Circadian Dice Review: To “Die” For

Circadian Dice is a dice building game available on Itch.io for the low price of pay what you want. Joseph Pugh conducted this review.

Overview

Circadian Dice is a strategical dice building game. If you are unfamiliar with the term, a deck-building game usually involves cards and the player actively constructs the deck they are using while they play, rather than beforehand.

A popular video game example of a deck builder would be Slay The Spire. Circadian Dice follows a similar principle, but instead of cards, you are building the faces of six-sided dice.

You use coins to replace the faces of your dice as you play.

Circadian Dice features a lengthy set of preset challenges and a bunch of unlock-able relics and characters. Should the game tickle your fancy enough to beat it. You will unlock a hard mode variant and very re-playable randomly generated Chaos Trial mode.

Circadian Dice surprised me. When it was brought to my attention, it looked neat but I expected very little. The depth and content, however, makes it hard to believe the game was made by hobbyist game developers and is available for the price of whatever you feel it’s worth. Never judge a book by its cover, or rather never judge a dice by its face. Lesson learned.

Gameplay

Each challenge pits you against monsters in a series of waves. You start with a single character class but unlock more as you play. At the beginning of a round, you have two six-sided dice with several different faces depending on your class and choice of relics. As your character levels up, you gain more dice to use within the same scenario.

You roll these dice and choose whether to keep the faces you rolled and use them in the current turn or reroll them and try again. You can reroll two times per turn. Every face has a different effect. A shield will block damage, a sword deals damage, a coin grants you money and a heart heals you for example.

There are a lot of unlockable scenarios, characters, and relics.

Coins can be spent in an ever-changing store to replace the faces of your dice. This is where the building part comes in as you try to design your dice while playing to benefit your strategy the most. Additionally, every character class has a couple of ability powers that you can use by spending gems, another resource you can gain from dice faces.

The Elementalist can use fireball, for example, dealing 5 damage to a target by spending red gems. The Cleric, on the other hand, can heal themself by spending white gems.

If this sounds complicated, it isn’t and Circadian Dice does an absolutely phenomenal job teaching you the game. Far better than I have any hope of doing in this review.

The short tutorial is engaging, clear, and to the point and new mechanics and dice faces are introduced slowly. Each description of every new type of dice and mechanic is presented to you with perfect clarity and the game features informational tooltips you activate simply by mousing over the thing you want to learn about.

You start each scenario with two dice but unlock the use of two more as your character levels up.

Other games could learn from Circadian Dice about how to engage and drip feed player information while teaching them how to play.

There are six classes and each one has a significantly different playstyle and feel to them. The Barbarian feels very aggressive, while the Elementalist acts like a sort of glass cannon.

You can further alter them by using unlock-able relics that add additional mechanics or alter your dice faces, for example, one relic upgrades your heart faces to heal you for twice as much.

Characters can learn new abilities during a scenario when they level up, the abilities are cross-class. A Cleric may be presented the choice between a Cleric and Ninja skill for example. In some ways, this can enhance the strategy, but it is also kicks the variety in a knee a bit.

Each class plays very differently, I rarely found choosing other classes skills to be useful. Different classes generally have a focus on different colored gems and it seemed to be more effort than it was worth to try and pick up additional gem types.

The abilities you choose from are random, I would have rather had the choice between two skills from my class than a possible choice between cross-class skills that I may not be able to use.

However, This type of variety permeates the entire game. Every challenge has a theme to it. One set might use enemies that attack you using a fear mechanic, another might focus on cursing your dice, making them damage you when specific faces are rolled. Another might be big honking dinosaurs. Each challenge requires a different approach and even features its own music.

Each scenario pits a unique strategy against you.

The variety is further enhanced by a mutant modifier that can show up on monsters randomly, altering the way they work. There is also a capture dice face, nearly every single monster in the game can be captured using it and mind-blowingly, they all have different effects on the dice they are captured in. There was an incredible amount of thought put into the mechanics of the game and for the most part, it feels balanced.

Luck plays a part in any dice or card game, but Circadian Dice is not a game of chance. It’s about strategy, bending luck to your will, and knowing when to push it. The variety of enemies all require different approaches and you must always try to plan your turns out.

Some dice faces are used to attack multiple enemies with splash damage, others stun them. Some give you a benefit if you reroll them while others grant a larger effect if you manage to roll them together. It’s up to you to figure out how to best build your dice to get the effects that you want for any given challenge.

Boss monsters also play a part.

Some monsters drop chests, breaking them or opening them with a key face grants you precious coins to spend on customizing your dice and gems for your character abilities. But if all the enemies die before you open the chest you lose it. The player must always choosen between pushing their luck to obtain the chests or to progress passed the current wave.

Furthermore, each wave is timed. If you fail to defeat an enemy within the turn limit, it gets added to your fear, if you hit 10 fear. You lose. You also lose if you fail to defeat the boss wave in time.

Equally important is the fact that failing to defeat enemies within that limit ruins your streak bonus.

After every wave, you get to choose between a set of rewards, one of which is a streak bonus that multiplies your score. Your score determines how many stars you earn for that challenge and character. Earning stars is the primary way you unlock everything in the game.

Between waves, you choose between enhancing your score and other rewards.

This is actually my biggest complaint. There is a lot of strategy in choosing your wave rewards. But it’s impossible to obtain 5 stars unless you choose the streak bonus, making most of the other choices moot. You have to choose the streak bonus to obtain the best scores.

Just when you think the game can’t possibly offer you anymore. You beat it and unlock a hard mode which alters the previous challenges and adds an infinitely re-playable endless Trial mode that throws random beasties at you until you lose.

Verdict

As someone who has dabbled in card and board game design. Making a game that both works correctly and is fun to play is no easy task. That’s without factoring in the programming know-how to make a digital game.

Circadian Dice takes it even further, it uses its digital format to its utmost advantage. The game would be impossible to play in real life but is extremely easy to play and understand as a video game.

Characters can also learn new abilitys as they level up.

It gives you the gambler’s thrill without sacrificing strategy, and nearly every aspect feels varied and balanced. Every scenario has its own game-play theme and music and each character feels different to play despite using the same dice mechanics.

Given the sheer amount of content, replay value, and brilliant game mechanics, Circadian Dice is one of the easiest recommendations I’ve ever made. Especially given that it’s sold as pay what you want. If you enjoy any kind of board, card, or dice game. You need Circadian Dice in your life.

You might also be interested in my reviews of Slay The Spire, For The King, and Deep Sky Derelicts. If you enjoy my content, consider buying me a coffee on Kofi!

Pros

  • The engaging, fast-paced and informative tutorial
  • Mechanics are presented with clarity and easy to use tooltips
  • Six varied classes and a ton of unique relics
  • Fun, balanced and brilliant dice building mechanics
  • Varied challenges with their own gameplay style and music
  • Highly replayable with unlockable hard mode and endless trial
  • Unique capture mechanic with different effects for nearly every enemy.

Cons

  • Streak rewards dampen the strategical choice between waves as you must choose between a higher score and something tangible.
  • Cross ability system is a little wonky

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