One Deck Dungeon Solo/2P/3P Review: an interesting concept but ultimately a game that overstays its welcome.

ODD (One Deck Dungeon) lets you play as adventurers going deep into the levels of a dungeon, getting loot and items along the way as you fight creatures and avoid traps, to end with a big boss fight on the last level.

The premise of One Deck dungeon is very tempting: the game simulates multiple levels of a “dungeon” full of creatures and traps, with a simple deck of cards. Ultimately however I found that the game was tedious, repetitive, and way too long for what it has to offer.

One Deck Dungeon: gameplay

One Deck Dungeon Gameplay (picture Jerrod Warr on BGG)

One Deck dungeon can be played solo or 2-player. If you add a second box, or the “Shadows of the Forest” expansion, you can play with up to 4 players (which I would not recommend to anyone). Each player has a character with multiple stats (health, strength, agility, and magic), which will determine how many dice you can roll against traps or enemies. Your character stats can be improved along the way, as you collect items and/or skill points.

The dungeon level itself is represented by a deck of cards, face down. You’ll generally have 4 of these cards in front of you, representing “rooms” of the dungeon. In a typical turn, you’ll open (flip) one of the doors, and face the monster or trap that’s inside. After a successful encounter, the enemy you defeated represents the loot you just got, with a pretty clever mechanism in which each card represents an encounter, a skill bonus, and an item.

Facing an enemy or a trap is relatively straightforward: you roll the number of dice matching your stats, and try to position those dice on the enemy’s matching slot. There are mitigation options that let you reroll dice, either through your character’s special power, or items you got along the way.

If you manage to cover all the monster’s slots with your dice, you kill the monster and get its card. On the monster’s card sides are skill bonuses and an item. You pick which one of those you want, and tuck it under your character to get the bonus. If you can’t beat the enemy due to a poor roll, you still get the loot, but lose health accordingly.

Each encounter (enemy or trap) can be used as additional skill bonus (left side of the card) or an item (bottom of the card) once you defeat it.

Mechanically, the game is pretty neat. The dice rolling feels a bit random, but items progressively bring mitigation and it gets more tactical as you dive into the dungeon: with each level, monsters get a bit stronger, but your character as well, with more and more options to mitigate the randomness of the dice.

One Deck dungeon: opinion

Unfortunately, One Deck Dungeon is one of those games for me that looked awesome as a concept, but fell flat on its head in practice.

To start with the most annoying aspect for me, the game is very long. The box says a session takes 30 minutes, but I can’t remember a single time it took me less than 45 minutes, and that was for the fast sessions. Average has been closer to 1h+ in my experience. There is a lot of thought to be made when you have to mitigate dice. Early encounters are probably straightforward, but as you acquire more items, mitigation options grow, and so does the amount of time required to think about your choices.

As a two player game, our sessions have lasted 1h30 on average, which in my opinion is 1h too long. Last but not least, we tried once a 3 player session. This took us 3 hours and I don’t think we saw the end of it. Nobody had fun in that session.

I don’t mind a long game. I’ve had 3h sessions of LotR LCG, Arkham Horror LCG, Spirit Island, Gloomhaven, and more. But for a game to hold my attention for hours, there has to be some variety or tension.

I didn’t find the tension or variety to be there in One Deck Dungeon: as a solo game, the game can be brutally hard (except in campaign mode, where you get to start your missions with additional items) and, in my experience, heavily dependent on the character you choose (I think the warrior is the easiest one, simply because a lot of enemies and encounters rely on strength). Ultimately when played solo, the mission’s success relies a lot on your first few encounters. If you’re successful early in the game and get enough items/bonus skills to balance your character, the rest of the game is pretty smooth. conversely, if you’re having a hard time on the first level, it’s pretty guaranteed the next levels are going to be tough as well.

Note that a successful first level makes the game “smooth” but not necessarily interesting. The game either becomes too easy, or too hard, fairly quickly, at which point it’s just a matter of painfully getting to the end: rolling your dice, and either collecting more loot or accepting your fate and losing health, rinse and repeat. The mitigation items are, in the end, just an additional algorithm that might be better run on a computer than in your head. Too bad for you if you didn’t think of a possible mitigation that could have changed the outcome of a specific encounter! There’s actually a digital version of ODD which is getting reasonable reviews, so maybe that’s the answer.

With 2 players or more, there are enough characters on the board to balance each other’s skills, that the game quickly becomes fairly easy, in my experience. Still boring. And longer.

Whether you’re doing good or poorly in terms of skills and items, after a few encounters, the game loop feels very repetitive, and that to me is the second biggest issue. One Deck Dungeon does not suffer from being too hard, or too easy, but from the repetitiveness of its gameplay loop, combined with the length of the sessions. There are not enough monsters or traps to make each new session feel fresh again, even with the Forest of Shadows expansion. Again, I’m not expecting such a small box to provide a huge variety of content, but that unfortunately adds to the length of the sessions.

I don’t want to make it look like the game is too hard or too easy: I think it’s balanced ok, although I do feel that by the time I had a reasonable strategy for levelling up, I was already too bored by the game to care.

There are ways to house rule the game and make it shorter: it would be fairly easy to start from floor 2 or 3, accordingly boosting one’s heroes with items and/or skills. But as I’ve heard from other reviewers: “I don’t want to houserule your game to make it enjoyable, give me something that works from the start”.

Picture by Cee Phour on BGG

Conclusion

One Deck Dungeon is still on our shelves and I haven’t sold it. Truth be told, my 10 year old loves it. But we haven’t played it in more than 2 years now, because I’m dreading having to spend 1h30 on this game once more.

There was a huge contrast between the excitement I felt in my first session of ODD, and the last few games we’ve played as a family. One Deck Dungeon has a repetitive gameplay, which would be ok if a game session lasted 20 to 30 minutes, instead of the 1h30 we’ve experienced.

I’ll leave you with a couple of ratings from BoardGameGeek that match my feelings:

“it goes on for too long in my opinion and it feels like solving math problems and not enough like exploring a dungeon.” -stefant

“I want so much to love this game – but there is something missing in the mechanic and I get bored with it.” -dlightman

What I liked in One Deck Dungeon:

  • Nice little idea on the paper: a dungeon that fits in a deck, some cool randomness and a good selection of heroes and final bosses to fight
  • The loot mechanic is really neat, it feels rewarding to use the monster you just defeated as loot, and there’s a bit of thought that needs to be put between using the loot for the item or the skill bonus.
  • Low price and small footprint!

What I didn’t like in One Deck Dungeon:

  • Sessions are way too long, going from 1h to 3h depending on the number of players.
  • Unfortunately, the game does not have enough variety of content to compensate for that (even with expansion), and the main gameplay loop gets pretty repetitive after a few rounds
  • Depending on your early turns, the game will become quickly too easy or too hard, leading to an obvious conclusion. You’ll probably know within 20 minutes if you’re going to win or lose, but you have 1h more of gameplay to go through 🙁
  • The crunchy mechanic of dice rolls and mitigation, which I loved in my first few games, quickly became tedious, and I kept wishing a computer would give me the best possible combination instead of having to figure it out myself.
  • Extremely fiddly once you have a lot of cards tucked under your character mat. Definitely can’t play this on a train or on a couch

Games mentioned in this article

One Deck Dungeon
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