There’s been a recent influx of deckbuilding games appearing on digital gaming tables, with most of those, as expected, using cards. Tamarak Trail is different in that instead of those flat, precarious-tower-building pieces of card, it uses dice. Those dice are fully customisable, with different abilities being able to be added to each side, and they become your tools to navigate the map of Tamarak Trail which features battles, multiple choice situations, treasure chests, areas of respite, shops and despicable bosses.
In the preview build of Tamarak Trail, the character you have access to is the Detective. In the full release the roster will also include the Magician and the Tracker. The Detective is armed with a pistol for their basic attack, which has a base damage of 5, and gains a variety of abilities as you make progress. These abilities allow the Detective to inflict debuffs such as bleed and blind, as well as gain stealth. New abilities are accessed by gaining victory in battles against the different creatures that have manifested in the world, some of whom prove exceedingly tough to beat.
As mentioned, dice are the determinants of your battles, their rolls determining which abilities you will use per turn. When customising the dice it was better to have one that was geared for attack, while the other had defence abilities equipped as that way you are always guaranteed to get at least one hit in. The dice can be further customised too with dice cores. These are items that can be found in the world that add passive abilities to dice, such as making attacks slightly stronger or defence a bit more resilient. Even though you have both dice available sometimes it is better not to roll at all, and that is because of how combat points work. Combat points are spent to use abilities, but they also double up as your health. At the end of each turn some combat points are added back to your meter, with more added the less dice you roll. In addition to combat points, each character also has a number of hearts that have to be destroyed to beat an enemy, and those are destroyed when the combat points reach zero.
To navigate the world of Tamarak Trail you have a map overview with different paths to take, and each node on the map is clearly marked to show what to expect so you can plan ahead on how you want to attempt to get from the beginning to the end. Skulls denote enemies, exclamation marks are for multiple choice situations, tents offer respite, chests offer dice cores. There are also shops interspersed that allow you to buy cores, while you can also run into traders from whom you can procure potions. Some situations will grant you stat boosts while others could give negative effects.
Early on, the paths all lead to the same boss and it is here where the luck of the roll can be quite difficult to deal with. The boss acts as the first true skill check, doing high damage and having a significant amount of health, plus help from a smaller enemy. This fight is hard and I feel it comes way too early in proceedings when you are still learning the basics, and may not have acquired many abilities that can give your dice the added oomph to tip the scales in your favour. It could be that a bit of rebalancing is needed to make this early boss a degree fairer or moved slightly further along the map to allow for more abilities to be gained.
That being said, Tamarak Trail’s dice customisation is offering a twist in the deck-building space, and there is plenty of promise through the gameplay that was available in the preview. A few tweaks and a bit of rebalancing could see Tamarak Trail become a unique alternative for deckbuilding fans.