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!
  • Folded Space Part V: Scythe The Rise of Fenris

    Today I put together my fifth set from Folded Space, FS-SCY+, which purports to organize my box of Scythe: Rise of Fenris and also Scythe: The Wind Gambit. I was a bit skeptical but let’s see how it turned out.

    First, I found two surprises inside the box: a Folded Space six-sided die, and two sheets of stickers, one for the Folded Space Part IV: Scythe that I just completed and one for this new Fenris organizer.

    — the Folded Space d6

    — the two sheets of stickers

    The stickers appear to fit into the boxes something like this:

    — a sticker inside one of the typical rectangular boxes

    I got to work gluing the organizers together. Most were pretty standard, but there were two very unique pieces. Overall, it took a bit less than 90 minutes to glue the set together.

    — some completed boxes. Check out those two weird ones at the top

    Now, let’s be clear, my game box of Rise of Fenris wasn’t exactly in bad shape.

    — my Rise of Fenris game box with the lid off. Clearly not a horror show.

    — the bottom of my Rise of Fenris box. Note that because we have only completed Episodes 1 thru 4, there are still unrevealed boxes (Box D being the largest unrevealed box)

    So, I started unpacking my box of Fenris and my Wind Gambit box. This was complicated by the fact that my gaming group has not yet opened all the “hidden” material. So, I could only file game components that were revealed already.

    — filling the bins with game components

    — and now we see what the strange bins were for–> the airships! How cool!

    Once I filled all the bins, I started putting them into the game box. Note that the Wind Gambit box is completely discarded (just like the Invaders from Afar box in the last Scythe Folded Space project).

    — the bottom layer in the box

    — the box with the top layer set in.

    Of course, I couldn’t put any unrevealed components into bins, so I have some leftover cardboard boxes that do not fit into the game box.

    — my leftover unrevealed content. I will just set these aside for when we have to open them.

    The Verdict

    I really liked how the airships fit into this build. The bins that hold them are very sturdy and should hold up over time. The only drawback is that once again, the box lid doesn’t fully close.

    — the box lid doesn’t completely close

    It’s a small annoyance, and maybe once I punch out all the pieces on the cardboard sheets this might go away (although I doubt it). I am not sure why both the Scythe builds have this same problem, but it is a bit of a bummer.

    What Did We Play? Near and Far

    This week we all got together to try out Near and Far from Red Raven Games. I picked up the game at Gen Con (actually, I got the next to last copy from the Red Raven Booth) this year. It is a sequel to Above and Below, a game that I have never played but have heard good things about. Fortunately, you do not need to own Above and Below to play Near and Far.

    Near and Far advertises itself as a storytelling game, an atlas game, and a campaign game! That sounds like a lot…and it had me intrigued when I saw the game at the Red Raven booth. Then I noticed the artwork! I was hooked!

    — Clockwise from top left: Storybook, Atlas, Town Board (dusk side shown)

    The Basics

    The overall goal of Near and Far is to accumulate Journey Points. You do this by preparing your character in the town and then adventuring on one of the maps contained in the Atlas.

    The game is essentially an action-taking game where each turn a player places their character standee on a town location and performs the action(s) listed there. Generally, you are trying to load up on food, coins, friendly adventures, etc so that you are ready to travel out of the town on the map.

    On the map, you move around looking for quests and establish camps. The camps allow you to collect coins or gems, and also allow for less exhaustive movement across the map (ie it costs fewer “hearts” to move).

    — The map for the first game, as contained in the Atlas.

    The game ends once one player has placed all 14 of their camps (on the map, in the mines, and/or on Threat Cards). Journey points are awarded for camps played, trade routes covered, artifacts found, threats defeated, coins, gems, faction tokens, Chiefs obtained, Reputation, and any other card/board bonuses.

    Gameplay

    Everyone in my group expressed that the basic standee placement and action-taking mechanism closely resembled games like Raiders of the North Sea. Turns are completely fairly quickly and each player has a chance to get something accomplished on their turn.

    Exploring on the map takes a bit longer. Once a player travels to the map, they move in a point-to-point system more similar to strategic war games than typical abstract board games. If a player stops on a quest, another player reads the corresponding lettered quest from the Storybook. Each quest has two alternative acts available for the player to choose from among (e.g. help the old lady or ignore her plight) similar to games like Scythe. Usually a skill or combat roll resolves the chosen action.

    Players alternate their time from loading up in town and exploring on the map, much like a pen and pencil RPG. This adds a storytelling/role playing element that adds to the fun (it also allows even players falling behind in Journey points to have a good time questing).

    — my player board early in the game. I had placed two camps, recruited two adventurers to my party (next to my faithful cat companion), and added a pack bird.

    In the game that we played, it seemed like each player tried a different strategy. I was trying to collect as many artifacts as possible, Lee was placing camps on the map for resources, Stew was going after quests, and Bob was mining a lot.

    — The game a few more turns after the last photo but still in the early part. Note that camps have started appearing on the map as we began exploring outside the town.

    The game lasted about two hours. It was our first play and it took a while to figure out what the best options were each turn. Eventually my artifact grabbing rewarded me with a very narrow victory over Lee.

    — My board close to the end of the game. I was well-prepared to explore and my loot of faction tokens and gems would allow me to buy plenty of artifacts from the Mystic.

    The Verdict

    From one play of the game, all of us agreed that Near and Far was quite fun. Everyone felt that they were “in” the game and that no one got left behind early. Also, the exploration on the map added a nice touch that broke up the monotony of standee placement in the town.

    In short, we are looking forward to trying the Campaign game and adventuring on new maps. The gameplay is solid and fun, the rules clear, and the art gorgeous. If you haven’t tried Near and Far, I recommended that you give it a shot.

    What Did We Play? King of New York with Power Up! And Monster Packs

    Recently we got in a 4-player game of King of New York. We used the evolution Power Up! Cards plus all three of the Monster Packs! Let’s get ready to rumble!!!!

    Game Summary

    Bob was Anubis and the first player, so he had to claim Manhattan. Stew was Cthulhu and he quickly set the tone for the first few turns: he rolled a bunch of slaps and punished Anubis. The dreaded Pyramid Die was stealing health from whomever had the Scarab…which unfortunately was me. I was Captain Fish (boo! The only guy without a new Monster) and I broke buildings on my turn. Oh, and I couldn’t get rid of the scarab so my health was draining. Lee was King Kong and continued the slap-fest! He knocked Anubis out of Manhattan and moved in himself.

    — The remains of a defeated King Kong as he got knocked out climbing skyscrapers in Manhattan.

    On the second turn Anubis and Cthulhu rolled mainly energy, traded the Superstar card, and slapped the big ape a bit. On my turn I rolled 3 slaps. With my evolution power this would mean not only Kong taking 3 damage, but Anubis and Cthulhu taking 1 each. Bob used his Anubis evolutionary power to deflect it back on me! I was down to 2 health! Fortunately Lee didn’t roll more than 1 slap, so I held on. After the 2nd turn everybody was badly injured–we just weren’t rolling any hearts.

    But King Kong’s time in Manhattan would be short. On turn 3, Bob hit him and then Stew slapped him hard but Lee stayed in Manhattan with three health remaining. Then Kong’s luck run out as I managed to roll 4 slaps and Kong was defeated before Lee got his third turn.

    With only 3 of us left, and me in Manhattan with almost no health, it looked like the game was going to end quick. But then the Curse cards became favorable to the Scarab holder and we rolled bundles of hearts for health.

    — the three remaining players and a game that started to equalize.

    As Captain Fish, I grabbed Stink Attack and scattered units into boroughs to attack Anubis and Cthulhu. Stew used Cthulhu to give Bob and I madness tokens which stopped us from re-rolling some dice. Bob used Anubis’ powers to constantly steal energy from Stew and I so he could buy cards.

    The game went back and forth for about 30 minutes. Bob and I each dropped Stew’s Cthulhu to zero health on separate turns, only to see Cthulhu not die (I hate that “Even Death May Die evolution card). So…slowly but surely Cthulhu wore us down while he gained fame. Stew ended up holding on and won with Fame.

    — all of Cthulhu’s permanent Evolution cards that led to Stew’s victory

    In the end, it was a crazy game that started out fast and furious with King Kong getting shellacked early, then settled into a game of attrition.

    The Verdict

    The Evolution cards are a must for King of New York. Each monster is distinct, which is an improvement over the base game. The new monsters are totally cool and the Anubis Curse Die adds a nice mechanic to the game. A really fun game got even better!

    In Defense of American-Style Games: 3 Good Reasons to Play Ameritrash as Seen by a Grognard

    With the popularity of Settlers of Catan in the 1990s, Eurogames have exploded onto the American gaming landscape. The emphasis of Eurogames on indirect competition, hidden scoring, broad themes, resource-driven game mechanics, and balancing mechanisms to keep all players “in the game” has proven to be popular, particularly with younger players.At the same time, American-style Games, often denigrated as “Ameritrash Games”, have been criticized, panned, and abandoned by many of these newer players. The critique is that Ameritrash games are either based too much on luck (think Talisman), too much on direct competition (e.g. Advanced Squad Leader), too complex (e.g. almost anything by Avalon Hill or SPI), too theme specific as to not be appealing to the average gamer (e.g. Air Assault on Crete), and too long to play (e.g. The Campaign for North Africa).

    Well, as a Grognard (look it up kids if you don’t know what it means), I am here to defend Ameritrash Games with 3 good reasons you should be playing them:

    1 – Direct Competition Can Be More Fun Than Multiplayer Solitaire

    One of my critiques of Eurogames is that often the game is thinly disguised multiplayer solitaire (in other words, each player plays alone and the end-game scoring determines who played solitaire better). Players really cannot directly confront, impede, attack, etc, each other. Thus, each player’s “strategy” is not truly an interactive strategy, but really solitaire. Good examples are Race for the Galaxy by Rio Grande Games or Cities by Z-Man Games. Often a Eurogame adds one element of direct confrontation, such as card drafting (think 7 Wonders), that isn’t really “direct” confrontation as the emphasis is on denying an opponent a resource rather than taking it from them.

    Direct competition in an Ameritrash title is more than just denial, it’s seizure! Take the classic game Dune by Avalon Hill (or the new variant Rex by Fantasy Flight Games). Your units (tokens) will move quicker if they have access to Arrakeen or Carthag. Taking those strongholds gives you an advantage and removes it from an opponent. The battles that I have seen in my 4 decades of gaming in those Dune strongholds are legendary! In a similar vein, Small World by Days of Wonder encourages aggressive acquisition of territory–at another player’s expense (much like Risk). Nothing more fun than making your opponents’ units disappear from the board.

    And if you haven’t played Enemy in Sight by Avalon Hill, you are missing out on how much fun direct competition can be. There is nothing more enjoyable than screaming “Breaking the Line” to the tune of Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” as you wreck an opponent’s line of ships. I have seen grudges held for years (actually it’s two decades now in one instance) over a well-played Breaking the Line card! Taking the battle to your opponent can be very fun–and memorable!

    — you don’t eat the worm, it eats you!

    And here is the kicker–luck is NOT involved in battle in any of these games! The common criticism that Ameritrash games are full of luck can be untrue.

    2 – Randomness Can Be More Fun than Repetition

    What makes Talisman work? The random discovery of what monsters, treasure, etc, lie in every space! Why do battles in Star Wars Rebellion feel exciting–because you have to chuck dice and live with the results. Let’s face it, many things in life are random, and randomness in games is a good thing not a bad thing. Now, we don’t want so much randomness that we are playing Monopoly, but adding a random element can help make a game less predictable, repetitive, and boring. Even the classic Settlers of Catan has two random mechanisms (dice rolls for resources and random bonus card draw).

    The main problem with Eurogames is that they are so repetitive due to a lack of randomness. And repetition can be boring. Really good games with repetitive play (for example, Lost Cities by KOSMOS) are fantastic (much in the vein of Rummy, Solitaire, Pit, etc) but a good number of Eurogames are not fun when repetitive. In particular, I find Carcassonne to be really boring due to it being the same game over and over.

    — nothing says generic, repetitive play like these components from Carcassonne

    3 – Strong Themes in Ameritrash Games Make for Evocative Gameplay

    Okay, one thing I despise about many Eurogames is that the “theme” seems to be an afterthought. The game is so abstract that literally any number of broad themes could fit. The classic Puerto Rico by Ravensburger or the more recent Terra Mystica by Feuerland could realistically be titled and themed anything. The games are all about the gameplay “engine”, Puerto Rico has nothing at all about it that is truly Puerto Rico–other than the tacked on place names, currency, etc.

    Strong creative or historical themes build evocative gameplay. When I play Dune, I can envision that Sandworm eating my units (even if they are just little round cardboard tokens), I can see the Baron Harkonnen backstabbing me with a traitor, etc. Eclipse by Lautapelit is a rather complicated game, allowing for players to customize their spaceships. Guess what? This detail adds to the space 4X theme and gameplay. Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight is so thematic that when I play it I can actually feel the Elder Gods returning to Earth.

    — Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight, a million Cards, chits, tokens, bits, etc, but well worth the hours it takes to set it up and take it down


    So in short, there is a lot to love about American-style gaming, so don’t believe the “Ameritrash” label and get out there and play a dice chucking, card drawing, heavy themed game today!