Theme Game Days -#1 – Dice Games

16 Dec

Quick Announcement: within a day or two of my last post, I actually became an employee of my favorite friendly local game store, Beyond the Board in Dublin, Ohio (yay). I’m still getting the hang of things there, but it’s been a lot of fun working around games so much. Check out our facebook page here: Beyond the Board

On to the post!

Mondays tend to be a little quieter than other days around my game store. Fortunately, another good friend also has Mondays off. We have taken to making our table on Mondays “The Theme Table.” Usually, one of us will have a specific game in mind that we really want to play the next week – so we theme the next week around some aspect of that game. While the first couple weeks we did a few fairly standard picks, we both soon realized that we have some pretty deep cuts that we never get to play, so expect future posts to feature some pretty obscure titles. Also: we very rarely have actually played the games that made us want to do that theme in the first place.

I’ve decided to begin chronicling the games we play each week here on my blog. I still plan on occasion to do more in depth reviews, but I thought this would be a good way to keep a more consistent schedule than “Hey, I haven’t posted anything in a 3 months…” The first few posts will come in fairly rapid succession (for me) as I catch up, then I’ll try and post each new set within a few days.

I’d like to thank my friend Tim Black ( @timblack1976 on twitter) for keeping track of each week’s games on his twitter feed. He also is the one who has taken the pictures I’ll be posting.

For our first Theme day – we picked dice games. Over the past few years, we’ve seen a vast increase in the number of games that use dice in very different ways. If I recall, the main impetus for this theme was that I really wanted to try out Nations: The Dice Game. It was one that caught my attention at Origins earlier this year, but I balked at a $50 price tag for a dice game. Fortunately, we did get to it, and many others this day.

Game 1 – Zooloretto the Dice Game

ctyiik_usaae-kaThis is a fairly standard basic push-your-luck dice game. I like it as a 2-player game because you get enough dice to fill each truck fully, so you can push and try and get a full truck and hopefully not incur a penalty. This aspect is gone in 3 and 4 player games, so there is a larger emphasis on passing your turn earlier to get specific icons, rather than building full trucks for maximum points. I think I would prefer it with a couple more dice to play a bit more like the original game. It’s cute, but I didn’t find it as enjoyable as other light dice games like Qwixx.

Game 2 – Nations the Dice Game

ctyqyjlwwaaa8bpI’ve yet to play the board game Nations. To be honest, I’m not a really big fan of these really meaty civilization building games. Ok, it’s not that I’m not a fan, I’m just scared of them. Nations the Dice Game distills that intimidating process into a few rolls of the dice. I quite enjoyed this game, but couldn’t help notice that many of the mechanics felt similar to other games I’d already played – namely Airships and Roll Through the Galaxy. If I didn’t any of those three games, I tend to think that Nations gives the best overall game play experience, but since I’m already an Airships owner, and I like that theme better – I don’t see much need for this in my collection.

Game 3 – It Happens

ctyypwewcaaazduSomewhere along the line, a conversation about Stefan Feld cropped up. Now, I’m not exactly a big Stefan Feld fan. I tend to think his games have lots of interesting mechanics, but there’s always just one or four things too many to keep track of. It Happens is not one of those games. In this dice placement game aimed at kids (but very playable by adults), you are trying to place dice on the various anthill board in order to both collect sets of items and to have the highest total to impress the queen. With two players, it’s a very tactical game, with a third “robot” player controlled by both players. I suspect with a full compliment of five, this would be a very boisterous affair, especially at my store. I think this is a nice little game, with a wicked streak hidden behind the cartoon art.

Game 4 – Saint Malo

cty97ivxiaaiyvbSaint Malo uses the traditional Yahtzee style “Three rolls” system, and uses it to make a city building game. The hook to this game is that you get to draw in your city using dry erase markers. That’s pretty much the last thing I found interesting about this game. Other than being about to spell out PINK* FLOYD *THE* WALL* around my city, I found this one kind of lifeless. The gimmick of the markers isn’t really used to any meaningful effect. You could have done small cardboard chits, and gotten the same results. Then you don’t have to worry about a pen breaking and leaking ink all over your game, or having a pen dry up and not work (as we found with 3 of the 5 pens in this box). I will say there are plenty of ways to score points, and I do like that different numbers of some symbols can give you differently powered effects. This helps mitigate terrible rolls, since even bad results can usually give you something useful in the future. In the end, this is a pass for me. Just not enough here to excite me.

Game 5 – Blueprints

ctzgcmvwuaaw4h_Blueprints is a dice-drafting construction game. A series of dice are blindly pulled from a bag, rolled, and then placed in a line. In turn, players draft a die, and then place it on their blueprint card, behind a screen so other players can’t tell what they are building. Each color die scores in a different way. Some are based on placement in the structure, some based on the face of the die showing, others based on how many of that color are in the structure. Players are awarded medal cards based on how well they scored their building. There are also achievements for building your structure in special ways. This is one of my favorite little dice games. At least once per game, I attempt to build the dice version of the Burj Khalifa.

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Every game I end up with something that looks like never opened hotel in North Korea.

ryugyong-hotel-north-korea

Fun game.

Game 6 – Airships

Our discussion of this game during our play of Nations: The Dice Game eventually led to us just playing Airships. In this game, you are trying to build zeppelins, ultimately attempting to get your country to help build the Hindenburg. There are six categories in your factory that you can improve by rolling dice. Each piece you add increases the power of your dice pool. There are many ways to mitigate bad die rolls, but even if you completely fail, you get a token that can help the next time you roll, and if you fail enough, you can even turn in those token to get a free turn! This is really an engine building game in dice clothing, and I’m a sucker for engine building games. It’s maybe not quite as deep as something like Nations, but I find Airships an extremely pleasant experience every time I play.

Game 7 – Castles of Burgundy

ctzyqgwwcaa-adiThis one is a favorite of many at my store. It’s probably my second favorite Stefan Feld game (behind Notre Dame). There are a lot of puppies to juggle here, but I think the fact that you have to focus on what you can do with just two actions on two specific numbers helps make this one more manageable. I feel like a lot of people get put off of / intimidated by this one by the drab colors, the hex board, and the myriad chits involved. However, if you push through that, you find an extremely rich experience that isn’t all that difficult to understand (though I’ll never be able to grok the bonus tiles and city buildings on sight).

Game 8 – Tiny Epic Galaxies

ctzuuk_weaacujtYou know, when you’re only playing 2-players, and both players already know the games…you rocket through a lot of stuff in just 4-5 hours. Tiny Epic Galaxies is a nifty little space exploration game. The goal of the game is to gain the most points by not only colonizing alien planets, but also by building up your own civilization. To be honest, this feels a lot like it should be named Eminent Domain: The Dice Game as it even has a similar “Follow” mechanic when you choose to do certain actions. A great little 20-30 minute blast, that still feels like you’ve done something on a grand scale (so yes, it’s tiny and epic!) This one’s a certified hit, and one of my favorite games of the year.

Game 9 – Star Trek Five Year Mission

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BLURRY EPIC GAME POINT *Ahem*…

A couple more folks showed up at this point, so we decided to bust out this dice-based cooperative game. On a player’s turn, they choose a difficulty level for the mission they would like to face. After flipping it up, a player refills their dice pool to its current level, and then may choose to roll all or some of their dice in an effort to match the requirements of the face up missions on the board. Any dice not placed may be saved for a future turn.The game ends either when the team completes a certain number of point missions (not all missions have points) or when they’ve failed a certain number of missions. This game is really Elder Sign light. I would probably enjoy this game more if I hadn’t already played that one. The art and card design is thematic, but the game play just feels like basic color and number matching. Also, I’ve generally found this game too easy, and that’s even with playing on higher difficulty levels. The only time I’ve ever lost is when I tried to play it as a 2-player game. PROTIP: The game is minimum 3 players…and we still almost won. It’s a good enough game…and for sure if you’re a Trek fan, you’ll get more out of it than I did. For roughly the same price, though, you can get the base game of Elder Sign, which I find a better package all around.

Game 10 – Dice Town with Expansion

ctag3gmusaa1lrsAt this point, I have three or four confessions to make. It was 3 hours past my shift ending (one benefit of playing where you work, you don’t want to leave when your shift is over), I was tired, I hadn’t had supper, and I hate Dice Town.

Still, this was Dice Town with the Expansion…and I remember Tom Vasel on the Dice Tower saying that this was sooooooo much better. So, I stuck around and played it with a full compliment of 6 players. Dice Town is a bluffing game where you are rolling poker dice to try and make the best hands in order to get various actions on the board. One of the things the expansion does it that it gives the second place finisher on each action some kind of benefit. To be honest, I just had a miserable time this game. I spent the whole game spinning my wheels because of crummy die rolls. I spent a lot of time visiting Doc Badluck, but still having very little of value to do there. I ended the game with 7 points. 7? Yeah, 7. 1 point from my  property, and 6 points from my $12 in cash on hand. I think next to last was in the mid-40s. I still just do not see the fun here. The mechanics all work fine, but I just can’t get into the experience this game is trying to sell me. Some may tell me to give it another shot when I’m more alert…but I have 0 desire to ever play this again. When I want to bluff with dice, I’ll break out Liar’s Dice.

So that’s week 1 of the Theme Days series. If you want to know more in depth about why I feel the way I do about certain games, comment and maybe in the near future I’ll do more in depth reviews of those games. I’m hoping to get the Week 2 recap up this weekend.Week 2 was Worker Placement week. Right at this moment, I don’t remember what game inspired it, but I’m pretty sure we never got to it.

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