The Judge is back! From Outer Space! We just walked in to find him here with that glad look upon his face! He’s been playing Space Cadets: Dice Duel and seems very happy indeed…
I love games. All sorts of games! From meaty, “variations on a theme” Euros to dense, thematic Ameritrash, I enjoy most of what I play – though increasingly I am no longer surprised or unexpectedly thrilled by a new game. It either meets my expectations, or it doesn’t. *Sigh* So let’s face it – as an experienced and battle weary gamer, is there anything left to truly excite and astound like in those early days of discovery? *Knock Knock* Oh, it’s the Engelsteins… do come in!
Space Cadets: Dice Duel has rocked my world. Taking the frantic real-time dice rolling seen in last year’s fun, co-operative romp Escape: Curse of the Temple, and the theme of designers Geoff, Brian and Sydney Engelstein’s own Space Cadets, Dice Duel is a small revolution in game design and, perhaps even more impressively, some of the most fun you’ll have at the gaming table this year.
Players team up in two’s, three’s or four’s and face off against each other in a starship dogfight to the death. Each player is given a distinct role within the battle – be that taking control of sensors, loading the missile tubes, manning the tractor beam and shields, or just trying to guide this unwieldy toaster through space whilst avoiding meteor showers and sensor-blocking nebulas!
Now this isn’t an X-Wing and a Tie Fighter zig zagging through space. Like the original Space Cadets, this feels more like Enterprise-esque starships cruising into position to unleash an unstoppable barrage of missile fire. This may suggest a leisurely pace, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The best way to describe play is a quick sample of what the game feels like.
So, we have 3 players on Team Little Metal Dog – let’s call them Michael, Steph and Judge just for arguments sake. Judge is the engineer, so he is responsible for rolling normal 6 sided dice and allocating the rolls to the various departments. So we start… he rolls three ‘5’s (which relate to the Helm station) and passes them to Michael who is in charge of steering the ship. Judge wanted to send power to shields, but rolled no ‘4’s so he picks up the remaining dice and rolls, and rolls again until he gets a ‘4’ – which he passes to shields – and now a ‘2’ which goes to Steph who is on Sensors.
At the same time Michael – having received three 5’s for Helm, remember? – picks up the three helm dice and rolls (and rerolls) until the arrows on the dice point to where he wants the ship to go. Locking in the dice to his display allows the power dice (the normal D6’s) to be returned to Judge in engineering who can roll them immediately and re-allocate. Steph takes her Sensor dice and rolls some target locks – necessary to make sure your missiles have the range to hit their targets – and uses three ‘1’s from engineering to roll and load up a missile in tube 1. The enemy ship is fast approaching. Judge checks the range, and the missile, and shouts ‘FIRE 1!’
For the first time in several minutes, the game stops. The players catch their collective breath, and the launched missile crashes headlong into the enemy hull! That’s a direct hit! Let’s hope they can’t return fire. And the chaos begins again…
So what is amazing about this play experience? Well, the simple “keep rolling dice until you get what you need” mechanic that was so much fun in Escape is even more so because of the ever changing board situation. This requires players to change plans on the fly and react to the position and offensive / defensive set-up that the opponent is using at any particular moment. And it is moments that matter. Several times have I seen the command to “Fire” be issued, only for the target ship to have completely moved out of range, or dropped additional dice into shields to repel the attack literal moments before the order was issued.
In addition, the sense of camaraderie evident in the best co-operative games is here in abundance, particularly as the opposing threat isn’t the game itself, or a fear of being overrun by small red cubes. It is your friends (now enemies) sat opposite with a glint in their eye and a sense that somehow they’re more organised and better equipped to win this duel than you and your teammates.
Ah, your teammates. They’ll not let you down. Except for that time when Steph loaded the missiles in the wrong end of the ship. Or Michael completely ignored me and put our shields on the port instead of the starboard! And those mistakes – which are completely unavoidable in the stress and bluster of Dice Duel – can be the difference between success and failure.
And yes – each missile that penetrates your shields feels like a punch to the kidneys. Yes – the glory of imploding your opponent and scattering their atomised corpses across the galaxy is a genuine stand up and high-five moment. Ultimately though, anyone who gets a group together to play Dice Duel is a winner – because they get to enjoy one of the highlights of the year, and a truly unique gaming experience.
Space Cadets: Dice Duel was released by Stronghold Games at Essen 2013. Designed by Geoff and Sydney Engelstein, four, six or eight players can get involved in this true battle for the ages. Games take around thirty minutes, so somewhat shorter than the original Space Cadets. If you would like a copy, head on over to Gameslore where one will set you back £33. A total bargain for such enjoyable, raucous entertainment!