Die in the Dungeon
Teaching Time: 40 mins
Playing Time: 30-60 mins
Setup Time: 15 mins
Value For Money: Mid
1,282 backers got together to raise CA$73,676 to bring Die in the Dungeon to life on Kickstarter back in 2020 with fulfillment completing in early 2021. It was a smoothly run campaign from Wes Woodbury and Fundamental Games. Driven by some excellently striking artwork from Tristam Rossin, whose work is increasingly turning up in successful independent Kickstarters it featured some excellent monster character designs, not least of which was the DnD Beholder inspired Deyeroller which you might remember from its promotion. The game itself is a solo dungeon crawl with a lot of replay value and some interesting elements, with a handful of minor issues and a bit of a process like game play.
The background of the game is a little convoluted but pretty clear if you skip the details. Players take the part of one or another iconic fantasy (and particularly DnD) monster with a dice-based twist, such as the Deyeroller mentioned above, the Dierake or the Troll O’ Bones (those with a low tolerance for dice-based puns are in serious trouble with this game) who has been teleported into a dungeon by the Diemaster. It seems the Diemaster is having trouble with heroes in their dungeon and has grabbed you to clear them out, which you do and then if successful, in a sort of old lady who swallowed a fly moment, go on to smash in the squiddy skull of the Diemaster themselves also. It doesn’t really take close examination, but it works just fine for purpose.
The game itself involves laying out a semi-randomly generated dungeon (the layouts are prescribed by a booklet of several dungeons, but the exact tiles used vary randomly) into which you drop your monster. Each turn time ticks off, ability points are gained and you flip and deal with a tile of the dungeon, encountering traps, bonus tokens and usually little bands of monsters. Complete the victory conditions of a particular dungeon and win, run out of health or time and lose.
Product wise it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Some features are great, the overall quality feels high, particularly for a Kickstarter. Player boards are double layered with recesses for storing dice, the game comes with three sets of polynomial dice, the inlay is fantastic and I’m a big fan of the acrylic standees which have the solidity of minis without the need to paint, store or pay in excess for them. Others are a bit middling, the cards, which to be fair are for reference rather than shuffling and dealing, feel of a slightly low cardstock despite having linen finish, the acrylic coat that works so well on the standees makes some of the counters tricky to read (although satisfying to handle) and the dice which are often essentially spin down life counters sometimes have their faces positioned for rolling rather than spinning, which can be annoying. One or two parts are straight misses, most significant is that in the Kickstarter print run particularly the dungeon layouts book has everything in it back to front, with the final dungeon appearing last and the last one first, but there are a few typos scattered about and a couple of spots in the rulebook are a little unclear.
The game revolves around polynomial dice in various respects. For example, your monster has a range of stats noted with D4, 6, 8, 10, 12 and 20. If you upgrade a stat from, for example, 8 to 9 you now roll a D10 when using that stat, since a D8 couldn’t score that 9, it’s a neat idea, but failing to get to grips with it is the game’s biggest downfall. For example, dice hit when they roll over your stat or their top value, which means that if you have a stat of 13 you’d far rather be attacked by someone with a strength of 12 than a strength of 4 since their odds of hitting you go from 1 in 12 to 1 in 4, which feels off. Ability points are noted on a D4, from which four points can be spent in a go, and the game is a little unclear about what exactly you do with that D4 once its totally depleted. For that matter, it’s a little unclear about what die is used when a monster statistic drops from a 9 to an 8 or how they are to be represented when dropping down (boards are only allowed two of a type of dice and are replaced on upgrading, but no information is provided on downgrades). It also means that when losing points from being attacked the loss of points from 20 to 13 is hugely less significant than the drop from 13 to 12. In general, a lot of the dice manipulation just feels a little bit off-kilter, it could all be intentional, but if it is in a game of this size it feels as though it should be made more explicit.
Combat, and in fact the game generally, is almost entirely reliant on the rolling of dice, or rather dies since they are almost always rolled one at a time sequentially, and rather a lot of sequential die rolling at that. Rolling, adjusting cards and dice and rolling again makes combat feel quite book-keeping in its nature rather than either a life and death struggle or a mighty monster smashing aside weakling heroes. Considering that the game presents as a dungeon crawl its also a little odd in its actual mechanics, which is to say, players can investigate any unexplored tile next to an explored one for no additional cost over that of the one where their actual monster marker is positioned, which means firstly that the monster marker is pretty much superfluous to actual play and that secondly there’s no weight to picking one route through the dungeon over another since you can blip back and forth between arms of a path entirely at will.
The thing is, all that aside, Die in the Dungeon does have a hell of a lot going for it. Five varied monsters and a set of varied dungeons with near infinite minor further variations available make for a huge amount of replay ability. Play and objectives are clearly and neatly presented without fiddly or vague A.I. Dungeons are challenging and the game gives a good solid proxy of far larger and more complex multi-player dungeon crawlers. It feels a little like playing an automata in a normally multi-player game, its not quite the same as the full experience, but a lot of the result is the same. The upshot is a process that’s a lot like playing a game of double the size and complexity. If you’re not willing to commit to the full fat version for whatever reason, be it price, time, space or availability of other players then Die in the Dungeon does a solid job of standing in.
In short, Die in the Dungeon is far from perfect, but it works just fine and fills both a few hours of hobby time acceptably and a solo gaming niche that’s not well served at the moment. If you suspect that you might like it then you’ll almost certainly be extremely well served, it does a very good job of what it does, if it doesn’t sound like your sort of thing the actual experience of play probably won’t change your mind though.