Bigfoot. The Loch Ness Monster. Galactic Keep: Dice Battles.
These are things that people insist exist despite no real verified sightings. But I’m here to set the record straight. One of these things is real. I’ve seen it. I’ve played it. And it was very much worth the wait.
Originally announced back in 2009 (and its existence re-confirmed in 2012), Galactic Keep: Dice Battles has been my great white whale for as long as I can remember. A role-playing game intent on re-creating the tabletop experience, the game’s few images and details have left me salivating for half a decade.
So when Gilded Skull Games reached out to ask if I’d take a look at the first build they felt comfortable showing outside of the studio, you’d better believe I said yes.
After only my first few minutes of playing, it quickly becomes clear what sets Galactic Keep: Dice Battles apart from a wealth of other video game RPG’s: the narrative.
If you had thought that an RPG with a tabletop style would be about little more than presentation, you’re sorely wrong. Galactic Keep recreates the feeling of sitting around a table with a Dungeon Master exquisitely. You’ll roll your 10-sided die for movement, take your first few steps, and be interrupted by a text box giving you the full lay of the land.
Such text boxes are a common occurrence, and may even happen more than once in a single turn. That’s because Galactic Keep isn’t about stats and leveling and combat (though it has all of those), but about story.
A night of DnD isn’t remembered because of the slight stat boosts and spell variations you accquire — it’s remembered because of the creeping tension that a good DM builds. And if this early build is any indication, Gilded Skull Games are fantastic DM’s.
Still, it isn’t all about story. You’ll engage in a fair bit of combat and scavenging too. Each new game starts by selecting a pre-built character that you’ll get to customize with a few simple tweaks.
Each character has their own small selection of special attacks that you’ll pick from, and there’s a quick dice roll to determine starting stats. Getting started is a quick and painless process, but what you choose here will have serious ramifications later on. Once you take a character sheet out of its protective sleeve, the choices you make for that character will be permanent.
Should that character die (and they will), Galactic Keep has a smart but simple way of keeping players in the action. You’ll need to select a new character who will be transported to your last character’s location. Find (and scavenge) their body, and your deceased former self will be sent back to the main menu for regeneration, giving them a new lease on life and your new character all of your deceased character’s belongings.
Combat itself is a simple affair, offering only four options to choose from: attack, special, block and item. They’re fairly self-explanatory, though it’s worth noting that blocking will help you regenerate health (while simultaneously giving your opponent an opportunity to attack unscathed).
The stats you pick will help determine story twists and turns outside of combat, too. I made an intelligence roll to see if I could fix a panel, for example, and when I failed I awoke a monster that was sleeping beneath it.
This build of Galactic Keep: Dice Battles was described to me by Gilded Skull Games as pre-alpha, with “a lot of rough edges and part of the story/adventure component is still under wraps.” Having said that, if they pushed this to the App Store today with a $4.99 sticker price on it, I’d buy it instantly, rate it highly, and tell everyone I know to do the same.
But then again, we can’t blame them for being perfectionists. It’s taken five years to get to this point, after all.