REVIEW: One Deck Dungeon for One

A cat is looking in to the camera next to a one deck dungeon game box.

Who designed this game? Chris Cieslik did! One Deck Dungeon is probably this designer’s best known game besides the party game We Didn’t Playtest This Either and the family game Red7.

What kind of game is it? A compact, quick, cooperative dungeon crawler for one to two people. A stack of cards represents the dungeon the heroes explore and the monsters and traps they encounter.

When was the game released? In 2016 by Asmadi Games. A follow up of sorts called One Deck Galaxy is to be released this year. I’m very much looking forward to that!

Where does this game take you? To a pretty derivative fantasy world. It has all the good stuff you’d expect: skeletons, healing potions, looming shadows, phantoms, ice elementals, fire elementals, ogres, pits of spikes, goblins, dragons… There’s also a strange creature called the Glooping Ooze.

Why would you play this game? If you want a quick fantasy fix, want to do some old school min-maxing, enjoy the tension of dice rolling combat and have no problem dealing with some chance and luck you should keep reading – this might be a game for you. If not – look elsewhere!

What’s in the Box?

the contents of the one deck dungeon card game box
30 dice!

You get cards, dice, counters, character sheets (Archer, Mage, Paladin, Rogue, Warrior), a reference sheet and a pad for keeping track of character changes if you play the campaign variant. Components are fine. I say fine because some of the dice seem slightly uneven and the cards seem a tad bit fragile. This doesn’t bother me, however. The quality is reasonable for a cheap game (about 25 USD or 22 EUR). The character sheets seem to be made from the same stock as the cards. The box is large enough to hold sleeved cards (I tried with Arcane Tinmen Standard).

What About the Rule Book?

I’ve played through the game five times as of writing this, and so far the rule book has answered all of my questions. I have to admit, however, that at first glance the book looked somewhat confusing, so I did some warming up by watching the first ten minutes of this instructional video by Rahdo.

How Does it Play? – A Brief Summary

The five one deck dungeon heroines (rogue, mage, warrior, paladin, archer)
Will you be the Archer, the Rogue, the Mage, the Warrior or the Paladin?

Setup is quick. Pick your heroine – they all have different stats and abilities. Shuffle the dungeon deck. Choose a Dungeon/Boss card and slide it under the turn reference sheet until you only see the rules for the top floor of the dungeon. Stack the level cards with level one on top. After following the instructions on the reference sheet through your first turn it should look something like this:

one deck dungeon set up to play
On the left is the Dungeon/Boss card under the reference card, clearly marking what floor you’re currently on and the additional difficulties that entails.

A turn has a few simple steps. First time passes. This is represented by discarding the top two cards of the dungeon deck. Then you chose either to explore the dungeon or to enter a room. When you explore you put dungeon cards face down in front of you until there’s a total of four. To enter a room you chose one of the face down cards. You open the heavy door. You have to push hard; the hinges are rusty. The foul stench of decay and negligence greets you as you raise your torch to better see what lies ahead, so that you may decide whether to encounter what’s inside or to flee.

The polydactyl tabby cat juni is holding a one deck dungeon-card looking mean.
“Meow! I’d slap this pile of purple around like a crumbled up piece of paper!”

If you decide to flee your turn is over, but you’ve learned what’s in the room. If you feel confident that you could take the monster out, solve the riddle or avoid the trap, you roll the dice that represent the stats you’re using and try to cover up as many of the slots on the dungeon card as possible.

Four One Deck Dungeon cards.
Depending on the challenge you roll different dice representing different stats. If you fail to cover up a box with dice of the right color and value, you suffer penalties; time loss or damage. Some solutions are quicker than others. Picking the lock on the Locked Door above takes more time than bashing it open (see the hourglass next to the text above the top box).

If you survive you gain an item, learn a skill or get points toward leveling up. If you don’t manage to cover all the slots on the card, you get different penalties (more time passing or damage to your hero). As long as you survive you get the loot, and slide the dungeon card under your character sheet or level card according to your choice of loot.

Example of how you use cards to upgrade your character in One Deck Dungeon.
The dungeon cards can be used to represent items, skills or experience points depending on where you place them under your character sheet or level card.

And that’s it. You explore rooms, defeat monsters, and carefully chose what loot to bring in order to prepare yourself for the challenge ahead. The lower floors are more dangerous than the ones above. If you manage to get three floors down, you’ll encounter something far worse than purple ooze…

This rules summary isn’t conclusive, but there really isn’t much left out. The rules are simple and easy to learn. While playing in campaign mode you stick to the same character for several plays, trying to survive the Dragon’s Cave, the Hydra’s Reef, the Yeti’s Cavern, the Lich’s Tomb and the Minotaur’s Maze. For each floor you descend to, for each boss you defeat and for each time you level up, you mark it on the campaign pad, gradually earning permanent skills that you start the game with.

A tabby cat is drinking tea from a mug and a game of One Deck Dungeon is set up.
My level three Rogue is getting ready for the bottom of the dungeon and Juni is having some tea.

The One Deck Dungeon Experience

One Deck Dungeon is a quick, light game with few and simple rules. It plays in about 30-40 minutes – sometimes quicker if you run out of luck. Despite this, there is constant decision making. It’s important to try to maximize your use of time, since time passing is represented by discarding cards from the dungeon deck. When this deck runs out you have to shuffle it up again and go to the level below, where difficulty is increased. If you’re idling, opening doors but not entering and do time consuming things like climbing around the pit of spikes instead of jumping over, the dungeon deck will run out and you’ll have to descend unprepared.

Every obstacle overcome means that you have to decide what loot to keep. Do you want the item that boosts your strength? Do you want to learn the skill of improving your agility through the use of magic? Do you want to keep the experience points to reach a higher level and get more dice to roll?

There’s a lot of dice rolling. I often got to chuck about 15 dice. After rolling, the dice can be manipulated by the use of magic or other skills. After manipulating the dice they have to be allocated to the boxes on the monster you’re trying to defeat, in such a way that you cover as many of them as possible. Every box not covered brings a penalty (loss of life or more time passing). Deciding what dice to put where is sometimes an interesting puzzle. But the overall experience is not that of a puzzle game.

It’s fast paced. It’s fun. It reminds me of the hilarious adventures we used to have when we discovered pen-and-paper role-playing, before we realized how much further the experience could take us if we focused more on character interaction and intrigue and less on min-maxing.

So What’s the Verdict?

I enjoy this game! I have a soft spot for classical fantasy settings. I enjoy dice rolling. In a game as quick as this one I don’t mind that there’s a significant element of luck. On the contrary – that just makes it exciting. Getting to develop your character in different ways can make you feel both creative and clever. I like how the illustrations are lighthearted but not goofy, cartoon but not satire. The cats like playing with the little hearts that represent health. I had to pick them up from the floor a few times.

Update September 2019: I ended up getting rid of this game. In this article I explain why.

Other People’s Opinions

“This is a fantastic little solo game” says The Chubby Meeple in this video review.

” For fans of dungeon crawlers, particularly dice-based ones, this is a winner. It combines the luck and randomness of dice-rolling, with the ability to modify the results, to give you a degree of control” writes Andrew Fairley in a review on BoardGameGeek. He adds that ” [t]here is good replayability to the game, with the choice of five heroes, and five bosses, and the random generation of encounters each time.” His main complaint is the rule book being confusing. I’m glad I watched that instructional video!

” If you can handle the fact that One Deck Dungeon is very luck-driven and that you will frequently see the same cards in the game, then yes, I recommend it” writes Liz Davidson of Beyond Solitaire in this review.

” The rules are at once a bit cryptic when you first go through them, but then the game is pretty intuitive once you get things rolling” writes JDM in a review on BoardGameGeek. JDM concludes that ” it’s easy to get to the table, looks great when it’s there, and doesn’t overstay its welcome. The campaign mode, in particular, is what makes the game special for me”.

So that’s our first review. I hope you found it useful. Mysan has passed out on the couch. I’m off to bed too.

Tabby cat slumped on the back of a couch sleeping.

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