The carriage comes to a stop at a crossroads, as the signpost is missing and your driver is unsure which direction to head. Using the opportunity to stretch your legs while he sorts it out, you open the carriage door…to the pointed end of a narrow sword directed at your face.
“Pardon the abrupt introduction m’lord,” the sword wielder says, “but my men and I will be taking the contents of those heavy trunks behind you there. We’re aware of what you’re transporting, see, and we thinks they’ll be of better use in our possession. Just give them up and we’ll see you on your merry way…”
If you agree to the bandit’s terms, turn to page 57.
If you think you can negotiate with the bandits, turn to page 83.
If you wish to yell at the driver to make a run for it, turn to page 111.
An evil presence has taken over a once thriving land, and every previous attempt to end it has failed. Luckily, a new champion has tracked the villain’s lair to a nearby dungeon. It is there where two players square off against one another. One player portrays the indomitable Hero, navigating through the perilous dungeon, while the other acts as the titular Dungeon Lord who throws monsters, traps, and other obstacles in the Hero’s path before both meet in a pivotal battle of Good vs. Evil.
Fallen is a two-player dice adventure game that simulates an old-school dungeon crawl. One player chooses the role of the villain, the Dungeon Lord, and the other becomes the intrepid Hero(ine) out to reach the heart of the dungeon and save the day.
To begin, players must construct the play area, which consists of various piles of tokens and card decks used throughout the game. Among these include Fortune tokens, which spent on card costs and adding dice to challenges, and a row of cards called The Shadow Track, denoting the relative difficulty of the dungeon for both the hero and villain.
Next, both the Hero and Dungeon Lord select which character to play and assembles their corresponding deck of Power cards. The Hero receives a starting Skill and starting Equipment cards, while the Dungeon Lord begins with four Level I Creatures. Each player also receives a pool of 11 dice and three Charge counters on their character’s ultimate ability.
Fallen takes place over four chapters, broken down into turns. The first three of these are based off of a randomly-drawn Story Card. At the beginning of each chapter, players draw Power cards, gain Fortune tokens, and the Hero’s items are refreshed.
Each turn, the Dungeon Lord reads a short paragraph of the Story and presents the Hero two narrative choices. The Hero selects one, which triggers a challenge corresponding to one of the game’s three attributes (Agility, Strength, or Intelligence). Then, the challenged is resolved by the Dungeon Lord activates one of the unspent creatures in their tableau. Each creature gives the Dungeon Lord a number of dice to roll, in addition to their two base dice. After rolling, the Dungeon Lord can spend Fortune to roll extra dice, use their special ability, and / or play Power cards, the cost of which is dependent on the Shadow Track.
Afterwards, the Hero reciprocates by rolling their two dice, adding in any extras granted by Skills, starting Attributes, and any Equipment they choose to activate. The Hero then can also spend Fortune, use their ability and / or play Power cards.
The two players compare these results, and the player with the higher number of sword icons wins the challenge. Blood icons damage the Hero or Creature, and the energy symbol helps recharge that player’s special ability.
The winner gains XP, and both players receive a Reward token providing things such as energy, free damage, or Fortune. Treasure or Omen challenges also provide a card of that type to the Hero or Dungeon Lord, respectively. At the end of each challenge, both players have the option of spending XP to upgrade their Skills / Creatures.
Then the story continues.
Once the third Story card is finished, the game proceeds to the boss battle. This battle behaves the same as Story Cards, excepting that the challenges are randomly determined from a Final Battle card deck. The winner of each Final Battle challenge claims the card, and the next one is drawn.
The first player to claim three Final Battle cards is the winner. Either the Hero vanquishes the vile Dungeon Lord and saves the day…or the Dungeon Lord claims the life of another foolish adventure who failed at that whole ‘trying to be epic’ thing.
The Power of Imagination
Tabletop RPGs combine social interaction, narrative storytelling, and roleplaying together into an activity that’s both creative and engaging. Whether you want to become a gifted medieval blacksmith, a futuristic data hacker, a shapeshifting druid, or anything else you can posit, there exists some tabletop game capable of providing that immersive experience. Transporting that same experience to board games is a rare and difficult charge.
By bridging its mechanics with a heavy narrative, however, that is precisely what Fallen strives to do. Stripped of its flavoring, Fallen is a straightforward dice game where one player tries to get a higher dice sum than the other.
Yet Fallen’s greatest – and signature – feature is the degree its distinct story-based approach envelops the rest of the game. Indeed, Fallen truly offers a feeling akin to the classic Choose Your Own Adventure books, as each turn starts with a short story snippet that sets the rest of the turn in motion. In turn, these encounters propel the game forward, generating a uniquely lightweight tale with a real a sense of progression.
There are limitations to this approach, however. For one, although Story Cards are plentiful, Fallen provides a mere three Dungeon Lords and three Heroes to choose from. This unfortunately diminishes replayability slighty, as even if you change up which side you play, these characters aren’t so drastically different from one another to avoid a repetitive feeling after many game sessions.
More importantly, Fallen’s narrative approach proves such a big component to its identity that it will affect who the game resonates with. On the one hand, this is a penultimate dice game for Immersionists. Dice games aren’t known for being terribly thematic, but Fallen encourages you to ham it up as the Dungeon Lord or make impactful story decisions as the Hero.
Indeed, Fallen combines theme and dice in a meaningful way. Likewise, Architects appreciate enhancing your character’s stats and equipment as you move along, but since you can only do this a handful of times each game, it may not enough to keep them interested long term.
On the other hand, although predominately just a dice game with modifiers, Fallen is not for Socializers. This is partly because it is strictly an interactive game between two players, and partly because as engaging as it is, reaching the end of the dungeon takes well in excess of an hour.
Rolling Up An Adventure
Fallen also does a remarkable job at being a dice-based adventure without being punitive. Dice are naturally fickle creatures, and the more a game’s outcomes are based them, the more luck-driven the game becomes. For all of its expansive cards, tokens, and story-driven narrative, Fallen is fundamentally a two-player dice game – albeit an expansive and robust one of decent quality.
Yet the game avoids the ‘all or nothing’ dice-centric approach in two notable ways. First, regardless of the outcome, both players always receive a Reward token and respective Treasure or Omen card if it’s a card challenge. This both keeps the game balanced and allows players to move forward without it becoming heavily one-sided.
Second, Fallen has a fair amount of dice manipulation, either in the form of adding additional dice to a roll or utilizing rerolls. Dice can be added in a number of ways, but since the amount of dice you have are finite, rerolls are sought after as well. However, the latter are not as plentiful as they could be.
As a result, it is possible for you to move through the entire dungeon and emerge the winner, even if you’re less lucky than Wile E. Coyote. Daredevils should find Fallen’s combination of story choice and combat manipulation appealing, providing a host of different paths to get to the end of the story, even if the end result is often the same.
That being said, don’t expect highly complex turns from Fallen. While each side is bolstered by their ability to activate or play cards, along with an occasional special power, turns are ultimately a series of simple decisions over timing and improving dice rolls. Fallen is not – nor claims to be – a highly cerebral affair, as much of the game’s inherent fun is equal parts journey and destination. Thus, beneath its histrionics, this is not a game that will entice Strikers or Tacticians.
Saved By Deus Ex Alea
For all its buildup to the big baddie though, the final confrontation is somewhat anticlimatic. In Fallen, the Hero spends the entirety of their lead up to the last battle faced with story decisions that determine the skill challenge. As binary as these choices are, they’re still yours to make.
Playing as the fighter, for example, your Skills and Attributes reward you for choosing story paths that presumably use Strength or Agility over Intelligence, whereas the mage wants to avoid Strength-based rolls. Although it’s nearly inescapable to maneuver through the game without making at least a few rolls to your disadvantage, these choices play into your character’s identity.
Likewise, the Dungeon Lord spends the majority of the game pulling levers to ensure that whatever path the Hero takes won’t be easy. From the strategic use of Creatures to well timed Power cards, much of the enjoyment of the role is derived from trying to thwart the Hero.
The final battle provides no such choice. While this confrontation equalizes the narrative by shifting the storyline perspective to the Hero, it does so at the cost of options. That is, each Final Battle card stipulates which check to make, and since they are randomized, so are the Hero’s chances. This raises the luck of the endgame substantially, as the Hero could draw three cards of their weakest stat in a row and lose, even if they have bested the Dungeon Lord handily until that point. Likewise, it’s possible that you pull of a miraculous victory, Hobbit-style, despite the Dungeon Lord having you on the ropes the entire game.
It’s not that this shift is unbalanced, but nullifying the Hero’s input in the story at the most dramatic part of the game raises a distinct thematic disconnect. Fallen wants to reward the Hero for specializing their skills, but the endgame mechanics push you towards diversifying instead (as in the case of the Dungeon Lord’s Creatures). This incongruity is arguably the game’s biggest tripping point, and while it can be mitigated, it’s unfortunate to sacrifice flavor in such a game to increase your chances at winning.
As an earnest attempt at inserting a tabletop feel in a board game setting, Fallen desires to be a dice game with serious substance. To this end, its unique marriage of mechanics and flavor largely succeeds, though much like a tabletop, how much enjoyment one gets out of it will be partially contingent on how much the player embraces their role. With its great variety of narrative choices and the unpredictability of dice, Fallen offers a fair amount of replayability, but it can also suffer at times due to the limitations of character options and the added randomness during the game’s final confrontation. Nevertheless, with high quality components and the way its story system compliments the dice-based mechanics, Fallen puts on a decent show, pushing the game along nicely through an innovative blend of narrative gaming, dice rolling, and a good old fashioned dungeon dive.
Fallen is a product of Watchtower Games.
Cardboard Republic Snapshot Scoring (Based on scale of 5):
Rules Clarity: 4
Replay Value: 3.5
Physical Quality: 4.5
Overall Score: 4