For the uninitiated, One Deck Dungeon is the definitive casual dungeon-delving experience anyone can have on a table top, full stop. I reviewed it and one of its expansions, Forest of Shadows a few years ago, giving both high marks for their teeth and presentation. Here, I’m a little late to the party, but the Abyssal Depths adds a bit of challenge for those seeking it along with three new characters.
A quick overview if you’re new to One Deck Dungeon: you and a friend (if you choose) pick a character with some allotment of dice in strength, agility, and magic. You spend time by discarding cards from the deck to explore. By laying out doors (cards), you can spend more time to flip those cards over. Every card has a monster or trap to fight. While traps and monsters function differently, the essentials are the same: roll dice to place on top of numbered, colored boxes. If a pink box has a four in it, you have to roll a four or better in agility to place in it. Each box has a consequence if it isn’t filled, typically health or time loss. Even if you don’t fill every box, the enemy is defeated, granting you experience points, an item (die to add to your pool), or skill (some way to cheat the game or manipulate dice rolls). Sometimes enemies have potions, expended to give a further edge by simply chugging and tossing the cube. Go through the entire deck three times—shuffling after each depletion—and then fight the final boss.
Those are the bare essentials of the game. The details make for a thoughtful, engrossing experience, which is surprising given that this is a relatively inexpensive, light, and dice-driven endeavor. The developer truly struck an exquisite balance with all of the mechanics. Every character feels distinct without being gimmicky, including the three new characters in Abyssal Depths.
If you’re like me, you’ve kind of “solved” what the original game and Forest of Shadows can throw at you. I’ve figured out what character works best with what equipment and skills, which way to lean if the card flips aren’t going my way, and when I can permit a thrashing if it means slaying a high-level enemy. Here comes Abyssal Depths with the simple yet effective fiends.
Fiends add additional hurdles. These entities exist in the wings and make life just a little more difficult, similar to the ongoing effects incurred from the big bosses over the course of the game. On floor one, players will have to deal with two curses. Floor two sets up an additional ailment alongside the first two, and the third, final floor requires players to navigate all four challenges on the fiend card.
Some examples of these threats include players suffering additional damage when receiving a point of damage or one of the excess items getting turned into experience points if players have more items than skills by the time they explore. Individual ailments are relatively simple, but it’s the combination of challenges that makes for a thought-provoking experience. Players don’t have to put up with the fiend’s nonsense, though. Along the bottom of the fiend card are a bunch of colored boxes that players can fill up with excess dice while fighting monsters or traps to eventually lower the fiend’s threat level. This is a careful balancing act because the dice pool is limited, and leaving dice here may reduce the amount of dice players can use to fight regular enemies; however, not only do players reduce the threat level, but they receive some reward for filling up the fiend’s dice track.
Rewards typically come in the form of dice, such as offering players any color die they want set to a six automatically (to be used immediately). Another reward might be to give players a black (wild) three and a three of any other color die. As players go deeper into the dungeon, the number of rewards increases. My friend and I tried this reward mechanic out and found that most of the time, locking up dice on this track wasn’t worth it. A few fiends have curses that can be especially cumbersome, but losing valuable dice from the pool available is rarely worth it. Still, that being said, the threats certainly add challenge that veterans may crave, and they’re unique enough to add flavor without falling into the rote “higher numbers equate to more challenge” trap that unimaginative design sometimes falls into.
Yet, fusing another card onto what was originally intended to be a light, breezy experience somehow doesn’t bog it down. Tabletop expansions tend to make a neat, tidy board gaming experience into a Frankensteinian catastrophe. Those of us craving complexity with a desire to breathe new life into our games welcome these additions, but let us not forget that some people picked up One Deck Dungeon because it is simply that: one deck. Now it’s one deck and friends. But then that poses the question: is this worth it for three new characters and six fiend cards? Right now, this is about eight bucks off the shelf, so it won’t break the bank. Nine cards for eight dollars? If you think about the artistry, game design, and freshness this adds to a stellar casual experience, the price is right. Less would feel like a steal, while more would feel like a cash grab. If you’re a fan of One Deck Dungeon, this is an easy purchase, though some folks may feel like there just isn’t enough going on to even bother opening the box back up.