Dicefolk review – playing both sides

Dicefolk review – playing both sides

Dicefolk – sometimes the dice roll in your favour (Good Shepherd Entertainment)

Pokémon meets Slay The Spire in this inventive new indie game that forces you to play as both your team and your opponent.

To non-gamers, the term ‘turn-based roguelike deck builder’ probably sounds like a meaningless word salad. However, if you enjoy games, it’s a genre that’s pretty commonplace, its biggest names enjoying widespread and long term cross-platform success. Slay The Spire is probably the most renowned, but the superb Marvel’s Midnight Suns and Monster Train aren’t far behind.

The latter is published by Good Shepherd, who are also responsible for releasing Dicefolk, which you won’t be surprised to learn is another turn-based roguelike deck builder. Coming with a highly polished and immediately appealing cartoon art style, it plays out a little like a board game, with your summoner traversing dotted lines that lead her to battles, shrines, shops, and boss encounters.

She’s a summoner because, like Pokémon, battles are fought on your behalf by inventively weird monsters, called chimera, that you recruit along the way. Starting with three generic and underpowered placeholder chimera, you visit shrines to recruit stronger ones. Each of the game’s biomes has three shrines to discover as you wander, setting up a very familiar structure.

Although every shrine has a recruitable chimera, you’re only allowed to claim one per biome, so it’s usually worth visiting all three before making your choice of new recruit, ensuring you can maximise the strength of your three-monster party. That’s also important because team members don’t automatically heal between bouts, so part of your job as summoner is looking for ways to patch up injuries.

You do that in several ways, including resting at a bonfire, eating berries, and single use tokens that can only be deployed in battle. These offer a range of effects, but many feature healing buffs, which are useful to save for emergencies, and because of the random nature of battles you may find yourself having quite a lot of them.

Battles pit two teams of three chimera against one another, with each turn comprising a dice roll followed by deploying whatever abilities you’ve rolled. That includes ranged or direct attacks, guards, and rotations., which let you change your team’s positions. That’s useful because the only chimera that can attack is the one nearest the enemy.

A completely unexpected feature of Dicefolk is that you don’t just control your own team. Instead, you’re responsible for the actions of both sides. It’s in your interests to make sure your opponents do as little damage as possible, but you’re not allowed to leave their attacks and rotations un-used, with the game forcing you to execute every single one of them.

To minimise harm to your own chimera you can do things like time an attack to hit one of your team that has a guard up or use an enemy attack when their chimera is asleep or entangled, preventing them from doing any damage. Very often though, luck will be against you, meaning you just have to go ahead and injure your own side.

At the end of each biome there’s a boss encounter, which helps break things up, and gives you something to work towards. It’s a good idea to go after them once you’ve got as many of the level’s power-ups as you can, whilst also trying to get your team healed and in decent shape for the tougher fight.

Along with higher hit points, bosses also have special skills – for example, adding a point of intelligence after each attack, which provides a powerful incentive to finish them off quickly or watch them get more and more unassailably powerful. Bosses always arrive with two henchmen but once you’ve killed the main chimera you’re granted a victory, making it important to focus attacks on the boss wherever you can.

Runs are differentiated by die rolls, tokens you collect, and the chimera you manage to recruit, but also by the talismans you choose when you start a run. They confer an overarching buff to your chimeras, like strengthening attacks or making them more agile. In practice we didn’t notice all that much difference, but that’s partly down to the high random factor of the gameplay.

Each dice roll you make, both for your own team and their opponents, has a dramatic effect on the potential tactics you can use and the outcome of matches. You need to pay careful attention to the abilities the dice give you, scheduling attacks, defences, and rotations to keep your team alive as best you can, but it’s hard not to get frustrated when a solid runs gets hamstrung by a couple of unlucky fights.

It’s often the way with roguelikes, but as its name implies, chance is more prominent than usual in Dicefolk. And despite its good looks and consistent levels of polish, we didn’t find runs quite as compelling as Slay The Spire, FTL, or some of the other classics of the genre. That’s not to say Dicefolk is bad, more that its bargain price is somewhat reflected in the experience of playing it.

Dicefolk review summary

In Short: A polished and highly competent roguelike deck builder with some neat twists, that can sometimes feel a touch too random for its own good.

Pros: Cracking art style, with highly inventive and peculiar looking monsters. Having to control both sides of each fight is an interesting and enjoyable gimmick.

Cons: There’s an over reliance on RNG, battles aren’t as tactically complex as some other turn based games, and the gameplay loop never feels quite compelling enough

Score: 7/10

Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and PC
Price: £13.49
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Developer: LEAP Game Studios and Tiny Ghoul
Release Date: 20th June 2024
Age Rating: 7

Dicefolk – the creature designs are very Pokémon (Good Shepherd Entertainment)

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