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Subject: Dice Town - A "Game On!" Review rss

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John Richard
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Ah, dice games. There’s something about rolling dice that immediately makes a game seem more accessible and more "fair", just because of the way dice tend to balance out differences in skill by way of simple probability. In a way, it’s an excuse for people to not have to make optimal decisions in a game, because a lucky dice roll could still turn the tide in their favor. There’s no doubt that rolling a natural 20 in a game of D&D is a truly exciting event, but when a game has too much of a luck element, many people just stop caring about the outcome, because they feel they have very little control over it. Recent game designs have sought to mitigate this problem by combining dice rolling with bluffing elements (a la Liar’s Dice), or by making all (or most) rolls of the dice have some sort of intrinsic value, regardless of whether the roll is low or high (To Court the King, Kingsburg, Yspahan). In Dice Town, Ludovic Maublanc and Bruno Cathala have combined all of these mechanics together to create a very enjoyable dice rolling game with a fun Old West theme laid nicely over it.

In Dice Town, you are attempting to gain victory points and other resources by creating particular "hands" of special poker dice. These special dice have playing card symbols and denominations on them - 9, 10, Jack ,Queen, King, and Ace (the faces have different colors to differentiate them, but there are no "suits" in the game). By having the best hand of dice in one or more of several different categories, you’ll be able to acquire money, gold nuggets, cards, and other resources that will gain you points and help you during the game. You start the game with 8 dollars, 5 dice, and a neat bullet-shaped dice cup. The youngest player is assigned the role of Sheriff and given the sheriff card. On your turn you, all of the players will simultaneously roll their 5 dice onto the table, keeping them hidden from the other players. After rolling, you secretly look at your dice and decide which of the 5 you would like to keep. You put the other dice back into your hand, and then everyone reveals the die that they’ve kept. You may keep more than one die, but you have to pay a dollar for every additional die that you keep. After the dice are revealed and payments made, the players roll again, repeating this process until each player has built a 5-die poker hand from their dice.

The second part of the game is the distribution of resources, or as I like to call it, the "cash and prizes" step. The board in the game depicts several typical Old West locations, including the gold mine, the saloon, and the general store. Each location will give out a certain reward to the player who has the "best" hand in a certain catergory. For example, the player who has the most 9’s in their poker hand is rewarded with gold nuggets from the gold mine, one for each 9 that’s in their hand. In the event of a tie, the Sheriff decides who wins, and it’s perfectly acceptable (if not ethical) to bribe the Sheriff!

So, the rewards are as follows:

Gold mine (player with the most 9’s) - winner gets one gold nugget per 9 in their hand

Bank (player with the most 10’s) - winner will get all the money from the bank. After that money is taken, the bank is resupplied with all the money that was paid for extra dice this round.

General Store (player with the most Jacks) - winner gets to draw one General Store card for each Jack. Then, they get to keep one and discard the rest. Some of these cards are worth victory points, some are rulebreaking cards for certain situations in the game.

Saloon (player with the most Queens) - winner gets to steal from one card for each Queen in their hand from opponents. They can keep one and return the rest to their owners.

Sheriff (player with the most Kings ) - winner will be the Sheriff for the next round

Town Hall (player with the best poker hand) - at the beginning of the game, 3 property cards are laid out on the board next to the town hall space. The player who puts together the best poker hand will get the bottom property card (worth between 1 and 5 victory points), but a bonus card for every Ace that’s in their hand, up to a total of 3 cards. If you’re not familiar with poker hands, don’t worry. The order of winning hands is listed on the back of the property cards.

If, after all of that, you still haven’t received a reward during the round, you can visit "Doc Badluck", who will let you choose from one of several consolation prizes (which are actually pretty good).

After that, a new round begins. The game continues until the property card deck is exhausted, or until the gold nugget pile is depleted. Then, you add up your score. You get the points on your property and general store cards, 1 point for every gold nugget, and 1 point for every $2 you have at the end of the game. If you’re the sheriff at the end of the game, you get 5 points. Highest point total wins.

This game, for me, is a perfect combination of dice rolling, very light strategy, and a clever theme. The artwork is cartoony and fun, and the component quality is excellent. The game is easy to teach, and I believe will interest gamers and non-gamers alike. I had the opportunity to play this with some family members, and I was amused by the metagaming (in the form of good-natured ribbing) that occurred, especially when it came to the Sheriff’s reasoning in their tiebreaking decisions!

As a gamer, I’m not really interested in playing a game that is pure luck and no strategy. Dice Town is a refreshing mix, and the fact that it’s accessible to non-gamers makes it even more appealing. Overall, a very enjoyable game, and a most definite and emphatic "Buy"!

For reviews, podcasts, and other gaming information, check out "Game On! with Cody and John" at http://www.gameonpodcast.com
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Matt Cross
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I pre-ordered this game and have yet to play it. Even though the rules are short and the dice placement sensible I still got the feeling the game was going to be a pain to teach; especially to my parents and other non-gamers who I was hoping the game was going to hit big with.

I don't get the impression you had this problem. Did you play with gamers? Was it just you and Cody? I'm interested to know how you experimented with the game.

 
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John Richard
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I've played this game several times now. To be honest, my first learning game was with my 6-year-old son. Surprisingly, he took to it pretty quickly, although he seemed pretty committed to making sure that he stayed the Sheriff every round!

I've played with Cody (who I guess is a gamer ), who also really likes the game. And, when I was on vacation, I played with my cousins (a couple in their late 30s and their 12-yr-old daughter), who are pretty much non-gamers, although the fact that they know me means that they inevitably get introduced to a few "gamer" games! None ofthem found the game to be difficult to learn. Sure, there were some questions, but by the 3rd round or so, they were really getting the hang of it! Plus, the rules for the game are written in a very straightforward manner, and even include cartoons to help explain the dice rolling steps.

So, in my opinion, I don't think you'll have any trouble. Let me know how it goes!
 
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Tim Royal
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Is this game interesting with two players, or does it need more players to really get the most out of it?

Some games support two players, but often they do so as a passing nod. Reading this, I'm not sure how to gauge its two player worthiness.

Thanks. Good review.

 
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Dean Rekich
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Lyndora
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I just played a 2 player game two nights ago and it really fell flat. It was playable, but not much fun. On the other hand, I have played both 3 and 4 player games, and the game is a blast with those numbers of players.
 
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John Richard
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It think it's decent with 2, although (like so many other games) it's better with more. With 2, it feels like you end up getting more of the rewards "by accident", rather than by actually trying to intentionally claim them. And, depending on how the dice roll, you might go a few rounds and only hand out a couple of the possible rewards. Also, the Sheriff role becomes rather useless, except for the last round, when both player will invariably try to get it to claim the 5 points.

I'd still recommend it with 2, but I agree that more players is better.
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Lawrence Lopez
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Great review!

I have found that kids (ages 7 - 13) love this game. It's light, colorful and fun. I also enjoy it quite a bit, although in small doses (you know, kids will want to play over and over). Dice town is very random, which gives adults a way to "play hard" and still not beat the kids.

I rate this very highly as a family game. Our copy has seen many plays, something I am sure will continue in the future.

With regards to two players - while it plays well-enough with two, it really shines with more. I'd consider many other two-player games before playing Dice Town.
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Derek Thompson
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Re: Dice Town - A "Game On!" Review
I thought it was quite fun with two. Kind of like a duel. Or those 1-on-1 all-in poker hands in Hold 'Em when that's all of the game they show on TV...
 
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