One Deck Dungeon: Forest of Shadows is a standalone expansion to the first iteration, simply named: One Deck Dungeon (ODD). Although the game is substantively the same, a few alterations add some meat without overcomplicating a game that is intended to be fast, easy to play, and portable. Fans of the first game will find much to appreciate here.
For those unfamiliar, One Deck Dungeon is a game in which one or two players start at level 1 and have to overcome traps or monsters until they reach a selected boss at the bottom of three floors. Each enemy offers varying abilities, items, and experience points depending on how players intend to use the spoils of their victory. Time is expended by discarding cards off of the deck, and random doors are opened, uncovering a nasty baddie or brutal trap. No matter the outcome of the fight, victory is assured — as long as the heroes don’t die. Battles ensue through the roll of differently colored dice, which correspond to a hero’s stats — agility, might, and magic. Each enemy has different numerical and color requirements, so players have to decide what doors they can afford to leave open if they should lack the ability to fully defeat their foes. Any doors left open result in either time loss, poison, or damage to the party. So while victory is certain, losses will be had if players cannot strategically build their characters or use their abilities most efficiently.
“…ODD’s design seems to revolve around what some call a ‘foothold meta’…”
Although each boss has delineated difficulty levels that determine hazards while traversing the dungeon or stats when fighting the boss itself, I’ve only ever lost one game of One Deck Dungeon, and that was due to my team’s arrogance; after so many wins, we felt invincible. You see, ODD‘s design seems to revolve around what some call a “foothold meta,” meaning that the initial part of the game is a bit difficult, but after you outfit your team appropriately, the rest of the game gets easier. Every game of ODD I’ve played has this pattern, and while I think it waters down the experience, I enjoy the efficiency and puzzle that each game boasts. Some in the gaming community have deemed ODD virtually impossible, and I’m not quite sure that is the case.
With regard to Forest of Shadows, new elements include the aforementioned poison, which can cause damage if not maintained every time the team searches for more doors. Other elements include six new heroes, more bosses and enemies, and the ability to combine multiple copies of the game to allow for four players or to combine both sets of the game into one. The rules clearly indicate how players should do this while maintaining a semblance of balance.
While One Deck Dungeon was initially meant to be played as a one- or two-player game, the most fun my group and I have had was playing this with four players. It amps up the amount of strategy and discussion, making for a heartier experience. Though maybe that’s not what One Deck Dungeon is about: ODD may be for a more casual audience, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but would-be buyers should know what they have in store for them. Even Forest of Shadows lacks the depth necessary for this to be a repeatable endeavor. My friends and I will likely table this once in a while, but I can’t say for certain if it warrants a lifetime of shuffling and rolling.