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SPIEL '17 Preview: King of the Dice, or Rolling and Rueing

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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"New games are for new gamers." I've said this before, and I'll say it again. In fact, I just did.

What do I mean by this? Hundreds of new games hit the market each year. Our SPIEL '17 Preview, for example, is nearing one thousand listings, and unless you are a crazy person with an endless bag of cash and time, you will not play all the games listed on the preview. Heck, you likely won't play even 10% of the games listed. If you did manage to do so, however, you would likely discover that many of the games listed on it are like other games that already exist.

Take, for example, my preview choice for today: King of the Dice, a.k.a. Würfelkönig, by designer Nils Nilsson and publisher HABA. At heart, King of the Dice is a dice-rolling game in which you want to create certain combinations on the dice in order to claim cards and score points. Perhaps you already know of such games? I think you do. King of the Dice is not new in this regard, and those who have already played games along these lines might view the design as more of the same. Those who haven't, however, will find a delightful little dice game with lots of "ooh!" and "aah!" moments as you succeed or opponents fail.

To set up, lay out the village cards as shown below, with each village having cards worth 2, 3, and 4 points. Shuffle the citizen cards, then place one under each village, with the deck placed on the left. Place the shuffled penalty card deck nearby, then give someone the six dice and start taking turns.

On a turn, you roll the dice up to three times (so familiar!), setting aside any dice that you choose not to reroll. You can stop whenever you wish (and must stop after three rolls), and if you've rolled a dice combination showing on one or more of the citizen cards, you can claim one of the cards. If the color of the citizen matches the color of the village above them, then claim the top village card as well. If you can't claim a citizen card, then take the top penalty card; if you do this, discard the rightmost card in the line. Place your citizen and penalty cards in a single stack so that only the most recently acquired card is visible. End your turn by sliding all the citizen cards to the right to fill the gap, then flip the topmost card of the citizen deck into the empty space at the left of the line.

Keep taking turns until one village pile is empty, the penalty deck is empty, or the citizen deck is empty. When this happens, the game ends and everyone counts their points to see who wins.

Pre-production components; you probably won't have a serial number on your cards

That's it. Well, that's mostly it, but in those short two paragraphs, you now know everything needed to play King of the Dice.

Each color of characters has similar requirements to claim them. All of the blue cards require some number of dice that are the same color, while the brown cards require some number of dice showing the same number. Green cards require number combinations: two pair, three pair, full house, four-of-a-kind, etc. Purple cards require color combinations similar to the green cards, but with specific colors instead of allowing you to fill in the symbols as you wish.

Yellow cards differ from this pattern by coming in two types: three requiring a numerical sequence, and two requiring either all odd or all even dice.

Each fairy is worth as many points as the number of fairies you collect

Some cards have bonuses that give small twists during play. If you claim a card with a star, you take another turn immediately; the yellow cards with an arrow leaping a square allow you to roll the dice up to four times on your subsequent turn. The magician lets you claim the card to the right of it in addition to the magician itself, and the dragon, once claimed, is gifted to another player. Here's fire in your lap, pal!

I've played King of the Dice three times on a pre-production copy, twice with two and one with three, and the game delivers exactly what's promised by the components and short description: Tension and angst as you try to complete die combinations of varying complexities, merged with a tetch of thumb-twiddling as you wait for your next turn. This isn't an issue in the two-player game, even when playing with a hammy eight-year-old who loves to tell complete stories between every single roll of the dice, but I can't imagine playing with four or five players except during a party situation in which you get up to refill your drink and mingle between turns. Maybe that's just me.

Warning: The purple looks similar to the brown in dim light

The different colors on the dice — with red, blue and green spread evenly across the pips — do a nice job of pulling you in different directions during play, similar to the dice used in Thomas Sing's excellent dice game Kribbeln. As in so many games of this type, after the initial roll you're weighing probabilities of what to shoot for, and sometimes the colors pull you one way and the pips pull you another. You make choices and often have a back-up card in mind that you might still be able to land should plan A not come to pass.

Of course sometimes no amount of planning will save you from what the dice hold...

Awesome performance in my most recent game with a final score of -1
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