Dice Legacy: Hands-on Preview
When I was offered the opportunity to preview Dice Legacy, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into. There is dice rolling and allocation, a mechanic that was popular among tabletop board games. There is a city-building element, and I was passingly familiar with the genre. There is a rogue-like element, and despite my protestations otherwise, I tend to play these types of games often.
But when I started my first run, I quickly found myself challenging those assumptions. Because despite all outward appearances of something familiar, I had not accounted for one key element of the game that would only reveal itself upon playing: escalation.
In the press preview build that I was provided, I have one scenario and one ruler available to me. But my understanding is that if I were able to, I could have finished that whole scenario to the very end. At the moment, I am not clear what differences each scenario or ruler presents. So I am only able to talk about what I was able to get through.
Like I said earlier, I thought I knew what I was getting myself into when I started up my first run. You find yourself and your crew/civilisation/budding settlement recently stranded on the shore. You roll a handful of dice, with various symbols on each face. Using the dice (which represents the peasants of your town/city/village, you assign them to various locations available on the map. The first order of business might be to gather some food from the local hunting grounds or gather food from the forests.
And with that, you gingerly step onto the hamster wheel (literally. I will get to this later). Each dice represents a peasant, which has a durability number that ticks down every time you roll it. Rolled dice can only be assigned to buildings that correspond with the shown symbol. Some buildings require the work symbol. Raw materials require the gather symbol. You take a chance with each roll, hoping you get the exact symbol for the immediate task at hand. Every dice you get that is not immediately useful (like the fight symbol in the early game because there is no one to fight), you re-roll and hope once again for something useful. With that durability number ticking down each roll, you continue to wear down those poor peasants trying their very hardest to please their lord and master.
Assigned dice then take time to complete their tasks. So you are constantly balancing between using up the dice that are useful, deciding whether to keep rolling the ones which are not, or waiting on assigned dice to return to the pool so you are maximising the odds in each roll to get the required symbols.
Then you have to keep an eye on the other resources. Wood, stone and iron to build. Food to restore durability. Herbs to heal wounds. Wheat to either generate more food but also ale. Everything has a cost, and your poor peasants are working at maximum efficiency. And then your first winter arrives and kicks the absolute crap out of everyone. Because you forgot to a) build a steam generator and b) gather enough wood to power it so that people do not literally freeze (and thereby locking the dice for the remainder of the season).
So spring finally returns, and you try to find ways to upskill your people with particular skill sets. You build a school to teach them to become citizens who can work the wheat fields or contribute knowledge to move up the technology tree. You build a barracks to train soldiers to fend off ever-increasing raids.
And the hamster wheel slowly starts to turn, using every available resource to make getting more resources more efficiently. And the wheel does indeed turn. Because the setting of this game has you settling and surviving on a ring-shaped world (or halo, if you would). As your city expands, the world turns forward revealing more resources to harness but also more threats and challenges.
Everything you then do requires you to do even more to sustain the burgeoning ecosystem you have created. The quiet little seaside village is now humming with activity. Everything you do is to fuel the machine in order to move forward (symbolically and literally). Everything escalates.
If you are very lucky and skilful, you might be able to crest that wave. But failure is more than likely. Every playthrough I have done so far has ended with my people rioting (an automatic loss). Like all good rogue-likes, the game burrows deep into your mind, taunting you to give it just one more try. Because you think you might have finally cracked the code, and you know exactly what mistakes to avoid. And so the cycle continues.
I thought I knew what to expect with Dice Legacy. Those assumptions were smashed pretty early on, and I am glad they were. Because I now walk away with a much deeper appreciation of what the developers are attempting here, where every mechanic is layered upon and working with each other. Every turn of the wheel escalates the pressure just that little bit more. And within that, there is a little bit of that masochistic pleasure that I can revel in.
Dice Legacy comes to Windows and Switch on 9 September 2021.
Food, boardgames and videogames. Three things that’ll keep Ken fuelled on a daily basis. It doesn’t matter what flavour of each you put on the table, he’ll have them all.