Regular readers (and there is such a thing) will know that one of my favourite games is the criminally underrated Lords of Vegas. It’s a great game, really capturing the birth of the City of Sin as you and your fellow players attempt to create your own casinos while merging into and taking over others. Of course, the entire thing is driven by dice, precisely the engine you would expect in a game built around the home of gambling, as someone who loves the randomness that they bring to a game, I’ll happily sit down and play most things where they’re in the box.
Last week a copy of Rudiger Dorn’s 2012 release Las Vegas dropped onto my doorstep, and again it’s a box that’s full to the brim with six-siders. Now, while it may not be as thematically impressive as Lords, it still hits the required areas of seeing plenty of dice rolling and getting yourself lots of money, and has hit our tabletop pretty regularly thanks to a combination of push your luck and important decision making. I actually first played it at last year’s Spiel with two Germans and a French guy, none of whom spoke a word of English, but thanks to some basic language skills and some high quality gesturing, I got that hang of it pretty quickly.
Over the course of four rounds, players are looking to accrue the most money, with the highest total at the end of play declared the winner. Six tiles, each one representing a non-copyright infringing but rather familiar looking casino and numbered from one to six, are laid out between the players. Cards are then laid out by these tiles, each with a monetary value from $10,000 all the way up to $90,000, with a minimum of $50K required for each casino. In other words, if the first card you dealt out for a tile was worth $40,000, you add a second card immediately.
It’s then time for dice rolling, with the players initially taking eight of their own colour and two neutral white dice in hand, then hurling them with wreckless abandon on the table. They’re then grouped by value – all the ones together, the twos, etc. – and a decision must then be made. All of the dice of a single value, whether they’re in your own colour or white, must be placed on the corresponding casino tile. Your final aim, after everyone’s dice have been put into play, is to have the single highest amount of dice on a tile, as doing so allows you to take the money card for that round.
It’s here where the decision making part of the game comes in. Sure, there may be a middling card on one casino, but do you want to throw away half of your dice so early on in the round to almost guaranteeing that you’ll get it? What happens if later on another player ends up bettering your total, leaving you with nothing to show for your early investment? As dice have to be added to tiles every single time you roll, there’s always a danger that they could end up utterly useless. Such are the vagaries of chance!
As in the city itself, the underdog is always in with a chance, even if they’re down to their final dice. You see, it’s all about having the single highest amount of dice, meaning that if a situation arises where a couple of players both have three or four dice on a tile, you can sneak in and steal the cash with only one sat there. It’s even funnier when you manage to take the card by adding white dice – they almost act as a virtual fifth player, screwing up the plans of the real people sat at the table, so never underestimate their strength until they’ve all been placed.
When the round is done and the cards are doled out, you’ll generally find that each casino will only have one to be claimed. However, in the case of those that have multiple cards, there can actually be more than one winner, as long as their total amount of dice doesn’t equal anyone else’s. A recent game I played had three cards up for grabs, where two $20,000s were followed up with a very appealing $80,000, ending up in a frenzy of dice being thrown to the claim pile – six, four and three in the end. Still, at least everyone left that casino with some money in their pocket. It’s quite easy to be stitched up by the white player and end up penniless.
Despite its initial simplicity, I’ve grown to really quite like Las Vegas. With the opportunity to make decisions in the game being somewhat limited by what you roll, it’s a perfect game to fill a half hour gap or to round out an evening. You don’t have to put a huge amount of thought into the game because most of the options are taken out of your hands – just roll the dice, see what will bring in the most potential money while reacting to what others have done, then allow play to move on. While there’s pretty much zero interaction in the actual game, you’ll find yourself willing others to roll badly, or curse them openly when a particularly valuable casino falls straight into their laps – the metagame in this one is great.
From a production standpoint… well, it’s hard to screw up dice and cards, and Ravensburger have done their usual job of providing solid components throughout. The casino tiles are of a decent thickness, the cards are grand, the dice are pretty standard – but really, Las Vegas isn’t about the bits and pieces. Your focus should be on that next turn and hoping, praying, that you roll just enough to claim the big money. After all, too many dice on a tile is wasteful, and a good gambler never wants to overpay.
Las Vegas was designed by Rudiger Dorn and released through Ravensburger in 2012. Nominated for the 2012 Spiel des Jahres, between two and five can play (though I think it’s better at the higher end, four or five is best) with games taking about 20-30 minutes. Copies can be grabbed for around £18 from Gameslore, so go pay them a visit! Oh, and if you fancy checking out the first Little Metal Television video that looks at Las Vegas, behold!