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Subject: Solo Gaming One Deck Dungeon: A Meeple, Myself, and I Review rss

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JDM
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One Deck Dungeon, or, ODD, as the cool kids call it, is a dungeon-crawler where you use one deck of cards to create a roguelike dungeon, wherein you will try to take your character and survive waves of traps, enemies, and ultimately a big ol’ baddy boss who will crush your dreams and probably lead you to throw the game out of the window while screaming “MORE LIKE NO DECK DUMB-GEON,” and then you’ll go down to the street and pick up the pieces later because it really is a good game and you should probably seek some help for your anger problems.

Erm. So... Why don’t we talk about how this game works?

In ODD, which, as you know, is what the cool kids call it, you will control one of several different classes of heroes who are trying to make it through three floors of a dungeon and kill the boss who lurks at the end. When you start the game, you’ll select one of the dungeons that you want to fight through; each dungeon has unique challenges, requirements, and a boss attached to it. After doing a bit of setup that I won't go into, you'll take four cards off of the top of the deck and set them face-down in front of you, creating four “doors” that you can go into as you attempt to make it through the deck.

Neat Thing About ODD #1 Pretty much every time that you do something in the game, you’ll be taking some cards off of the top of the deck and spending them as “time.” The deck is cleverly many things at once: it represents the time you’re spending to do things, and the trials you’re facing, and, eventually, the upgrades that you amass throughout the game. But this idea, of being required to gradually discard the deck as you’re doing other things, is neat, because you have to go through the deck three times before you can make it to the final boss. The game advances itself in a really clever way, by forcing you to both encounter some of the deck and also mandatorily discard a lot of it as you're doing those encounters. END OF NEAT THING #1

When you’ve decided which door you want to go in, you’ll spend your obligatory time from the deck, and then you’ll reveal what your encounter is by the flipping door/card over to its encounter side. The encounter can either be a monster or a trap of some sort. There are some important, subtle differences between these two types of encounters, but I’ll just do a quick overview of the game’s basic ideas here.

When you select your adventurer at the beginning of the game, you’ll be told to take a certain number of dice (that are either yellow, blue, or pink, and respectively represent your combat savviness, mana pool, and fleet-footedness). When you go into a new encounter, you’ll see requirements on the card that are, not surprisingly, yellow, blue, or pink. When you start your encounter, then, you’re going to roll your pool of dice according to what dice your class provides, and then you’ll see if the values of the dice you’ve rolled are high enough to meet the requirements of that particular challenge. A yellow box with a five in it needs to be covered up by a yellow dice showing a five or six, for example. Here's what some of the encounters look like:





If you don’t meet the requirements, you’ll be punished by losing health or being forced to spend more time from the deck.

Neat Thing #2 But wait! You might be thinking… Why would it be a PUNISHMENT for you to spend time and therefore discard cards from the titular One Deck, when the whole point of the game is to make it through the deck three times and slay the final boss? Well, you see, person who I’m imagining right now, in ODD, as the cool kids still call it, the dungeon gets harder and harder each successive time you make it through the deck. There are always dice that you have to commit to the dungeon ON TOP of the requirements of whatever encounter you’re doing, and more requirements are added to the dungeon each time you go through the deck. There’s a real sense of tension, as you know that you need to progress through the deck in order to survive, but if you go at a breakneck pace, you probably won’t have upgraded yourself enough to survive. Also, the boss is incredibly difficult and you’ll need lots of powerful upgrades to have any chance at all. END OF NEAT THING #2

Neat Thing #3 Oh! You can upgrade yourself! Whenever you survive an encounter, whether you did it perfectly or took damage/lost time along the way, you’ll get to use the defeated encounter as an upgrade for yourself in some way. You can use the encounter as a skill card, which gives you special powers that you can use to better survive future encounters; you can use the encounter as a potion card, which gives you extra ways to use your potion cubes (oh, there are potion cubes) in a whole bunch of different ways; you can use the encounter as an item, which gives you more dice (and possibly health) to use in future encounters; you can use the encounter as experience, which will eventually give you automatic black dice at the start of each encounter, along with increased capacity for more skills, potions, etc. Choosing what upgrade/benefit you’ll take after completing an encounter is among the most challenging and interesting decisions you make during the game. Here is a character with a couple of upgrades attached to her, taken from encounters she's previously competed:



END OF NEAT THING #3

Hey! Up there, I mentioned black dice! What are black dice? And why is this review so recursive? Great questions, still frustrated, imaginary reader! In ODD, as the cool kids once called it but do no more because this joke has overstayed its welcome, black dice can be used to cover a box of any color, so they give you real flexibility. Leveling up is one way to get more black dice, but it’s not a “Neat Thing #4”-level of clever game design. So join me, down at…

Neat Thing #4! Whenever you roll your dice, you always have the option of discarding any two dice in order to create one black die that is equal to the value of the lower die you discarded. If you get rid of a Yellow 5 and a Red 3, you’d get a Black 3, then. This gives you some real decisions to make, inserting a critical level of “I can do stuff beyond just roll and resolve” right from the beginning of the game. END OF NEAT THING #4

Let's pause for a brief recap of how this whole game goes: You pick a character, and she will give you a few dice that you can use to start going through the dungeon. You’ll “explore” four rooms, and then you’ll start entering those rooms and making your way through encounters, turning those encounters into different kinds of upgrades that help you do better with future encounters. You are discarding lots of cards from the deck along the way as you do all these things, to symbolize the passage of time as you make your way through the dungeon. You'll refill the rooms you can explore as you empty them out, and you'll reshuffle the deck and make the dungeon harder for your second and third times through the deck. When you’ve gone through the deck three times, you’ll fight a really difficult boss that will probably kill you.

Neat Thing #5 There is a campaign mode to this whole shebang, which gives you bonuses for how well you do in each of your runs with a particular character and eventually grants persistent bonuses that further customize your characters. I love, love, love campaign play, especially in smaller-box games like this, so this was a thing of beauty for me. It takes the game from "pretty good" to "probably pretty great" for me. END OF NEAT THING #5

For a game that comes in such a teensy little box, ODD packs a pretty solid punch. (Here's a comparison of the box with the box of Sylvion for scale.)



The rules are at once a bit cryptic when you first go through them, but then the game is pretty intuitive once you get things rolling. I should note, though, that I haven’t covered all of the details you’d need to know to actually play the game on your own.

Perhaps my biggest gripe with the game is that it doesn’t feel like you get to really explore the full space of decision-making until you are at least 50% of the way through a particular play of the game. As you get more abilities, more dice, more potions, etc., you can pull off more and more satisfying combos that would make other people go “Oooooh wow that was satisfying”; that happens mostly near the end of the game, however. There is plenty of opportunity for rolls at the beginning of the game where you go, “Oh dear, that was a bad roll and those results are catastrophically devastating aaaaand there is just not much I can do about that.” I understand the idea of leveling up your character to go through the roguelike dungeon, but ODD felt a bit overly dependent on the luck of the dice, especially at the beginning, for a game that seems to work pretty hard to give you interesting decisions with the dice as the game goes on. Of course, this is counterbalanced by the fact that the game is very quick to set up and play through; I'm certainly more tolerant of a game's swinginess when it is intended to be played in less than 30 minutes (and purposefully powers you up as you go through the game).

It also should be said that some of the decisions seem to be less “What cool, wacky combo can you figure out” and more “Do you see the one, obvious thing you should do here?” I don’t think that the game is consistently great at making me feel creative and innovative with my decisions; I think that the game, instead, mostly demands that I find the “real” solution that lurks somewhere beneath the surface of my dice. (This isn’t necessarily a negative for the game, but instead just a note on the “flavor” of decision-making provided by the game.)

There is lots of replayability here, especially with the different dungeons, character types, and the campaign mode to tie it all together. That’s really important to emphasize: the characters have very different abilities from one another to make the game feel fresh. There are also different difficulty levels you can tinker around with as you go through the campaign mode, too, if you want to have a slightly easier or harder time making your way through your dungeons.

One Deck Dungeon is something of a hit in the solo gaming community right now: many people log their plays of solo games at the “Solo Games on Your Table” forum in the One-Player Guild on BGG, and ODD is the most-logged game of the year at the time I’m writing this. This doesn’t surprise me; it’s easy to get to the table, looks great when it’s there, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The campaign mode, in particular, is what makes the game special for me, in many ways. It's a great example of what modern board games can do: just with one deck of cards, a character sheet, and some dice, you can have a gaming experience that is just about as satisfying as the video games of yore in many ways.

If you like this review, please check out my other reviews of solo games and variants in the Meeple, Myself, and I series!
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Steve Wrenn
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What? You thought I'd have some interesting overtext?
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Awesome review! So is it pretty much a hard 30 minutes? My big thing is I'm looking for a solo game to take to work for my 30 minute break, and needless to say, they mean 30 minutes, not 40 because I couldn't decide which die to put in which slot, or because I was cleaning the game up. I mean, I want the game either way, but is this the game to reliably fill this nitch?
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PAGamer wrote:
Awesome review! So is it pretty much a hard 30 minutes? My big thing is I'm looking for a solo game to take to work for my 30 minute break, and needless to say, they mean 30 minutes, not 40 because I couldn't decide which die to put in which slot, or because I was cleaning the game up. I mean, I want the game either way, but is this the game to reliably fill this nitch?


I haven't played One Deck Dungeon (I was a late backer on the last Kickstarter,) but you may want to check out FUSE. I haven't played that game either, but it looks like fun. The best part, at least for your situation, is that the game only lasts ten minutes. That gives you twenty spare minutes to eat, set-up the game, play it for ten minutes, and pack it away.
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Nice review JDM! I can't wait to get this game in the mail.
 
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Chris Cieslik
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PAGamer wrote:
Awesome review! So is it pretty much a hard 30 minutes? My big thing is I'm looking for a solo game to take to work for my 30 minute break, and needless to say, they mean 30 minutes, not 40 because I couldn't decide which die to put in which slot, or because I was cleaning the game up. I mean, I want the game either way, but is this the game to reliably fill this nitch?


Not the first few times you play. If you're *fast* you can finish a successful game in 20 minutes. But that means knowing the game well.

It's very easy to lose inside 30 minutes though
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Steve Wrenn
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So, board game prices lists one as version 1.5? What is the difference, and is that why it has prices ranging from $14.95 all the way up to $58.02?
 
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PAGamer wrote:
So, board game prices lists one as version 1.5? What is the difference, and is that why it has prices ranging from $14.95 all the way up to $58.02?


I'm pretty sure the versions are just updated rules. Components are all the same. v1.6 is available in PDF at no cost on their website.
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Joe Hauser
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V1.5 has some changed cards from Version 1.0. All of the changes are listed on the ODD website (http://www.onedeckdungeon.com/v15.php) and they were made for balance reasons after they got feedback from players.

You can easily play the game with a V1.0 deck with either the original wordings or print out the FAQ with the changes and just remember which cards and rules are changed for the V1.5.

From what the creator has said all decks currently being shipped are the V1.5.
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Prices are high because it's out of stock, the new print run is due mid to late November. It's v1.6, which has a newly reorganized rulebook. No rule changes, just presented in hopefully a more clear fashion.
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PAGamer wrote:
Awesome review! So is it pretty much a hard 30 minutes? My big thing is I'm looking for a solo game to take to work for my 30 minute break, and needless to say, they mean 30 minutes, not 40 because I couldn't decide which die to put in which slot, or because I was cleaning the game up. I mean, I want the game either way, but is this the game to reliably fill this nitch?


I've played quite a few games, and I still have games run an hour or longer just because I get so caught up in considering all of my options. Maybe if I had a better sense of dominant strategy it would be different.

angelkurisu wrote:
Prices are high because it's out of stock, the new print run is due mid to late November. It's v1.6, which has a newly reorganized rulebook. No rule changes, just presented in hopefully a more clear fashion.


Huh. I pre-ordered a stand-alone set of plastic cards because I'm really enjoying the game and I want a deck that'll last FOREVER. I'm guessing the changes in v1.6 are all for the rulebook, not for the cards?
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