Dice Throne — How a Bad Game Becomes a Good Game

Some time back, I bought the game Dice Throne (Website here) at my local game store (Why Visiting Your Local Game Store is Good — Dice Throne and King of New York/King of Tokyo: King Kong). Basically it’s battle Yahtzee. Each player is a character with special powers. You are dueling other players trying to drive their health down from 50 to 0. Each player has a character specific set of unique dice, which you can roll and then re-roll twice more. You have to manage combat points (in essence, how many cards you can play), improve your player board, manage your cards, and optimize your dice rolls.

— two of the original (and more accessible) characters

Sounds fun, right? However, after playing Dice Throne with the gang, we hated it.

What was wrong with Dice Throne. In no particular order, these were its faults:

  1. The 6 characters provided with the game vary in complexity too much. The Barbarian is easy to play, but some of the others are unsuitable for a first or even a second game.
  2. The starting health was too high and made the game drag on too long.
  3. Too much downtime for inactive players in a 4-player game.
  4. The multiplayer targeting rules were awful. Targets of attacks were determined randomly. Thus, there was no way to beat on strong opponents or eliminate weaker ones. This problem compounded problem #2.
  • — the original version 1.0 rule book. It was written poorly and some rules were awful (such as the random targeting of opponents)
  • How Dice Throne Listened and Got It Right

  • In the intervening time between my gang playing Dice Throne and today, the community of players spoke loudly. They gave a great deal of feedback to Roxley Game Laboratory. In particular, fans demanded the targeting rules be abandoned and the rules re-written.
  • And guess what? Roxley Game Labs listened! They changed the rules!
  • — the new rules!
  • Now players can target whomever they want, health is still suppose to start at 50 but players are encouraged to use whatever starting value they want, new expansion characters are accessible even to beginners, and the rulebook has been rewritten to improve clarity and organization. The rules are more intuitive. The targeting rules now are similar to most multi-player dueling style games. The lag between turns is still there, but with less health and strategic targeting, the downtime is less.
  • Recently, we got in another 4-player game using the new rules…and we loved Dice Throne! I even played a couple games with my two young boys, who loved it too (they of course ganged up on me and eliminated me first, ugh).
  • — two of the expansion characters
  • The Verdict

  • Dice Throne has an elegant and simple idea at its core: Yahtzee meets CCG style dueling. Yet, the original execution of the idea was flawed. The designers listened to feedback and now they have a hit on their hands. The game is simple enough for young kids to play it, but also complex enough for more serious gamers. It also has a fun, random Yahtzee element that lightens it up a bit. I give a big thumbs-up to version 2.0!
  • The Ancient World – My First Game

    In a past Gen Con, I picked up Near and Far by Red Raven Games. I previously posted commentary on how much I liked that game (you can find my post here: What Did We Play? Near and Far). So I was very excited to sponsor on Kickstarter the campaign for the second edition of The Ancient World. Readers may also be aware that this game is super hot right now on gaming community websites. Thus, I was jacked to play it.

    Like any other Ryan Laukat designed game, the art is stunning and the gameplay simple and intuitive. It’s a worker placement game with some card drafting and set collection elements. If you want a complete description of the rules or some reviews you can obviously head over to The Ancient World on BoardGameGeek.com. In short, the basic way to win is to collect sets of identical tribal banners (e.g. yellow, green, red, etc) up to sets of 6 each. These banners can be gained by building structures, but the quickest way in which they can be obtained in multiples is by defeating Titans (see below).

    Without going into a long-winded review, what I want to do here is give you some idea of what it is like to play the game.

    Fighting Titans

    A unique element of The Ancient World is the setting. Each player plays a civilization confronted with a world full of Titans.

    — the starting Titans. Each player is threatened by one of them

    Each player’s civilization is constantly threatened by a titan. If the titan is not defeated by the player (or by another player), it must be placated with Ambrosia or it will wreak havoc on the player’s buildings (i.e. your civilization’s structures and resources).

    — a typical player’s board, in other words his/her civilization

    — and now that civilization is threatened by a titan!

    Gameplay

    As a traditional worker placement game, each turn a player uses a set of workers to gather coins, build structures, recruit or improve armies, add sectors to the civilization, or increase their number of workers. This all sounds pretty usual.

    BUT…that’s not the fun part! Remember that the Titans loom over each player’s civilization, ready to run amok at the end of each turn. Instead of placing a worker, each player may decide to attack a Titan, any Titan, one on their board, another player’s board, or even one of the non-assigned Titans.

    — a view from my side of the table. My civilization is at the bottom, menaced by a dirty, nasty Sand Screamer. The Sand Screamer is a low-level Titan that will give me one yellow banner if I defeat it. It also will provide one arrow in perpetuity (this special reward is under the Titan’s name on the card above). You can also see on my board my coins, some unassigned workers, and two Ambrosia.

    Defeating Titans is costly. You have to pay your armies and deal with the damage the Titan does from fighting it. Typically it wrecks your buildings, which you must then repair on subsequent turns. But the rewards include stopping the Titan from menacing you, collecting banners, and getting a special ability from each defeated Titan.

    Various Strategies

    In our four-player game, each person pursued a slightly different strategy to gain banners. Notably, Lee and Bob went with civilization building strategies. Both used their workers to explore and build structures and districts. Lee increased sectors quickly, allowing him to build a lot of structures, thus collecting sets of banners. Lee often placated his Titan with Ambrosia while Bob let his Titan smack his buildings.

    I tried a Titan defeating strategy, focusing solely on army building. I built armies quickly, used the legacy function to strengthen them, and attacked any available Titan that had the banner colors I was seeking. Stew tried a hybrid strategy of defeating Titans and some limited civilization building. Stew also concentrated on collecting coins and Ambrosia, giving him some flexibility in taking actions.

    How did these multiple strategies play out? Here is the final victory point tally:

    — the scoresheet. Six banners are worth 22 points, the max for each color. Stew and I tied at 66 points, but the tiebreak is coins, and Stew had 21 to my 17.

    From the top of the scorecard, players lose points for starving workers and wrecked buildings. You can see that Bob and Lee had some issues here. The next four rows are the tribal banners which reward points for sets of similar colors: 2-4-7-11-16-22 for sets from 1 to 6. The last row is for victory points on other cards, such as buildings.

    It should be obvious that prioritizing about 2 sets of banners is the way to victory. The two players who went after Titans had an easier time completing (or almost completing) two sets. Fighting Titans seemed the most efficient way to get desired banners because defeated Titans offer up 1, 2, or 3 banners (based on the level and difficulty of the Titan). With 7 possible Titans to target each turn (1 on each of 4 player boards plus 3 unassigned Titans, 1 of each level), there are plenty of options to find desired banners.

    The Verdict

    The game was fun, quick, and evocative of the theme. The unique part of The Ancient World are the Titans. Fighting the Titans is both a nice game mechanic to punish players who don’t defend their civilization but also fits with the theme of the game (i.e. an Ancient World in which gigantic Titans threaten emerging human civilizations). As such, The Ancient World rises above most other worker placement and set collection games by integrating tried and true game mechanics with thematic gameplay.

    Folded Space Part II: 7 Wonders

    Okay, bear with me. You are going to think that I have stock in Folded Space, but I am serious, their organizers are awesome!

    Not so sure? Well, check this out! Here is my 7 Wonders box with the Cities and Leaders expansions in it before Folded Space organizers:

    — Yikes! Take off the lid and this is the mess that greets me! What a horror show!

    — Remove the player boards…and it gets worse! A single plastic tray for all the pieces?!? Do you have any idea what goes on inside this box when I store it on its side?!? It’s tragic!

    How to fix this mess? After 90 minutes of punching out material and gluing things together, here is the new 7 Wonders box:

    — The fully loaded box! Look at that organization!

    — The box with the top layer of trays removed. I even got some 7 Wonders: Armada tokens in the box! By the way, note the score pads where I am putting a beat down on Stew and Lee in both games (I am N).

    7 Wonders?!? No, my ladies and gentlemen, there are now 8 Wonders of the World, with the last one being my organized game box!

    The Verdict

    Run, don’t walk, to your tablet, computer, lap top, iPad, or whatever, and order yourself some Folded Space game box organizers. You will be glad you did. Tell them Neal sent you!

    Cool Games that We Played Recently: Maximum Apocalypse, Kami-Sama, and Enchanters: Overlords

    Welcome back my intrepid followers! Hopefully all of you have been getting in some fresh rounds of games. Well…we’ve been busy playing games over here too! Today I’ve got three games for you to try and why we think that they are fun and cool!

    Maximum Apocalypse

    — a mission layout

    In Maximum Apocalypse, a team of heroes drives a van (yep, it’s like the A-Team) to a site and attempts to complete a mission. It might be rescue a scientist, check out a ufo, defeat the vampires, etc. Maximum Apocalypse has multiple scenarios where the “enemies” are represented by a unique pack of cards special to a unique set of missions (e.g. there is a zombie deck for missions against zombies). The heroes play cooperatively, taking turns exploring the map.

    So each hero roams the map trying to find gear and the objective, while having to defeat the monsters that pop up and keep hunger at bay.

    — the Surgeon with some of his cards and a zombie dog attacking him

    Each hero has their own deck of cards with special abilities and items. As each player takes actions, they can place their unique items or scavenged items into play, thereby using their cards and abilities to maximum advantage (did you catch that joke?). Once the objective is found, the hero’s must deal with it and collect fuel for the van.

    — a fueled up van ready to extract the heroes and the scientist.

    Why this game is cool: A game of Maximum Apocalypse feels like a classic horror movie. You have to get in, complete the objective, and get out before you die from the baddies or multiple other problems. The random map allows for multiple replays of each mission. And heroes will die, so complacency, bad luck or poor planning gets punished. If you get the Gothic Horrors, or other expansions, you should have about 2 dozen possible missions, allowing for almost infinite replays.

    Kami-Sama

    In this new game, each player is a different Kami, or spirit, who controls a particular aspect of nature (you know, stuff like water, death, the earth, etc). Each Kami is unique and have special actions that no other Kami has. The game is played over three years with each year having 4 seasons. Victory points are gained in many ways and determine the winner. in short, players use their actions to place their shrines into regions and remove/move opposing players’ shrines.

    — the victory point track. This picture is at the end of the game. The white disc player won with 56 points.

    The board is circular and it rotates 90 degrees at the end of each season. Players typically can only place shrines onto the board slice that is in front of them (some actions allow placement elsewhere). Players try to strategically place shrines to gain favor and nature (which are worth victory points), create patterns that score bonuses, and to control regions.

    — Kami-Sama main board in the middle. A player board with the top of it shown sits at the bottom

    Why this game is cool: Kami-sama combines area control, set collection (you collect villager cards at the end of years), some light drafting (again, the villager cards), strategic placement, and asymmetrical player boards. Oh and did I mention that the Art is fantastic and evocative of the theme of Ancient Japan? I didn’t? Well, now I just did!

    — a villager card

    Enchanters: Overlords

    Enchanters: Overlords is a fairly light game (no, not it’s physical weight, it’s complexity of play) that simulates fantasy adventuring. Each player starts with a Fist of Enchanting which they upgrade by buying items and enchantments. Each new item or enchantment is placed over the top of previous cards.

    — this player now has Plate Armor of Light instead of just a worthless fist!

    Attack and armor bonuses are on the top and/or bottom of each card. Newly purchased cards cover up bonuses on the top of other cards but bonuses on the bottom remain. Also all special abilities on cards can only be used if they are visible (i.e. on the top card).

    To start the game, each player chooses a 25-card deck of villains/monsters (such as Bandits, Dark Elves, Angels, etc) and all of the chosen decks are shuffled together to form the adventure deck. Six cards are dealt into a community area and are available for purchase. As cards are purchase and monsters defeated, the top cards form the deck replace them. The game ends when there are no more cards to purchase.

    — You can see the row of cards to be purchased in the middle of the photo. Purchase cost in crystals are listed under each card, from zero to five from left to right.

    Each turn a player can either purchase (by using crystals) an item/enchantment, fight a monster, rest (to get crystals) or fight the Overlord. In this manner, the game is simple enough for anyone to play it. Basically the game is like Talisman or other D&D-ish table–top games: build up your character and then slay monsters.

    Why this game is cool: Enchanters: Overlords is a fun game that remains light but does have some strategy for the more serious players. And if you look closely enough at each card, you will see that the chrome text and card names have some great witty humor. You need an example? How about the card “Grey Dragon” whose flavor text is “it comes in fifty shades”

    Can You Survive on the High Seas? A Review of 7 Wonders Armada

    The new Armada expansion to 7 Wonders has been released! Now you can take your empire building to the high seas. Armada promises to increase the strategic nature of your 7 Wonders games while also adding more fun.

    Does Armada live up to the hype? We gave Armada a spin, so read on my faithful followers and find out what we thought about it!

    What Does Armada Add?

    Armada adds a brand near board for each player that tracks their naval accomplishments. True to 7 Wonders game play, the new naval board tracks a player’s fleet in the four areas of development: military (red), commerce (yellow), diplomacy (blue) and science/exploration (green).

    — the new naval board. Note the four columns, each devoted to progress in a different color.

    Each time a player plays a card, they can in addition pay the cost on the naval board–in the same color as the card played (ie play a yellow card, you can pay the next cost in the yellow naval column)–in order to move the corresponding boat up one space. In the photo above, all boats start on the bottom space of each column. If the player plays a yellow card, they can in addition to paying for the card, pay one wood to move the yellow boat to the next space up the yellow column. Also, each board has one column that has a pyramid symbol. When the player builds a stage of their wonder, they can also build in the column with the pyramid.

    — in this photo, the player has advanced three boats one space, and the yellow boat two spaces

    As the boats advance, the player gets a bonus. Red advancement gains naval shields (which work like land warfare but are a separate naval warfare at the end of each Age). Yellow gains coins. Blue gains victory points. Green leads to exploration of islands, which produce bonuses (eg resources) on special island cards.

    The basic idea is that players can choose to use resources as they build normal cards to also advance their naval fleets. As such, the Armada expansion adds a second “play” each turn, if a player has the resources to pay for it. The naval board goes next to the player’s Wonder so that it is easy for each player to see what naval advancements are available.

    — the naval board next to my wonder

    Another twist is that at the end of each Age, there is naval combat. The naval board generates naval shields. Combat is global, so players are ranked from strongest to weakest. The weakest player gets a marker with negative victory points, and the stronger players get positive victory points based on order and Age (ie the strongest player gets more points, points are greater as the Ages move from I to II to III).

    Armada also includes cards for each age that are themed to the new Armada expansion. This increases the fun as players must now contend with new and different cards with some unique twists (I won’t give any of it away, you need to buy Armada to find out).

    Game Play

    The Armada expansion significantly lengthens game play. Each turn, players can effectively make two “plays”: a card and naval advancement. The effect of this is multiple-fold (is that a real word? I don’t know, but I will use it anyway): 1) each turn takes almost twice as long, 2) players will be buying more resources from each other, and 3) you gotta watch each other because honest mistakes (or dishonest ones) are much more likely to happen (especially in Age III).

    — here is what the table looked like at the end of our game!

    More ships, more strategies!

    We discovered that the Armada naval boards now allowed for more strategies. In the game in the photo above, I went for naval shields and domination of both ground/naval warfare (I am in the bottom left); Lee (top right) went for a Boston Harbour (his term for it) strategy of advancing all his boats; Stew (bottom right) went for scientific achievement and advancing his green boat to explore; and Bob (top left) went for diplomatic/governmental victory points.

    These differing strategies led to all of us scoring lots and lots of points.

    — the score sheet at the end of the game. I won by 6 points!

    The Verdict

    Armada turns 7 Wonders from a quick, simple game into a much longer highly strategic contest. We had a good time with it and would play it again. The downside is that the game was twice as long and man, we needed Bob’s entire dining room table PLUS the extra leaf we put into the table!

    As such, this expansion seems like a welcome addition to those who want more complexity and a longer, more strategic game. If you are looking for a short, enjoyable game of 7 Wonders, Armada might not be for you.

    Oh….and Armada is much, much better than Babel. We played the Babel expansion about a dozen times and nobody ever really liked it. I can tell you hands down that Armada is way better than Babel. The naval boards, plastic ships, naval combat, and island exploration both add a good deal of strategy and also are themed very well. It does feel like you are sailing ships and building ships. Armada fits the 7 Wonders theme very well in a way that Babel never did. In fact, I am thinking of listing Babel on Boardgamegeek to get rid of it.

    Okay you landlubbers, get out your sailors and set sail!