Board Game Review: One Deck Dungeon

ONE DECK DUNGEON

One Deck Dungeon in its natural habitat.

THE PREMISE

The concept of ONE DECK DUNGEON, designed by Chis Cieslik, is pretty simple: Fight baddies, level up, and survive to defeat the dungeon boss. Each player—anywhere from one to four with the base game—takes on the role of an adventurer. There’s your typical gamut of heroes here: the wizard, the warrior, the rogue, the archer. Each character has certain skills and abilities (usually manifested in the form of dice) that makes them better-suited for certain types of challenges. The challenges you face are really of two varieties, enemies and traps. Enemies are everything from slime blobs to giant insects to vampires to dragons. Traps are usually either spiky pits, automatic arrows, or swinging logs. As you progress through the three levels of the dungeon, you can gain more skills, more power, and even level up. In many ways, the game emulates the experience of a typical dungeon crawler quite admirably. It’s a quick game to set up and play, which might be a good thing or a bad depending on the kind of experience you’re hoping to have. ODD isn’t probably the type of game you would build a whole game night out of, but it’s probably slightly more than just a filler-game, too. Personally, I enjoyed having it around to bust out for a solo adventure when I had twenty or thirty minutes to kill. It doesn’t require a lot of deep thought, since it’s largely luck-based, but at the same time there is some strategy involved in choosing which aspects of your character to level up; It’s luck-based, but you can aim your luck.

THE GAMEPLAY

As you would expect from the title, the majority of the cards in the box represent the dungeon itself. Or, rather, they represent the challenges you face in said dungeon. There’s no map or movement, so the “dungeon” is more theoretical.

At the start of the first turn, you lay out four cards facedown from the top of the deck. These represent different doors you’re facing in the immediate “area.” Each player can open one door (turn over the card) and either have the encounter listed or flee to try another door next turn. The encounters, as I said before, are only of two types: enemies, which must be defeated with a combination of all of your skills and abilities, or traps, which you must choose to overcome two different ways—usually defeating the trap with brute force, or skirting around it with deftness.

Each character has a variety of skills an abilities, which are all represented with different colored dice. The number of dice you get for each ability obviously determines how easily you can overcome challenges that require that ability, and that number can increase as you progress. There are also skills that can give you black dice, which are essentially “wild” and can be used toward any ability check. Further, there are potions you can pick up from time to time that have various effects, from healing wounds to re-rolling and more.

When the deck is exhausted, players move to the next “level” of the dungeon, which adds various effects to the game to make it more challenging. After finishing the deck on the third level, the boss card is revealed and the players have to beat the final, very difficult challenge to win the game. Add in the element of time passing, which depletes cards from the deck and can potentially cause the players to take wounds, and you basically end up with trying to balance fighting enough baddies to build up your strength without taking on more than you can handle before you’re ready. In that regard, the game is very challenging.
Unfortunately, ODD as it is now feels very limited. I don’t know if the company plans to release expansions that will add more variety, but right now the fact that every card is either an enemy or a trap starts to feel very stale after even one game. (And the variety of enemies isn’t even that great; there are multiples of almost all the enemies and traps. It would be nice if each and every card were a unique challenge.) In order for the game to feel more like a true dungeon-crawl experience, the deck should include: rooms with only treasure inside, empty rooms, rooms that reveal tunnels or secret passages, cards that have lasting negative effects like curses, and cards that make you start the deck over again like a maze that takes you back to the beginning. These are just a few suggestions, of course. As it stands, however, the game is essentially a dungeon-themed, cooperative combat simulator. And if you look at it that way, it actually works pretty well.

THE HOOK

The clever aspect of this game is really the leveling-up feature. ONE DECK DUNGEON functions similarly to a deck-builder, but then again it’s not like that at all. Every card that you encounter contains “loot” of some kind, and usually more than one type. A monster may allow you to upgrade your combat ability, or add a special skill to your character, or just add XP to the party to work towards leveling-up. The player that defeats the card gets to choose how to apply the loot, and the card gets placed in a certain configuration to indicate the purpose it now serves. (Note: “Defeat” isn’t really an important term here, because every card is in essence “defeated” whether the challenge is met or not. If the player is unable to meet the criteria of the challenge, they take some amount of damage, but the challenge is still considered “defeated.” In essence, there’s no winning or losing individual challenges, it’s just a matter of degrees of victory. Another aspect I would prefer to see altered in a future release.)

HOW LIL IS IT?

It’s definitely a li’l game, about the size of a pack of processed cheese. (The chunk kind, not the slices.) The space in the box is used well, as everything fits nice and snugly without feeling like it’s crammed in there.

THE SECOND OPINION

I feel like I may have given the impression this game isn’t enjoyable, but it really is—I just don’t know why, exactly. I liken it to BOSS MONSTER, a game that I really enjoyed getting out from time to time, and found myself thinking about playing quite a bit, but which ultimately felt like it was missing some key core element when it came to actually playing it. Like that game, though, ONE DECK DUNGEON has a lot of fans who don’t seem to think anything is missing at all.

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