Sometimes I want a game where I can go on an adventure, roll some dice, defeat some enemies, and gain some new abilities and gear. But I don’t really feel like grabbing a bunch of oversized boxes and setting up a large game with a giant pile of miniatures, tokens for days, and a campaign that will take me months to play through.
I wish there was a game that could do that.
“Hello there,” says the Diceborn Heroes box as I stare at it with a puzzled look, not used to inanimate objects speaking to me.
“Come here my little friend. Don’t be afraid.” The voice continued as I slowly backed away from the box.
“Oh, don’t worry, he’ll be alright.”
Oh wait. I had Star Wars Episode IV on in the background.
Diceborn Heroes plays out a quest over three acts with each act having the players battle a number of enemies equal to the number of players and often some other element related to the quest. Each turn during combat, players will roll the dice indicated by their character card and assign one of them to an ability matching the color and the die requirements.
Once all dice are assigned, draw an Attack card for each enemy. Actions are executed from lowest to highest. Enemies will only attack heroes at the same or higher attack values than them. Actions can do damage, heal, stun, poison, counterattack, and more giving players some good choices. The enemies’ attacks can capture dice (reducing your dice pool), stun, or other not very friendly things.
As enemies are defeated, look to the card’s spoils value and draw a number of cards equal to that number from the discard pile and add them to the bottom of the attack deck. This is important as running out of attack cards is one of the loss conditions.
Some acts will have areas you can lock dice onto to gain an immediate benefit or get something later. Once a die is locked, you can’t get it back until after that act has ended.
At the end of each act, you may choose to discard one attack card to rest (regaining all health) and buy one of the top three item cards from the item deck (using the spoils cards as currency). Then flip over your hero card and pick the next card to level them up. You may also choose to keep your existing class and add one of the abilities from the new card as well.
If you’ve survived at the end of the third act, you win (unless you pooched the quest in which case congratulations on the soft fail).
The game recommends playing without a quest to get used to the game and the early part of the first play was just okay. But once I started leveling up and adding quest content in subsequent games the game began to pop for me.
The campaign feeling in a single sitting is nice and between the tactical choices during combat and the strategic choices about leveling up the game can keep you involved. While each quest has some story, it’s more on par with your average Eldritch Horror card than something like Roll Player Adventures. But this isn’t a game to get because you want a story with fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, and miracles (that’s actually this game). This is a game that you get because you like looking for combos between heroes and trying different ways of leveling up and working through harder and harder quests.
During the adventuring portions of the game, it’s a fun balance between using lots of small attacks or one of your big attacks while still being mindful of the attack deck running out or getting whomped on.
You usually only have two to three dice to roll so some bad luck/rolls can lead to an unfortunate turn. Hero tokens grant re-rolls and they’re refreshed during the town phase but there’s not much else in the way of luck mitigation. You can gain an extra hero token by completing your bounty card but with those being drawn randomly, there’s an opportunity that they don’t line up with your abilities or your play style.
The one-shot campaign over three acts provides a satisfying game arc with opportunities to heal and buy gear. Leveling up is also really fun and easily one of my favorite parts. Finding a combination of heroes that work well together makes you feel clever and can make future acts easier. Each class levels up to two different classes for Act II and then two more classes for Act III which sort of reminded me of that friend in college that changed majors every few terms. Anyway, when you upgrade you gain the new abilities and then get to flip over the old class card and keep a variant of an old ability. Each class comes with three abilities and there’s also an option to maintain your existing class and just take one ability from the new class. By the third act, each character will have five abilities plus potentially their bounty reward.
Each of the eight quests in the box adds neat little twists and are replayable as the bulk of each adventure is the random monsters more than the quest itself. The variability of the quests comes with some extra little rules to remember for each stage. Probably the most limiting factor for replay value is the monster decks which have 13 cards for Acts I and II and 15 for Act III so you’ll likely see many of the same monsters over multiple plays. Kickstarter stretch goals add more quests and character classes.
The art and the elevator pitch concept of this game drew me to it. But it’s the dice allocation and clever leveling up system that keeps it hitting the table for now. But beyond the aesthetics, the gameplay makes me feel clever when I win but even coming up short has me wanting to try again.
Final Score: 3.5 Stars – A single-session adventure game with cute art and lots of dice chucking that gives tactical and strategic choices both in combat and during character advancement.
• Not a lot of luck mitigation
• Games can start a little slow
• You’ll start to see same monsters after a few games