Culdcept and more Dune sciency stuff

Life flows onward. Care for the larva takes precedence.

I recently picked up a cheap 3DS game that looked interesting. It’s called Culdcept Revolt. Apparently the Culdcept series has been around for a while, though I’d never heard of it.


Gameplay-wise, it’s something of an ill-begotten spawn. Think Monopoly meets Yugioh meets Magic: The Gathering. In effect it sometimes feels like Mario Party – skill and strategy matter, but the result of a 30-minute match can ultimately depend upon the favor or curse of the Random Number God. But I guess Magic was always subject to that. “Whoops, you drew 10 lands in a row? Learn to shuffle better, scrub.”

But it’s got card collecting and deck building, so it scratches an itch. Don’t get me started on the writing, though. It’s seriously bad.

Ah well, at least it’s turn-based. When you need to be able to respond to the wail of your progeny at a moment’s notice, turns are required. Or at least pausing. Maybe both.

Meanwhile Dune continues to stimulate as I read in bits and squeaks. Back in college, I took a class in sociology and our professor had us read Dune. Herbert is more often recognized for the ecological hardness of his seminal work, but there’s a lot of soft science going on, too. Man, that was a cool class.


I’m told Herbert really knew ecology. I think it shows. But honestly, I’m not the kind of guy who’s incredibly difficult to convince with this stuff. Throw in the names of some scientific processes, maybe a plausibly-named theory…hey man, sounds sciency to me. “Hard” and “soft” scifi are relative terms, I guess.

Also, is “chromoplastic” a thing? Maybe…? A related element that’s impressed me is the range of invention Herbert utilizes here. He may not have coined all or even most of these gizmos and scifi doodads, but he seems to have picked some good ones that either never reached wide-scale use or else hit critical mass after he threw them in the mix.


This kind of thing is important, you know? Sure, you can have a good story with blasters and laser swords and plasteel armor and space marines. But that’s all been done. A lot. Don’t underestimate the power of novelty.

Oh, look – “cone of silence.” This thing was popularized by the old 60’s Get Smart TV show, of course, but it was apparently kicking around for at least a decade before that. Herbert himself used the term in a 1955 short story, so Wiki tells meDune was published in 1965, as a reference point.


I love this stuff, but dang I’ll be glad when I can muster up the wherewithal to dive into something new. Witch World looms.





Simplification and Nostalgia/Materialism

  • by Gitabushi

So we had a pipe burst in the basement. Nothing was lost, but they have to replace the floor and repair/repaint the walls.

Moving all my books from the bookcase, I was struck again by how many guitar books/resources I’ve rarely and/or never even opened. If I just went through and played through a new song in the AC/DC book each day, then back through, and again, by the end of the month, I’d have so many new guitar tricks, songs to play, etc.

…but for what?

Same thing with all my fingerstyle books and magazines. I was actually a decent fingerstylist at one point. But then I got into electrics, and it consumed all my time.

I should sell the drums. I should just stick to guitar. It’s not like I’m actually going to join a band.

But I know if I sell them, I’m *really* going to regret it.

Also on the shelves were all my books. I’ve converted over to e-books. It is so much easier to take stuff with me on my kindle. I don’t have to worry about books falling apart on me as I read them, either. So I think I’m going to dump a bunch of books soon.

Just watch: there’ll be a civilization apocalypse right after I get rid of all my books, and I wont’t be able to get power to keep my Kindle charged.

Anyway, also on the shelves were my Avalon Hill games.

I bought a buttload of them back in the early 00s, part of nostalgia for my youth. I planned to teach my son. 15 years later, he’s out of the house and we’ve only played a handful. Hey, at least we played that handful. About 10 of them are solitaire games…I’ve never played one of them. The rest are solitaire-possible. I have the entire Advanced Squad Leader series. If I played every day, it would probably still take me 5 years to play through all of the scenarios, since I have to work.

And to be honest, computer games like Jagged Alliance really do seem to fill that need for turn-based strategy against a smart opponent.

So I’m thinking about selling them all.

But here’s the deal: I’m 6 to 10 years from retirement.  One of my plans was in retirement I’d have time to play all these games.  But the plan is also to be active enough to still enjoy life. When I think about it, I don’t want to spend my retirement indoors, hunched over a gaming table by myself.  Not to mention, we’re planning on spending 4-6 months every year out traveling in an RV.

Can’t take Avalon Hill strategy board games out in an RV. Can’t take an electric drumset out in an RV. Heck, even taking an electric guitar is problematic…although I might be able to do it with the iPad and the BIAS app suite. The current plan is to take only the acoustic guitar along and work through fingerstyle stuff.

I guess I’m at the age where I’m fighting twin urges for simplification and nostalgia.

Any thoughts?

Make yourself useful, mage!

Yesterday Cirsova shared some thoughts on Twitter about a recent post over at Walker’s Retreat (which was in turn a reaction to a post at Dyvers blog).

This led to an interesting thread, if you’re of the sort who delights in this kind of raw nerdom.



A frequent criticism of D&D 3.5e, which is probably a middling version of the game in many senses (and yet like ice cream, each person has a favorite flavor), is that it’s too easy to get bogged down in rules and mechanics. Still, I think it gives a judicious and experienced DM the tools for a rather rich and dynamic game. A handyman may have a 50-piece ratchet/socket set in his toolbox; doesn’t mean he’s got to use it!

I must confess, I’ve never played a magic user. The only game I ever played in as a player gave me a taste of the charisma rogue, which I very much enjoyed.

The comparisons I can draw here are limited. A magic user may be standing in the doorway with his hands in his, uh, robe pockets as his party desperately fights off the goblin raiding party until he’s saved their bacon by expending a precious lightning bolt spell on the ogre boss that’s just rolled up on the exhausted heroes. As a silver-tongued rogue type, at least you’ve still got backstab, and hopefully enough HP and dexterity to help out on the front line for a round or two without getting insta-killed. You may not be a power-hitter, but you can at least do something useful most turns, whether it be culling a damaged bogie or firing off an arrow or two. Hey, at least I got you a flanking bonus!!

Anyway, when we consult our handy actuarial table of action types, we see that a magic user can…actually not really do much at all! My references above to aiding another or intimidating were actually useless advice in this context as they require melee range!

Unfortunately, without magical items or scrolls or maybe potions of some sort, a magic user’s not really got any recourse. Especially if he’s trying to sincerely roleplay his character.

What is one to do?

One branch of the conversation, which kind of circles back to Dyvers’ original post:


And I think that really may be the best solution – sprinkle in some magical goodies for your magic users to hold on to. But it’s up to the DM to anticipate and implement. If you return to some D&D’s source material, namely Dying Earth, you’ve got all manner of magical items for magic users to play around with between casting spells. Remember that in Vance’s stories, most wizards could only memorize a handful of incantations. While spells certainly accounted for an important portion of their overall power, perhaps equally important were the relics and magical artifacts that they were able to accumulate.

These gadgets can range in power, from extremely powerful to amusingly benign – think of Cugel’s “tube of blue concentrate,” which due to its mysterious nature elicited some degree of fear despite maybe just being a can of blue spray paint. These kinds of curios can be a real boon for a DM who doesn’t want to wantonly dish out wands of magic missile or other damage-dealing items, as they provide players with a great chance to get creative and do some quality roleplaying.


It’s also a thought for you fantasy writers. Instead of going with a vanilla wizard character who chants spells and draws runes, why not a codger with a bag full of doodads and magical junk?





Suikoden, in case you’re unfamiliar with it, is a JRPG series inspired by one of China’s “Four Great Classical Novels,” Water Margin. From what I know of it, Water Margin tells the tale of 108 outlaw-heroes who form an army to fight against an oppressive government.

Suikoden, likewise, tells the tale of 108 “Stars of Destiny.” In the first installment (PS1), these heroes band together to rebel against a corrupt government and bring about a peaceful new order. As far as JRPGs go, it’s quite a standout. All of these 108 stars can be recruited. Some of them join you automatically as the story advances, but many of them have to be sought out and found, either by completing some task, satisfying some condition, or simply by virtue of having found them in a strange or hidden place. These characters then populate your base. Many of them can join your party and participate in regular battles, some of them will open shops or provide other services, and some will also take part in “army battles.” More on that later.

I’ve played through Suikoden several times, but I had never gotten the “good” ending. That is, there’s a tragedy that occurs at one point in the story, and it can only be rectified by collecting all 108 Stars of Destiny by a certain part of the game. If you miss any recruits, you miss this “good” ending. In addition, the Suikoden series allows you to carry over data from previous games to influence the proceeding installments. Yes, games were doing this before Bioware! If you get the good ending, so much the better for your playthrough of the next game.

Suikoden 2 (PS1, available through the PSN shop) has been sitting on my PS3’s hard drive for a while now, and so a few months ago I decided the time had finally come. I am a big fan of the original, and I’ve read that many people consider 2 to be the peak of the series.

So I played through the first Suikoden again, to get the good ending this time. I’ve actually gotten pretty quick at getting through it. I think I beat it in about a week, and I finally got the optimal outcome (following a recruitment guide very carefully, of course). It’s interesting how successive playthroughs can be fun in different ways. Now that I was very familiar with the story and characters, I found myself swapping more minor characters into my party to try them out in battle. And man – the main character + Kai is a sick combo! They’ve got a team attack that lets them damage all enemies!

Suikoden 2 was next. I beat it a few weeks ago. How did it hold up? I must say, my impressions were mixed. Let me try to break things down a bit.



Ok, Suikoden 2 wins handily here. We’ve still got late SNES/Playstation era sprites going on (which is actually a draw to some of us, but not beloved by everyone), and the CGI cutscenes are pretty terrible. But the character animations are a lot better than Suikoden’s.


I actually thought the original Suikoden’s soundtrack was a lot better than its sequel. This could be because I’ve played it so many times, for sure, but not only do its songs stick in my head, but I always enjoyed listening to them. There’s a good variety of music, and individual tracks fit a variety of moods as needed for any given scene.

Interestingly, some of Suikoden’s tracks struck me as kinda Eastern European-sounding. Not that this is an inherently good or bad thing, just kind of unusual and attractive to me.

Suikoden 2 reuses music from Suikoden, but its arrangements didn’t really impress me. Frankly I just didn’t find its soundtrack as catchy or stirring.


Both games are decent on story, setting up and exploiting conflicts and relationships fairly early on. In Suikoden, there are many smaller stories going on, but the main relational focus is on Tir McDohl (the protagonist) and his father, who is a general for the emperor. Tir’s friendships with the other members (servants? hirelings?) of his household also feature prominently. In Suikoden 2, the focus is on Riou’s relationships with his sister, Nanami, and his best friend, Jowy.

Let’s be honest, neither one of these games is Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones. There is political intrigue, betrayal, and the like (not much romance, though, for what that’s worth). The stories move and engage. They are pretty good by JRPG standards, but there are weaknesses for sure. On plot, I favor Suikoden. The story just felt like it flowed better and more naturally. In Suikoden II, I had trouble understanding the motivations of some characters (including the ultimate antagonist). A lot of it seemed to boil down to stupidity, simplicity, or just being evil (which can be okay, but usually evil has some ultimate selfish motive such as power or wealth).


Both games feature three distinct battle systems. In normal fights, you’ve got your party of up to 6 characters. They can attack, use items, use runes to cast magic or employ special attacks, and perform team attacks. In duels, you basically play a rock-paper-scissors in which you can predict the enemy’s attacks based upon what he says between each round. Then there are army battles, which make use of your characters on a grander scale.


I must say I have a clear preference for Suikoden’s army battles. The graphics, music, and system itself (which is basically another rock-paper-scissors but with special units that can be employed to spice things up) were much more enjoyable than the tactics-style army battles of Suikoden II. Suikoden II’s system was close to being fun, but most of the battles don’t even matter – they’re prescripted and your decisions have little impact over whether you win or lose. The battles also drag on longer and feel less satisfying.



Again I prefer Suikoden here, but this isn’t by a huge margin. Both games have some fun characters (I’m sure favorites will vary from person to person). In Suikoden, Mathiu, Pahn, Viktor, Gremio, Valeria, Kasumi, and Krin are among my most liked (some of them are quite minor, but still). In Suikoden II, I was a fan of Eilie and Rina, Shu (who’s basically just Mathiu II), Nanami, Flik and Viktor, and Miklotov. Minus points for Freed – he sucks.

Ah Rina…
Fuck you Freed!

One of the strong points about both games is that of all the recruitable characters that can be placed in your immediate party, there are many viable choices. Sure, as you get toward the end you pick up a few OP individuals who are super strong, but there are plenty of solid choices if you have other preferences. Also the way experience works, it’s a pretty simple/quick matter to catch up characters who are severely under-leveled, if you haven’t used them in a while or ever but want to try them out or use them in a boss fight or something.


I don’t want to say Suikoden is flat-out better than its successor, but I do like it better in most ways. Another thing, neither here nor there, but worth pointing out, is that like many games from Japan, they’ve both got localization issues. And like many games from anywhere, they’ve got glitches. I’ve run into all this stuff. One thing that got to me in Suikoden II wasn’t a glitch but a design flaw. If you import Tir from Suikoden, you can use him, but he isn’t a recruitable Star of Destiny. This means that any time there’s a party shuffle (which is quite often), you lose him and have to go pick him up again. If you could teleport straight to Gregminster this wouldn’t be a big deal, but you have to trek through a long dungeon first. Pain in the ass!

Anyway, I’ve avoided spoilers in the hope that anyone who hasn’t played these games may decide to give them a shot. Suikoden shows its age, but if you’re a fan of SNES and early Playstation RPGs, chances are you’ll really enjoy it. There’s a lot of really cool stuff, like a magical rune that transforms itself into a sentient, vampire-killing sword!


If you do give it a play, feel free to drop a comment to let me know what you think!





“50 Games Like” Website

Interesting.  I found a website that specializes in finding games similar to other games.  So if you finish one, you can look for other, similar games.

To be honest, I’m struggling to find a way to explain that doesn’t involve just repeating the title, and I probably don’t need to do that.

Here’s the website, with a sample game searched.

Interestingly, you can’t use the search bar they provide.  All it will do is return a list of games and the overall rating.  I checked the original versus a game searched using their search bar, and the difference is, the search bar goes to a URL that includes “/games-search/” whereas what you really want is the URL that includes “/games-like”. Moreover, the search bar has the game name as “game%20name”, but when it is actually searching for games like what you want, it does the search using “game-name”.

So ignore the search bar.  Go up to the URL bar and type in the name of the game you want, but with dashes instead of spaces.

I hope that is clear.  If not, poke around until you figure it out, or ask me to clarify.

Must Play SF&F Pulp Retro-Gaming: Jagged Alliance

  • by Gitabushi


The Review, and some Thoughts:

Jagged Alliance is a turn-based, squad-based, top-down, tactical combat and resource management game.  It is clearly inspired by and based on the original X-Com game, but really runs with the concept, to the point of being a unique game.  Jagged Alliance has been called “X-Com with Personality” and I think that fits.

You are a mercenary, and you are hired to fight a traitorous former employee of a scientist and his daughter.  They had discovered how to make a regenerative serum from the sap of some trees that had been exposed to a nuclear explosion.  The trees were sterile, and the daughter was on the brink of being able to make them reproduce, ushering in an era when no one would have to suffer from disease, and when people at the brink of death can be brought back to health with just an injection.

(That’s the SF&F aspect).

You are fighting the bad guys to help protect a beautiful woman and her father from a true villain.

(That’s the Pulp part)

If you’ve ever played the original X-Com, it is a hard game.  You equip your troops and go out and fight aliens.  You explore a map, trying to find hidden aliens, and then kill them. They often see you first, and can kill your soldiers with one shot.  The main challenge in X-Com is to minimize your deaths so you don’t have to waste money hiring new soldiers. You come to care about your soldiers when they develop skills and levels and become good fighters, and when you personalize their names.

Jagged Alliance is hard, too.  Every battlefield is covered with trees, and the occasional building. You have to explore the sector, looking for the enemy.  They sometimes see you first.  The AI is very good, as the enemy will try to outflank you, will make good use of cover, etc. You have to move closer to the enemy to get a good shot, but you have to preserve action points so you can get a reaction shot…which usually has much higher chance of hitting; maybe because your character spots the enemy soldier moving in the open?

In Jagged Alliance, the difficulty is in keeping your players uninjured, because you have to keep them back in camp (and not helping on missions) for a full day to heal them up. That costs money, and wastes their useful time.  I haven’t yet tried firing injured characters, because, well, they take it personally.

And that is the beauty of Jagged Alliance. Every character has personality. They talk back to you if they don’t like their orders, and sometimes ignore you.  They don’t like each other, and will quit (or refuse to be hired), if you have someone on the team they don’t like.  They will tattle on each other.  If they pick up some money on the battlefield, it might not all make it back to fund future operations as it should, depending on the character of the person who picked it up.  The better mercenaries won’t work for you if you don’t have any experience, if too many of your mercenaries die, or if you won’t pay for a funeral for them.

So like X-Com, it is very, very difficult to avoid taking damage.  Like X-Com, you want to be extremely careful to manage the damage for the purpose of preserving future resources, and because you come to like your soldiers. Unlike X-Com, your soldiers don’t die with one shot, and the soldiers are likable just for their inherent personality.

It is a great game. Still fun to play now, decades after it was first made.  It is no wonder it became a cult classic and still spoken of with respect.

It is just too bad that the companies making it never had a bona fide hit on their hands to preserve their existence and ensure a successful and ongoing series.  Jagged Alliance is great. Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games is a much lighter, easier add-on.  Now that I’ve played the original, Deadly Games doesn’t seem like a full game of its own, but merely supplementary material.  Still fun, it adds several innovations (like snow, where your players can fall down as they rush toward the enemy).  And Jagged Alliance 2 is perhaps the best game in the history of computer gaming.  But after that, it gets kind of sketchy.  Several companies have attempted sequels with varying success.  I’ll provide reviews for those in the future when/if I get around to playing them.

The long, rambling background story of my experience with Jagged Alliance:

A long time ago, I found Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games in the bargain bin of a computer game store.  I played it, and it was fun.  It might have been replayable, but I never did.  A friend borrowed it, and by the time he gave it back, I moved on to other games.  And only a year or so later, I found Jagged Alliance 2 in a bargain bin, and purchased that.

And I’ve been replaying it ever since.

But I never played the original Jagged Alliance.  I always wanted to finish JA2 first, but I was always starting the game over…sometimes because I wanted to try to develop a different set of mercenaries, or try a different overall strategy, but most of the time because I missed the stress and enjoyment of the early game, when your mercs are weak and armed with weak weapons, and stumbling across a good rifle is a source of excitement.

But I digress.

Along came Windows 10, and it made it impossible to play Jagged Alliance 2.  I finally found a work-around (delete the Intro file), but it played extremely laggy.

This Christmas, my son was talking excitedly about the original X-Com.  Since Jagged Alliance was born as an X-Com copy, that made me think about the old games.  This was a perfect time to see if the old Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games and original Deadly Games might work in DosBox on Windows 10.

Spoiler: They didn’t.

So I went on a quest to resolve that problem. I was able to resolve the issue with a download from Great Old Games for Deadly Games first. I played the tutorial and the first mission, but decided that it was imperative I play the original game.

I finally succeeded…by buying a compilation off of eBay that had four games in the series: Jagged Alliance, Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games, Jagged Alliance 2, and Jagged Alliance 2: Unfinished Business.  All on one CD.

And sure enough, they all worked fine. Even Jagged Alliance 2 (after, again, deleting the intro file that crashes the startup on Windows 10).  JA2 wasn’t even laggy.

So I started Jagged Alliance.

Let me back up.

Jagged Alliance 2 has a high learning curve. One reason I enjoyed the early game so much is that it was easy to learn some new tactic or technique that, had you known it from the beginning, would make the game more fun and more successful. So it was easy to start over. And start over again.  And again.

In fact, even after playing it for 10 years (although off and on in the last 3 years of that decade), I was still learning some new tactics and wrinkles of the game (Hey, if you stop punching the cows before they die, they’ll heal up for more punching the next time you pass through the sector!).

Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games also had a pretty high learning curve.  One thing I didn’t know until after I finished the whole series of scenarios is you can keep mercs back to rest, heal, etc.  That saves money.  What I did was hire some more expensive mercs, run out of money, have to backtrack to weaker mercs, and then have to play them injured with only 30% remaining health (or less). I thought everyone had to go on the mission every time.  Now I know better.

Knowing that now, and going back to play the original game, you’d think it would be easy.

Discussion of Gameplay and Strategy of the original Jagged Alliance:

Nope. This is one of the hardest games I’ve ever played.

It’s possible I don’t know some effective tactics.  I did choose the harder difficulty of not being able to save at all during combat.  Which means if you take unacceptable losses in a battle, you have to start over.



You hire up to 8 mercenaries to do the fighting (in Jagged Alliance and Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games, you don’t actually have a character who fights).  Unfortunately, you are a newbie, so few of the skilled mercenaries will help you.

Also, you have limited timeframe (I think just 65 days), and you need to conquer sectors to re-capture trees to harvest, so you have the money to continue to pay your mercenaries.  That pushes you to attack more sectors per turn. I’ve seen some people say you need to conquer 3 territories on average, per day.

But you have to avoid having your mercs get hurt.

I started with 6 mercs, conquered 3 territories. 3 people were injured. So I hired a doctor to heal the two significant injuries, then kept the mechanic back to repair some better quality guns that were in poor condition (so jammed easily).

I can see where you need to have a doctor who never goes on missions and just heals up your people, and a mechanic that just keeps your stuff in good repair.  That means you have just 6 people who can fight, and less if you hold them back to get healed.

Now, a minor wound (10 points or less) will heal up on its own in what seems like 2 days.

But since the accuracy is difficult to figure (you can miss when someone is standing right in front of you), you need to mass your mercs on any opponent to ensure you kill them before they shoot at you.  Trees are great cover…but there are times where the angle means the bad guys can shoot right past it, whereas your merc’s shot gets caught in the branches.

Now, I’m sure much of that is because you start with low level mercs with poor marksmanship.  But that’s where you start.

So, anyway, just getting through that first day took me 3 real days (playing an hour or two in the evening). Then I was getting chewed up on day 2 with just 4 mercs available to fight.  And I also realized that I probably had had enough time to take a fourth sector.

So…you guessed it!  I restarted.

It took me another three days to finish all 4 attacks on the first day with few enough injuries to be able to have 6 fighters for the next round.



I would almost clear a sector, and then a bad guy would come around the corner and get a head shot, knocking my guy down to 20% health.  Or I would keep my distance, keep everyone under cover, and then a bad guy would throw a grenade and take 3 of my fighters to below 50% health, plus a permanent dexterity loss.

Well, I finally did it, and I’m ready to start Day 2 now.  I have to hire more guards to protect my sectors, and more tappers to harvest the trees. I need to have the mechanic repair the 4-5 weapons I found, but I think I can let my 5 different wounded mercs heal up on their own. Only one is badly injured enough to slow him down significantly, but I’ve been dealing with him so far, so I’ll just keep him back out of danger, move him to be an extra shooter when necessary. Oh, and the Mechanic is hurt, too, but again: he can heal while he stays behind and fixes equipment.

Fun game. If you want to try it, let me know and I’ll help you find a version that works.

Here’s probably the best place to start.  This webpage also includes a fairly in-depth review of the game, in case I didn’t make it sound enticing enough.

I’d give the game a solid 8/10.  Jagged Alliance: Deadly Games gets an 8/10. Jagged Alliance 2 gets 10/10.

UPDATE: This is the game (eBay link) that will play all 4 on your Windows 10 computer with minimal modification.

Once that link expires (as it will when the game is no longer for sale), what you want to look for is “Jagged Alliance Compilation”, which has 4 games all on one disk. Disc.  Whatever.

One Deck Dungeon, a Game Review

  • by Gitabushi

I stumbled across this game on Amazon. It sounded good, so I bought it.

Let me take a step back and ramble. Nothing better than a good, rambling post, right?

Games are fun. I’ve heard it explained that games are mind hacks, going back to the original notion of a hack being something bad, as in a process that hijacks normal processes to exploit the target for specific purposes, usually material gain. I’m convinced men are biologically programmed to achieve things. Games give men the sense of accomplishment of achieving something, and we pay money for that sense of accomplishment. But we don’t actually succeed at anything.  Which is why males who do nothing but play video games are generally looked down upon.  They are caught in an addiction of useless “accomplishments”, the game companies are making money off that addiction, and the most successful games are those that parcel out accomplishments regularly, and tying them to payments to make the “successes” slightly easier.

But that being said, when you do have a normal life with normal accomplishments, it can be harmless fun to play a game or two.

I’m old.  I still remember when Pong came out, and I remember getting the chance to play it.  We were early adopters of the Atari 2600, and I played all the old games.  I rolled the score on Missile Command, and then rolled the score on Chopper Command (Defender-like game) while drunk on Christmas Eve.


Being this old, I was also an early adopter of Dungeons and Dragons, Gamma World, Boot Hill, and other role-playing games.  And more than that, I was into Avalon Hill in a big way.

There is nothing like playing a live opponent in a complex strategy board game.

Sure, video games have gotten better. I’ve seen League of Legends, and you have live opponents there, too.  AI has gotten great on some of the video games, making strategy that much more challenging and fun.  And there are plenty of Rogue-like games where you aren’t playing an AI, but facing off against a randomly generated series of obstacles, like in Desktop Dungeons (free download of the fully-playable beta version is available if you look around for it).

But there is still nothing like the thrill of a tabletop game.

One Deck Dungeon is much like Desktop Dungeons: you don’t face off against anyone, you overcome a series of randomly-generated obstacles.

There are so many ways this could go wrong.  It could be predictable.  It could be too easy to win, or too difficult. Winning could be based simply on the random generation, rather than your skill.  There has to be a challenge, but there also has to be a sense of progression in skill, the feeling that the more you play, the better you get at it.

One Deck Dungeon has this.

The random generation has two aspects. One is simply the cards you lay down as opponents. The other is the dice.

So much more of the game, however, is in your choice.  Obviously, you have the choice of what character class to start with, and you have the choice of what card to turn over, and whether to engage after you see what the card is.

But from there, you need to assess whether you have enough dice to defeat the obstacle. You sometimes have a choice of the tactic to use. Once an obstacle is defeated, you have the choice of using the card gained (and you get the card whether you win or lose the encounter…that’s a nice touch) as experience toward leveling up, or as an item that increases your basic ability dice totals, or as a skill that can improve the rolls you get on the dice, or as a potion that provides a significant (and instantaneous) boost in power.

With these choices, you really have a great deal of flexibility in how you play.  The very first time I played, I made it to the boss, thought I was going to lose immediately, but thanks to two sets of unusually good rolls, I lasted until the 3rd round, where an unusually bad roll sunk me.

Still, I didn’t feel frustrated or screwed over by the dice.  There are always different choices I could have made that might have meant I didn’t need the above-average rolls, or that could have defeated the boss before getting to that third set.

The next 5 games, I lost on the first level.

The game after that, I won.

I’ve learned that leveling up is the last thing you should do: always go for abilities or skills, because when you reach your limit and overflow, you can choose a less-helpful one and it becomes experience for leveling up.

One other thing: you also have multiple methods of generating wild-card dice to defeat monsters, and of healing yourself.  But there are restrictions I hadn’t mentioned, like how you have to “fill out” the card by applying your dice to each block on the opponent card.  Some blocks require agility dice results, some strength, some magic. Some dice totals can be achieved with multiple dice, but others require a single dice. It can be tough when you see you need a 6 and a 5 of agility, and you are rolling just 4 dice.  And it is even more distressing when the 5 cannot be filled with a wildcard dice.  How did I defeat it? I had a skill that let me turn one agility dice into a 6 at will.  So I knew that every time I had to roll agility, I was going to get at least one 6, which meant that I would always be able to fill at least one box each time agility was required.  And the 5?  Well, if I didn’t get the roll, perhaps all I needed to do was spend “time”.  Or just take one hit of damage, which I could heal one of several different ways.

Oh, yeah: time.  One other unique aspect of this game is you are often required to spend “time”. I use the term in quotes because “time” is flipping over cards into the discard pile. There is somewhat of a race against time, because the longer you explore (the more cards you get to challenge and win), the more items/skills you obtain, which then turn into experience to level up, which gives you a larger capacity for items and skills, which lets you overcome obstacles easier.  When you reach the end of the deck, you can always descend to the next level immediately.  But if there are 3 more cards, and you need just a little more experience to level up before facing the more difficult challenges of the next level?  Well, you start taking damage.  At what point is the damage you take worse than the additional skills/items you pick up?

Only you can decide.  And that’s what makes it fun.

Finally, I’ve played this nearly 10 times on just the first boss level.  There are 4 more bosses I can take on, all of them harder than the level 1 boss. And then I can teach a friend to play and we can take on the dungeon together, completely changing the dynamics of skills, items, experience, and damage…who takes the damage, who gets the item (the game requires mostly even damage-taking, but you still have options of who takes it first).  If that ever gets bored, buy a 2nd set, find two more friends, and try it with 4 people (to the best of my understanding, you can’t play it with 3 people).

Now that you’ve read the review, here’s a video explanation!

For $25, it seems extremely re-playable.  There’s an “expansion” (stand alone, basically just another version of the game with a completely different deck…no idea whether you can combine, but I doubt it) called Forest of Shadows, and I think I’ll get that and keep it in reserve.

5 stars.

UPDATE: I can’t reach any of the items on Amazon right now. They were available when I started this post. I don’t know if Amazon is now sold out, or there is some sort of temporary error.  Probably the latter.  Let me know in the comments whether the links work or not.