Board games come in so many flavors that saying “I am a big fan of board games” sounds just a little bit shallow. But, euro-style board games? Like, demanding resource management, maintenance of your holdings, conflict, drama, a sprinkle of luck? Yeah, I am a big fan of those.
By the way… resource management, holdings, conflict… doesn’t this list of features remind you about a similar video game genre?
Honestly, how come it took us this long to come up with a game that combines real-time strategy genre with euro-style board game mechanics? One seems quite darn compatible with the other. And, I am not talking about hex maps and sectioned rounds in combat — that one we had for a while.
Instead, how about rolling literal dice and placing them around the board as if they were meeples in a board game? (That’s what those tiny human-shaped pieces are called.)
Dice Legacy Nailed the Feel of a Board Game
That’s probably why Dice Legacy looks immediately enticing to a board game enthusiast. Food, wood, iron, gold, ale, wheat, herbs — all of those are little 3D tokens for you to place around, and dice change colors based on their social class. Oh, and I momentarily held my breath when I realized that the board itself is… well, I will leave that for you to discover yourself.
Dice Legacy probably can’t exist as it is in a physical form, that is, without electric wiring to light up the dice and $300-500 worth of pieces inside pretty much a chest (think Gloomhaven, but many, many more 3D pieces). I also wouldn’t envy anyone trying to manage all of these pieces themselves instead of the video game script doing that for you.
Dice Legacy does lack the kind of multiplayer we are used to when thinking about strategic board games. But, instead, it offers an exciting roguelike landscape generation, seasonal challenges, and resource management that requires strategical planning and adaptation based on available resources.
Perhaps, a close thematic comparison would be Northgard, but then, again, what RTS game out there offers you to roll your workforce as 3D dice to determine what actions they can offer you?
And Yet… It Feels Like There Could Be More?
And yet, all of this failed to draw in some of the players who reported tedious micromanagement and not a lot of variation to allow for replayability. And, while I did enjoy playing the game, I feel like I have to agree about it… lacking something.
This got me thinking: if the game was to add elements to enhance the gameplay, without messing with the core premise and the board game feel, what could those elements look like?
A Campaign Mode
An easy addition that orients new players and provides engagement for everyone would be to lean into the RTS side of things and offer a goal-driven campaign.
There are drawbacks to Dice Legacy offering a UI system we haven’t seen before, and it’s hard to immediately strategize for. It’s hard to predict what will be happening to the dice themselves going forward (the space limit, winter freezing, wounds, and the class system), how many of each building one would want in their territory, and how to prepare for different scenarios (discovering other settlements or dealing with raiders, for example).
A story-themed mode with buildings getting unlocked as you progress further, as well as playing through examples of successful approaches to the game’s various challenges could go a long way towards helping with player confidence. (Also, who doesn’t like an immersive campaign mode?)
However, this doesn’t need to come at the expense of the board-gamey feel: developers could introduce ordered scenario cards, like in Legacy board games (Betrayal Legacy, e.g.), that you can trigger by completing goals on your agenda cards, landing on certain areas of the board, or by purchasing them with resources. And why not all of the above?
More Smaller Powers
Dice Legacy has Rulers — unlockable leaders with cool powers which you can activate once you roll a specific combination in a single roll. Yet, the way it currently works doesn’t allow for these powers to be used often: you need to roll a particular combination, which often requires a certain amount of specific class dice in your pool to begin with.
What if Rulers had smaller bonuses in addition to this mechanic that does not have to push you into a certain die setup to use their single power (that sometimes comes with the cost, too)?
I compared Dice Legacy to a video game Northgard, so let’s take an example from the latter: Clans! The Wolf Clan that excels at hunting and expansion with a hero that can summon wolves, the Goat Clan with mastery of feasts, food, and livestock, the Raven Clan that can buy itself out of pretty much any trouble… all of these come with passives and some active abilities you can employ.
But, we are talking board games here, and what do you know, board games also love to hand out role cards, “engine-building” boards that react to certain conditions, empowered minions you earn from your actions, and many other small ways to customize bonuses that add up to something very unique over time (often it’s something that can’t easily be replicated due to sheer lucky chance! It’s quite an addictive mechanic and allows for tons of replayability).
Some leaders might have discount costs for certain Technologies instead of having passive effects themselves, or they can have reduced negative effects with a certain class to help you specialize into a certain strategy with more ease. Perhaps these leaders could have unique seasonal policies.
Just like with Northgard, a list of small bonuses of this kind (or maybe even minor disadvantages?) could combine into an engaging theme and drive a specific approach (or a more unusual one!).
I learned the hard way that there is a lot that can suddenly go wrong when you don’t know what to plan for or even if you briefly get distracted.
Random events can provide aid or offer a way out for little mistakes, or they can add an interesting element to strategize around. Make them pleasantly helpful on easier modes, then make them into exciting challenges with rewards for expert players. Every game can offer an interesting combination, allowing for better replayability.
Event cards are a very common element in many strategic board games: they come up during rounds, at the end of rounds, at the end of seasons, they can be purchased, they can be held in your hand, they can secretly affect you and then be revealed later… the possibilities are endless.
And, yes, the bit about dumb mistakes very much comes from personal experience. I didn’t realize how easy it is to freeze dice or lose access to a certain resource node simply because I was busy with something else.
Say, a mysterious raven briefly visiting my village would be very welcome if the sacred bird can take a piece of gold and boost resource production amidst my relieved peasants. Or, a tribe of nomads that happens to travel through the area can unfreeze two of my dice in exchange for 4 wood and 4 food tokens. An expensive way to make my winter significantly easier (after I forgot to load my steam engine with wood and got 4 frozen dice coming back from work).
Alright, maybe I got a tiny bit carried away here: digital board games are still a developing genre (despite the boost they got in 2020) and some things are much easier said than done. It’s important to keep in mind that DESTINYbit is a small dev team out of Italy, bringing us an innovative game with just a gorgeous visual concept, and what they have accomplished with it being their second game title on Steam is laudable in of itself.
Then come more philosophical thematic questions. When does the board game look stop adding to the digital game experience, making things harder to learn and areas of the board harder to view? Why convert board game mechanics when they were clearly meant for a physical table? And yet, we continue being very excited when we see projects like Dice Legacy come to life. What is it about interacting with models of familiar physical objects that feels extra-interactive?
What are your thoughts about this one, dear readers? Let us know in the comments below!
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Dedicated contributor at EIP Gaming and a part-time collector of books she will never have time to actually read. Jumps on the newest releases just as quickly as on the uncovered dusty collections from the basement. For her, shiny graphics can never be an excuse to not have a polished player experience or an immersive story.