One Deck Dungeon Digital | Principal Platforms: PC (Version Tested), iOS, Android | Developer: Handelabra Games | Publisher: Handelabra Games | Genre: Board Game | Year: 2018
DISCLOSURE: The author of this review backed One Deck Dungeon Digital on Kickstarter.
If you know the name Handelabra Games then it’s likely because of their digital version of Sentinels of the Multiverse. In that instance Handelabra adapted a rather complex card game and streamlined it into an endlessly playable cooperative affair for PCs and mobile devices.
Whilst this new crowdfunded adaptation of theirs doesn’t approach the same level of complexity, it is certainly another welcome addition to their growing portfolio and another fine example of how board games are currently invading the digital space with great success.
Based on the Kickstarter darling of the same name, One Deck Dungeon is actually a dice allocation game that sees 1-2 players delve into a fiendish lair represented by a single deck of cards. Our heroes, who are drawn from well-known fantasy archetypes such as Warrior, Rogue, etc., start off rather weak, but will soon gather experience points, potions, and other skills to help them conquer the sinister boss who stands guard on the bottom floor.
The gameplay is wholly dice-driven and whilst you may expect that to create an unpleasantly swingy experience, the heroes receive a lot of support to help them negate poor rolls and turn the tables on enemies who at first glance look quite unkillable. Managing your health pool against your ticking clock creates some agonizing push-your-luck scenarios because in true roguelike fashion, a big mistake on your part can result in a one-way ticket back to the title screen. One Deck Dungeon has plenty of additional systems to distance itself from being a pure roguelike experience, but the feeling that the genre implies is certainly conjured up here and it’s good because it means players get to enjoy building their characters over and over again and at its core, that’s what makes this game so compelling.
Accompanying every hero in the vanilla build and its expansions are progression sheets filled with attainable bonuses. Not only do these steadily make your heroes stronger and more dynamic, they also contribute towards a light yet intelligent legacy system designed to solidify the game’s replay value as well as take the sting out of losing.
One Deck Dungeon Digital is a faithful app in terms of art design as it brings all of the colourful artwork over from the tabletop version in delicious hi-res. The game remains very attractive on PC with smooth animations and quirky SFX adding theme to the proceedings. Handelabra has even integrated Asmadi Games’ official soundtrack and whilst the title theme remains a little sharp on the ears, it does lend the production a level of authenticity that tabletop fans are sure to be happy with.
Also worthy of celebration is the treatment that the game has received in its new digital form. Manipulating dice and activating skills alongside a useful undo button is a breeze because of the tidy user interface and the game is so quick and easy to play anyway that the odd crushing failure won’t discourage you from coming back to try again. Playing One Deck Dungeon with automatic shuffling and the ability to quickly restart a session is almost worth the price of admission on its own and it’s gratifying to know that any further changes to the rules (both the app and the board game are currently running on version 1.6) will be programmed in too.
One Deck Dungeon is a surprisingly nuanced game that gets easier the more you learn to control the dice at your disposal. It can be a stressful experience at first, but this is a game that begs to be replayed and the range of difficulty modes and achievements only ensure that you’ll have plenty of optional challenges ahead. The DLC prospects are good – the Forest of Shadows expansion is already on its way – and there’s even a prestige option that resets completed progression sheets, should you be crazy enough to do that!
Since Handelabra released their latest patch, it’s actually been quite hard for me to find problems with this package. Players now have the option of disabling dice roll animations (YES!) as well as door opening routines, so the game is even faster in motion than it was before. When you factor this alongside the developers’ apparent commitment to squashing bugs and creating new content, the long-term potential for this app looks very promising indeed.
Most of my negative points are derived from the intrinsic qualities of the game being adapted. One Deck Dungeon isn’t exactly a microgame, but it is one that is deliberately small in form. As such, there are quite a few repeated encounters in the deck and they don’t possess any thematic relevance with the boss you’ve chosen either.
The dungeon deck is an intelligent creation when you look at how the cards interact with the governing dungeon tile, and yet there will be times where you’ll start by immediately opening four level 4 doors in a row thus sapping your resources and putting you well below the health curve should you try venturing forth regardless. Situations like this will likely prompt a quick restart on the higher difficulty modes and there are times when it can get frustrating even when playing on Novice.
The playable Archer and Paladin heroes also seem weaker when compared to the rest of the cast. I played numerous 2-player games alongside an Archer who almost never used her Heroic Feat because of the steep cost involved in its activation. When you consider how strong the Warrior is by comparison, it’s no wonder why those weaker heroes are so frequently left on the bench.
In terms of the app itself, I think Handelabra needs to adjust the health indicator because when you take a certain number of wounds it becomes difficult to count the number of tokens on your character sheet when a simple number would work so much better. There are also a few secret achievements lurking in there that are overly luck-based with one of them feeling almost impossible to unlock through legitimate means. Likewise is the Gauntlet mode, which whilst a sound enough idea, only highlights how badly a slew of bad dice rolls can affect your appreciation of this game.
Online play seems like it could be the next long-term step too although playing hotseat alongside a friend is perfectly acceptable if you don’t mind sharing a mouse. Cooperative games also tweak the abilities of your heroes, so there’s even more replay value to be had there in trying out every variation of your favourite characters.
Overall the swift thrills of the board game have been adapted with perfection here and with more DLC, promos, and other tweaks on the horizon, it seems that Handelabra has one more unmissable adaptation to call their own.