by Nicole H. and Sean J.
Dice have existed as game components for thousands of years, and really, it’s no big surprise. It there any single gaming item that better represents the element of chance? Whether it’s six-sided or 20, used to determine an attack or a worker, dice can be used in some innovative and creative ways in games. A few weeks back we took a look at five great recent card games, and today we’re turning our focus to some rolling cubes of potential joy or heartbreak! Here are five great dice games that have come our recently.
Dice Forge can best be described as Dominion Dice. Everyone starts with the same two relatively weak dice, and through purchases made in a common market, they steadily improve their powers. The idea of the game, is that players take on the role of heroes competing to become demi-gods. They square off in a 10-round tournament where they will attempt to complete heroic feats. On each player’s turn, everyone rolls their dice and banks resources, like Sun or Moon Shards, Gold, or Glory. On their turn, they can spend Gold in the Temple to acquire new faces and replace ones on their dice making them more powerful. Their other option is to spend Shards on completing Heroic Feats, gaining them card with special powers and points. Customizable dice has been done before, but never as effectively as with Dice Forge. The mechanic works amazingly well as both a part of the game, and in its physical execution. Sean named the dice in Dice Forge as his components of the year for 2017. This game forces you to roll a lot, so you’re going to get some good results and some bad ones, but the ability to manipulate that luck, by making smart purchases is really cool. There is a tipping point, just like in Dominion, when you’re going to want to stop improving your dice and start collecting points. Finding the right timing for that is a heck of a lot of fun.
In some dice games, you roll, check your results, then calmly and carefully make a decision how to use your dice. Play Me is not one of those games. It is a mad scramble to roll and collect your dice before the competition. Players become characters from Alice in Wonderland, each with their own advantageous special ability. There are no turns, just everyone rolling simultaneously and banking their positive results. The goal is to arrange your dice in a straight from one to six without skipping any numbers. The first one to do that wins the round. It sounds simple enough, but in Wonderland, it never is. First, you can only bank one number at a time. Next, you can be blocked! So, if you’ve banked a one and a two, and I rolled a three, I can place it in front of your straight, blocking you. You have to roll a three to remove it, or wait for me to reclaim my dice. The character cards tell you what your special ability is, like the Queen of Hearts, who lets you use a one to block players regardless of their straight, or Alice, who can set aside one dice at a time for banking or blocking later in the round. However, winning can go to your head and drive you a little bit mad. Once you’ve won a round, you have to flip your character card to the madness side. Now your super sweet power is working against you. The Queen can be blocker by a one regardless of where she is in her straight, and Alice cannot advance past the four until another player has reached the five. If a player is able to win a round on their madness side, they win the game. I’m usually not the biggest fan of fast action dice rollers, but with the variable powers, simple rules, and quick play time, Play Me has been a hit.
Castles of Burgundy is one of my all-time favourite games, and favourite Stefan Feld game. I was pretty luke-warm on the card game, but this dice version hits all the right spots for me! Instead of filling a map with tiles, you’ll be marking a paper map as dice are rolled (and shared by all players) throughout the game. Dice will indicate the colours of territory you can fill in, as well as a value that will be required for them all – and much like the original CoB, there’s some great ways to mitigate dice rolls to work in your favour. You’ll be aiming to finish discrete areas of certain territory types for bonuses as well as points, and after three round the game’s all done. I really like the fact there’s 4 different layouts of maps to choose from, and you can change things up by picking a different starter castle each time. The shared use of dice for everyone is really interesting, and even though it’s really different in its playing style, it retains the vibe of original CoB nicely in a short play time for those who are into roll and write games. Highly recommended!
A fairly decent part of Istanbul involves the movement of player pieces around a board to take actions, and the optimization of this is a puzzle in its own right. Istanbul: the Dice Game takes the movement out of everything, and instead puts your productivity and actions in the hands of a dice roll. You’ll be working towards gaining resources and money throughout the game to trade that in for gems, the main goal of the original game, too. I do like that there’s some light engine building in the dice game in the form of mosque tiles, similar to those you can get for benefit in Istanbul original – extra rerolls, gaining bonus resources and money, obtaining cards to help you along, and the like. Rerolls and gaining extra dice help to mitigate luck somewhat, and it’s a fantastic race to the most gems to win. A fantastic distillation of the idea of Istanbul for those who fancy dice-chucking.
There’s something quite fun about a slightly heavier game that features dice. Santa Maria, although I’m not a fan of the colonial theme overall, does a great job at integrating spatial elements of your player board with the elegant idea of dice values as triggering rows of actions. You’ll be trying to ramp up your resource production, gaining ground on the religious and conquest tracks, and aiming towards game-end bonuses for your efforts. The thing that I enjoyed most was balancing out my use of the shared dice pool as well as my own dice – that is, being able to trigger vertical actions versus horizontal ones. Timing is absolutely key here, as well as a little bit of mitigation if you’re prepared for that with certain abilities. I can’t wait to try this one again, as it seems like one that will reward multiple plays – but it’s certainly one of the freshest dice games I’ve played in a while!