I do quite like Dice Legacy. I need to start the review on this note because I anticipate the rest of it will read like a laundry list of imperfections within Italy-based studio DESTINYbit’s dicey RTS. I like it because it’s a game about systems, randomness, and strategy, and these things are just so fascinating to think about. And just as the act of playing Dice Legacy is about trying to find an efficient path through an imperfect system, it’s interesting to ponder on the specific decisions which lead to the game’s successes and shortcomings.
At its core, Dice Legacy is a strategy-focused city-building genre, with my closest comparison point being the Age of Empires series. Starting out with simple resources and rudimentary technology, the player navigates interlocking networks of upgrades until they’re eventually an all-powerful juggernaut of economic and military might. These kinds of games always feel awesome to play, and Dice Legacy delivers this vision effectively.
Dice Legacy has its own unique spin on the strategy genre where each “unit” is represented by a six-sided die. By rolling the dice, you get to determine what action that unit can perform, whether it’s constructing a building, cutting down a tree, or attacking an enemy. A die can be assigned to a task on the map, or rolled again to try and get a different action. Over time as players amass more specialised resources, dice can be transformed into other classes such as Citizen, Monk or Soldier, which have different symbols on their faces and can be used for more specific tasks. Dice can also be strengthened, upgraded and combined, boosting their efficiency further.
Natural resources eventually run out and players will need to advance forwards, putting them in closer proximity to an AI-controlled enemy. If the player destroys the enemy base, the game is over – and vice versa. Often, matches spend a long time in a stalemate position, as the player amasses resources and pulls further ahead in technological advancement.
Another unique idea Dice Legacy brings to the table is that dice can become afflicted with various maladies, which must then be cured with specific buildings and resources. Dice can be wounded in combat, which means they will be destroyed if another wound is sustained – this must be cured with herbs. Dice can also become frozen if they work outside in the winter months, and without ale, they’ll be out of commission until the next summer. Different classes of dice also have separate satisfaction meters, which means they’ll work more efficiently if they’re happy, or they’ll start sabotaging your colony if they’re dissatisfied with your rule.
The feeling of playing this game is managing various setbacks in an attempt to advance to the end of the map. There’s a real sense that players are battling against the elements – they’ll need to plan ahead for the winter months, while managing their dice pool to be able to collect resources, advance technology and defend against enemy raiders. If a player loses track of anything, they’ll be punished: dice will run out of health and die, resources will go empty, social classes will be disgruntled and everything will catch fire. It’s a managerial nightmare.
Not all people will find this gameplay fun, but for those who like a touch of harsh realism in their strategic gameplay, Dice Legacy provides a worthy challenge. There’s almost always more than one solution to any problem, and decisive decision-making will always trump haphazard play – this is a testament to DESTINYbit’s strong design.
But, on the other hand, doesn’t this all sound a bit tedious? Growing the kingdom is great, and the game does provide an extensive tech tree to work through on your way to conquest. But advancing that tech tree means adapting to a slew of setbacks and pitfalls, and being patient with your workers. This is a game that produces campaigns that regularly go for two hours or more and is, therefore, not a game for short bursts, though the repetitive gameplay is grating for long sessions too.
After completing the first scenario, the player can unlock additional rulers with different special abilities, as well as new campaigns with further limitations. It’s a way of making a hard game even harder. There are also five difficulty modes, though I haven’t even mustered up the courage to try the hardest. There’s a late-game ability that allows a die to “ascend”, letting players keep it after the mission ends for use in future campaigns, and I imagine this is crucial for success, though it’s a time-consuming process.
The Switch port also suffers from a variety of small issues, making it the substandard way to experience the game compared to the PC release. It’s technically playable, but the whole time I wished I was on mouse and keyboard, with hotkeys. The text size is far too small for handheld play, and so are the buttons and icons; a number of times I’ve sent my workers to the wrong tile because of an inaccuracy with the joystick. The controller mapping also can’t be changed in-game, and the button mapping in menus and in-game is often bizarre. It takes some getting used to, and it never ends up feeling natural. And this is perhaps a subjective comment but my expectations on the Switch is for “short and sweet” – quick runs in games like Hades or Dicey Dungeon, not multi-hour-long campaigns that drag and drain the battery.
Dice Legacy does have some interesting ideas under its belt, and I’m excited to keep exploring the various strategies and play styles that its robust tech tree has in store. I find the experience quite taxing with how much improvisation and compromise it demands, so I’m saving it for a time where I’m in the mood for careful, organised play. If the idea of a strategy game with an unusual twist piques your interest, Dice Legacy is a great game to pick up – on PC. As enjoyable as the game is, the poor optimisation means Switch owners would do well to look elsewhere.