Review: Dicey Dungeons is absolutely phenomenal fun
Don’t miss this one.
Many months ago, Terry Cavanagh, critically-acclaimed designer of the infamously challenging VVVVVV and Super Hexagon, did a game jam called “Seven Day Roguelike” or #7DRL. He debated not pursuing the design any further, not sure if it was going to be any good, but it was rated extremely highly in “Fun” and I’m glad he changed his mind.
The game that he’d come to design – and develop with a whole smorgasbord of incredible talent – is this one, Dicey Dungeons, and it’s about to be your new favorite habit.
Before we talk about Dicey Dungeons, let me tell you a little bit about Terry. Terry is the nicest, sweetest, most humble man and one of the friendliest game developers I’ve ever met. He’s soft-spoken, neither tall nor short, and just all-around a fun guy to talk to. I know my friend Greg because Terry was tweeting about him years and years before Wandersong ever came out; Terry was promoting Greg’s Kickstarter for Phantasmaburbia, a game I guarantee you’ve never heard of. That’s the kind of guy Terry is.
I tell you this because the kinds of games Terry makes will absolutely destroy you
Super Hexagon will ruthlessly wreck your shit in quite literally less than 2 seconds. My high score in that game on its easiest level is, I kid you not, just over one minute. Terry’s other commercial project is VVVVVV and oh boy, if you think you’re tough I dare you to take on one of its optional levels, “Doing Things The Hard Way.”
These games are merciless (but totally fair!) and I absolutely love them for it. When you’re neck-deep in something so challenging that it absolutely demands your full attention, you simply can’t think about all of the things you’d otherwise be worrying about.
So that’s where I’m at coming into Dicey Dungeons.
Dicey Dungeons takes place inside of a fictional game show where the villainous Lady Luck turns hapless contestants into living dice, then sends them into the dungeon to fight their way towards a chance to win their heart’s desire. In Robot’s case, he doesn’t want to need sleep anymore, which I think we can all relate to.
Inside the dungeon, each floor is presented as a map that you can move around freely. Above is a perfect vertical slice, with everything the game has to offer:
- Enemies that you fight once you bump into them
- Apples that restore health
- Treasure chests that give you new equipment
- Anvils that upgrade equipment you have
- Carts where you can buy new equipment (and sometimes pay to upgrade equipment, just like an anvil)
- The trap door to reach the next floor
Every enemy rewards coins to use at carts and XP towards leveling up. You can leave a level any time you want to via the trap door, but there are exactly enough enemies in each run to hit max level right before the final boss, so it’s a good idea to fight everything.
The bulk of the gameplay in Dicey Dungeons takes place in battle, where you alternate turns with your foe to do, well, lots of things.
Above is an example of a turn as the Warrior, the first character you have access to (among a total of six). Here’s how it works:
- You start with three dice and they’re rolled at the beginning of your turn. As you level up, you get more dice to work with.
- You can then use those dice any way that your equipment allows, with each piece of equipment having its own restrictions. For example, the Battle Axe can only take a 1, 2, 3, or 4 while the Matchstick can only accept 2, 4, and 6.
- Every class has its own unique ability (or abilities). The Warrior’s is “Combat Roll” which lets you reroll dice. Drag a die into “Combat Roll” and it gets rerolled.
- Combat ends when you or your opponent drops to zero health or when you run away, which is usually inadvisable because it leaves that enemy on the map.
So in the above turn, I might do the following:
- Use my 5 in Sword to deal 5 damage
- Use my 3 in Battle Axe to deal 6 damage
- Drop my 1 into Bump to make it a 2
- Drop my 2 into Matchstick to inflict one level of Burn* to the Wizard (Burn is one of several status effects and ignites 1 die, making it cost 2hp to use it)
But, see, I might not. Maybe I could do this instead:
- Drop my 3 into Bump to make it a 4
- Use my new 4 in Battle Axe to deal 8 damage
- Drop my 1 into Combat Roll and hope for the best
- Use the best die I have in Sword
- Hope I have an even die left for Matchstick
Even when you think there’s a clear solution, Dicey Dungeons is the kind of game where you’re continuously lured into pressing your luck somehow and honestly it feels extremely good when those risks pay off. The above example is at most a difference of a few damage, but the character and equipment combinations allow for a huge range of things you can do.
The combat example above might seem simple and that’s because it is. See, the Warrior is just your first character and he only exists to teach you the basics of how the game works. Each of your first four playthroughs, each lasting about half an hour, unlocks a new character, each with their own quirks and abilities.
I thought I crushed the game as the Warrior, but then I came back with the Robot – who gets a very cool press-your-luck/jackpot mechanic – and I got absolutely stomped.
I came back for the next run as the Inventor – who grinds up equipment every battle into semi-permanent gear for the next battle – and masterminded a victory that felt methodical and clever, then got crushed as the Witch because I failed to wrap my head around all of the interesting, complex nuances of her mechanics. There is so much to chew on here and Dicey Dungeons is deceptively deep given its fundamentals of, “Roll dice, make the best of them.”
As though classes weren’t enough distinction for interesting playthroughs, you also get equipment that you’re constantly making decisions about
At any given time you have six slots to work with and any given item takes up either 1 or 2. In the extremely basic setup above, I’m using a Sword, a Battle Axe, and two Bumps, but in between any battle I could swap out either Bump for a Matchstick, both of them for a Spiked Shield, or change my gear around any way I want to with the six items I have available to me.
There are rarely obvious answers, too; sometimes a piece of equipment will be a straight upgrade from something you currently have, but most times items are completely different and you have to make tough choices about what to use. Maybe right now you want an item that deals 3 damage on a 3 or less, but later you’ll want an item that inflicts one level of poison on an even die because you picked up a weapon that interacts with poison.
If Dicey Dungeons was just a mechanical game with no real aesthetic presentation, I would still love it the same way I love Slay the Spire, but it’s not. No, there’s a bumping, thumping soundtrack by Niamh Houston, better known as Chipzel, who also did the Super Hexagon soundtrack. There are expressive, comical visuals by Marlowe Dobbe.
There’s hilarious writing by Holly Gramazio. Somehow even the sparse voice acting, mostly non-verbal noises and gibberish, is still done by wildly talented folks like Adriana Figueroa, FamilyJules7x, and Will Lewis. Every single part of Dicey Dungeons is lovingly, intelligently, and hilariously crafted by the best and the brightest that the indie game development scene has to offer. It’s truly a stunning ensemble.
I haven’t played a game quite like Dicey Dungeons since Coin Crypt, which I loved enough to get on the daily leaderboards for a while.
I know it’s my job to be a critic and to come up with positives and negatives, but to the latter, I really just can’t. I can only play Dicey Dungeons on my desktop, how about that? I can’t play this on my iPad or my Nintendo Switch and I would really love to play it everywhere. For real, I love everything about this game; Every interaction, every challenge, every song, every line of dialogue, every everything. It’s an absolute joy to play and games like this don’t come around that often.
Seriously, go play this game.
Jake reviewed Dicey Dungeons on Mac desktop with a review code from the developer. He’s acquainted with several of the team members. Dicey Dungeons is available now on Windows, Mac, and Linux via Itch.io (where the developers will likely get paid better) and Steam.
Curious what our scores mean? Find out more in our comprehensive guide to Understanding KnowTechie’s Game Review Scoring.
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