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The joy of barely succeeding in Betrayal At Club Low

Flying by the seat of your dice rolls

A man bows at a large guard in a nightclub in Betrayal At Club Low
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

For all its flamingo thigh stews, misshapen clothes model characters and pizza-themed DJ-ing, Betrayal At Club Low is an old-school, dice-throwing RPG through and through. Every interaction you have at Club Low is determined by the rolling of dice, whether it's simply attempting to spark a conversation with a hard-of-hearing bartender, or bluffing your way into VIP backrooms where your blown fellow agent Gemini Jay is currently being grilled by the intimidating Big Mo.

Whether you're successful in your endeavours depends on whether you can roll higher or equal to whatever value is thrown by your opponent, with each face corresponding to a particular Skill Dice you're trying to deploy to win that scenario. A lot of the time, your skill numbers aren't nearly good enough to beat your fellow clubber outright, but for me, the thrill of Club Low comes from clinching a very plain, and highly unremarkable draw, earning you the accolade of 'Success. Barely' in the ensuing results breakdown. It may not sound very sexy, but in a world where the odds are fully stacked against you, barely succeeding will do me just fine here, thanks.

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For starters, it feels like a very apt description of how most of us are probably living our lives right now - our hapless pizzaiolo included. Without wanting to catapult this conversation into a spiral of existential dread, nothing in the world is going particularly well right now, but in our everyday lives, we can at least rest assured that most things are fine, probably, and not on fire. We are (hopefully) succeeding, if somewhat barely, and I like that Betrayal At Club Low represents this feeling of always being a hair's breadth away from failure at any given moment, allowing you to rejoice in your minor victories, but without, you know, letting you get too big for your own boots at the same time. It also serves to make the actual trouncings you deal out feel properly special, too. There's no higher force judging you on those. You just won 'em fair and square, and rightly earned yourself a truly unqualified 'Success!'.

The best victory scrapes, however, are definitely the ones where you've got multiple dice in play, rattling around the screen in a flurry of pluses and minuses. You see, upgrading and throwing your intended Skill Dice is one thing, but Betrayal At Club Low's real stroke of genius is its Condition Dice, which are additional modifiers you accrue after almost every single action.

A blue man talks to a coat check girl in Betrayal At Club Low
Can you barely succeed at stealing someone's coat? This guy can! | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

To give a really early example, you get blasted by a stinky waft of air just before you approach Club Low for the first time. You're given multiple options to try and make the most of this assault on your nostrils, and your choice of Skill Dice will often give you different outcomes if you win or lose. I chose to put my Cooking skills to the test to see if I had a 'tolerance for city smells'. Alas, even after a cheeky re-roll, my result was a flat 2-0 for city smells, which gave me the conditions 'Smelling Like The City' (a terrible start to this undercover operation that had several health and nerve penalties attached to it), and 'Determined'. The latter was actually pretty good, containing three plus numbers that could potentially boost my Skill Dice score, but also three -1s to presumably represent that nagging doubt in the flavour text that yes, "I can do everything all of the time, right?" Right!?

Once you obtain certain conditions, their corresponding Condition Dice will then affect certain skills in future actions, which can both absolutely cripple you or save you from impending doom depending on how things shake out. Thankfully, they disappear after you've rolled them - although you'll almost certainly pick up other conditions afterwards. But this constantly changing set of numbers is what makes Betrayal At Club Low such a brilliant little tactical puzzle box for me. It's the same kind of feeling I get when I'm dealt a hand of cards in Marvel's Midnight Suns, or when I'm weighing up different cover options to land a slightly more accurate shot in Hard West 2. It's all about rolling those numbers around in my head to try and get the best possible outcome in my current situation, making informed decisions about 'if I spend these terrible dice here, trying to make a masked woman laugh at my terrible dancing, it might mean I stand a better chance of ousting Chad Blueprint from the DJ deck later on so I can pop some cracking tunes and spin some pizza decks', for example. And when I just clinch it by the skin of my teeth? Magic. Pure, unadulterated magic.

A man strikes a victory pose in front of a door in Betrayal At Club Low
You'd be pumping your fists, too, if you'd just barely avoided death by laser door... | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

I think part of the reason why Club Low's highs feel so fist-pump worthy when you draw is because the odds are so clearly stacked against you in this mad, bonkers building, and you'll need to make some serious dough (sorry) in pizza tip money to earn enough cash to fully upgrade your dice for a sure outcome. But certainty is not what Club Low is about, really. This is a game that thrives on the unexpected, of being able to punch through laser doors, have cosmic encounters with glowing green mirrors, and have throngs of dancers bop their heads to records made out of bread discs. It is a game where pizza ingredients on your specially formulated Pizza Dice (yes, you also have Pizza Dice in this game) can save your ass, allowing you to re-roll opponent scores if your skills and conditions get the best of you, or even swap your numbers wholesale for a surprise switcheroo stomping. Those toppings are very rare, but when they come around they're as delicious as a freshly served burrata.

But it's still those narrow wins and unimpressive draws that taste best to me, because at its soft, doughy heart, Betrayal At Club Low is a game where barely succeeding is baked into your entire mission plan. You're a delivery man out of their depth, trying their gosh darned hardest to extract a rogue agent from a pulsing disco floor, and where bluffing is very much the order of the day. All you need to do is get in, get out, and meet everyone halfway, and in those circumstances, a draw is pretty much tantamount to a podium finish if you ask me. It may judge you intensely for it, but I put it to you that there's no other game out there that captures that joyous, butt-clenching feeling of flying by the seat of your pants quite so effectively as Betrayal At Club Low.

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