Updated: Feb 5, 2021
For centuries the Mad King has pitted the world’s greatest warriors against each other in mortal combat for his own amusement. Finally those warriors are taking the fight to him. In Dice Throne Adventures players choose any Dice Throne hero to fight through a series of dungeons and boss fights until they reach the Mad King and hopefully vanquish him, winning the game… and unlocking more content.
Full disclaimer - I have only played DTA solo, I completed the campaign on Normal difficulty across 11 games with one hero. My thoughts on the game will reflect this. This is not a review of how the game feels or plays in co-op.
Dice Throne Adventures is a beautifully produced expansion by Roxley games. The presentation is stunning. But… It’s also massive, too massive for what's in the box to be honest.
DTA comes with:
Four Game Trayz inserts
300+ Standard size cards
70+ Oversized Cards
10 Custom Dice
4 Boss Boards
A bunch of tokens
That’s a lot of stuff and the game trayz inserts keep everything organised and honestly do make set up faster, but they do take up a lot of space in the box. If it didn’t have the token tray, for example, I’d have throw all the tokens in a baggie and been fine with it, but the tray does speed up game play and makes it smoother. What I’m saying is, it’s going to take up an entire kallax cube (I actually have both Season 1 & Season 2 battle chests stored behind it.)
Beyond its size the production is very nice overall. I think the card stock is a little thinner and with black borders on everything I ended up sleeving mine to keep it looking great. The boss boards might need a little back bending to make them lie flat on the table and some of the dungeon tiles have a small amount of warping.
I love the art in the game and the graphic design and presentation of everything is stunning, it’s a game I love to look at. The colours pop and even with the dark theme everything still stands out on the table. However, some of the cards, like the legendary items have a foil finish to make them shiny which I actually dislike as it dulls the colours, although I get why they choose to do that.
My biggest complaint component wise though might be the inclusion of only a single campaign sheet. It does seem to be laminated so you might be able to use drywipe markers on it, but I think I would have preferred a smaller pad of sheets instead. I actually ended up using this app for tracking the campaign, it’s really well done.
A Quick Overview
Dice Throne Adventures is a cooperative dungeon crawl that uses the engine from Dice Throne. Dice Throne was a head to head competitive game of rolling dice and activating combos. DTA shouldn’t work but it absolutely does. Instead of fighting each other players will fight automated opponents.
DTA has two game modes, Portal Crawls and Boss Battles. In the portal crawl you generate a dungeon of tiles by drawing a level card and following the instructions. In each crawl you must collect all the portal shards to open the portal to the Boss Battle. These will be scattered about the dungeon and you must move to those locations and collect the shards.
Moving in DTA is simple, when you move you may only move orthogonally and if you move onto an unrevealed tile you must reveal it. You can only end your turn if you move onto an unrevealed tile or in co-op by joining a battle with a fellow team mate.
When you reveal a tile you do it’s effect, some tiles give gold or cards, others inflict horrible status effects. Most tiles will then spawn a minion. Once a minion spawns the game follows a standard Dice Throne turn, you’ll generate combat points, draw cards and roll dice to activate your abilities. The minion will then roll dice back, following the Roll Objective on its card.
Each minion plays completely differently and offers different challenges. Some will inflict massive damage while others might steal your combat points or health or inflict status effects. And persistent effects, like poison and bleed will stick with you from battle to battle sapping your health until you can clear them. In this way the battle you had with the venomous viper early in the game can have lasting consequences for you.
In a Boss Battle players play against a tougher automated opponent. The bosses act exactly like a standard Dice Throne character with their own deck of cards and upgrades and a board full of nasty possibilities. All players share a single health dial and will work together to bring down the fallen heroes that now serve the Mad King.
Winning either scenario, Portal Crawl or Boss Battle, will reward you with treasure items you can add to your deck. Some of these will upgrade cards you already own, making them more powerful or cheaper to play, while others are entirely new abilities or equipment items. Failing a scenario gives you Salves, a kind of healing potion, as well as an opportunity to shop for new items, before sending you back into the scenario to try again.
What’s different about solo play? As a solo player you get more health and more starting gold and against bosses they have less health and fewer starting combat points. Some heroes will solo better than others, if you have a more nuanced hero that requires time to build up or that has very little access to healing you might find some of the scenarios a challenge, especially the boss fights. There are also a few treasure cards that don’t work in solo although they are few and far between in my experience.
In solo the Portal Crawls will take longer, you need to go through all the locations yourself. In co-op the heroes can split up to collect the shards making solo feel more plodding. In coop the game can feel like a surgical strike as the players spread out to clear up the objectives, in solo it’s a war of attrition, can you make it through two more tiles and still have enough health to face that final level 4 minion?
The Boss Battles are largely unchanged because of the shared health dial, although you can’t count on another player to help you out and clear status effects or heal you.
Having never played Dice Throne before jumping in to Dice Throne Adventures there is so much content for me to explore. DTA gives you an eight mission campaign that ramps up in difficulty at a reasonable pace allowing you to learn a hero as you go and no threat of failure.
I played my campaign with the Treant and it was definitely a learning experience in the first dungeon as I realised my general damage output was always going to be relatively low but that I had access to a reasonable amount of healing and combat points. By the time I reached the Mad King, seven missions later I knew the Treant inside and out. So, if nothing else DTA is offering 16 very different adventures as I work through each hero from seasons 1 and 2 and learn their tricks.
However I can also see that playing the same hero over and over again could get repetitive, although I see no reason why you couldn’t transfer your unlocked treasure cards from one hero to another if you wanted to swap heroes between missions.
I love the core mechanic of Dice Throne, they do so much with just five dice. And it’s good that I love it because Dice Throne Adventures really is an expansion for Dice Throne and not an entirely different game. Sure, you’re fighting AI opponents but the system remains entirely intact. This is actually an astonishing feat of design to take a game that was entirely confrontational and keeping everything the same, shift it into a coop.
Effectively Dice Throne is a yahtzee style game where you are looking to roll certain combos of icons or to roll straights. Each turn players can roll up to three times, however you can spend cards and combat points to affect the roll in many ways. Cards like So Wild or Twice as Wild allow you to flip dice to your chosen sides, while cards like Tip It can be played to rotate dice up or down in value. All of this mitigation takes what could be a game of random rolls and makes it a tactical battle. Sometimes you get lucky, but more often than not you are making choices, calculating odds and rolling with the punches. Dice Throne gives you lemons and you make lemonade, but you always have the option of adding a dash of lime or a shot of vodka to the mix.
Every game of DTA that I played was tense. They weren’t all fun, but I was engaged the whole time. At least three of my portal crawls ended with me clinging to life on a single hit point. I rarely felt overpowered, but I also rarely felt resigned to a loss, with the exception of the final fight where I knew going in I was going to lose.
I love the loot system in the game, whenever you defeat a monster or open a chest, all the players at the table gain loot. It could be a damage modifier token, could be some health or a card draw, it could even be some gold, but if you’re really lucky it’s going to be a treasure card.
Some treasures you find as you adventure are kept secret and you must pay to reveal them at the shop at the end of the encounter, at first I was paying for everything, shiny new secret stuff! But as the game progresses you come to realise that wasting gold on lower level items you haven’t seen is nowhere near as good as buying a Legendary item you can see.
Lastly, the thing I love maybe more than anything in this game is the art. Manny Trembley’s art is awesome and it’s everywhere. The items, the cards, the monsters, the tiles, it’s such a cohesive world that just looks visually stunning on the table and draws me in every time.
Although my experience with DTA has been a largely positive one there are definitely some down sides, not least the amount of space required to store it.
You play every game of Dice Throne Adventures with the same hero, albeit with a few new upgrades from your shopping trip but the games are going to begin to feel samey after a while. You progress from Portal Crawl to Dungeon Boss to Portal Crawl to Dungeon Boss and your hero does largely the same thing they did in the first crawl as they do in the final encounter. By the time you reach the Mad King you know which combination of results give you what damage output and the game begins to feel like watching a rerun of Friends and you’re just going through the motions.
Adding to this problem is the monster variety in the portal crawl, particularly the Level 4 monsters. Each monster is very different and there's some really fun ideas in there, like the goblin thief who has a whole bunch of treasure, but will likely flee before you can kill him; or the Berserker who can deal insane damage but has no armour to defend himself. But by the fourth portal crawl you’re running into the same monsters over and over. There are only a handful of Level 4 monsters and you’ll be fighting 4 of them in the last Portal Crawl. The legacy pack’s do give a smattering of additional enemies but I would happily grab an expansion to increase the variety here.
Lastly we have the randomness, Dice Throne, while offering plenty of dice mitigation is still a heavily luck driven game and nothing illustrates this point better for me than facing off against the Mad King. I lost four times. I expected to lose the first fight, I went in with no salves and 35 fewer hit points than him. The second fight I was still 15 or so hit points down, the third fight, if I spent all my salves I would have one more hit point than the Mad King and yet I still lost. I didn’t even record that loss, refusing to accept it and went at him again, but to no avail. It was on my fifth attempt with a massive 19 hp advantage I was eventually able to pull off the win, and did so with 24 hp and 3 salves remaining.
That first loss was dramatic, it was a hard fought fight, the second one I came close, a scrappy underdog against the towering behemoth. The third and fourth losses were embarrassing and frustrating in equal measure and the needle on the fun-o-meter was in the red. I wasn’t doing anything wrong I just couldn’t do anything right, and with each failure, with each new handful of healing salves the game bestowed upon me, it was like the game was gently patting me on the head and with a patronising smile whispering sweetly, "there there dear, you'll get him next time."
Editorial Note: The next two paragraphs contain a rules error that lessened my enjoyment of the game. I'll leave them here for historical context but just know this is not a fault of the game but of the player.
The Dice Throne engine works by providing you with roughly half your deck as dice mitigation, wilds, rerolls etc, but DTA hands you treasures, which, while shiny, clog up that engine, meaning those all important, often life saving cards simply don’t get drawn and you get trounced.
For me, Dice Throne Adventures needs a mulligan rule. Every card has it’s uses but I can’t count the number of games I drew “Recall Scroll” in my opening hand without a discard pile to recall anything from. Allowing the players to mulligan their opening hand would go a long way towards giving a feeling of control over your fate as you face off against the Mad King and his infernal cohorts.
Editorial Note: In Dice Throne Adventures, any of the Loot Cards you earn, can be discarded from your hand and replaced at any time and therefore do not "clog up your engine".
I love the early sessions of Dice Throne Adventures, where everything is new and I’m diving deep into who my character is and how their powers interact. However, it can also become a grind as you battle Umbra for the umpteenth time or you fail, again, against the Mad King as he sits there... on the table... mocking you!
Dice Throne Adventures as a solo experience was something I enjoyed and something I want to try again, exploring a new character and maybe adding in some of the legacy stuff, but I also want to give it a breather, to come back to it when the memory of my last campaign is not so fresh, when the scars and embarrassment have faded. Be assured though, when this pandemic is over it’s a game I’m absolutely breaking out and playing co-op and that cannot happen soon enough!