic controls and gameplay, all while never making the player feel outmatched. In Dicey Dungeons, Cavanagh’s take on the Roguelike Dungeon Crawler genre, he adds a new element that he never has experimented with before: chance. What results is a slick, concise, quick, difficult, and sometimes slightly unfair game with an absurd amount of charm to wash away any bad feelings of being demolished.
At heart, Dicey Dungeons is a dungeon crawler that uses both card collection and dice rolling as it’s main form of combat. Each level of the dungeon is a randomly generated map of (usually) 6-12 spaces, with each space having an enemy, shop, loot chest, healing item, or a staircase to the next level. As you progress through the six levels of each dungeon, you fight enemies to gain EXP, level up, and prepare yourself for the “final boss” of each level. Where the replay value and difficulty come in is the roguelike aspect, meaning that if you die, you lose all your progress. Unlike other tough games using this mechanic, Dicey Dungeons does not have any progression carry over between runs, meaning you are just as likely to win on your first or thousandth attempt at a dungeon (technically speaking).
Dicey Dungeons does not have any progression carry over between runs…
While you may not get physically better items to start with or any other form of tangible progression, you do gain the necessary personal experience to know how and when to use the cards at your disposal against the many different enemies. In combat, you roll six-sided dice and choose which cards to apply the face values to. For example, a card may deal _ damage, or another would do _ fire damage only when an even number is rolled. Knowing when to use certain values on cards that are stronger against enemies, or when to use more defensive based cards is key to surviving the dungeon. Even more important to surviving the dungeons is knowing how to play as your character, and learning their strengths and weaknesses.
In Dicey Dungeons, there are six characters to choose from, and each of them play vastly differently from one another:
- The Warrior has a basic and standard moveset, except gets a “re-roll” three times per combat.
- The Thief steals one enemy attack card per turn, allowing him to use it as well.
- The Robot plays pretty much like blackjack by rolling one dice one at a time;if the sum total of those rolled dice pass a certain value, then all attack cards are removed. If the amount is met exactly, you get a special move to attack, heal, or roll another dice.
- The Inventor gets a powerful gadget each turn, at the cost of one of the current cards that will be destroyed in the process.
- The Witch (one of my favorites) has a spellbook of assigned spells unlocked when a dice is rolled. As you progress through the game, you choose which spell goes to which dice value to pull out in combat. If you run out of dice, you can chuck them at the enemy for one damage per dice (which is hilarious).
- Lastly, The Jester has a deck of cards to pull from, and can remove duplicates and pull new cards. Once you pull them all, then you have to use what is left.
- (Also one time I got turned into a bear for the rest of the run and I crushed the run and loved every second of it).
…learning how each character works is crucial to beating a dungeon.
As I said before, learning how each character works is crucial to beating a dungeon. Not only do they all play fundamentally differently, they all have a unique “Limit Breaker” move that can be triggered after a damage threshold is met that deals quite a bit of damage if used properly. Most of the fun I had in the game was starting a brand new run, entering combat for the first time as a new character, and figuring out how in the heck I was supposed to work with a whole new layout and way of thinking. While you aren’t guaranteed to love every class, you are pretty much guaranteed to find one character with a move set that matches your play style.
In terms of replayability, there are quite a few factors that add to the gameplay loop, keeping it feeling fresh each time you play. In addition to the six characters having their own dungeon path to play as, each character has six different game modes to play with and complete (are you catching on to the trend yet?). These modifiers drastically increase the already above-average difficulty, and make you really change your strategy on the fly. Each run takes around thirty minutes to complete, and with six characters and six modifiers, you are looking at at least 18 hours of gameplay if you somehow manage to beat each run on the first try.
…UI isn’t appreciated as much as it should be, and this one deserves high praise.
I keep on mentioning the difficulty because this is an area that could really turn some people off. By implementing the randomly generated structure, along with combat that is dependent on random dice rolls, there is a lot of potential for things to go horribly wrong in a run. You can try as hard as you want to plan ahead for certain enemies, but sometimes you get terrible rolls and the enemy absolutely obliterates you with perfect rolls. Having a run go from dominating to a crushing defeat all because of a couple unlucky rolls can really be disheartening, especially because you don’t carry anything over to the next run. On the plus side, with each run being so short, it doesn’t feel like an immense amount of progress was lost, only your morale.
To help distract from these sometimes crushing difficulty swings is the absolutely phenomenal art and sound design. What started off as a pixel art game has now been turned into a beautifully hand drawn cartoon graphic style. Characters are cute, goofy, and overwhelmingly charming. In addition to the great artwork is the solid graphic design of the text, layout, and icons. Everything is easy to look at, simple, and effective at displaying everything you need to see. I feel like a good UI isn’t appreciated as much as it should be, and this one deserves high praise. Just as high in quality is the games soundtrack by Chipzel, who also did the soundtrack for Super Hexagon. I still think that I like VVVVV’s OST slightly better, but that is one of my all time favorites, so maybe it’s not a fair comparison.
Overall, Dicey Dungeons is another smash hit for Terry Cavanagh! The gameplay, with it’s dice and card based combat, is simultaneously simple, yet complex. The sheer amount of replayability and the lack of fatigue during so is very impressive. The polish and charm in its visual presentation is something many other Indie games can learn from, and hopefully will. While the difficulty and chance aspects could have potentially tainted the experience, the fact that the game is able to be played in such small bursts makes up for it. Personally, I cannot wait for the title to release on mobile platforms, because this is the game that I want to have with me whenever I am trying to kill a half hour.
Yes, if you:
- Enjoy “Deck-Building” games
- Like the Roguelike loop for replayability
- Love learning how to play as different classes using different strategies
- Are looking for a “quick” game to play a few rounds of.
No, if you:
- Want a game to hold your hand and take it easy on you
- Do not enjoy randomness in combat
- Want a game with tangible progression to help future playthroughs
Dicey Dungeons release on August 13, 2019 and is available on PC.
Note: Cannonicity received a copy of Dicey Dungeons in exchange for a fair and honest review.