Carcassonne, Ra, and Catan Dice Games

9 Apr

About a month ago, I did a roundup of three classic card games that were turned into dice games with mixed levels of success (which you can read here) . This time, I’m going to take a look at three Euro style board games that have also gotten the dice game treatment.

Carcassonne, Ra, and Settlers of Catan are three of the giants in the Eurogaming world.  I know I was introduced to this world through Catan, and my first games of Carcassonne and Ra came fairly soon after. So it was with great interest that I started to look at how these very different games translated into the dice game world.

Carcassonne the Dice Game

Of the three base games, Carcassonne is my favorite. While the game has gotten bloated (and rather silly) with countless expansions, the base game is still a simple and fun experience. In Carcassonne (in case you’ve not played it), players flip tiles, and try to build cities, roads, and farms.  It’s an easy game to play, and a beautiful game to look at.

Image from Z-Man Games’ site

Carcassonne the Dice Game? Not so much.

IMG_1957That’s about it… 9 black and white dice. At least it comes in a tin. Anyway, in the dice version of Carcassonne, players get three rolls in order to try and combine the dice into the largest single complete city possible. Points are awarded based on how many dice are in that city. If players roll a catapult, those dice “launch” themselves to the next player and are out for the current round. If a player rolls three “meeples” they can take a 0 score for this turn, and double their score for the next turn. First to get to 42 points wins. And that’s it.

This game is pretty terrible. It has absolutely none of the charm or strategy of the board game. Most games will end in 3-4 turns, it can end reasonably in 2, and technically, it can end in 1 turn…but that’s extremely unlikely. Plus the dice are just flat out ugly…which is the biggest crime in a  game with the Carcassonne name on it. Just avoid this game. Even if it’s cheap, it will disappoint you.

Ra the Dice Game

How do you turn an abstract auction game with a pasted on Egyptian theme into a dice game? You turn it into an even more abstract cube pushing board game.

The original Ra is an auction game where you are trying to collect tiles that represent such things as the Nile River, Gods, Pharaohs, Monuments, and culture. It’s quite a fun game, and a great introduction to auction style games.

IMG_1958In Ra the Dice Game, you are in theory trying to collect the same items as you are in the board game, but instead of collecting tiles in front of you, you simply move cubes along tracks. This is fine…to a point. As in most dice games, you get up to three rolls to try and get the specific sides you want to collect. Each time you roll a Sun, you move the Ra marker one space closer to the end of the round, and that die is eliminated from the rest of the round – if you roll three Suns you can create a disaster, which can cause bad things to happen to the other players. Ankhs are wild, and can be used multiple times each round – they are quite useful.

Where it goes wrong is that the rules about how to move / place the cubes on the board are convoluted. There are four places on the board you can affect, and each one has different rules. The green Pharaoh track is the easiest to understand – you roll a Pharaoh, you move your cube a space to the right. The same applies for the blue Nile track, but it adds the twist that if you roll 3 Nile tiles you can flood the Nile (by adding a second cube to the track). Flooding the Nile is important because that is the only way you are allowed to score points on the Nile track at the end of each turn. The Civilization track starts to get a bit trickier. On this track, you have to roll three of a kind in order to place one cube on the board. For each further Civ you roll, you get to add another cube to the board.

Each of these three areas gets scored at the end of each of the rounds. Once scored, the cubes on the Pharaoh and Civ tracks are removed, the Nile tiles stay where they are, but any flood cubes are removed.

The monument track is where things are the worst. I don’t even think I can properly explain it here. It took me 2/3 of my first game to “get” it, and then I could not translate my knowledge to the other players. Think of the monument track as an area control mini-game. If you roll one Monument die, you can play one cube anywhere on the board, as long as it’s not in a column you’ve already placed a cube in. If you roll two more, you can then place a cube into a column you’ve already got a cube. Finally, if you roll all 5 Monuments – you can place another cube in the same way. At the end of the game, you get points for both how many rown you have cubes in, and if you were about to get 3 or more cubes into any of the columns. In the end it kinda works, although nowhere near as elegantly as the original board game.

And that’s my big issue with Ra the Dice Game. It’s clunky. Usually, dice games come into existence to try and streamline a game that is too long or boring. In this case, all they’ve done is removed the one mechanic that made Ra a classic game in the first place, the auction! Ra the Dice Game doesn’t play in less time, and it’s not easier to understand. It’s another unfortunate game to avoid.

Catan the Dice Game

IMG_2002Settlers of Catan is the grandfather of gateway games. If you’ve read this far, you surely know all about collecting resources to build roads, settlements, and roads. There’s one thing about Catan I need to reveal…I don’t like it anymore. I played it so much in my formative years as a hobby gamer, that I just can’t bear playing it these days. My last game was teaching three new players at Tabletop Day 2013, and while I put on a brave face, and everyone else loved it…I was slowly dying inside. So it was with some nervousness I came into Catan the Dice Game. I will note here, there are at least 3 versions of this game…I own the first printing with black and white score sheets. I believe the newer versions come with color sheets, and one even has a dice cup!

Each player  gets a scoresheet to start the game. The sheet shows a modified version of the Catan game board. In this game, players take turn rolling the six dice up to three times in order to get the resources needed to build stuff on the island. A game lasts 15 rounds. Once a player has rolled the dice up to three times, he or she then builds as much as possible. When you build something, you just color it in…then you tally the points scored in the winding score track at the top of the page.  As you get further along the island, you will notice the settlements and cities begin to be worth more points. However, you can’t just skip to those…you have to build the connecting roads first.  You can also build knights on each of the resource hexes. The knights act as a “resource joker.” Once per game, per joker, you can change one rolled die into the denoted resource. There is also the additional resource result of Gold…if you roll 2 golds in a turn, you can trade both of them in for any 1 other resource.

Catan the Dice Game actually does a nice job of distilling the concepts of the parent game into a simple, yet still strategic little dice game. Even though the box doesn’t say so, this game can be played solo as all you are doing is trying to score as many points as possible…also there is no interaction with other players. If I have anything negative to say about this game, it does take a bit long to play for what it is. 15 rounds is quite a lot, although it still only takes about half the time of a full game of Settlers. Of all the games in this roundup, Catan is my least favorite parent game…with my favorite dice game. Funny how that works sometimes.




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