While they are a pretty popular board game genre, I have to admit that I haven’t played many RPGs/dungeon crawler board games. I think a lot of this has to deal with the fact that many of these games can be quite long, and some can have pretty complicated rules as there are different rules for everything you encounter in your journey. I also have never been all that interested in the story telling/role playing aspect of RPGs like D&D. The premise of the genre has always intrigued me though as a good dungeon crawler video game is quite enjoyable. This is what initially intrigued me about One Deck Dungeon as it seemed like it streamlined all of these mechanics into a single deck of cards. I thought this could overcome a lot of the issues that I have with most games from the genre. One Deck Dungeon is not quite perfect, but it does a lot to create a great streamlined dungeon crawling experience with just a deck of cards and some dice.
Based on first impressions most people will likely think that One Deck Dungeon is just a simplified dungeon crawler. In many ways you would be right as that was the goal of the game. The final product is so much more than just a simplified dungeon crawler though which is one of the main reasons I think it is a fantastic game.
If you would like to see the complete rules/instructions for how to play One Deck Dungeon, check out our how to play guide.
At its core I would say that One Deck Dungeon is a dice rolling game. While the game is also a card game and has dungeon crawling elements, the gameplay ultimately boils down to rolling dice. The ultimate goal of the game is to roll dice in order to meet the various challenges presented by each of the encounter cards. Generally speaking the higher you roll the better. The game allows you to combine dice in various ways though as well as use special abilities in order to re-roll or improve dice rolls. These can be used to improve your chances of completing all of the challenges. In a way the game kind of feels like a Yahtzee style game. Ultimately much of your success relies on rolling the right numbers on your dice.
Where the game really differentiates itself from most dice games is in the fact that you grow your character as you explore. This creates a really interesting element to the game as time actually plays a role in the game. Time is represented by discarding cards from the encounter deck. Managing your time is important as you have to balance between making your character stronger while also not hanging on for too long that you take too much damage or possibly even die. When you choose which action to take each turn you need to balance between trying to make your character stronger while also avoiding taking too much damage.
I think the game does a really good job in giving players opportunities to craft their characters how they want. For each encounter card you finish you will be able to use the card for one benefit. You can use it to gain additional dice or give yourself more skills that you can use to improve your chances of getting the numbers you need. You can even take the card as experience allowing you to level up and then equip more items and skills. Every option helps you in some way. While it is sometimes obvious how you should use a card, there are times where you may need to decide between two good options.
The game really does a great job with growing your character. To begin the dungeon your characters are fairly weak where you need to have some luck on your side to defeat some of the more difficult encounters. Each encounter you beat though gives you a boost which makes the next encounter easier to complete. Growing your character is important as you need to add a lot to your character before you face off against the boss or you otherwise won’t stand a chance. The game does a really good job allowing you to craft your character in the way you want while making them feel powerful as well. When you reach the end of the game it will feel like your character has come a long ways as they will be considerably more powerful.
One Deck Dungeon does a really good job streamlining the dungeon crawling experience. Basically everything is put into the encounter deck. You use the cards to simulate time passing as well as the creatures you fight and the traps that you have to overcome. The game is quite elegant. This simplification does make the game more approachable than most dungeon crawlers/RPGs allowing it to be appreciated by a larger audience. I would guess the game could mostly be taught in around 10-15 minutes. It likely will take a couple turns for new players to fully grasp what they are trying to do. After that point the game is quite a bit easier to play.
Even though the game is simplified in quite a few areas, the game is still a surprisingly deep dungeon crawler. There is actually quite a bit of strategy to the game. The decisions you make in the game will make a pretty big difference in how successful you are. Choosing how to power up your character will give you more options later in the game. How you approach each encounter has some decisions to make as well. Which skills you choose to use and how you use the dice you rolled can make a big difference. It is sort of a puzzle figuring out how to utilize each of the dice that you end up rolling. Even with a bad roll you can do a surprising amount if you use your dice well.
Ultimately you are left with a great game that also finds a way to make a dungeon crawler appeal to people that it normally wouldn’t appeal to. On the surface the game may seem kind of simplistic, but it really isn’t. The game is just a blast to play and really makes you feel like you are exploring a dungeon while making your character more powerful. If you are looking for a more streamlined dungeon crawler it will very likely be the game that you have been looking for.
With just the base game One Deck Dungeon supports up to two players while you can play with four players if you have an expansion or a second deck of cards. So is the game better as a single player game or a cooperative game? I think that depends on the player(s) as I could see the game being really enjoyable either way. Ultimately the single player game and cooperative game play pretty similarly. With two players each character individually is weaker, but you can work together to figure out how to complete each encounter. It is fun dungeon crawling with another player. The solo game is fun as well though as the player interaction is not really needed in order to enjoy One Deck Dungeon.
While this is not something that I have really tried yet, I am also curious about the idea that the game includes rules allowing you to play the same character through multiple playthroughs. In many ways this makes the game feel more like a traditional RPG rather than a simple dungeon crawler. I could see this really adding to the game’s replay value.
At first glance you would think that there wouldn’t be a whole lot to talk about the components for a game that only features cards, dice, and some cardboard tokens. Despite this I was quite impressed with the game’s components. The quality of the components is quite nice and the artwork is really well done. Where I think the components shine though is in their elegance. The cards are designed in such a way that they make a game that otherwise could have been kind of confusing into a game that is pretty easy to play. The encounter cards in particular are really well designed where all of their various rewards are displayed right on the card. You just need to turn the card and place it under another card to use it for your chosen reward. This is such an elegant system and it works like a charm. The game truly packs a lot into such a small box as between the number of dungeons/bosses and the number of encounter cards, you likely will be able to go on quite a few adventures before it starts to feel like you are going on repeat adventures.
While I thought One Deck Dungeon was a fantastic game, it did have two issues which detracted from the game a little.
The first might be more of a problem for some groups than others. When you look at a game like One Deck Dungeon that tries to streamline another genre, you would assume that would mean that the game would play pretty quickly. That is not really the case in my experience as the game can still take quite a bit of time. The more you play the game the quicker it plays as you become more familiar with the mechanics. The game still takes longer than it probably should though. Part of this is because the game can suffer from analysis paralysis at times. I really appreciate the amount of choices that the game gives you, but it does make some of the encounters take quite a bit of time if you have to analyze all of your options to minimize the amount of consequences that you will have to face. While the game is fun until the end, after you are finished with the game you may be a little surprised by how long it took.
The biggest issue with the game is just the fact that the game still relies on a lot of luck even if there is quite a bit of strategy. With the game relying on dice rolls, there had to be a decent amount of luck involved. While the game gives you ways to overcome bad rolls with the use of your skills and potions, if you consistently roll poorly there is nothing that you can do. If you roll really well you might breeze through the game, but the opposite might be even more true. The game taking longer than it should hurts as well as if the game was shorter the reliance on luck wouldn’t be such a bad thing. It kind of sucks to get far in your adventure and then fail due to a couple bad rolls.
Speaking of bad rolls, One Deck Dungeon can be quite punishing at times. Your strategy and how you build up your character plays a big role in how well you will do. There are some situations that you can’t plan for though. If you have an absolute terrible encounter all your hard work may come to a sudden end. If you have a bad encounter at the wrong time you could end up receiving a lot of damage. In particular you need to roll really well when facing off against the bosses as they will otherwise decimate you. While you should be able to build up your character throughout your adventure, the game can really punish you at times leading to a game that can be quite difficult if you don’t have better than average luck on your side. This could lead to a somewhat frustrating experience if you do a good job and then a couple of bad rolls ruin everything.
While I haven’t played a lot of dungeon crawlers, I was genuinely quite impressed with One Deck Dungeon. The game streamlines your typical dungeon crawler while still keeping much of the experience and strategy intact. I think the simplest way of describing the game is to call it elegant. The game only utilizes a deck of cards and dice to create a truly compelling dungeon crawler. At its heart the game is a dice rolling game as you try to roll certain combinations. As you complete objectives you will increase your character’s power which makes completing challenges easier. The game does a really good job making it feel like you are improving your character. The game is pretty easy to play and yet has quite a bit of strategy as well. Really the only complaints that I had with the game is that it takes a little longer than it probably should have and it can rely on some luck at times leading to a game that can be quite punishing.
My recommendation for One Deck Dungeon is actually quite simple. If the game doesn’t sound all that interesting to you, it likely won’t be for you. If the game intrigues you at all though, I would highly recommend looking into picking up One Deck Dungeon as you likely will really enjoy it.
One Deck Dungeon
Year: 2016 | Publisher: Asmadi Games | Designer: Chris Cieslik | Artist: Alanna Cervenak, Will Pitzer
Genres: Card, Cooperative, Dice, Dungeon Crawler, Family
Ages: 14+ | Number of Players: 1-2 | Length of Game: 30-45 minutes
Difficulty: Light-Moderate | Strategy: Light-Moderate | Luck: Moderate
Components: 5 hero cards, 30 dice, 44 encounter cards, 4 level cards, 5 dungeon/boss cards) 2 basic skill cards, stairs card, turn reference card, 15 damage tokens, 6 potion tokens, campaign sheet pad, instructions
- An elegant streamlined dungeon crawler.
- Great balance between simplicity and strategy leading to a really fun experience.
- Can be punishing and rely on a lot of luck at times.
- Has times where analysis paralysis can lead the game to taking longer than it should.
Recommendation: For people looking for a streamlined dungeon crawler that also still has quite a bit of strategy.