App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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One Deck Dungeon is a digital version of a board game that emulates a video game genre borne out of tabletop games. It’s a confusing lineage, and so it may come as no surprise that the game itself reflects some of this confusion as well. There are times when One Deck Dungeon feels like an amazing card-based dungeon-crawler, and others where its curious roots create weird dissonance.
One deck, lots of dice
The gameplay of One Deck Dungeon is based around recreating a the experience of a dungeon crawler. You select a hero, enter a dungeon filled with traps and enemies, and do your best to survive as you get loot, build your skills, and defeat fearsome monsters.
As a game that was originally a board game, the way you deal with all of these threats is through dice rolls. Each event in One Deck Dungeon has a set of required dice rolls you must make to overcome it. If you roll well, you can get through an encounter and gather loot or experience without any sort of penalty, but if you don’t get the rolls you need, your hero may take damage, or you may lose time—another important resource in One Deck Dungeon.
Champions of chance
To help steer your fate toward good rolls, you want to take on challenges that your hero will be more likely to overcome. Each hero in One Deck Dungeon has their own set of stats, which determines their proficiency (or lack thereof) when it comes to certain challenges, and you never have to take on a challenge that you don’t want to.
It’s a system that can feel appropriately Dungeons & Dragons-like without feeling overly complicated, but its lack of depth can also be a cause of frustration. You see, every hero’s stats are simply direct reflection of what dice are available to them on a challenge. There’s no additional modifiers or base stats to speak of, so if you’re a hero that excels in the strength stat, it’s entirely possible to completely flub a strength challenge due to bad rolls on all your strength die. To be fair, there are additional systems in One Deck Dungeon that allow you to manipulate your dice rolls somewhat, but the game never really feels like you have as good a handle on your fate as you might like.
One Deck Dungeon’s chance-dependent gameplay naturally makes for a game where you’re always one or two bad rolls away from a game over. Luckily, the game seems to know this, and builds in things like persistence between runs and different dungeons to take on to make sure that each time you start over, you have something new to do.
While all of this sounds well and good on paper, there’s a mix of things that make replays of One Deck Dungeon feel more disheartening than exciting. The element of chance in each playthrough is a big factor, but not the only one. For example, the persistence system—while appreciated—takes a really long time to ramp up into anything signficant. Similarly, having multiple dungeons sounds like it can add a lot of replayability, but each one has its own difficulty setting, meaning you’ll be playing the easier "Dragon’s Cave" stage for quite a while before taking on something that offers more variety and challenge.
The bottom line
It’s easy to see why One Deck Dungeon makes the decisions it does when it comes to its gameplay and replayability. The reliance on dice and a slow progression ramp are things that were put into a dungeon-crawler board game to make it challenging and satisfying over tons of playthroughs without being too complex. When put into a digital format though, these systems feel like poor solutions when considering how other, similarly-themed games handle the same problems. So, while One Deck Dungeon may feel like a reliable re-creation of the board game, it doesn’t feel quite as satisfying as other dungeon crawlers on the App Store.