Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
When I started up Dice Legacy with a long history of city builders and colony management games behind me, I thought I was in for another rehash of the same old tropes – build some structures, grow your population, research everything you can, and play the micromanagement game in balancing production to consumption. It quickly became apparent that while those elements are perhaps unavoidably present, Dice Legacy has put a unique and memorable spin on them that kept me off balance and rendered previous experience with city builders irrelevant. There are two elements that Dice Legacy brings us that really stand out from the crowd and make this a game worth buying: action control via dice, and a world that feels reminiscent of a 2d side-scroller while maintaining 3d-like artwork.
In Dice Legacy, the population is represented by classic six-sided dice, each face of which enables it to perform a given type of task. Icons for construction, harvesting, combat, exploration, research and others vary in their type and frequency depending on what type of citizens you have, and only the “top” face when the rolled is usable. The player seems to be hard limited to a maximum of 12 dice in their available-for-assignment tray at a given time, although it is possible to have a greater population than this if you can react fast enough that only 12 are awaiting reassignment at any given moment. React too slowly, and any dice past 12 that try to return to the tray are irrevocably lost – potentially a pricey mistake as higher-tier dice can represent a significant investment.
If the dice faces simply allowed the player to assign that die permanently to a job, we would be back near classic city-builder territory, but here in Dice Legacy these assignments only last for a single action/production cycle. After being used, the die returns to the assignment tray and must be rerolled before it can be used again. The result of this is a situation where the player can’t really plan far ahead – if you need more food or lumber or stone to do something, you just have to hope that your next roll gives you the die faces you need to perform those actions. If you don’t get them, you’ll need to either change your plans on the fly and do whatever you can with what you did get, or reroll your dice – but every reroll brings the dice a step closer to death, so spamming rerolls to get a particular face brings risks and challenges of its own!
The second element that Dice Legacy uses to stand out from the crowd is a world that feels in many respects like a 2d side-scroller. The world map is formed like a ring, with the playing space being on the inside face. Width is quite limited, so you’ll constantly be scrolling “up” and “down” to move through your city, expand your borders and react to the events that the game frequently tosses your way. From bandit invasions that require specific combat-faced dice to repel, to freezing temperature, sickness and unhappiness that you favored one die type over another, Dice Legacy doesn’t really give you time to rest.
Did I mention that this city builder is very RTS-styled? Every action in Dice Legacy takes a certain amount of time – usually less than a minute, and often less than 30 seconds. Events have timers as well, and if the player doesn’t react in time – with the correct die-face action – there can be repercussions like lost resources or destroyed buildings. At the outset of the game when the player is handling only half a dozen dice in a limited area, this feels easily manageable and there are enough times when all the dice are assigned that you can free a hand to grab a drink. By the time you’re an hour into the game with a full tray of twelve dice, the pace feels anything but relaxed as you struggle to keep all the dice working across an expanding city area while bouncing between events that beset your borders!
Visually, Dice Legacy has made good use of contrasting colors and simple, clear iconography that makes the user interface easy to understand, even when playing on the small screen of the Nintendo Switch when used as a handheld. The buildings are visually distinct enough from each other that the player can quickly learn which is which, and there are button reminders on all UI elements in case you forget what does what. If there is a downside here, it is that in making the UI large and clear it can at times feel like it has taken up too much of the play area. Tooltips pop up every time the cursor passes over one of your buildings, and between the UI scale and the size of the tooltips I felt like I was fighting to see what I was doing at times, especially as the city developed and I had multiple buildings in close proximity to each other. While an option to adjust the UI scale manually (or an automatic adjustment when docked) would probably resolve the issue, this wasn’t listed in the game menus on the Nintendo Switch client at review time.
Sound design in the game is also very nicely done, and woven so well into the experience that it simply becomes part of the play experience. Music and the ambient soundscape blend pretty seamlessly, and have enough variety that you won’t find yourself hearing the same few musical phrases over and over. That said, if you’re a fan of hearing catchphrases or humorous reactions when you repeatedly click on your minions, you won’t find it here.
Overall, Dice Legacy is a very fresh and creative entry in a genre that can often feel like every game is just a reskin of another. The use of dice to randomize the actions available and the steady pace of external events changes this from a game of long-term strategy to one of improvisation and reaction. Clean, visually appealing art style wars with a slightly too large UI scale that can obscure much of the play area. Great for people who like to think on their feet and maintain a decent rate of action and excitement for extended periods. Not an at-your-own pace city builder like Cities: Skylines or other descendants of SimCities, however, so look elsewhere if you’re after a quiet, relaxing time.Score: 8.5 / 10