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Dice Legacy review: a plate-spinning nightmare in disguise

Die hard

I used to hate dice in games. If I wanted to play Dingoes & Daggers I'd play it, you know? Even with those choose your own adventure books as kids, we'd just sort of assume that things went a particular way, because who has the time to start again for no reason? And now every game in the world (all of them) has cards in. Ach. I've even played several building games with cards, and I still can't decide if it really works.

Dice Legacy is, on the surface, a building game based entirely on rolling dice. Dice and cards obviously aren't the same, but they share a big chunk of territory. And after living there for most of this week, I am prepared to lie down and let Death take me from here. Dice Legacy drove me goddamn insane.

I'm biased. I knew that going in, and I hope it's clear that my fundamental dislike of this game might simply not apply to you. There's a section of people who'll probably love everything that I hated about it, and jokes aside, it's fine. We can coexist. I take no joy in slamming such a unique and interesting game. But if I'd written this immediately after any of my playthroughs I might have reached through the screen and slapped you.

You're leading a tiny band of refugees who've made landfall on an unknown continent. Said continent is a ring world, like the one in Halo, so your exploration can only go one way, and your village will naturally tap out resources and fill in space with production and utility buildings as you scroll up. It's not actually that integral to the game besides saving you from spreading out in every direction, but it's a novel form of presentation really well accentuated by its art and animation, particularly the visual changes as winter comes and goes. I can't fault DL's style at all.

Dice. Kicking out excess dice (people) caused strikes, randomly deactivating buildings for several minutes. How not extremely annoying.

More crucially, your people are dice. Each villager sits at the bottom of your screen in cubal form, and has six faces that represent something they can do. Peasants can harvest raw materials, do generic labour, explore, build, and fight. A bit of everything. Soldiers can fight, raid, and build. Monks can do a little labour, but their specialty is prayer, which heals and protects other dices. Aside from the specialties, there's some overlap so people can pitch in with other tasks, but the key to the game is managing labour so that everyone's doing something productive, and when you need a certain task done there's already someone signed up for it.

But you have to roll the right tasks first. If none of your dies are showing 'build' but you need something built, you'll have to roll the ones that are capable of building and hope for the best. If the best doesn't happen, roll again. And again. And fucking again.

Each time they're rolled though, they lose durability, so you want to minimise rerolls. And while you might not have rolled 'build' this time, you'll roll something (probably: repeat games unlock variations that can render some dice faces useless), and ought to put that to use rather than waste durability. That can be restored with a bit of food and a spell in a cookhouse, but that uses resources and time. You can lock any deese showing a face you think you'll need in a minute though. But of course, then they're not doing anything in the meantime. You can hopefully see already that the core strategic challenge of the game is getting that balance right. And managing resources, of course. Building requires wood, stone, and iron. Villagers need food, healers need herbs, and the furnace eats wood to keep everyone from freezing during the winter. Oh yeah, winter.

Many of my buildings have spontaneously burned down and I have no way to tell which.

Workers freeze in the winter unless they're within range of a working furnace (3 wood), and must be thawed with beer (2 labour for the wheat, plus one for the brewery, plus time in the tavern) or medicine (1 prayer, 1 herb), or just left until summer. You can actually just wait the winter out without penalty, oddly, since there are no ongoing costs if nobody's working, which is probably why you get attacked by the mysterious Others. At first there's an occasional raid from them or a static NPC camp. The latter are relatively easy to placate with trade, monstic diplomacy, or brute force. But the Others rapidly ramp up from an occasional triviality to be put down with a soldier or lairy peasant, to a constant goddamn plague that utterly consumes the game.

"Dice Legacy is about figuring out how in the christ you're supposed to contort all these systems into a shape that can reach out and destroy [the enemy] den before you black out"

Dice Legacy is not about managing labour to keep the beer flowing and the stone... stoning. It's not about training your peasants into citizens, monks and traders, and then managing the happiness of those classes to gain bonuses and prevent problems. It's not about building a happy village with farms and markets and shrines and little defensive towers, all arranged right so you can take advantage of the districts, which serve as both territory-expanding towers a lá The Settlers and caste-specific bonus providers depending on how you upgrade them. It's not even juggling the annual proposals put forward by your council, which will please one caste but disappoint the rest in return for bonuses like winter-proof soldiers or more skilled citizens. No.

Dice Legacy is about figuring out how in the christ you're supposed to contort all these systems into a shape that can reach out and destroy the Others’ den before you black out and wake up in a field with fragments of your monitor between your teeth. I cannot remember the last time any game made me anywhere near this furious.

This is not a city building game. It's more like a deckbuilding puzzle game. I haven't even mentioned the research, the specialty of citizens, which grants points used to unlock more buildings. Some of these are vital to winning, most notably the forge and enhancement chamber. You can get a new peasant at any time by shoving two of them in bed together and waiting (I mean, it's not inaccurate), and turning them into a soldier or monk is very cheap. But you can only have 12 die in your roller at any time. You can keep more by stashing the excess in buildings as they work, but when they finish they return and if the tray overflows you're forced to chuck one out, potentially upsetting their caste and probably losing you the game. In one game I upset the peasants, who went on strike, rendering random buildings inoperative to the point where they'd refuse to even eat. That was, I think, the third game that ended with me getting sick of my entire village and intentionally murdering the useless bastards.

Intentionally rerolling everyone to death. Again. Even though there's no way to save. I only wish I could stab them.

Since your population is limited, you must focus on making your existing people more skilled, which is where those special buildings come in. The enhancement chamber burns herbs and gold to make a dice's face more powerful; a build face counts as two, say, or a 2xfight face counts as three. Stacking the latter on top is particularly crucial, since taking out the enemy HQ took a massive 18 fight points.

To even get to that point was a struggle bordering on sisyphean. Swarms of Others were running at me constantly, even as I had to build more towers (2-3 builders, 6 wood), heal or bless more soldiers (1-2 herbs, 1-2 prayer), replace losses (2 iron, 1 peasant), get the crops in (2 labour), put out the constant, constant fires (1 labour no wait now it's 3? What? Why? How the hell is that even on fire AGAIN?), brew more beer for thawing (1 labour, 2 wheat, for which I need another 2 labour, which oh goddamn it I need them to put out the fire, hang on didn't I have more soldiers than OH MY GOD ANOTHER FIRE? WHAT IN THE ABSOLU-), upgrade that new soldier (1 herb, 1 gold), mine more stone to rebuild... wait what just collapsed? Did I just lose a brewery or am I going to accidentally build two again? How did that peasant get the plague?

Council proposals are too sporadic to be counted on, or even thought about. A few are very handy; most are forgettable.

There came a point where I was so sick of it I unlocked a building that can convert anyone into a soldier, and drafted my entire population. I hit the 18 points I needed to attack the final boss (I hoped) tile, watched as the countdown ticked away.... and then with 2 seconds left one of my towers suddenly collapsed, which cancelled the assault. If you heard a bloodcurdling scream at 5am the other night, now you know why. I once described cynical landlord sim Constructor as "like spinning plates that hate you". Dice Legacy is like spinning plates that frequently decide they don't feel like being plates right now, while someone throws petrol bombs at you both.

I still managed to complete the level, at least. The reward is more game modes, all of which are even harder. Permanent winter mode. A halved population cap. A ruler who starts out with "corrupted" citizens that eat up extra rerolls. Thank you for punching yourself in the face, would you like another?

I'm sure I could do things more efficiently. The forge in particular seems vital. This is a building that smushes two villagers together to create a special hybrid rollcube, potentially removing a lot of reroll inefficiency and condensing two roles. With certain limitations, you can even keep them for use in later playthroughs. Dice Legacy encourages experimentation, it says in its opening screen, and I appreciate a game suggesting an ethos like this upfront. But though after many failures and one victory I'm armed with more knowledge and several theories on how to play it better, the prospect of going through all this again is the kind of legacy that makes me glad I don't have kids.

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Sin Vega