Circadian Dice Overview
Back in May 2020. I reviewed a little game called Circadian Dice. At the time, it was a game made by hobbyist game developers, and even then I was impressed enough to score it a 10 out of 10, back when I still gave out numerical scores.
You can find a video version of this review on my YouTube Channel!
Two years later, Circadian Dice has been further improved and is making the leap that I always hoped it would make. From a hobbyist project to a full-fledged retail Indie game. It only felt appropriate to update my review to match it.
Circadian Dice is a strategical Dice-building game. If you have played games such as Slay the Spire, you already understand the gist. But instead of a deck of cards, you’re instead building the faces on sets of dice, and that makes Circadian Dice very unique.
It harnesses the strengths of a board game but uses the digital medium to introduce gameplay that would be a logistic nightmare with real dice. But It all works beautifully in a video game.
It has been two years, however, and a retail game is a product to be sold. My expectations for a retail game are significantly higher than that of a hobby project where you could pay what you want, including 0. Was Circadian Dice able to meet them? No
For the second time, it completely surpassed them instead.
|Gideon’s Bias||Circadian Dice Information|
|Review Copy Used: Yes||Publisher: Shuffle Up Games|
|Hours Played: 20+||Type: Full Release|
|Reviewed On: PC||Platforms: PC|
|Fan of Genre: Yes||Genre: Dice Builder|
|Mode Played: All||Price: $5.99|
Circadian Dice hits that clean middle ground of being exceptionally simple to pick up and play but possesses multiple layers of depth and strategy under its surface. The basics are easy to learn, you roll dice and choose whether to keep them or reroll them. You can reroll them twice per turn.
If you keep them, you apply the effects of the dice. Icons such as swords deal damage, shields protect you, and hearts heal you. You earn gold that you can use to replace the faces of your dice with new ones in an ever-rotating shop, and you level up during a run, unlocking new abilities and dice. That’s it, it’s that simple.
Circadian Dice plays off of those basic concepts to widen the game’s tactical reach, but the core of it always remains intact, and that makes every other mechanic easy to understand by proxy.
In addition to the simple and informative tutorial, the game introduces new mechanics piece by piece as you progress, so you can come to terms with each of them one by one. The pacing is very well done and makes digesting each new mechanic effortless.
Every time a new concept is introduced, it’s added to the game as a whole. Die faces start appearing with chain links that double the effects of dice when two links are rolled at the same time. Dice start appearing with reroll icons that grant you their effect even when rerolled. Arrow icons pierce a monster’s shield, while magic icons can be empowered with gems.
One icon stuns enemies while another curses them. Some allow you to capture enemies into your dice for various effects, while others have additional powers based on the day and night cycle, which changes after a set number of rerolls.
Each new piece of the puzzle deepens the experience but is drip-fed to you over time as you unlock new classes, relics, and scenarios. What would be overwhelming all at once, is split up at a fantastic pace that keeps the game accessible without sacrificing depth. A balance that most games dream of attaining, but rarely do.
An Intricate Web of Design
The massive variation of dice icons does not exist in a vacuum. They mesh with your opposition to provide gameplay that is far more focused on skill than luck, in spite of the fact you’re rolling dice. There is a web of interconnected cogs that all connect in a devilishly clever game of understanding both, tactics and probability.
Each of the game’s scenarios is built around a central theme. Each one throws waves of enemies at you, but the difference between each individual scenario is vast. One might have heavily armored enemies, while another has a focus on cursing the faces of your dice, so that each time you roll that face, you take damage. A third scenario may punish you for rerolling too often, and another may put you on the defensive with heavy attackers.
The handcrafted scenarios are fairly static, they throw the same waves of enemies at you on each playthrough. But there are some random mutators thrown in. Some enemies can show up with a random mutation that alters how they function. But each scenario is more or less a specific challenge for you to overcome.
However, you can practically count the number of scenarios and then double them for each class in the game. Each of the game’s 10 different heroes has such a distinct feeling that the same scenario feels different between them. The way the Barbarian has to approach a horde of hungry dinosaurs is very different from how the Time Bender, or Bard must approach them.
Each class has unique starting sets of dice, and it does seem like the store is influenced by them to some extent. Beyond that, every class has a unique set of abilities that you can spend gems to use. The Elementalist can hammer foes with high-damage fireballs or freeze them in place, while the Ninja can deploy smoke bombs to stun them.
Each ability has a limited number of uses, and they cost gems to cast, gems are mostly gained by rolling a die face that has them. To further stir the pot, each class can gain new abilities as they level. The choices they are presented with come from a pool of abilities from all classes, allowing you to set up your strategies by combining sets of abilities with specific dice setups.
Finally, before diving into a scenario you choose from various relics you have unlocked that can impart die faces and abilities or alter how certain mechanics work, such as making the night phase longer. This all combines to give you an immense amount of freedom around how to tackle each challenge with each character, before and during the game.
It Just Works
Circadian Dice’s true brilliance is how all of its aspects boil down into the simple foundation of its turn-to-turn gameplay. Each turn and decision matters. While luck is always a factor when dice are involved, your performance in the game is pretty much reliant on your own skill. How you build your die faces to interact with each other, the specific challenge you’re facing, and your strategy.
Six-sided dice have a simple probability curve that even a knucklehead like me can grasp. If you ever feel you are losing due to a string of unlucky rolls, I have some bad news for you. It was likely your decisions that led to it, not luck. You choose when to keep and when to reroll and also how to build out your dice in the first place. Those two decisions may look simple, but they are actually profound. You know the odds, and you have to learn when to push your luck, and when to play it safe. The luck you’re pushing is a set of parameters that you crafted and not just the whims of numbers.
The key is, that you can never truly have it all. You can’t have every type of die face, have a bag full of gems to power your abilities, and a bunch of gold to spend on new faces. You have to form a starting strategy and then adapt it based not only on what you want but what you have rolled and kept based on the situation.
Treasure is another unpredictable element, some monsters randomly have a chest attached to them. Chests are the main way you earn coins to spend on new faces. But they too have to be defeated or opened with a key, which is another die face icon. Knowing the right moment to go for them or let them pass by is a key factor in the game because both empty pockets and a greedy heart can lead to failure.
Leveling up is another factor to consider, it grants new abilities, and higher health, but most importantly, it unlocks your third and fourth dice. The trick is, that while you do earn XP for defeating enemies, buying new die faces also grants it, allowing a big spender to level even quicker. However, you always buy new die faces in sets of two, so you have to think carefully about each purchase.
Circadian Dice is less about luck mitigation and more about luck mastery. You aren’t at the whims of an unknown force. The chaos is yours to shape and bend. But as any gambler will tell you, luck has a nasty bite. If you get careless with it, you’re going to bleed a little.
One of the most attractive things about Circadian Dice is that it’s not simply about winning. It’s about winning well. As I mentioned before, each scenario feels different with every character. Well, the game tracks your performance with each character in each scenario, awarding 1 to 5 stars.
In Circadian Dice, simply winning is only the first step. There is a sense of satisfaction in mastering each scenario with each class to the degree that you earn five stars with all of them. To earn five stars, you not only need to survive the gauntlet but attain a high score. This means maintaining a streak of beating each wave, as every wave has a turn limit before the remaining monsters are converted to fear, and you move on.
In addition to streak bonuses, you’re rewarded for other factors, such as treasure chests opened and gold remaining. It gives you natural motivation to be a completionist in a way that doesn’t feel gimmicky. Circadian Dice presents you with an obstacle, and tells you to climb over, once you do that, it tells you to jump over it instead, and because it’s so fun to attempt, you try to do a flip over it just to prove you can.
That alone provides an insane amount of content, but that’s just the beginning. Once you have cleared each scenario once. Several other modes open up. A campaign mode that challenges you to beat each scenario in succession without a loss.
A hard mode version of every scenario and my personal favorite. And an endless mode that pits you against random waves of enemies with increasing difficulty to see just how far you can go. I love this mode because it gives you the most time to really build out your strategy and constantly tests it against enemy combinations you won’t find within the hand-crafted scenarios.
The replay value of Circadian Dice is off the charts and puts many more expensive games to shame. The best part is that its replay value isn’t padding, or stretched-out content, but a core part of its identity. Something else I love is that we as humans can fall into habits when playing games. It’s easy to fall into a single playstyle, and stick with it, even if it would be more fun to broaden our horizons. Circadian Dice constantly forces you to adapt to obtain the mastery of its challenges.
Is It Perfect?
No game is perfect. But if you were to challenge me to sit here and find a flaw, I’d only be able to come up with one. The streak system. After each wave, you’re presented with a choice between two random boons, and a streak bonus.
Remember how I praised the star system and how motivating it is to master each scenario with every character? Well, a large part of your score is based on your streak bonus, which requires you to choose it after every wave.
It somewhat invalidates having the choice at all, and that’s unfortunate. 90% of the time I click through the choices without looking. I want the streak bonus every time because it’s so important in scoring.
You don’t have to take it every time, if you play well enough, or make up for it in other areas you can usually afford to break the streak once per scenario. But for the most part, you really do have to choose between five stars and something cool, and that’s a bit of a bummer.
This review is replacing my old one of Circadian Dice, so I want to contextualize some of the differences. You need to understand that even back then, I thought the game was great. Sure it was technically free, as it was “pay what you want.” But let’s be real, if you took it for free, got tons of hours of gameplay out of it, and never went back to toss the developers at least a buck or two, that’s kind of a dick move. In any case, it was a steal either way.
Now it’s $5.99. Did they take the same game I played two years ago and slap a price tag on it? Not at all. Back then the game had 6 classes, now it has 10. It went from 36 relics to 60, the visuals have been improved, and tons of new mechanics were added. It’s a better game in every conceivable way, and I already had a high opinion of it back then.
To speak candidly for a moment. If you were to only ever take my word on a single game, make it this one. There are only a few games out there that can match its quality and quantity within its niche. It mixes the magic of board games and video games brilliantly while inspiring the same kind of joy that games like Slay the Spire can spark but, in its own way that’s unique to it.
Price is always a factor in my reviews, but were it priced higher my recommendation would be the same. It’s an excellent game that will provide hours of entertainment that is going to come out to pennies on the dollar. I’m giving it my golden shield award, in case that wasn’t already obvious.
A Note From Gideon
I have no relationship with the developers outside of a few emails. But when I reviewed the game two years ago. It was a hobbyist game by hobbyist game developers. And I was, well, very close to a hobbyist game reviewer. I had no idea what the hell I was doing. I don’t know what a professional game reviewer named Gideon would look like, but I have grown a lot as a writer and reviewer since then, so I at least hope that I look like I know what I’m doing now (I don’t). Circadian Dice and those who created it have grown as well, going from a hobbyist project to a retail game.
The thing is, on both sides of that coin. A lot don’t make it. Since I created Gideon’s Gaming around four years ago. I’ve watched aspiring indie developers crash and burn. I’ve watched many aspiring independent reviewers that started at the same time I did, fall as well. We are both still here though, it’s hard not to feel at least some kind of kinship. So I wish Shuffle Up Games the best of luck with Circadian Dice and as much success as possible. They created a game that deserves it.
- A fantastic concept of replacing dice faces to form a dice-building game
- Expertly crafted scenarios, hard mode, campaign mode, and endless mode
- 10 unique character classes and 60 relics
- The star mastery system is motivating and fun
- Each scenario feels different when played by different characters
- Plenty of depth between game-changing mechanics, tons of dice effects, and character powers
- Simple to learn, hard to master
- Inexpensive Price
- Plenty of ways to play your own way between characters, dice, relics, and cross-class abilities
- The streak bonus can invalidate the choice between end-of-wave boons