World In Motion – Fußball-Fieber review

FF Box

When I was a kid, I didn’t have a lot of time for football. Don’t get me wrong – I knew of it and read an awful lot of Roy of the Rovers comics round my friend Lee’s house. I recall there was an ace story when the titular Roy led his remaining teammates to freedom after being kidnapped by some people in some unnamed land, and that was after they’d all been involved a major plane crash that killed most of the team. The actual playing of the game though? Not really that interested, especially when Roy Race was shot by a mystery assailant and people were trying to find out whodunnit.

Another reason I didn’t like actually playing: I always ended up in goal which was awful because (a) I had a terrifying fear of getting a ball to the face which would smash my glasses and (b) if you were in goal, you’d been picked last, and I was always picked last because I was bloody awful at the game, mainly down to (a). I still am, and that’s probably down to me ending up in the library instead of on the playground as much as I could. There was one time of year though, a time when I totally threw myself into the game – perhaps not playing, but definitely hanging around the people who knew everything about the sport. Those three or four weeks leading up to the start of the new season were great because all of the football magazines like Shoot! and Match gave away League Ladders.

I had this. I HAD THIS.

I had this. I HAD THIS.

I didn’t give a damn about their proper use – no tracking the ups and downs of a season for me! Instead, I would waste hours (and I mean waste them) playing a ridiculous game where, using all of the printed team banners, I would enact imaginary knockout competitions. Drawing sixty-four teams from a tin, a mix of Scottish and English club sides involved in a cup competition that even now would never exist in real life, I would write them all carefully down in a notebook then roll a six-sided dice to see what the score would be. The winner would progress, the loser returned to the tin, and I’d keep going on and on until there was a winner. Ludicrous match ups would occur, with minnows like Alloa taking down the then all-powerful Liverpool down in a 6-4 thriller. I found one of the notebooks the last time I was back home and shook my head at the stuff I got up to as a kid.

Now, I play ‘proper’ games. Now I waste my hours in a much more productive way, and while I never truly fell for football like so many of my friends did, I’ve certainly got much more of an appreciation for the game, especially when the World Cup is doing its thing. Of course, at the time of writing we’re right in the middle of the 2014 event and Brazil is showing the world how to expertly ignore near countrywide poverty in order to spend all the money on hosting a tournament. Meanwhile, I have gone into my biannual obsessive mode, keeping an eye on stats and numbers and watching as many matches as possible.

And then there are the games – tabletop ones, I mean. Of course, translating any sport to home play is a nightmare at best – generally you’ll find that designers will take the more abstract route with a lot of dice rolling or almost ignore the sporting aspect totally and take a more business type approach (see another game of my childhood called Soccerama). I recently received a copy of Fußball-Fieber from the designer, Pierre Viau, and rather than go down one of these well trodden paths, it’s doing something rather different as well as inspiring a few wanders back to the past – hence the rather rambling nature of this write up.

A quick to play card game that emulates this year’s World Cup, you choose a team from the thirty-two qualifiers and attempt to guide them through the group stages of the event. While there are rules to play through an entire tournament, the focus of the game is just those first three matches that can make or break a country’s spirit – see England’s performances this time around, wiped out after two matches.

Two Player game in progress - thanks to Pierre Viau for the image!

Two Player game in progress – thanks to Pierre Viau for the image!

All teams are graded – the likes of Germany and Brazil getting 4s, the smaller teams such as Australia and Honduras only 1s – and also split into three sets: A, B and C, just to ensure that things will be nicely mixed up. There’s a little bit of handicapping to ensure that all selected sides are equal and then each player is then dealt their own group – the three teams that they will face – as well as a card saying in which order they’ll take them on. Actual Groups of Death can take place which is hilarious where only one player is dealing with some monster teams while everyone else is just facing the likes of Spain (topical reference!).  Next up, you’ll receive a card that tucks in underneath your chosen Country that will be used to show your score.

Last, and most vital, are the cards that you’ll use to get yourself through these three matches. Despite them all being in German, they’re very simple to understand thanks to lovely, intelligent design decisions – cards that effect other cards have the same images printed on them, for example – and your main focus will be on the modifier in the top right corner. Playing a card on your current match (or on any other player’s, as all they all take place at the same time) though in general you’ll be looking to add good ones to your game, bad ones to everybody else’s.

So far, so simple. Of course, there has to be a twist to make things a little more meaty, and in Fußball-Fieber it’s all about limitation. You see, you only get eight cards to get through the whole group stage. Admittedly, you do have to +1 Jokers that bring that hand up to ten in total, but those eight randomly dealt cards will be all that stands between you and qualification.

Play is also very simple. Each time the turn comes round to you, you either play a card from your hand or choose to pass. Playing is as mentioned, just putting a card on your current game or that of another one in progress, then having the affected player slide their score card up or down depending on the modifier. Passing, surprise, sees you skip out for that turn, but you can jump back in if play gets back to you. The match only ends when all players sat at the table decide to pass, bringing that round of matches to a close.

Scores are checked, results noted (3 points for a win, 1 for a draw, nothing for losing – don’t forget the goal difference, that can get quite important) and play goes on to the next match. Before that starts, you may choose to discard two of your cards in order to draw a couple of new ones, just to perhaps open up your options a little. Of course, by that point you may not have the cards to trade in as you might have used them all during your first match – it’s very easy to get involved in what’s essentially a war of attrition with another player, throwing cards at each other and then ending up in a 0-0 draw. Like any shrewd international manager, you must decide what is best for your team at that moment in time. Do you sacrifice a win in order to let someone else spend another of those valuable cards so you can turn the tables on them in an upcoming fixture? Or do you answer their attack , playing a card now but potentially leaving yourself open to getting truly stuffed later down the line?

For such a small, quick game, there are a surprising amount of tricky decisions to make. As the three matches progress, you’ll be looking at the points that have been racked up (along with that goal difference) and having to react to that as well as what’s happening right in front of you on the field of play. Add in the rather ingenious idea of some cards hanging around, causing you misery and requiring multiple plays to get rid of them and their undoubtedly heavy penalty and you’ll have a game that makes for a very enjoyable half an hour.

Problems? Well, it’s only available in German, but the English rules translation is excellent and freely available. You could use a crib sheet, I suppose, but with each card represented by clear imagery I don’t really see it as entirely necessary. In all honesty, my only major issue with Fußball-Fieber is the art which is… well, it’s rather special. I realize that licensing the kits and everything would’ve made the game prohibitively expensive – after all, FIFA do like to take their cut – but some of the shirts that the artist has come up with are a wretched sight. The worst thing is undoubtedly the players themselves though, who look like they’ve escaped from an early nineties copy of Guess Who; they would be better served staring at you from an identikit photo on the evening news of a hunted criminal.

Regardless, this is a bloody charming – and occasionally surprisingly cutthroat – little game. It may be a pain to get your hands on it but I’d suggest grabbing a copy from Amazon.de if you’re in the market for a speedy, accessible filler. There are also rules in the box to play out a full tournament, but I think it’s best to keep this one short and sweet. In fact, I’d suggest that this would work great with a younger audience, especially if they’re hitting that football mad period that all kids seem to experience. For me though, I enjoyed playing Fußball-Fieber, not just because it’s a splendid little game, but because it brought me on a journey back to some happy memories of my childhood. Might have to hit up eBay now and see if I can find some League Ladders…

Fußball-Fieber was designed by Pierre Viau and published by Kosmos in 2014. Between two and four can play with games taking around half an hour. Copies of the game can be picked up from your friendly local game store (in Germany) or from Amazon.de for a mere €7 – get one in before the final!

 

 

 

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Strangers on a Train – 27th Passenger: A Hunt on Rails review

27th Passenger

Talk to anyone about deduction games and they’ll generally mention one game in the first minute of you bringing it up: Cluedo (or Clue if you’re over there in the US). Undoubtedly the grandaddy of the genre, it’s very similar to Monopoly in that despite everyone knowing about it, not many people could sit you down and explain the rules correctly. All I remember from the last time I played was that it went on for far too long, no-one really knew what was happening and the whole experience fell flat – and that was with a group of decently-skilled gamers. I feel that the genre is much better represented by Days of Wonder’s much underrated release from 2010, Mystery Express, but not many other games manage to equal that – until now…

27th Passenger: A Hunt On Rails, an upcoming release from Purple Games, manages to capture all the fun of a deduction game but adds in a few more elements that make it feel a lot more relevant and modern. Where many other games will see you trying to work out a mystery by eliminating clues, 27th Passenger flips things around by involving everyone sat around the table – you may be hunting down a killer, but you’re also being hunted. The story starts in New York’s busy Manhattan with a group of skilled assassins boarding a train. By the time it pulls into its final destination of Staten Island, only one will remain standing. Ladies and gents, we are finally looking at something I’ve dreamt of for some time – Highlander, the card game. There can be only one and you have inside you blood of kings!

Elimination is the aim of the game – wipe out the other killers on board before they get you. At the start of play, everyone is given a Role Card that represents one of the twenty-seven passengers on board the train alongside a sheet that details all of the characters. Each character has three defining elements that your opponents will be trying to work out as the journey goes on – the sound of your voice, your manner of dress and your scent (seriously, how your character smells is important – stay with us though, it’s worth it). Each of these have three options; the voices, for instance, are either Shrill, Soft or Deep, so each character will have their own unique combination and if you’ve done the maths, you’ll see that’s why there’s twenty-seven people starting this journey. Each round people will get off the train, bringing the amount of passengers down and slowly knocking out potential suspects. Of course, the further the train goes, the fewer people on board and the more likely it’ll be that the finger – or in this case, the barrel of a gun – gets pointed at you.

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As you get further into the journey, more passengers alight from the train. The first pile on the left can be checked out, but the others are locked until they slide off the board to the right. Then they’re open information for all to check off their sheets…

A single Event card is turned face up at the beginning of every round, skewing the rules a little to keep things fresh – you may not be allowed to wear disguises, for example, or look through the Passenger deck. On top of that you’re given a couple of Skill cards before you begin the game that offer unique abilities – discard them at the right time and you could well give yourself something of an advantage. Players also receive a randomly dealt Initiative card (which decides order of play) and a set of the same Action Cards, one of which will be chosen each round and played out in a specific order.

Each event card skews the rules in some way, so prepare yourself for plenty of changes during the game.

Each Event Card skews the rules in some way, so prepare yourself for plenty of changes during the game.

First of all, Investigation cards are revealed; these allow a player to question someone else on one aspect of their appearance. To do this in the most secretive way possible, a selection of cards are available for each characteristic and one is (truthfully!) handed back to the questioner. For example, I may ask someone how they’re dressed then be handed the ‘Eccentric’ card – I then get to secretly mark this detail on my crib sheet, put the card back (shuffling the deck so no-one can work out what I was handed later) and play moves on. One thing to consider though – Investigations can be blocked through the use of Disguise Cards that can be picked up throughout the game or a Deception Action, so be ready to use your Tail After or Pursuit cards! These are one-off versions of the Investigations that must be discarded after use, but they’re incredibly useful to steamroll details out of someone who thinks they’ve been clever by playing a card they thought would protect them.

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These are the Action Cards you’ll use. With everything depicted through icons, it becomes pretty simple to play once you get to know the images. The red cross on a card signifies a ‘play once and discard’.

Next up is the Assassinate card, but choosing this is a very big deal especially early on in the game. Playing this card lets a player state a Character who, if they’re being controlled by ANY player, is immediately killed and thrown out of the game. This is particularly entertaining if you’ve meticulously scribbled down all the details, accuse someone of being a certain Character and it turns out to be the player two people down from them… Regardless, if that Character is sat at the table, they are killed and must reveal themselves. Of course, you could be incorrect and have murdered a hapless innocent, in which case YOU have revealed yourself as a filthy killer! You are seized and flung from the train into the East River, never to be seen again. Like I said, choosing this card is quite the deal. Select it wisely!

Third on the list is Scheming. This is a great way of getting a lot of information in one go as not only do you get to look at the passengers who alighted at the previous station, you also get to check out the top card of the deck (representing the people who are still on board) and either leave it on top or tuck it back on the bottom, meaning that you’ve essentially spooked them into staying until the end of the ride and are keeping the potential options as to who the killers are that little bit wider. Fourth and final is the previously mentioned Deception, which you must choose to reveal if someone decides to investigate you, allowing you to get away with not giving up any details… for now. If no-one chooses to check you out, you can instead take a couple of Disguises (keeping just one) so it’s far from a wasted action.

Though requiring a lot of thought and attention, play zips along like nobody’s business. There’s a little bookkeeping at the start of each round as the train gets closer to its destination and more passengers get off, but 27th Passenger plays more like a party game than anything else. The sense of tension is high in the air, and though early rounds are filled with cautious play, lots of sage nodding and the occasional “hmmmm, I thought that was the case” followed by much secretive scribbling, the game often turns into a bloodbath after the first assassin is discovered. There’s been this glorious tipping point in every game I’ve played where, once that first kill was made (either through clever questioning or the stupidity of one of the assassins revealing themselves by offing an innocent), the other player deaths come thick and fast. As the game is played out over a limited number of rounds, the player elimination aspect doesn’t really matter that much as it often won’t be too long before the game ends and you can get back in for another go.

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With each passenger having their own unique combination of characteristics, you should be able to work out some of your opponents pretty quickly. The problem is that they’re doing the same with you…

I really liked many elements of 27th Passenger, but one of the most entertaining was the final round – you see, there must be a winner, a single superior killer that stands tall, walking into the Staten Island sunset with their head held high, knowing that they’re the best in the business. Or the only one in the business, at least, what with the competition sat in pools of their own blood back in the carriage. Should the train get to the final station, all players MUST choose Assassination with the potential kills played out using the Initiative cards that decide order of play throughout the game. Sure, it may be deemed unfair by some if they have all the information they need to make a kill but essentially have to wait in line while someone else makes their own decision, but let’s go back to Cosmic Encounter designer Peter Olotka’s excellent quote: “Fair isn’t fun”. This is a party game, a surprisingly tricky but ultimately entertaining soufflé of a thing, and if you’re going to get pissed at someone because they get to go before you… well, perhaps 27th Passenger isn’t for you. Or any game, in fact.

And now you get to subtly tell that guy who thinks that showers are only for special occasions that you think he smells foul!

If there was ever a game that was ripe for table talk and plenty of trashing, it’s 27th Passenger.

Being a prototype, I can’t really comment on the quality of production but the art is all complete and is fine throughout – not incredible or world-changing, but functional and it does its job. Using only symbols can be a tricky thing to pull off in a game so the designers have decided to use a system that combines them with simple written instructions too, just so you know when you should be using them during which parts of the round. This can take a little while to get used to – early plays of the game with various people I know had a fair bit of ‘when can I use this card’ cropping up – but once players have a grasp on how things function the game speeds along at a decent rate with accusations and trash talk flying around the table. Yes, an analytical mind will invariably do well with 27th Passenger but a chatty player who prefers to throw themselves into the spirit of the thing will have a lot more fun. That’s not to say A Hunt On Rails isn’t a challenge – just that focusing just on the numbers is only a small part of the experience.

27th Passenger, A Hunt On Rails will be running on Kickstarter later in the year. For more information on Purple Games, please check out their site and keep an eye on their Facebook for upcoming news on the game. Seriously, you’ll want a copy of this one!

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Episode 78 – After The Hiatus!

Hey everyone! It’s been a little while, but The Little Metal Dog Show is back with a blast of an episode! First of all, it’s the glorious return of gaming’s most splendid and naughtiest chap, Tony Boydell! Following the fantastic success of his beautiful game Snowdonia, he’s back with a new release that will tug at the nostalgia glands of plenty of gamers of a certain age: Ivor The Engine. Recorded prior to the 2014 UK Games Expo, we discuss the game itself and ramble off into many (and I mean MANY) topics. After that, something of an exclusive for LMDS when I get to sit down and speak with one of the most powerful men in gaming, Christian Petersen. Not only is he a highly talented designer (with games like Twilight Imperium and Game of Thrones under his belt), he also happens to be the founding owner of a little company called Fantasy Flight Games. We talk LCGs, the history of the company, Kickstarter and the possibility of an FFG Theme Park (NOTE: THIS IS NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN). It was fantastic to meet Christian in the flesh – he’s a great chap and I think that really comes through in our talk!

As always, thank you for listening. Episode 79 will be with you later in the week with another pair of big name interviews: Z-Man’s own Zev Shlasinger and Justin Ziran, President of WizKids! Be sure to check it out!

Links:

Direct Download the new episode from here! - http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/8nqxuh/LMDS_Episode_78.mp3

Surprised Stare’s Site! Get your Ivor here! - http://surprisedstaregames.co.uk/

Tony Boydell’s rather odd blog on BGG - http://boardgamegeek.com/blog/344

Fantasy Flight’s Site - http://www.fantasyflightgames.com/

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Cartoon Heroes – Marvel Dice Masters Review, Part 2!

MDM Box

With two of the writers on LMDS having checked out Marvel Dice Masters already – and the opinion not being too hot (or in Michael’s case, pretty negative) we thought it only fair for Stuart to give his Judge-ly view as well. Take it away, champ!

I am conflicted.  So much of the new Board Game Geek hotness – Marvel Dice Masters : Avengers vs X-Men should leave me cold.  Firstly, its based on Quarriors (and designed by the same team), which is OK I suppose, but not exactly anything that excites me.  Secondarily – luck plays a major part in winning or losing, to the point that almost regardless of how carefully and skillfully developed and executed your plan may be, if the dice fail you then you’re probably going to lose.  Thirdly, the game adopts the blind purchase / collectable model – something I have, for many years, been vocally against – particularly in Magic: The Gathering – decrying the system as nothing more than a money-sink for the weak of mind and heavy of pocket.

So tell me (and hopefully this review will aid me in resolving this conflict) why is Marvel Dice Masters the last thing I think of at night, the first thing in the morning, and is currently dominating many of my waking hours struggling with possible teams, combos and strategies?  (Sorry Netty! my long suffering girlfriend – I do think about you too…)

Marvel Dice Masters is an game that combines the deck building with dice from Quarriors (and before that Dominion) with MTG style duels.  Players draw and roll dice from a bag to generate power which they spend to recruit super heroes (represented via other dice) which go into the bag for drawing later.  Those heroes are fielded (or summoned) and can then be sent out to attack, either to be blocked by other super heroes / super villians or do damage directly to the controller.  If that players’ life reaches zero, then they are defeated!  Sounds simple?  Well, frankly it is.  The fun and nuance comes in the details and the theming.

Cards on the table (PUN OF THE DAY!): I’m a modern Marvel fan, triggered by the movies rather than any love of graphic novels.  That said, many of the characters here will be familiar to fans of the last 15 years of Marvel cinema.  Only a few required a bit of wiki-googling to get a grip on their back story and unique powers – and its those powers that are thematically rendered into the different characters’ make up.  For instance, Wolverine (represented by a classy yellow dice with familiar three bladed insignia) has special abilities when attacking alone – a lone wolf indeed.  Mr Fantastic, the stretchy one from the Fantastic Four for the uninitiated, can expand himself to block several attackers at once.  All very nice, clean and (most importantly) thematic.

So, lets explore my biases that should drive me from this game / lifestyle choice like Spiderman from a rolled up newspaper.

* This is just Quarriors?  Well, yes and (perhaps most importantly) no.  In MDM you bring your own set of heroes to the table that only you can purchase – providing a customisation that the original game lacks.  Also, the combat system is much more satisfying and creates a strong sense of commanding your own destiny whereas whether your creatures lived or died in Quarriors seemed almost arbitrary.

* Are you feeling lucky?  Yes, this is a niggle at the back of my mind.  I have been dice screwed before and my perfect plan was foiled by my Green Goblin rolling poorly right at the end, but somehow I’m having enough fun, and the playtime (10-15 minutes once up to speed) is so fast and breezy that the wild swings of luck don’t bother me as much as other, deeper and most importantly, longer games.

* Blind purchase model?  Are you mad?  Well….. perhaps.  The low price of entry to the boosters – just £1 for two cards and two dice – is just at the right level for me not to mind getting the odd duplicate (swapsies anyone?) and instead revels in all the fun that we had as kids opening pack after pack of Panini stickers looking for Bryan Robson…  Damn him and his elusive curly mop-top!  Anyway… I totally understand this being a turn-off for some people, but the fact that you only the cards have a rareness (Common / Uncommon / Rare / Ultra Rare) and you only need 1 card to field that character (and typically up to 4 dice – but those are evenly distributed throughout the boosters) in addition to access to the secondary market to fill out the collections, this feels like it takes the fun of opening a pack and not knowing what you’ll get, without the grind and huge money sink needed to ‘catch ‘em all.’

So, I’ve fallen pretty hard, right down this rabbit hole.  I’ve had play mats printed, special dice bags delivered, and several ‘Hobbycraft’ bead boxes to store all my dice.  You don’t need to follow me on this path.  A £13 investment gets you everything you need for two people to play the base game.  Now, it may be the drugs talking, but I ask you to put aside the reservations and biases that you may have formed about this game from the hype and just try it.  So much thematic, fast, dice rolling fun – with enough depth to warrant multiple plays means that MDM has found itself a place on my shelf, in my heart, and throughout my upper cortex…

Now… would Human Torch combo with Hulk?

Never let it be said that Little Metal Dog isn’t fair! That seems to be a whole range of opinions on Marvel Dice Masters, which is meant to be available now – however, it’s VERY hard to find a copy and it’ll be a while until it’s here in the UK in numbers. The base set will cost you around £13 (if you can find it at RRP) while boosters – as mentioned by The Judge – are a single quid.  

 

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Superheroes – Marvel Dice Masters review

MDM BoxLucky ducks that we are, Little Metal Dog recently received a copy of the base set for Marvel Dice Masters to review. Seemingly now as hard to get as hen’s teeth garnishing a pile of rocking horse poop, we thought that both Michael and Emma should check it out. And so we did! Emma, take it away…

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So this is Marvel Dice Masters: Avengers vs. X-Men. Or possibly Marvel Avengers vs. X-Men Dice Masters, depending on how you read the box and understand English. It seems to have gripped the gaming community to a fairly breathtaking extent, so you already probably know all about it, but just in case you’ve only just got Internet signal back after some kind of catastrophic router failure, here’s a rundown. In MDM:AvXM/MAvXMDM, you have a selection of custom dice representing Marvel characters, nameless sidekicks and actions, each with its own ability cards to contain all the text you can’t fit on tiny dice. You take out a handful, roll them, use them to buy new dice, eventually use some of them to field powerful heroes, and use them to attack your opponent (just the one, this is strictly a two-player experience) until one of you stands victorious. Now, if you’re thinking this sounds more or less exactly like Quarriors, then you’re pretty much right: MDM (let’s go with that for now) is published by WizKids (who published Quarriors), is designed by Mike Elliot and Eric Lang (who designed Quarriors), and consists of hundreds of tiny customised dice and a poorly-defined play area (like some other game I could mention whose name I’ve forgotten for the minute).

Of course, I say hundreds of dice – the basic set only has 44, and all the rest are available as blind-bag random booster packs (or so I’m informed – I can’t actually find any for love nor money). If your rampant-money-gouging sense is tingling here, it’s probably warranted – despite WizKids insisting that the game is perfectly playable with just the starter set, we tabletop gamers tend to be, as a rule, rabid completists and hoarders, so they’ll probably make a huge amount out of people trying to get every card in the set, and the blind-bag model means that the cost of this could quickly spiral out of all proportion. This model wouldn’t make it feel like a bit of a rip-off on its own (at least not to me – I grew up on Magic: the Gathering and am a massive sucker for collectible games), but compared with the fairly low production costs of the game, it does begin to feel like WizKids are putting their profit margins before everything else – the cardstock is light and weak-feeling, the printing on some of the dice is frankly awful, and the less said about the horrible wax-paper envelopes they refer to as ‘dice bags’ the better. Also, after you’ve got through the tutorial game and start looking at some of the deckbuilding variants, you begin to realise that the starter set is totally playable on its own, but only if both players have one – played according to the printed rules, one starter set doesn’t let players have over eight dice each (out of a maximum 20) – this determines your maximum life points as well, which makes for just ridiculously short games.

Anyway, enough about dodgy business practices – how’s the game? To be honest, I’m not sure – it’s growing on me at the moment, but I’m still aware of its many faults. The rulebook is practically unreadable, packed with interminable amounts of tiny text, and it feels at times like they just took Quarriors, took away all the mechanical tweaks that made it different from M:tG, and replaced them with ones unashamedly lifted from it. This makes it a little questionable as a deckbuilder – I was particularly bemused by the lack of opportunities for deck optimisation, as there’s no way to remove dice from your bag to streamline it – but after a few plays, I began to see my problem with it. It isn’t a boardgame. Sure, some of you are probably saying “Well yeah, it hasn’t got a board,” but that isn’t the thing. Lots of boardgames don’t have boards. Quarriors doesn’t have a board and is mechanically identical in many ways to MDM, but it’s still a boardgame. With its mechanics and sales model, as well as just in overall feel, MDM is definitely more of a CCG, but one that’s being marketed to a boardgaming audience, which I think explains a lot of the disappointment people have been feeling about it. Taken as a CCG, however, it’s pretty solid: with at least three variants on each character, there’s a lot of scope for strategy once you’ve got enough dice to play with sensible life totals, and there are so many cool power interactions (even just in the starter box) to satisfy inveterate combo players like me.

So, should you buy it? I’m going to have to give you a resounding “Maybe.” here. If you’re an M:tG fan with an interest in light deckbuilding and rolling huge numbers of dice, then you’re pretty much me, and should look into it, while being aware that the surprisingly low price on the starter box is not how much this game will cost you, as in that form it will not satisfy you. It might look like cheap Quarriors, but the average tabletop gamer will probably get a lot more out of the later, despite the comparatively steep price. Marvel Dice Masters: it’s good, but don’t believe the hype.

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MDM Starter Set with empty biscuit wrappers – M. Fox, 2014

And now it’s time for me (that’s Michael, by the way). I’ve got to say that I’m not as forgiving as Emma was – Marvel Dice Masters to me was pretty disappointing. I’m a big fan of Quarriors, maybe not as much as I used to be, but I’m happy to sit down and play whenever someone breaks out a copy. Whenever someone new stumbles across Quarriors, it’s a lovely thing to see – the excitement over the fistfuls of dice, the surprisingly complex gameplay hidden beneath the cutesy vibe of the thing – and I was hoping that I’d be getting the same thing from MDM. On getting my hands on the base set I experienced the same feelings myself, probably combined with the hype that surrounded… and then I sat down to play the thing.

Or at least I tried to. Where Quarriors originally had a rulebook that was rather vague and needed the occasional house ruling, MDM heads to the other extreme. I can see why they’ve included a terrifyingly detailed set of rules in that small package, of course; the game is being aimed at the tournament play market where rulings are broken down to an infinitesimally small degree and a single word on a card can be argued over for hours. Rather than the joy and relatively light play that you get from Quarriors, MDM presents itself as something for the hardcore from the moment you open the box.

(On writing, I realise I’ve mentioned the Q word four times in two paragraphs. No more from here on, promise – MDM deserves to be analysed independently of its predecessor.)

MDM feels like a Serious Dice Game For Nerds and while that sounds utterly amazing I just don’t reckon it lives up to the hype. This is two large superhero groups smashing into each other. This is broken bones, blood spilled, buildings destroyed; this is  Wolverine punching Cyclops in the face, represented by a selection of smaller than average dice. I think what I’m trying to get at is that you just don’t get the big screen feeling that this kind of story deserves. If you’ve seen it, think of those last thirty minutes of the first Avengers movie that came out in 2012; call up that bombastic style again, just remember the power of each frame… and then look at Marvel Dice Masters. It just doesn’t match up for me.

Underneath the whole thing, there’s a solid enough game, sure – but it’s a game that I’ve already played that I just don’t feel works in this environment. That whole ‘Oh, I’ve knocked you down to zero health’ thing just doesn’t seem right to me; thematically it’s just a bit dull. I’ve seen that many people are getting into it, but I think that I’m going to be leaving MDM behind. I appreciate that the designers have tried to answer every possible question that MDM could possibly create, but in doing so they’ve surgically removed the frivolity in a bid to enter the collectable game market. Fun, it feels, has been traded in for a cash grab – and seeing the amount of demand for the product, Marvel Dice Masters is going to pull in a fair bit of it. Just wait until they expand it yet further, adding in more characters including all of those supervillains… the Marvel Universe isn’t exactly small, and there’s a lot of potential for tie-ins. Guardians of the Galaxy in the summer, anyone?

Emma already brought up the production value thing, but yeah… I’ve got to mention the slightly meh dice and those bloody awful excuses for dice bags (seriously, Wizkids? You couldn’t front an extra few cents for a couple of actual bags?). At least the art on the cards is excellent, with some of Marvel’s finest in recent years represented amongst those whose work is used. For me though, Marvel Dice Masters will be left on the shelf. If I want to get the dice-building experience, well… you know what I’ll be playing.

Marvel Dice Masters will set you back around £13 for the starter set, with booster packs priced at around £3 if you’re into all that rare-chasing stuff. Designed by Mike Elliot and Eric M. Lang, it was published by WizKids in 2014 and is only for two players (at the moment, anyway). Shipments should be coming to the rest of the world (ie: not the USA) soon, but for now, if you want a copy expect to pay something of a premium. If you’d like to check out a more positive look at the game, here’s The Judge’s opinion!

 

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