Tamarak Trail Review – An Addicting Cycle

Tamarak Trail Review

Tamarak Trail is a deckbuilding roguelike set in the dark, haunted forests of Northern Canada. A great evil has descended from the skies and corrupted the land. Players take on the role of a lone adventurer and fight their way through randomly-generated trails to save the forest.

I had a chance to play Tamarak Trail’s preview build and had a lot of fun. I’m happy to say that basically every concern I had back then has been addressed. Atmospheric storytelling, complex gameplay, and an eerie but welcoming art style make this game is a blast to play.

As players advance through the game, they unlock dice faces with unique effects. Add these faces to the dice and rearrange them in any order based on your current strategy. And if you’re rolling manually, you can pick the faces that come up more often to tilt the odds in your favor.

The game is still difficult but no longer as brutally frustrating as the preview. Customizing your dice is incredibly fun. And each of the three player characters has a unique dice pool that encourages different strategies.

There’s Something in the Woods

The feel of Tamarak Trail is conveyed through its moody visuals and eerie soundscape. This title is gameplay-focused and not very narrative heavy. However, that doesn’t stop the titular trail from coming alive during each run. The writing reinforces the atmosphere with spare and often grim description of the monsters in the woods. This links smoothly with the ability to scroll ahead and plan your route through the trail.

I really love how this game looks. The art looks like something out of a graphic novel: stylized but still anchored in reality. The realistic character and animal designs form a wonderful contrast with the increasingly spooky monster designs. As you delve deeper into the woods, the environment and the enemies become increasingly twisted and visceral. The soundscape is quite subdued in comparison, but it lends the game a quiet, foreboding atmosphere.

Tamarak Trail lodge.

This title is definitely a horror game, but a relatively mild horror game. Nothing here would be inappropriate for older children and teenagers. The gameplay might be more of an obstacle there, because dice effects can get very complicated. Especially as they stack.

Character selection is also important. The Detective is a squishy rogue who specializes in status effects. The Magician is an equally squishy mage who builds up powerful elemental combos. And the Tracker is a warrior with a gun. Each of them has their own aesthetic, preferred gameplay styles, and skills. But there’s nothing stopping you from building the Magician as a tank or the Detective as an engine of destruction.

Tamarak Trail is Easy to Learn and Hard to Master

Tamarak Trail is wonderfully complicated. There are tons of status effects to inflict and combos to build. As you progress, you unlock new dice, dice faces, puzzles, and beneficial effects. Upgrading the lodge and gaining new player characters adds more and more complexity to the game.

You can customize your dice for as many strategies as you have the resources for. Running defense-focused dice alongside DPS dice and status effect-heavy dice is completely viable. I did notice that the game allows for some mild dice rigging. Not sure if that was intentional, but it did add an extra layer of strategy.

Tamarak Trail dice menu.

Combat is slow and strategic. This game won’t test your reflexes, but it does test your memory of how status effects can build on each other. Inflicting, curing, and managing these effects is more important than raw damage.

Resolve is both the fuel for dice effects and your defense against incoming damage. If you’re not careful, you can accidentally get killed because you lack the Resolve to defend yourself. Some dice faces have an extra cost, some will exhaust and need refreshing, and some are a great bargain. You can use a dice face that costs slightly more Resolve than you can spare. However, the face will exhaust until you spend more Resolve to refresh it.

Tamarak Trail boss battle.

It’s important to remember which faces you have on each dice. Even the order you roll them can depend on which outcomes are possible on each die. Also, rather than punish you for setting up an infinite combo, the game rewards you for it with a special effect. And all without breaking game balance. Instead, the game encourages you to find more infinite combos and learn what they all do.

Short and Sweet

Tamarak Trail is not a long game, but it is a good one. A full run only lasts a few hours, but the game has endless replay value. And it contains a lot more optional stuff to unlock. It’s also a game that feels good to play. In the demo, I often felt at the mercy of RNG. Playing the full release, I felt like a strategist battling steep odds. Clearly something went spectacularly right in the game balancing department.

The game tells you which sides of the dice will be affected by any given face’s effect. This made creating possible combos easy and fun. However, it also made limited Resolve a constant stressor. Just because you roll something useful doesn’t mean you can play it. Choosing to Autoroll means a basically guaranteed bump. Possibly multiple bumps, which can be great if you have bump-specific faces. As bumping dice now increases the cost of using them, I recommend rolling manually instead.

Tamarak Trail map.

I do have a few complaints. The game did occasionally softlock on me when I entered an event tile. I got it to stop by returning to the menu until it started working again. I also found a few minor typos, and I wish the game didn’t automatically reset your character to the Detective after each run. But overall, I had a great time with this game and I think you will, too.

A good roguelike leaves you as enchanted as you are frustrated. Tamarak Trail is a good roguelike. If you don’t play this game, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Play Tamarak Trail.

***PC code provided by the publisher***

The Good

  • Spooky fun
  • Great atmosphere
  • Complex dice-based combat
  • Demands strategy
  • Endless replay value

The Bad

  • A full run only lasts a few hours
  • A few typos
  • Minor QOL needed