I mistakenly thought I might be able to tempt my daughter into a game of One Deck Dungeon. An all-female cast in a relatively simple and quick dungeon crawl seemed like it might be the key which unlocked the gamer she could become. It didn’t happen, but I can make lemonade: I now happen to own a copy of the tabletop version of a game with a much-watched (including by us) digital kickstarter campaign. So this isn’t a review of the game as a tabletop experience, but specifically a look at its fitness for digital translation.
The obvious virtue of ODD is the physical size; Asmadi Games tipped their hand in regards to this boon via the title. It’s marvelously portable and has low table real estate requirements. Consequently, a digital version is unlikely to hide anything that matters behind tooltips or in trays, nor require arcane iconography to fit everything onto a single screen. The quality of digital versions of some complicated Stately Play favorites, like Through the Ages and Twilight Struggle, might leave one reasonably preferring a meatier game, and, of course, portability is irrelevant. But the appeal of a feast need not undermine the value of a well-timed appetizer, and some appetizers are more filling than they seem.
ODD exceeds expectations by using its sole deck in more ways than any other game that comes to mind. Each challenge you face, be it a trap or a monster, tells you what you need to do to succeed and the consequences of (various kinds of) failure. It also serves as a grain of sand in the swiftly-flowing hourglass of preparation for the boss battle. Once defeated, it’s an item you gain, a skill/potion you learn, or experience points toward your next level. While the central mechanic of combat is a simple puzzle of assigning your dice to challenges, the decisions worth sober reflection mostly involve balancing these reward options. Many of us will hear echoes of ops points vs. events, and the delectable torment of foregoing the one for the other.
The game also has a rudimentary campaign mode which may help those who prefer a sense of progression beyond the half hour or less in which a normal game is completed, but this is one of the areas in which there’s clear opportunity for a digital upgrade. Since the game is already inexpensive, portable, and low-overhead in both rules and the faffing about of setup and shuffling, it might otherwise be difficult to see the development of a digital version as warranted. But that impression is apparently just the sour grapes of a player who prefers such games on mobile devices rather than the currently announced Steam release for Windows, Mac, and Linux; it’s progressing toward its funding goal like a swarm of goblins is on its tail.
Perhaps the most natural comparison from among the games on the digital Kallax at Stately Play Manor is Pathfinder Adventures, another card-based, stripped-down fantasy RPG experience. ODD is a big step down in complexity, narrative, and characterization from PA, with simpler art and far fewer assets. If you’re looking for something cleaner, ODD’s a solid little option, and you might well be proud to help fund its creation.