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Subject: Deckbuilding Without All the Shuffling rss

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foldedcard
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This is my review of Dice City, a board game reminiscent of The Settlers video game series. One to four players develop their home boards from a simple village to a thriving city of buildings, mines, lumber mills, quarries, and armies by chucking dice to power the locations on their board and using the resources they acquire to buy better locations, trade with foreign shores, attack bandits and their fellow players. The player with the biggest stack of victory points at the end of the game wins.

Game Overview



Vangelis Bagiartakis and AEG have come up with a very clever design that could categorized in multiple ways: civ game, dice chucker, tableau builder, resource manager. But the clearest way to visualize the game mechanically, despite the presence of the large player boards, is as a deckbuilder like Dominion or Star Realms. Your home board starts with 30 basic locations in 5 rows of 6 depicted cards, which effectively represent your fixed starting deck. At the start of the game and the end of each turn you roll five 6-sided dice that determine which location on each of the five rows you can activate -- in other words those locations represent your hand.

Just like in the granddaddy of deckbuilders, Dominion, your turn essentially consists of action, buy and cleanup phases. In the "action" phase you use the dice to acquire resources (the old standbys of stone, wood, and iron) and gain attack strength from the locations they are on. In the "buy" phase you can either acquire locations cards from the fixed or revolving market piles to power up your city (by placing the new locations over the existing locations on your board) and gain a victory point or two, trade resources for tradeship cards that deliver big victory point hauls or you can use your attack strength to deactivate opponents buildings to frustrate them and give you points or fight non-player bandits for slightly bigger point hauls than attacking other players. You finish your turn with a simple "cleanup" phase in which you re-roll dice and discard down to no more than one of each resource.

Don't get me wrong, the deckbuilding analogy only goes so far. I can't think of any deckbuilder where you play with an open hand. You also don't increase the size of your deck in Dice City because you will always only have 30 locations in game and so you are simply replacing one card in your deck with another when you acquire new locations.

It Plays Really Well!

The spatial arrangement of cards on your homeboard provides some nice dice mitigation mechanics, which make the "action" phase a delightful puzzle and give players a sense of agency in the game. Mitigation is necessary because unlike a card-based deckbuilder where you are guaranteed to work through all the cards in your deck, it's quite possible that you won't roll certain locations the entire game. So you are allowed to spend a dice to move dice in another row one column left or right. (Bear in mind that mitigation can only go so far and too many good rolls could be decisive.) In addition, some of your starting locations feature re-roll locations that effectively increase the odds of gaining other positions in the row and there are location cards that offer even better mitigation options. The use of multiple resources plus attacks rather than a single currency bring additional resource management decisions and brings out some nice card synergies. Speaking of cards, the revolving market features a decent variety of cards that offer a mix of powers and points. But all of those features do add to the cognitive load of the game and make the decisions about which cards to acquire or how to attack take a little longer than in a typical deck builder and a lot longer than the standard dice chucker. (On the other hand, discarding down to no more than one of each resource at the end of your turn keeps resources tight and prevents the game from becoming a resource heavy mess.)

There are various end game conditions including running through the variable market cards, exhausting two of the three tradeship piles, exhausting all of the bandit piles, or a player placing 12 locations in two of the rows on their home board. The last of those is probably the easiest to do, but won't necessarily garner the player who pulls it off the most points. The different endgame conditions are nice for the sake variability if nothing else.

With Mostly Very Nice Components


(Pro tip: dice are placed on your board from lightest to darkest color, unlike what's shown here)

The components are very nice overall, including the home boards and cards, but the dice are definitely the weak point. Serviceable but nothing special in what is a focal component of the game. I like the art and the iconography and text is clear but it definitely gives off a video game vibe and is twee to boot, which might bother some gamers but it definitely suits a "dice game". Having boards instead of starting decks simplifies setup, but there's still a pile of cards and resources to setup at the start and sort at the end, so the board isn't quite the boon to setup and teardown that you might think it would be.

But Oh Noes!! Player Directed Attacks



If there's one glaring weak point in the game play for me, it is the attack cards. Player directed attacks can be particularly brutal in building games, especially in groups where some players are willing to attack and others aren't. The effects of attacks are relatively minor and in a two-player game it should actually even out because the damage done to the opponent is balanced out by being slightly less beneficial in victory points than attacking bandits or using your turn to acquire locations instead. (Your mileage may vary on the hurt feelings but there's always the solo option!) That's not the case with three or more players, where it would be easy to gang up on one player and prevent them from winning. I won't belabor this, but it is definitely going to be an issue for some groups.

Lets Expand The Problems Away!



The unique homeboard provides a very flexible game system that is ripe for expansion (and inevitable riffs on the idea in future games). With one expansion out (All That Glitters), another on the way (Crossroads) and hopefully more to follow, there should be plenty of longevity in Dice City. The one thing I would like to see in a future expansion is some mechanics that even out the effects of attack cards. For example, an expansion that replaces the static bandit piles and direct attacks with more varied bandits that both pose a threat to all players and can be attacked or (more cheaply) bribed by individual players to avert attacks.

And In Sum

Overall, and despite my gripes about attack cards, I think Dice City is a terrific game. Well worth checking out!

(With thanks to all of the kind people who uploaded images that were featured in this review and used without permission.)
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Trevor Kindree
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The biggest issue with attacking another player is that it's strategically not a wise move. You're going to need to use a fair number of dice/resources to build the number of swords to "disrupt" an opponent's strategy - all it takes is a single die to allow access to the building.

It could take you 2-3 dice to force your opponent to use 1 die, and I say "could" as it's often more. That's a very poor exchange rate, hurting you more than it does your opponent. In a 3-4 player game, that's hurting any player involved in the conflict (-1 die for attacked, -2-3 dice for the attacker), and giving a substantial boost to the player(s) who aren't involved (they're operating at peak efficiency).

Using swords to just attack bandits can be "boring", but it's the most sensible of the two routes.
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FreezenFire wrote:
The biggest issue with attacking another player is that it's strategically not a wise move. You're going to need to use a fair number of dice/resources to build the number of swords to "disrupt" an opponent's strategy - all it takes is a single die to allow access to the building.

It could take you 2-3 dice to force your opponent to use 1 die, and I say "could" as it's often more. That's a very poor exchange rate, hurting you more than it does your opponent. In a 3-4 player game, that's hurting any player involved in the conflict (-1 die for attacked, -2-3 dice for the attacker), and giving a substantial boost to the player(s) who aren't involved (they're operating at peak efficiency).

Using swords to just attack bandits can be "boring", but it's the most sensible of the two routes.


You get points when you attack opponents buildings, generally one less point than a bandit with the same defense. That one point deficit let's you take out your opponents strongest buildings, which if they want to use again will cause them to spend an extra die, which might be worth much more than a point towards the end game. Its probably situational but it isnt a dominated strategy. What's undeniable is that if one player attacks another all game, a third player will be at a huge advantage.
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David desJardins
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Would the game work if you forbid attacking other players, or would there end up being spaces or rolls that become completely useless? This is the question that's kept me from buying this game.
 
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mfl134
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DaviddesJ wrote:
Would the game work if you forbid attacking other players, or would there end up being spaces or rolls that become completely useless? This is the question that's kept me from buying this game.


in my experience of just a few games it would still work. It would just make the attack spaces slightly less versatile.
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Vangelis Bagiartakis
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Thank you for a very well-written review.

Regarding the impact the attacks on other players have in the game, you can try the following "cut-throat" variant:

When reactivating a location, you are only allowed to use the die on its row to do so.

This makes some combos harder to pull off (you can't reactivate a location and use it in the same turn - at least not under normal circumstances) but makes the impact of the attacks much bigger.

On the other hand, if the players in your group prefer to be left alone and don't want other people to mess up their plans, you can fully play the game, without any attacks to each other. Watchtower becomes a little bit better but other than that, you do not lose anything out of the game.
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David desJardins
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avyssaleos wrote:
On the other hand, if the players in your group prefer to be left alone and don't want other people to mess up their plans, you can fully play the game, without any attacks to each other. Watchtower becomes a little bit better but other than that, you do not lose anything out of the game.


I do want to allow players to interfere with other players' plans, but do not like games where one can freely choose whom to target, because it feels "unfair" or "no fun" when one person is the target of most of the attacks.
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DaviddesJ wrote:
avyssaleos wrote:
On the other hand, if the players in your group prefer to be left alone and don't want other people to mess up their plans, you can fully play the game, without any attacks to each other. Watchtower becomes a little bit better but other than that, you do not lose anything out of the game.


I do want to allow players to interfere with other players' plans, but do not like games where one can freely choose whom to target, because it feels "unfair" or "no fun" when one person is the target of most of the attacks.


I agree with David. The attack cards offer an interesting alternative path to victory, but can be a bit too spiteful when player directed.

I have been tossing around an idea for a variant where there are no direct attacks on players but some of the interactive aspects of military are retained. Click the spoiler.

Spoiler (click to reveal)
Bandits have attack equal to their defense value. At the start of the game a bandit with a defense value of 3 is designated the active bandit and the other bandit cards are set aside in their 3 piles. On his turn, the current player has three options with respect to the active bandit:

1. Defeat the active bandit by the end of his turn by spending the appropriate number of attack points. If so, he takes the bandit card (for points at the end of the game) and replaces this bandit with another from the bandit piles (the lowest valued bandit available).

2. Bribe the active bandit by paying a cost of one resource or a pass token. The bandit becomes stronger and will be replaced with a bandit with strength at least one value higher than its current value (if available). Return the previous bandit to its pile. (One might want to make it more expensive to bribe higher level bandits. Alternatively, the resources paid as bribes might be placed on the active bandit and awarded to whoever defeats it. Both of these ideas probably have balance issues.)

3. Face an attack from the active bandit after rolling his dice at the end of his turn. The bandit will successfully attack any active location on the player's home board with a defense value between 1 and the bandit's attack value that is within one column of the rolled dice (so a player might get lucky and not have his building attacked) or otherwise steal a resource or otherwise steal a pass token (if available). After a successful attack on a location, each other player may use dice on their attack cards to claim up to 1 of the indicated victory points on that location per attack point they spend (those dice will be unavailable for use when it is that player's turn). After a successful attack (a location was deactivated or a resource/pass token stolen) the bandit becomes weaker -- drop it to the next lowest value that is available.

Probably way too complicated and imbalanced but its the sort of thing I would envision as part of a military themed expansion with a more interesting deck of bandits.
 
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foldedcard
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avyssaleos wrote:
Thank you for a very well-written review.

Regarding the impact the attacks on other players have in the game, you can try the following "cut-throat" variant:

When reactivating a location, you are only allowed to use the die on its row to do so.



Yes, I think this makes good sense in the right group. (Could have used this in my last game, though the young fellow who won would not have been pleased.)

Thanks for a great game!
 
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Panagiotis Zinoviadis
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Vangelis Bagiartakis
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proposed is golden when playing 1 Vs 1. Makes the attacks more meaningful and can break some combos a bit so that the gap to the VP strat and the Military start can be "controlled" back if it was set loose.
 
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Trevor Kindree
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foldedcard wrote:
FreezenFire wrote:
The biggest issue with attacking another player is that it's strategically not a wise move. You're going to need to use a fair number of dice/resources to build the number of swords to "disrupt" an opponent's strategy - all it takes is a single die to allow access to the building.

It could take you 2-3 dice to force your opponent to use 1 die, and I say "could" as it's often more. That's a very poor exchange rate, hurting you more than it does your opponent. In a 3-4 player game, that's hurting any player involved in the conflict (-1 die for attacked, -2-3 dice for the attacker), and giving a substantial boost to the player(s) who aren't involved (they're operating at peak efficiency).

Using swords to just attack bandits can be "boring", but it's the most sensible of the two routes.


You get points when you attack opponents buildings, generally one less point than a bandit with the same defense. That one point deficit let's you take out your opponents strongest buildings, which if they want to use again will cause them to spend an extra die, which might be worth much more than a point towards the end game. Its probably situational but it isnt a dominated strategy. What's undeniable is that if one player attacks another all game, a third player will be at a huge advantage.


Missed that! Back to the rules, make sure that's the only thing I missed. That changes things considerably! Thank you!
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