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Another Chance – Las Vegas review

Las Vegas COVER

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!

So, this a

So, this actually happened in a recent game. Final round, two players fighting over a very important $70,000. Back and forth it went, one six here, another there, until they both ended up with eight dice each and walked away with nothing. That final, spiteful roll of a single six was utterly incredible.

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!

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Them Bones – Qwixx review

Qwixx COVER

I’m really unsure of Qwixx. When I’ve played it it’s been entertaining enough, a grand way to pass twenty minutes or so, but something I the back of my mind is just niggling away at me. I mean, I can see that it’s solid. It’s interesting enough to warrant returning back to once in a while, but… well, I think the issue is the fact that it was one of the three nominees for this year’s Spiel des Jahres.

We’ve already covered the other two games that were put up for the award – Augustus and the eventual winner, Hanabi – but when comparing the three of them it feels like Qwixx falls far shorter than it should. Nominees and winners of the SdJ should be compelling and fun, dragging you back in again and again until the print is worn off their tiles or the cards are dog eared. In comparison, Qwixx feels like it is a disposable little affair from the moment you crack open the tiny box.

Inside it you’ll find six dice, the instructions (which when translated take up all of half an A4 sheets) and the scoring pad. That is it. Sure, this collection of components means that the price to pick a copy up is negligible – I paid just over a fiver for mine – so that’s certainly a point in its favour, but I kind of expect a bit more from a package that has got the German market into a tizzy.

As you’d expect, the rules are simple. Players’ score sheets are divided into four rows – red and yellow from 2 to 12, left to right, while green and blue count down from 12 to 2. At the end of each of these rows lies a padlock icon and (beneath a handy scoring guide) there are also four greyed out spots that we’ll cover shortly.

Each turn sees the Active Player roll the six dice – two of which are white, while the other four represent the previously mentioned colours. When rolled, ALL players may mark the number from the combined white dice on one of their rows. The Active Player then gets a second bite at the cherry, combining one white die with one of the colours to make another number which can also be marked off that specific line only (so, using a white and red pairing means that number can only be marked on the red line).

Of course, there needs to be a twist, and in the case of Qwixx there are actually two. First up, once you mark a number, anything to the left of it is officially off limits and can’t be touched. Second, if you’re the Active Player and you can’t mark off a number (and believe me, as the game progresses your options will become very limited indeed) you must fill in one of those four greyed out squares – cover them all and the game is over.

The game also ends if two rows are “locked” – when that aforementioned padlock icon comes into play. If you (or any other player) manages to cover five numbers in any one line including the one that is furthest to the right, you get to mark off the padlock as well. Doing so not only gets you an extra bunch of points for the end of the game – it also removes that coloured die immediately, limiting the possibilities of the other players. However the end comes about, everyone then checks the amount of numbers marked off each line and adds the totals up before removing five points for each of the failures denoted by the greyed out boxes. Highest score wins, of course… and that is it.

What's in the box? Well... not much actually.

What’s in the box? Well… not much actually.

Seriously, that is it. It’s super simplistic and entertaining enough – there’s plenty of opportunity for mocking your opponents when they fail miserable on a roll, for example, but so much of the game is down to chance I’m really surprised that the SdJ committee decided to put this on the shortlist for the big prize. I’m not confused over the fact that it’s a small game – I mean, I love Hanabi and that’s tiny – but Qwixx feels kind of… well, I said it earlier, it feels disposable. The one-use score sheets are kind of testament to that, as once I run through them I doubt that I’ll be scrabbling to get more. The dice will go into the pile to be used in future prototypes or if a d6 goes missing, and the game will never be heard from again.

I’m not saying that Qwixx is bad – understand that, please – but it strikes me more as part of a larger game, an element that can be combined with others in order to create something larger. It acts well as a filler and is fun enough, sure, but I honestly would sooner be playing something like The Agents or Pigpen to pass half an hour. It works well as something to chuck into a bag and keep the kids entertained on a holiday or a filler for a group waiting for others to finish, but where I’m sure that people will still be talking about Hanabi in five years time, I fear that Qwixx will soon be consigned to the dustbin of gaming history.

Qwixx was designed by Steffen Benndorf and was first released by Nurnberger Spielkarten Verlag in 2012. Between two and five can play with games taking around fifteen to twenty minutes. German language copies can be picked up from Gameslore for under £7, should you so desire.

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Tumblin’ Dice – Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice review

Anyone who knows me in real life knows I have a minor fascination with zombies. From Left 4 Dead on the 360 to the fine cinematic works of George A. Romero via the brilliant World War Z by Max Brooks, the undead are my go to monster, my enemy of choice. I don’t care if they shamble around or sprint towards you aimed squarely at your jugular – I love me some zombies. And when I found out that Steve Jackson Games were planning a simple dice game themed around the walking dead, it went on my want list immediately.

Zombie Dice is exactly what it says. A push-your-luck affair, you receive thirteen custom made dice, a cup to shake them up in and a rules sheet. That’s it. Each turn, you blindly choose three dice – each representing a human – shake them up and hope for the best. If you roll a brain, splendid – that’s a point for you. Collect three shotgun blasts, however, and your turn is over. Brains and blasts are put to the side, but footsteps mean you must keep that dice should you choose to roll again. After each roll, you get the choice to take your points or roll again – the footstep dice go back in the cup and you randomly grab however many you need to get back to three, shake them again and see what you get. You must also consider that the dice come in three colours; green are the easiest to devour, yellows are pretty tough, but reds are filled with potential death. Your decision must rest on how far you’re willing to chance your points combined with what dice are left over. If you’ve already got two blasts against you but need a couple of points to win, dare you run the risk of picking up some reds and losing all your precious brains?

Ahhh, brains. Tasty, moreish brains. Nom nom nom.

Zombie Dice is not the hardest game in the world, and many gamers out there will absolutely hate it. It’s incredibly simple, basic to a fault (almost), but still… I reckon it’s got a certain charm. You could almost see this as a combat system in a more complex release rather than a standalone game, but it’s fun. Components-wise, the dice are great, but I think there’ll be problems with the cup – I’ve only played a few (admittedly rowdy) games and the top of it is getting a bit wrecked already. I think I’ll need to be careful with that…

Moving on, the partner release to Zombie Dice is the even more portable Cthulhu Dice (although it should really be Cthulhu Die, as you only get one, albeit a customised twelve sided effort). The aim of the game is to remain sane while all around you lose their minds thanks to the influence of The Ancient One. Sanity points are represented as small green glass pebbles – each ‘cultist’ starts with three – and the rules are simple. Choose a victim, roll the die and see what comes up – depending on which symbol appears, you may force the victim to lose a Sanity token to Cthulhu or even steal one back for yourself. If you manage to be the last one standing, you’re declared the winner. Simple!

Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn

A bit too simple, unfortunately. Whereas Zombie Dice has a game at its heart (even though it’s far from complex one),  Cthulhu Dice feels a bit flat. Roll, move counters, pass to next player – there’s not much in the way of thought and everything is down to the luck of the roll. My group had fun with it, but it was the gaming equivalent of a vol-au-vent – small, looked pretty, but ultimately insubstantial. If you’re going to go for one of these releases, I’d suggest you plump for Zombie Dice – it has a bit more longevity and certainly gave us more of a laugh. I hope Steve Jackson Games continue this idea though – cheap and portable gaming is always appreciated, and a strike rate of one good/one OK-ish is far from a bad start.

Zombie Dice and Cthulhu Dice are both published by Steve Jackson Games and should be available in your local game shops now. They can be played by as many people as you please and take only a few minutes to finish a game. If you’d like to say what you think about either of them, email me at littlemetaldog@gmail.com or post a comment below!

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