The Judge returns and delves into one of his passions – the humble dice – in a two for one review of Castle Dice and Dungeon Roll! Which will come out supreme? Read on and discover for yourself…
I love dice. There is something inherently satisfying about the tactile crash of tumbling cubes and your fate, perhaps your very (game) existence being decided by these tiny, pipped objects. From the ‘bucket of dice’ approach of the Warhammer’s of this world, to the more cultured Feldian approach of clever action selection, dice are very much a part of our gaming landscape – now making something of a comeback after having been very unfashionable during early part of the Euro revolution.
Today I look at two new, kickstarted games that take well-worn gaming tropes – building a castle and delving a dungeon – and simulate the process through the rolling of lovely cubes of plastic. How successful are they? Well…..
Castle Dice is off to a good start simply because it is one of those very rare kickstarter funded projects that shipped to backers on time and without any production errors! It also came in what can only be described as a ridiculously large box. Promises from the designer that the game now has space for all the expansions will certainly hold true – along with most of a copy of Twilight Imperium! Inside this huge, cavernous space are 63 well made, weighty, custom dice. Unlike Quarriors, say, where identifying the icons from across the table can be challenging even in good light, the component quality and suitable, light, cartoony art on offer here means that the pieces add to the experience, rather than getting in the way.
I won’t do a rules overview (there are plenty of online resources that do that) suffice to say that the game utilises a dice-drafting system to collect resources which are then used to build parts of your castle and recruit workers who make your castle building more efficient. Mechanically, you are selecting dice, rolling them into a central pool then taking it in turn to select the ones you need to match icons on the cards you have drawn.
Wow! Reading that back sounds really dull… and this is Castle Dice’s biggest problem. Everything works, but the choices seem really obvious. If you need wood, then you have to take the wood. If your opponent takes it before you then tough! Now, there are several ways to mitigate the luck – by recruiting workers who offer the ability to change one resource into another for instance – but to have enough of these to be truly useful requires a large investment of time and effort in a game with only 7 rounds.
The other hugely random element (besides the powerful take that cards that can be gathered through collecting cute livestock resources) are the barbarian icons that appear on one side of all the dice. Each barbarian you personally roll will steal one of EACH resource from you at the end of the turn. This makes hoarding resources difficult if you are unlucky enough to roll a few of them. I understand this is their purpose, but if you roll a handful each turn and your opponents don’t, then you are going to struggle no matter what you do.
Now again, all of these mechanisms work. The art is lovely. The theme is…tacked on – and for a game that takes around an hour to play (too long for a lucky, dicey filler) the decisions aren’t interesting enough, and the lucky is too swingy.
Castle Dice is a masterpiece, however, in comparison to our second selection – Dungeon Roll. Launching via kickstarter in February of this year, and thanks to a low entry price and the promise of fast, dungeoneering fun, the game generated a stupidly large $250,000 and almost eleven thousand backers! Well, those people are going to be mighty disappointed.
For a detailed play through, I recommend Rodney Smith’s excellent Watch it Played videos. It’s really a very simple game. Sorry, I said ‘game’ and I’m not sure if Dungeon Roll qualifies.
So, the basics are – the player chooses or is dealt a character with a special ability. On a turn, they roll seven party dice to generate a number of warriors, clerics, rogues etc. Then, one dungeon dice is rolled – and the player ‘spends’ those dice to destroy the bad guys spawned or deal with the obstacle. Then they move to level two with two dungeon dice – or run away with any experience they have gathered. Rinse and repeat – so they continue “pushing their luck” until they can’t go any further.
Sounds alright? Yeah, I thought so. So did eleven thousand others. There are virtually NO decisions in this game. “Push your luck” games depend on your ability to make a quick, intelligent decision about how likely you are to succeed if you ‘go for it’. However, that decision can’t be so cut and dry where it is obvious what to do eight out of ten times. Can’t Stop or even Zombie Dice are examples of how to do this well. Dungeon Roll is not. The decision, if you can even call it that, is obvious. Do I still have my “once-per-delve” special ability? Do I have some dice? Right, let’s carry on then…
Now, as a solo gaming experience, I must admit that I enjoyed my first half dozen games of Dungeon Roll. It’s cute. The box (a small, portable chest that contains the whole game) is lovely. The dice are high quality. The card art is excellent. The game is fast and disposable, but leaves you feeling empty afterwards. Just like popcorn.
However, playing with a group is a whole new level of awful: Player One rolls his party dice and starts playing. Player Two is rolling the dungeon dice for him. Time passes. The increasing look of tedium, frustration and depression on player Four, sat watching and waiting for an eternity – doing NOTHING and not engaging in the solitary play experience – to play this disappointment of a game tells you everything you need to know. Imagine queuing for two hours to do a mystery ride at Disneyland and it turns out to be “It’s a Small World.”
So, if you must – play this solo. Then put it on your shelf and look at the lovely box. It’s the best thing for it.
Wow! I’m a grumpy bear today… I do love dice though. Honest.
Follow The Judge on Twitter! You’ll find him there as @Judge1979, and never will you find a more eloquent boardgamer / wrestler combo…