- Designer: Kane Klenko
- Publisher: Renegade Game Studios
- Players: 1
- Age: 10+
- Time: 30-40 minutes
- Times played: 4 sessions (multiple games each session), with review copy provided by Renegade Game Studios, all with the core game
- Amazon Affiliate link: https://amzn.to/2Y9RQvh
Proving Ground is the new solo dice rolling game from Renegade – a game which I initially shunned as I’ve been moving away from solo games; but the demo that I got at Origins 2019 convinced me to try it as it was described as a real-time dice roller – and that novel mechanism was enough to make me want to give it a go.
As the story goes, you take on the role of the heroine, Maia Strongheart, who is thrown into the Proving Grounds arena to fight for her right to sit on the throne of her world. In order to prove her worthiness, she must defeat 8 enemies to prove her bad-assery. You’ll have to roll well – and make sure to do it quickly, as each round is timed! There is a free app that goes with the game which can be readily downloaded. If you’d rather, you can use any 1-minute timer that you have available.
The board has a fierce portrait of you in the center; your health status is directly to your left. There are six slots surrounding you; the deck of enemy cards is shuffled and one is dealt into each of the slots. The game uses 14 different dice; your dice pool starts with 5 white and one each of yellow, blue and green. Three white dice are placed in the exhaustion track to the right of your mug on the board. The final three dice (yellow, blue, green) are placed in a stack on the health track on the space with the matching multicolored ring.
There is a core game which is recommended to start with, and then there are 6 different modules that can be added, piecemeal or whole, to increase the variability or difficulty of the game. Thus far, I have only played the core game, and this is what I describe below.
The game is played in a number of rounds, continuing until the game ends – whether you have defeated all the enemies (and win) or whether you run out of health points (and you die/lose). There are three phases in each round: 1) Roll dice, 2) Resolve Attacks, 3) Recover.
Roll Dice: start the timer and then roll all the dice in your dice pool. You have 60 seconds to complete this most important phase. Arrange your dice by number. A “set” is created any time that you have two or more dice with the same value showing. Unmatched dice are called “singles”. If you are happy with your current roll, you can stop this phase, and stop the timer. Otherwise, as long as you have time left, you can re-roll any one set; therefore, you can never re-roll a single. After re-rolling the set, re-organize your dice. You may continue to re-roll any one set. It may turn out that a single die from a previous roll now gets a match, and once it is in a set, it may be re-rolled. Whenever you are happy with your dice or whenever the timer rings, this phase ends.
Resolve Attacks: Now, take your dice, arrange them by number, and assign them to the battle slot of matching number on your board. Going around the board, move the battle markers of each enemy. If you attack with a single die, the battle marker of that enemy moves downwards. If you attack with a set which has a number of dice equal or greater than the space above the marker, you score a hit and the marker moves upwards into that next spot. It is possible to move up multiple spaces on a single card, but a die can only be used for a single space here, so you will need separate dice for each space. If you have not assigned dice to an enemy, nothing happens with that particular card in this round. Then, check each enemy. If the marker is on the top space of the track, the enemy is defeated. The card is removed and placed in the discard pile. If the marker is on the bottom space of the track, the enemy has wounded you. Move the marker on your health track down a space, and add one of your dice to the exhaustion track on the topmost spot, stacking if necessary. The battle marker on the card is replaced on the starting space. If your health marker moves down onto the stack of colored dice, you may exchange one of the white dice from your pool for your choice of colored dice. The remainder of the stack is moved one space lower on the track, and when you lose your next health point, you can again replace a white die in your pool.
Recover: First, check to see if you win. IF there are 8 cards in the discard pile, you win! Otherwise, take all the dice played next to the enemy cards and reform your dice pool. Now, move all dice on the exhaustion track down by one space. Any dice which leave the bottom space are added to your dice pool as well. If you defeated an enemy, replace it with the top card from the deck. Get the timer ready and start another round…
Modules: Again, these are additional components/rules which can be added in any combination to make the game more difficult, variable, interesting, (insert adjective here).
Dragonling – this adds a special dragon die which different faces, each with new rules. You can sometimes match the die against a specific enemy if it has a matching dragonling weakness, or the die might force you to re-roll all your colored dice. Hooray for chaos.
Chariots – a new deck of chariot cards is added, and you can choose to add dice to the chariot cards while in the timed rolling phase to avoid the bad things written on the chariot cards
Inspiration – a special deck of Inspiration cards is added (using only the cards pertaining to the modules in play) that give different ongoing powers. One is randomly drawn and is in effect for the game
Shields – When in play, a shield token is placed on an enemy each time that you attack with an incorrect combination for the next space on the track. While shielded, an enemy cannot be hit (marker cannot be moved upwards). To break a shield, you must attack with a single – and in this instance, the marker is not moved downwards. If you attack a shielded enemy with anything other than a single, you automatically move the marker down one space.
Conspirators – use the deck of 6 conspirator cards. In setup, and each time you defeat an enemy, flip up the top card of the conspirator deck. Before you start the timer in the dice rolling phase, roll a single die – and if any faceup conspirator cards have a matching number – that conspirator is active in this round; expect bad things to happen.
Sun and Moon – this adds a rotating sun/moon piece to the board. This is rotated each round. If you hit the enemy in the sun wedge this round, you can add a colored die to your pool. If you do not hit the enemy in the moon position, the battle marker moves down one space on that card.
My thoughts on the game
Thus far, I have only played the core game, and it has been interesting enough that I haven’t even felt the need to add in the modules (though I think I’m nearly ready for them). My first game was quite brutal. I felt like I was making no progress at all. Some of this was due to my inexperience; I was settling for less than optimal rolls due to inexperience. Also, I inadvertently played with an erroneous enemy deck. As I found out the next day, when a new enemy deck arrived in the mail, there was a printing error ONLY WITH THE FIRST PRINT RUN, and Renegade is offering replacement decks to anyone with that edition. The enemy deck is apparently more difficult than it should be. It should be noted that the game is fully playable with this harder deck, but it may not be the best for beginners. I have separated this deck into its own ziplock bag, and I am now looking at this deck as the unlisted 7th module – as I can now also alter the difficulty of the game based on the enemy deck that I choose to use. In any event, Renegade has been very upfront about the error, and I think they have done a great job at communicating the plans for card replacement. (And to be honest, I’m having a tough time of it just with the easy base cards…)
So, when I got the demo of the game in Columbus, I didn’t have a chance to play it. I thought that the time limit was a bit gimmicky, and I wondered if it was really necessary. After my first few games – I would say that the time limit is absolutely necessary. It adds a nice tight tension to the game as you are forced to push your luck against the clock to get the ideal dice roll. Avoiding singles is usually desirable, and sometimes it is worth it to break up a good set in order to try to get a match to a particularly poorly timed single. I can already see how the Chariot module and the Shields module will give you added time pressure as you have even more criteria to meet in that short 60 seconds. But again, I haven’t needed this as I am still struggling pretty hard with the easy base game, so for now, it’s all I can handle! But I like the fact that the game will be able to progress with me if/when I ever improve at it.
The good thing about the timing in the game is that it is only in place for the actual rolling. The other two phases of the round are not timed, and you actually have as much time as you want prior to rolling to visualize what your ideal roll would be for the current round. It definitely helps to look at the criteria needed to defeat each enemy. Some are seemingly easier than others. Also, there may be times when you want to strategically take a hit – as your health decreases, you get access to other colored dice which can be very helpful if you have enemies which require certain colors to be hit.
The components are nice, and I like the art. There is even a background storybook included in the box, and while it’s not necessary at all for gameplay, it is a nice way to build the backstory to increase the theme in the game. The custom dice look quite nice, and while they really are just standard d6 functionally, they look much nicer than regular dice.
I kind of swing back and forth on solo games, but this summer has given me more opportunity than usual to play solo games – and this has been a nice challenge. It is definitely on the more difficult end of the spectrum thus far, but not so much that I’m frustrated and want to quit. It is the nice sort of difficult that makes you want to keep trying to do better.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y
- Not for me…