As interest in board games continues to rise, so too does the interest in exploring new ways of playing those games. One such way is through digital ‘ports’ of those games – translating them PCs, consoles, phones, and tablets.
While digital versions may not exactly replace the feeling of a physical board game, many add subtle tweaks that such as for solo play, campaign modes, online competition, or simply as a more portable way to enjoy the game. This is new territory to explore. Welcome, to the Pixel Provinces.
With its perilous paths to monsters and traps, One Deck Dungeon has been a source of lightweight chamber-exploring fun for novice and experienced heroes alike. Will this adaptation be able to slay the digital dragon and come out on top?
Chris Cieslik’s One Deck Dungeon is a dungeon diving dice allocation experience for 1 to 2 players where each player is a hero exploring a perilous dungeon in order to find and defeat its boss. Each player takes on the role of a traditional fantasy hero exploring the different levels of a dungeon and facing the dangers that lurk behind each door.
Pushed ever forward by a timer rapidly ticking away, you must reveal what monster or trap lies behind several doors and either fight or flee. If you flee, you can choose another door to open. If you fight, you must use your hero’s various stats and allocate dice rolls to try to defeat the obstacle and snag some all-important loot. Loot will make your hero stronger, but the dungeon also gets more dangerous the deeper you descend. As the timer pushes you closer to the dungeon’s heart, it’s crucial to prioritize which obstacles you’ll face in order to protect your health and raise your stats for the final boss fight.
One Deck Dungeon has a slimmer tutorial than other board game apps, due in part to the relatively short rules of the game itself. When you opt into a new game for the first time, you’ll receive brief explanations when you come across new content. Despite the brevity, however, these basic tips are far from comprehensive. If you’re new to the game, relying solely on these brief tidbits to teach you how to play is going to leave you needing more.
Instead, learning how to play the game, use the app, and read the game’s iconography is largely done through reading the rulebook found in the How to Play option in the main menu. This rulebook is very thorough and will teach you everything you need to know about how to play the game. Newcomers should familiarize themselves with these pages before venturing forth, as the largely absent interactive tutorial of One Deck Dungeon leaves players to teach themselves how to play instead of learning and playing simultaneously. One Deck Dungeon isn’t a deep chasm of complexity, but the lack of an initial walkthough in the digital space results in a high barrier to entry for new players all the same. Those with prior experience of the game on the other hand won’t need to re-read the learning materials since most of the of the rules text provided – including several of the visual examples – is largely identical to the pages of the physical version.
One Deck Dungeon has two play options: a regular game and gauntlet mode. Playing through the New Game option will have you use the game’s standard rules, descending deeper into the dungeon one level at a time before fighting the final boss. Gauntlet mode allows you to fight the different dungeon bosses head on without carving your way through each dungeon level first. This mode gives you ample opportunity to fight each boss however many times you choose, but it’s only unlocked after you have defeated every boss in standard mode.
One of the game’s most exciting features is the customizability of each dungeon experience. When starting a new game, you can either choose between a new, customized dungeon run or a quick play. Quick play simply puts you into a dungeon with the same specifications as the last dungeon you entered, whereas with a new game you can tailor your experience to how you’re feeling in the moment. With customizing you’re able to choose your hero or heroes and whichever dungeon you wish to enter, just as you would at your gaming table. The app contains the same five classic traditional hero classes found in the physical game (Rogue, Paladin, etc.), along with the option for (at the moment) three additional unique DLC heroes to check out. Likewise, all five of the original game’s dungeons are present with their respective boss, along with two additional DLC dungeons. In a departure from the boxed version, dungeons are much more dynamic in their difficulty options. Making for a nice upgrade in selection options, each dungeon is influenced by the difficulty setting that you choose for yourself, with tiers borrowed from the original game’s campaign mode: Novice, Standard, Veteran, and Fearless.
The most interesting aspect of One Deck Dungeon is its hero progression system – a renamed and slightly improved version of the original game’s own campaign mode. Each hero comes with her own set of focuses, and within those focuses come unique talents. After each dungeon crawl, you earn check-marks that you can apply towards earning those talents as permanent hero abilities, which will help you in future games when you play that hero again. The more you play, the stronger your heroes will grow and the easier it will be to manipulate your dice and control your own luck. Hero progression can be toggled on or off when setting up your dungeon, but the underlying progression between games lends an interesting layer to the game’s dungeon crawl experience. In tandem with this game’s hero progression system, One Deck Dungeon also offers an achievement system with XP bonuses, as well as a statistics record where you can track your progress between games.
One Deck Dungeon is tasked with portraying a particularly large amount of information at once, and it does an admirable job doing so in an organized and understandable manner. The game relies heavily on iconography to get its point across in a small amount of space, so making sure you have a strong understanding of that portion of the rules before starting a game is vital to a smooth playthrough. The majority of the game is played through rolling a digital handful of stat dice, which is made easy and intuitive by simple drag and drop dice UI. That said, even with adequately scaling down all of the needed information to play, due to the size constraints the game is currently only available for tablets and Steam, as the publisher has said that the current layout of the game would not transfer well to phone screens.
One Deck Dungeon also lacks any online option to consider at the moment, limiting the two-player option to pass & play only.
The biggest issue found with the game’s functionality was a reoccurring string of slow loading screens and crashed games. Turning off the dice rolling animation caused crashes to become less frequent, but they were still present even as of version 1.2.1. Reports of similar bugs exist but aren’t highly widespread, so it may have been more of a sporadic issue and not a reflection of the game’s larger functionality. However, I felt that it should be noted as these issues were a large hindrance to my playthroughs of the game.
Overall, One Deck Dungeon is an interesting game packed full of all the fun that comes with rolling handfuls of dice, beating monsters, and collecting precious loot. This app faithfully translates all of the colorful artwork, tension-induced dice rolls, and surprisingly nuanced decision-making that One Deck Dungeon is known for. The dungeons’ customizability and varying degrees of difficulty, alongside the upgrades you gain and the chaotic unpredictability of the dice rolls, give the game high replayability, while its exciting hero progression system adds whole new layers to your regular dungeon experience. The dungeons are tough, but overcoming their challenges and exploring their dimly-lit paths lead to hours of engaging game time.
One Deck Dungeon is available on these platforms:
Sara Perry is a contributing writer and aspiring game designer with a love for games both physical and digital. Also cats. She can be best reached via Twitter.
Feel free to share your thoughts with us over on our social media pages!