There’s a commonly accepted genealogy of gaming that tells us video games owe much to their tabletop ancestors, everything from the hex maps of strategy games to the quantized concept of hit points. We simulated systems, economies and conflicts by using dice, maps or miniatures, before computers began to give us the processing power to do much more. Tabletop and video games slowly diverged until relatively recently, as new generations of board games grew in popularity and overlapped with the video games audience, while designers in either media began mining the other for inspiration.
Now, elements of tabletop gaming appear in everything from the deckbuilding of Slay the Spire to the dice-rolling of Dicey Dungeons. Dice Legacy is the latest of these hybrids, which developer DESTINYbit describes as “Mixing boardgames and city-building, with a dash of roguelikes.”
I’d describe it more as a frenetic mix of real-time resource management and panicked re-rolling. Set across a mysterious medieval ringworld, Dice Legacy gives you a pool of dice representing a workforce, ready to be placed around the landscape according to the symbols they’ve rolled: Dice showing a resource-gathering symbol can cut down trees or enter mines, while other results mean they can be used to construct new buildings or work inside them, perhaps staffing a mill or brewery. A timer for each of these tasks ticks down, after which the die is returned to your pool. Dice in your pool can be re-rolled any time, but each new roll reduces their durability until they expire (which, no kidding, makes the other dice sad). Fortunately, feeding a die in a cookhouse restores some of that durability and, should you need more dice, sending two into a house together soon produces a third, the particulars of which I don’t want to think about. Nevertheless, breeding a lineage of powerful dice is the key to success.
“The original idea for Dice Legacy actually stemmed from Blockchain technology,” Gian Paolo Vernocchi, DESTINYbit’s Creative Director, explained to me via email. “Blockchain is really good at spitting out unique identifiers for something. I love custom dice and I had this idea of having players fuse different dice together to get combinations that would be completely unique, with a genetic algorithm and all of that. What blockchain is really bad at is calculating things rapidly so the idea was shelved, but forging dice together still fascinated me.”
Forging dice becomes increasingly important as the game progresses. What starts as an exercise in balance and timing soon becomes much more complicated. Invading forces must be countered by dice that have rolled a sword face, while advancing seasons may see some dice frozen for the winter. A wise dicer offsets some of these obstacles by growing their town and using new buildings to educate dice in different professions, such as soldiers or monks, losing some advantages while gaining others. It’s not long before a dozen or more dice are being constantly redeployed, upgraded or even customized to produce more powerful variants. The very best dice can be “ascended” out of the current game and kept for the next, though it’s a challenge finding the time to do this in an increasingly frantic experience.
“A good chunk of the last months of development went into modulating what we call the ‘threat’ curve that a player faces and balancing the game,” Vernocchi says. “Even our in-game pause feature is something that was added very late into development because, to an extent, it goes against the nature of the game.”
That pause feature is only available at lower difficulty levels, with players otherwise having to face the original relentless, real-time vision of multiple cooldown timers and daring re-rolls. In the beta build I tried, the occasional intermission was all but essential amid all the desperate dicing, with failure always moments away. Dice Legacy is not shaping up to be an easy game, but it’s looking intriguing, exciting and suitably speculative.