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Subject: Spoils of War has Won Over this Liar's Dice Skeptic rss

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Raf Cordero
United States
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The premise of Spoils of War is an odd one. Fresh off of a raid, Vikings gather in their halls to divvy up their loot through a game of bluffs and bidding. I don’t quite think that’s how it actually worked but I also don’t quite care. I have too much fun rolling dice and throwing side-eye at my friends to worry about the setting.

Spoils of War is a game of bidding, luck pushing, and bluffing all done in services of collecting piles of treasure cards. Armor, weapons, and powerful artifacts are among the bits of loot up for grabs but you can’t simply stuff your cache full of them. You have to bet your gold in a game of dice; gold is also your victory points so it’s a tricky balance of betting heavy enough to win big but not so heavy that a bad bet sinks your chances.

This is made trickier by the sheer lack of information you have. Each player rolls a cupful of dice and takes a secret peek at what they’ve rolled. From there, the bidding starts. The Viking Chief will call out a number of dice and a value (“Four 6s”). They’re betting that they can find four dice showing 6-pips among all rolled dice, not just their own cup. The next player must either raise the bid by increasing the pip number or the total number of dice (“I’ll bid five 2s”). This continues until someone finally challenges.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because up to this point Spoils of War works exactly the same as Liar’s Dice. Liar’s Dice is played around the world, often for money, because of its simplicity. It is not often seen at a board gaming table however, though I think Spoils of War has a shot of changing that. The challenger and the person who made the last bid – known as the declarer – both have to ante up a few dollars to back their bid. Everyone else at the table now gets to bet on who is right. This is the most dramatic shift from traditional Liar’s Dice because it drives so much social interaction.

Everyone is involved in every round of bidding, which makes for a lot of fun table-talk during the bidding process itself. When someone is carefully weighing a challenge instead of jumping up to 8 or 9 dice, suddenly there is reason to talk. You can encourage them to take the challenge because you don’t have any of the dice the declarer needs. Of course, you can also lie about that. You stand to gain no matter who does what, so long as you guess right, which ramps up the social negotiation.

The winning side gets to grab loot, with bonus points scored at the end for collecting various sets. Mixed in with the normal sets are powerful artifacts. These artifacts allow you to manipulate dice, peek at other players dice, and other rule-breaking actions. They inject a bit of variety to the proceedings and often offer a lighthearted way to mess with your opponent’s carefully considered bids. I don’t think they’re necessary but they don’t take away from anything.

So it goes for 9 rounds before final scoring, bringing Spoils of War to a close in a brief 45 minutes that never outstays its welcome. Rather than seeing players lose a die every round until there’s only one player standing, every Viking around the table is in the game until the end. The tension of watching your dice pool shrink is replaced with the tension of watching your opponents snatch the loot you need to make your sets. Because you stand to gain (or lose) on every round, you’re engaged in each bid in a way that doesn’t happen in each round of Liar’s Dice.

The shared nature of every bid is what makes Spoils of War worth recommending. It’s a very social take on bidding and bluffing and because you can get in on other player’s challenges or bids, you don’t have to be particularly good at either to still have an enjoyable time. I’m terrible at working through the probabilities necessary to determine whether a bid is worth challenging, but I really enjoy influencing the game through table-talk.

There is a reason that Liar’s Dice is played around the world: it’s simple, tense, and punctuated with the drama that comes with the reveal of dice. There are also some good reasons I’ve never seen it played at a board game meetup. By getting rid of player elimination and making the bidding and bluffing more social, Spoils of War builds on a familiar framework to create something that feels more at home on my shelf of board games.

This review was originally posted on Ding & Dent! A list of my reviews that you can subscribe to can be found here.
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