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Subject: Doodle Dice: Initial Impressions of a Cute Dice Game rss

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Grant Fikes
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Abilene
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I am a fan of games which combine luck and skill in such a fashion that a skilled player can increase his or her chances of winning by making the right decisions, but anybody can win if luck is on their side. These kinds of games can make good family games, because the uncertainty of the outcome makes things exciting even for less skilled players, while the skill present in the game rewards players for thinking. Doodle Dice has been on my wish list for a while, and having seen it at a local bookstore for $10, I decided to acquire it. Is it a game you should acquire? I hope to help you answer that question.

The components of the game are as follows:
* Instructions, in English and in Spanish. They're short and very easy to understand.
* Six dice, each with the same six symbols (an arch, a dash, a dot, a face, a slant, and a squiggle). The dice are larger than most dice (my eyeball estimate is that they are 2 centimeters to a side), but still small enough to be a choking hazard, so don't play this game with your three-month-old.
* One red plastic dice cup, in which to shake the dice before you roll them. It holds the dice nicely, with plenty of room to shake them and hear the sound of them bouncing off of each other and the cup before letting them roll on your table. However, if you're really sensitive to noise, like my mother is, you will absolutely hate this dice cup; use a Styrofoam cup instead, or add a felt lining to the plastic cup to lessen the noise.
* A deck of 65 cards. 60 of these cards are the "doodles" which you try to capture during the game, and 5 of them are action cards (3 Free Roll cards and 2 Block a Turn cards). The doodle cards come in six different colors. When I opened the box, I had an immediate issue with the deck: you can see the colors of the cards from the side. This is especially apparent when the cards are sorted by color as they are in a new copy of the game, but even with the deck shuffled, I could tell the color of the top card from viewing the deck from a slight angle. I had to stick the cards in card sleeves to prevent the temptation to cheat. I would recommend the manufacturer giving each card a white border to fix this. Other than that, the cards are good. The doodles are very cute, giving the game a visual appeal that children and even some adults will enjoy. If you're colorblind, the cards (at least in the edition I have) show what color they are at the bottom of the card, which is good since the colors of the cards are important. Each card's text also appears in English, Spanish, and French (even though the instructions aren't in French).

2 through 6 people can play. Start by selecting one doodle of each color. I do this by first stacking the cards face-up and rolling polyhedral dice. There are six orange cards, corresponding to doodles which only require one die, so I roll 1d6 and count that many orange cards from the bottom of the deck to pick the orange card. There are six red cards (two dice), so I roll 1d6 for those, too. There are ten yellow cards (three dice), so I roll 1d10, counting a 0 as 10. For the twelve green cards (four dice) and the twelve blue cards (five dice), 1d12 suffices. Finally, there are fourteen purple cards (doodles which require all six dice); I roll 1d20 until I get a number lower than 15. These six doodle cards are set aside face-up, and form the "gallery". The remaining 59 cards are then shuffled to form the draw pile; select who will go first, and play begins.

Your objective is to collect one card of each color. On your turn, you draw the top card from the draw pile. (Failure to do so before rolling the dice results in the forfeiture of your turn.) If it's a doodle, you add it to the gallery. If it's an action card, you keep it to save for later use, and continue drawing cards until you get a doodle for the gallery. Then you roll the dice. You may roll the dice up to three times per turn, and you may keep any dice you'd like between rolls while re-rolling the rest (Yahtzee veterans should have no trouble at all learning this game mechanic). You may then select a card from the gallery whose doodle corresponds to dice that you have (for example, the blue card Volcano requires four slants and one squiggle) and add it to your collection. If there are no cards you can claim, you get nothing. You may only have one card of a single color in your collection at any time, so once you've claimed an orange card, you may not claim another orange card (unless someone else steals your orange card).

Yes, there is stealing in this game. To attempt to steal someone else's card, you announce your intention to steal that card before drawing a card from the draw pile. After drawing and adding to the gallery as usual, you get three rolls with which to match that doodle; success means you can steal the card, while failure means you get nothing. Usually, there is more flexibility if you try to take a card from the gallery (which always has at least seven cards) than if you try to steal an opponent's card.

As mentioned above, there are five action cards in the deck. Three of them are Free Roll cards, which can be used once during the game at any time that you've used your three rolls to get an extra roll of the dice; two of them are Block a Turn cards, which can be used once during the game at any time before an opponent's turn to make them skip that turn.

I've only played two-player games so far; usually, a game lasts 20 to 30 minutes. The main reason the game lasts this long is that green, blue, and especially purple cards are hard to get. Even as the gallery grows, giving you several purple cards to choose from and somewhat increasing your chances of getting one of them, you'll still have a hard time adding purple to your collection. In the game I played today, no purple cards were claimed until the end of the game, when eight purples were in the gallery, and I was lucky enough to score Rub-a-Dub-Dub (three faces, two arches, and a dash), completing my collection and giving me the win.

Stealing is, in my experience, very rare. As mentioned before, going for the gallery almost always gives you more flexibility; however, the color you may need might not be in the gallery, giving you no choice but to try to steal from an opponent. Stealing can also be used to impede the progress of an opponent who has five colors, so I do worry somewhat that a game could drag on for a long time due to back-and-forth stealing. For example, suppose it's my turn, and I have yellow, green, blue, and purple, while you have all of those colors plus red. If I don't steal your red, you'll almost certainly win on the next turn, since you have over a 96% chance of being able to take any particular orange, but then if I steal it, you'll be in the same position as I was, and be strategically motivated to steal the red back from me, and the game will essentially continue like this until one person either fails to steal the red or gets a Block a Turn and blocks the opponent to get two turns in a row and capture both red and orange. Another BGG user, who played Doodle Dice with larger groups than I've yet had the opportunity to, says, "The games drag on because of stealing, and last time half the group wandered away before the end -- never a good sign." I've only played two-player games, where there has rarely been incentive to steal (the aforementioned hypothetical situation has never occurred), but if multiplayer games end up being too long-winded because of stealing, perhaps a house rule, such as you can't attempt to steal if you successfully stole on your previous turn, would help the game terminate sooner.

Overall, my first impression is that Doodle Dice is a great game for gamers who aren't immediately turned off by dice-throwing games that are brimming with luck. The components of the game are very cute and charming, and the game is easy to pick up and learn how to play, yet the game is not without tough and important decisions, nor is it lacking in suspense. The action cards can be helpful, but aren't usually game-breaking (which is good, since whether you get them or not is determined completely by the luck of the draw). I hope to play with more than two players sometime soon, and report my findings on how well it plays here on BGG.
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