1 About the game
1.1 What is Dicey Dugeons?
Dicey Dungeons has a very simple premise: Lady Luck herself has trapped you in one of her ever-changing dungeons and it’s up to you to fight her baddies for the opportunity of a lifetime!1
In Dicey Dungeons, you take the role of an adventurer and battle your way through six floors full of monsters. Throughout the way you’ll find new equipment to add to your arsenal, so that you can be prepared for any battle.
In order to use your equipment, you’ll have to use dice. At the start of every turn, you roll your dice2 and slot them in the appropriate equipment. For example, a “Sword” accepts any dice and does as much damage as the die is showing (5 damage on a 5, 1 damage on a 1…) Almost every piece of equipment has some sort of restriction, like accepting only even numbers, or only the numbers 4, 5 or 6.
As you progress into the dungeon, you gain XP and gold to be spent at the store. Depending on the character you choose, you also gain some other benefits, like extra HP, more dice, special equipment, etc. When you reach the 6th floor, you face off against a boss. Beat him or her for a roll of the Wheel of fortune! You could win the prize of your dreams, or you could go back to the beginning of your adventure!
Which will it be?
1.2 How do you play Dicey Dungeons?
Please note that this review contains light spoilers for the game.
Let me discuss how the game works in general by using the vanilla character of Dicey Dungeons: The Warrior
1.2.1 The main game loop
You are dropped in floor 1. Every floor consists of a network of connected nodes, some of which contain enemies, equipment, HP-restoring items, a store or the floor exit.
So, you pick an enemy and combat starts!
The battle goes in turns. At the start of your turn, you roll 3 dice and slot them in your equipment to damage the opponent, protect yourself or otherwise advance towards victory. Once you decide you can do nothing more, you end your turn and the opponent does the same with their equipment. First opponent to get reduced to zero HP loses. If you lose, you have to start the run from the very beginning, in true Rogue-like fashion.
So, what changes from battle to battle?
1.2.2 Equipment management
As mentioned, you will find new equipment along the way or by leveling up. Even though you can effectively keep every item you find, you can only bring 6 slots3 worth of equipment into battle, and you cannot change it mid-battle. It’s worth noting that some equipment occupies 2 slots, so 6 slots does not mean having 6 pieces of equipment.
You can also find anvils, where you can upgrade one piece of equipment (only one per anvil). The process of upgrading varies: some equipment have their restrictions relaxed, some augment their effects, some reduce in size, etc.
Managing and knowing your equipment is crucial to the game, as I’ll discuss on the next sections.
1.2.3 Enemy management
Every enemy has a different, fixed strategy to win (as in, the same enemy will always be the same level, will always have the same HP and the same equipment from run to run). This is core to the DD loop: it’s almost mandatory to get to know your enemies to better prepare for them.
For instance, the Rat King only attacks with poison, so bringing any kind of defense to this battle is a waste because poison damage ignores your shield. On the other hand, the baby squid cannot damage you with odd-numbered dice, so it stands to reason that if you can freeze it (that is, you force it to roll a 1) you can keep on battling with receiving almost no damage at all.
1.2.4 Health and XP management
Why do I put these two on the same section, you ask? Well, in DD there aren’t many sources of replenishing your HP. Save for some equipment and randomly scattered apples, the most consistent way of healing to full HP is to level up.
So, you may have guessed, keeping track of one’s XP is a way to keep your character healthy throughout the run. Fortunately, in DD the XP system is very simple: upon defeat, an enemy grants you as much XP as their level.
For instance, in floor 1 you will find exactly two Lvl. 1 enemies and you need 2 XP to level up. If you conquer all enemies on floor 1, you’ll enter floor 2 with full HP and an additional character level. That is, if that’s your decision…
1.2.5 Limit Breaks
In DD, whenever you’ve received “enough damage”4 you can unleash an 11th hour power. The exact effect of these Limit Breaks varies, but in general it’s somethign you can use to turn the tide of the battle to your favor, so it’s imperative to save these only when they’re needed. Sometimes it’s best to save your powers, even if it means taking a few more hits on this battle, so that the next one is easier.
With all that said, there’s one more nuance to DD. Every floor is a connected network of nodes, but you almost never have to beat every enemy on a floor in order to get to the next one.
So why would you want to battle everyone on a floor? First of all: XP. The greater your level, the more HP and options you’ll have available to you.
Second: many of the stores, HP-items and upgrades are “behind” an enemy. Again, having these available to you means you have a greater degree of control against the dungeon.
With all these systems in mind, it’s possible to see that not only it’s important to plan your XP gainz for the health aspect, but also for the possibilities available to you in the floor path.
For instance: Right now I can battle the Wizard, Sneezy and the Dryad. Winning any 2 of these battles will replenish my HP, but there’s an upgrade behind Sneezy (arguably the strongest of the three). Is it better for me to fight him first and risk going weakened to the next fight? Am I better off upgrading right now or can I fight these two without the upgrade? The exact path I take now will affect how I go into the next floor.
2 About Replayability
The game’s replayability comes in two flavors that combine with each other, namely the six different characters and the six different chapters for every one of them. Let’s see these in detail.
CHARACTER SPOILERS AHEAD.
DD has 6 different characters, arranged more or less in increasing difficulty. One of these must be unlocked by playing the game. The characters are:
2.1.1 The Warrior
Your vanilla character, made for learning the ropes. His equipment in general revolves around rolling high and dealing lots of direct damage.
- Limit Break: Fury
- The next equipment will be used twice. This effectively doubles the effect of any piece of equipment
2.1.2 The Thief
A character made for learning the most basic dice manipulation. His play style in general revolves around rolling low, having lots of dice and dealing the Death of a Thousand Cuts
- Limit Break: Unlucky Roll
- Roll 4 ones. Given that some of the Thief’s equipment only allows low rolls and can be reused, this gives you 4 extra dice that you can use in numerous ways.
2.1.3 The Robot
The first character with unusual characteristics. The Robot revolves around playing a game analogous to Blackjack. You have a certain amount of CPU (say, 13). You start rolling dice and the amount shown is added together. As long as your total is less than your CPU total, you can keep rolling dice and using them in your equipment. If your total goes over the CPU limit, you get an Error, and all your dice and equipment vanish for the rest of the turn.
If you manage to hit exactly your CPU limit (Jackpot!), you can choose one of 3 rewards: a Lucky shot (does 5 damage), a small HP recovery (3HP) or an extra die for this turn.
- Limit Break: Autoroll
- You automatically hit the Jackpot. If you haven’t reached an Error yet, the Autoroll also gives you enough dice to cover the difference. This Limit Break can be triggered even if one reaches an Error, but it cannot trigger a second Jackpot in a single turn.
2.1.4 The Inventor
The Inventor plays in a normal way, like the Warrior or the Thief. However, after every battle the Inventor must discard one piece of equipment. This equipment then becomes a Gadget, which is a special equipment that can be used once per turn, and its effects depend on the equipment sacrificed to make it.
Due to this high equipment rotation, the Inventor also finds a lot more equipment than any other character. So, in general the Inventor’s game loop is to battle, discard the Gadget, turn one piece of equipment into a Gadget and get more equipment.
Part of the high difficulty of this character lies in that one needs to be aware of the next 2 battles in a row. The idea is that you should enter the following battle with a piece of equipment that will get you a good Gadget for the battle after.
- Limit Break: Focus
- All dice turn into 6
2.1.5 The Witch
The Witch is difficult not only to play, but to even describe. She has a spellbook that holds only 6 spells, one for each number in a die. Instead of holding onto equipment, the Witch writes down the spells in her spellbook. If you overwrite a spell, it’s gone forever.
How does the spellbook work? It’s used to create equipment out of thin air. In order to create a piece of equipment you first need to cast the appropriate spell by using a dice, and then you select one of four equipment slots to cast it to.
In other words, you first spend one die to create the equipment and then you must use another die to actually use the equipment. The following turn, all the equipment you created is preserved (so you don’t need to cast a spell every time), but it’s limited to having 4 equipment at any one time. If you have enough dice, you can overwrite an existing equipment to change your lineup.
What happens if you can’t use any of your dice to cast a spell or to use equipment? The Witch can also throw dice at their enemies, for 1 damage each (2 damage if the die is in flames)
- Limit Break: Crystal Ball
- Roll 3 extra dice. This effectively gives you more possibilities for casting spells, using more equipment or (in the worst case scenario) doing an extra 3 damage.
2.1.6 The Jester
The Jester has a lot of equipment arranged in a deck. At the beginning of each turn, this deck is shuffled and you get a hand of 3 equipment cards. Every time that you use one, you draw a new card from the deck.
At any time, the Jester may discard two matching cards on hand and draw two more from the deck. These cards return to the deck and are reshuffled at the beginning of the next turn.
The Jester plays just like a deckbuilding game. The objective is to gain good equipment while keeping the deck size manageable so that your strategy can work reliably.
- Limit Break: Snap!
- You can use matching cards in your hand for free. In other words, every time you have a matching pair/trio of cards in your hand, you create dice out of nothing and immediately use them on your cards. When used effectively, this means you can use all or almost all of your deck in a single turn without using a single die.
Every character has 6 episodes to play through, for a grand total of 36 episodes. Even though these are unique to each character, they can be grouped as follows:
2.2.1 Episode 1—Normal run
- No changes to the ruleset
2.2.2 Episode 2—Extra rule
- Warrior: All of your equipment is upgraded, but you have 1 Curse 5 at the beginning of each turn
- Thief: You can keep enemy equipment after a fight
- Robot: If you have duplicate dice, one of them vanishes immediately
- Inventor: You find extra extra equipment. You create 2 gadgets after every fight.
- Witch: One of your spell slots contains a random spell every turn.
- Jester: Standard rules, uses the Warrior equipment
2.2.3 Episode 3—Extra rule
- Warrior: Start with special equipment. You lose Max HP every time you level up
- Thief: On your first turn, all your dice roll 1. On your second turn, all your dice roll 2, and so on.
- Robot: No CPU counter, can create any dice at will. All equipment has a 50% chance to fail
- Inventor: You don’t create gadgets at the end of each fight. All equipment is reusable and has exactly 4 uses. Once an equipment is used up, it turns into a gadget.
- Witch: Your first dice roll is a 6, the next one is a 5, etc.
- Jester: After defeating an enemy, you keep all of their equipment. Now instead of discarding matching cards, you permanently delete them (except when Snapping
2.2.4 Episode 4—Elimination Round
- All enemies have 10% more health. All enemy equipment is upgraded
2.2.5 Episode 5—Parallel Universe
2.2.6 Episode 6—Bonus Round
3 What do you think, Andy?
A small, satisfying experience, not unlike a high class dessert.
The game is very, very good if you like these sorts of games. For me, it’s a refreshing take on the “deckbuilding” “roguelike” wave, and I contrast it with another heavy hitter in the same genre, Slay the Spire. Compared with StS, Dicey Dungeons feels incredibly streamlined. It’s true that it has a much smaller scope, but I believe that’s by design and therefore it’s a feature of the game.
A smaller game means you don’t spend as much time learning the ropes and the average run is relatively shorter. However, that doesn’t mean it’s simple or easy, the game’s simple mechanics are tight and do require you to know you character, your equipment, your enemies and even a bit of probability. 7 Do not let the colorful, cheery aspect of DD to lull you into a false sense of security.
On the flip side, the game has had some balance issues. Many of those have been resolved or mitigated as of this writing9 represent a somewhat unfair spike in difficulty.
It’s also worth noting that the design is simplistic. That doesn’t bug me particularly, but I’ve been in conversations where some people feel strongly about a Sword, Broadsword, Katana and Battle Axe all being and feeling almost the same, save for a number on the screen.
However, the developer team has been quick to listen to the fans and to re-evaluate some of their design choices. The game is also mod-friendly, has an alpha version available as a demo of sorts and is reasonably priced.
Even though it’s not the most challenging roguelike out there, its small scope and design make it for a small yet rewarding experience. That, in my book, will always beat a bloated game that takes longer to beat just to announce “Over XX hours of gameplay!”. Sure, Dicey Dungeons offers little replayability after a particular Episode is completed, but that doesn’t make it a bad game. It’s a great palate cleanser from other dark and grim games which sometimes seem to saturate the market.
I don’t regret buying it at full price. I’d love seeing it in use to teach a bit of arithmetic and/or probability to kids.
THE IRON NODER CHALLENGE XII: WE'LL RUST WHEN WE'RE DEAD
Terms and conditions apply.
In general, not all characters “roll” in the same way. More on this later.
Arranged in a 3x2 rectangle, similar to how Resident Evil had its inventory.
The exact figure varies by level and character
With Curse, every action you take has a 50% chance to completely fail. Once this happens, you purge the curse.
Some examples of additional rules: You cannot roll 6s, you start every combat with 2 poison, you can’t see the enemies’ HP after turn 2…
Statistically speaking you should always reroll any dice with 1, 2 or 3, since the average roll is 3.5; or so I’ve been told
Verson 1.5. Although the last announcement on Steam says the next version will be 1.7 I don’t know yet if this is a typo or Terry and his team have an interesting numbering scheme
Looking at you: Sneezy, Loud Bird and the whole Episode 4 in general