While it doesn't always captivate, Dice Legacy is unequivocally unique and enjoyable. It manages to capture the addictiveness of city builders, and somehow blends it with a roguelike to make something entirely new. Any fans of strategy gaming should give this one a try.
Making something that is both fresh and unique, and also fun, is perhaps the biggest challenge in game development. It’s easy to stick with what works, what you know people like; any time you create a game that features new mechanics, you’re taking a big risk — and thank goodness for all the devs that weren’t afraid to take a chance on something different, because if they hadn’t, countless wonderful games that followed behind could never have been made.
Dice Legacy is most definitely something different. It’s not just a city builder with rogue-like elements, it’s a city builder with rogue-like elements with dice (I’m trying to make “rollgue-like” the name for this new genre). Your settlement starts on the seashore of a small ring-world, and as you expand, your small town sprawls northward towards the other end of the loop. Along the way, you’ll be able to interact with neutral tribes, trade with wandering merchants and monks, and utilize an impressive amount of strategic options in your attempt to settle the entire ring.
Depending on the difficulty and scenario you choose, Dice Legacy can range from a fast-paced strategy game to a relatively chill city-builder. You can min-max and try to have more than 12 dice going at once (but you might end up having to discard them if you aren’t getting them back in play fast enough) or you can go slow and win on the standard difficulty without ever doing so. As a long-time RTS player, I tended towards a frenetic gameplay pattern where I didn’t think particularly hard about where each individual die went, and instead focused on keeping my dice out of the pool, but I doubt the way I played would hold up at higher difficulties.
Given the game’s title, it should come as no surprise that it’s all about the dice. There are six dice classes, and they all have six sides that allow them to do different things. The versatile Peasant die can do anything from exploration and combat to farming and harvesting, while the more specialized Soldier and Merchant dice only have three different actions they can take. Mines, forests, and hunting grounds require the “harvest” face, while buildings require different combinations of face + resource(s) to function. Depending on your strategy, you’ll want to modify your dice pool to make sure you always have the faces you need to put your plans into motion. This is easily accomplished by a number of buildings that allow you to turn one type of die into another, or even reverse the process should the need arise.
The way the dice function as a resource as well as your “units” is quite clever. Each time you use a die, it gets exhausted, and you have to reroll it to refresh it. You can also reroll a die if you don’t like the face it has. Rolling a die removes a durability point from the die; roll a die with zero durability and you lose it. You can restore the durability of a die, but this takes time and resources. You are frequently faced with tough decisions: if you’re low on food, perhaps you shouldn’t reroll that die but instead find a way to use it, or lock it and save it for later. These tough decisions extend to building placement; proximity bonuses and the need to keep dice warm in the winter mean deciding where to drop your newest wheat farm isn’t always simple.
Rolling the dice is just plain fun, and there’s enough variance in their faces that the gambler in me happily blew through durability looking for the specific face I needed on more than one occasion. Like any good roguelike, there’s plenty of luck, but it never feels unfair — good decision making can more than make up for any bad RNG you might get.
In addition to the basic gameplay loop of deciding where to place your dice and buildings, there’s a fairly deep tech tree where you can spend research points to unlock new buildings or passive benefits. You can also upgrade your dice throughout the game, increasing the value of their faces or otherwise buffing them. Because it’s a rollgue-like, there’s also the opportunity to “ascend” a die, making it available in future runs (essential for beating higher difficulties).
There’s also a not-insignificant administration aspect of the game that requires you to manage the happiness of your dice classes. Each type of die has its own happiness meter — keep it high and reap the rewards, fail to do so and suffer the consequences. Unhappy worker dice might strike or set fire to buildings, while Happy soldier dice will prevent those riots from taking place. You can influence the happiness of a class through festivals, or by creating districts of that class. If one or more classes get too upset, they can riot; don’t make them happy in time, and you can even lose the game.
Another facet of administration in Dice Legacy is the council that meets each season, offering you a choice of 3 different policies (which will correspond to one of the dice classes you currently have in your settlement). These policies can be minor buffs like a few extra resources each season, but can also be rarer and provide game-changing effects like dice not freezing when near certain districts. Choosing one group’s policy will make them happy, naturally, but it will also upset the other dice, so you have to consider the happiness of each group as well as the benefits of the policy before making your decision.
The strategic wrinkle the administrative angle adds prevents the game from being overly simplistic. Different strategies will naturally lean heavier on one type of die or another, but different phases of the game require different dice, so you usually can’t all-in on one die class. Instead, you have to try to keep everyone content. Unlike some strategy games where the threat of riot is more an annoyance than an interesting mechanic, I found Dice Legacy asks you to worry about your “people” enough to keep it interesting, and no more.
The game asks you to use all of these systems to survive against, and eventually defeat, a group of mysterious “Others” that live on the other end of the ringworld you landed on. They’ll start by sending handfuls of relatively wimpy attacks your way, but as you expand further, their attacks increase both in frequency and in strength. As with everything in Dice Legacy, you’ll fight your battles with dice, and how to handle the ever-increasing threat of attack is both interesting to decide and satisfying to accomplish.
I must admit to a bit of a “That’s it?” feeling when I finished my first run. The world map is relatively small, and I managed to beat my first run on the “intended” difficulty in approximately 7 hours. I suppose the meat of the game comes with subsequent, more challenging runs, but I didn’t get a chance to test the higher difficulties or the tougher scenarios. There does look to be plenty of replayability: in addition to simply cranking it to “very hard”, you can pick from 6 starting scenarios that modify the rules, weather, starting resources, and the world in a variety of ways.
I’m very impressed with what developers DESTINYbit have done with their sophomore title. I’d grown pretty tired of city builders in general, but Dice Legacy is a breath of fresh air and mixes genres in a new and incredibly playable way. If you’re the type of person who finishes a roguelike run eager to crank up the difficulty and go again, and you’re into city builders, this is the game for you. If, on the other hand, you beat a roguelike’s final boss and never touch it again, you’ll only be able to squeeze maybe 6-8 hours out of this one — which still ain’t bad for its $20 asking price.
Dice Legacy releases tomorrow, September 9th, on PC and Nintendo Switch. If you pick up the game and need some help getting started, we’ve got a beginner’s guide to make sure you survive your first winter on the ring!
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Unabashed FromSoftware fanboy still learning to take his time with games (and everything else, really). The time he doesn't spend on games is spent on music, books, or occasionally going outside.