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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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Monsters and Angels – Quarriors review

Deck building! Everyone’s doing it! Deck building in a fantasy-ish environment! Deck building in space! Deck building with maids! If we’re not careful, we’re going to be hitting burnout with the format sooner rather than later, but for now lets add some more to the teetering pile! We don’t care, we just LOVE BUILDING DECKS!

Descent into madness aside, it’s nice when someone takes a different approach to a format and Wizkids have decided to produce a deck builder with a difference – in their new release Quarriors there are NO CARDS. Actually, this is a bit of a lie as there are cards (and plenty of them in fact) but they’re not used by the players – instead they form a de facto board, showing you what’s available to pick up, how much it will cost you, any special powers that may be available and – most importantly – how many points they’re worth. Unlike other games in this style, you’re not building up stacks of cards – in Quarriors you’re collecting dice, but aside from that difference the gameplay will feel pretty familiar to anyone who’s had even the briefest flirtation with this type of game before.

Basic dice at the top (Quiddity, Assistant and Portal), a couple of Creatures and a Spell dice.

The objective is to gain glory points, done by spending Quiddity (the in-game currency) to collect Creatures from the piles in the middle of the table. Keep them alive long enough and they earn you points, earn a set amount before anyone else (dependent on how many are playing) and you’ll win – very simple! The game set-up is a breeze, with a selection of cards placed in the middle of the table to show what’s available in that round – three Basics, three Spells and seven Creatures. Five custom dice representing each of these are stacked upon the cards, each representing a Quarry. Each player begins with eight Quiddity dice and four Assistant dice, throw them in their bag and shake them up – the other Basic die, Portals (which allow you to draw extra dice from your bag) must be bought from the stacks in the middle. The first player pulls out six dice and you’re ready to start.

You roll your dice and see what happens – any Quiddity that comes up can be spent on a single Quarry dice from the selection in the middle. The general rule to follow is that the stronger the dice, the more you’ll need to spend on it – for example, should you wish to acquire a new Assistant, it’ll only cost you 1, while something heftier like a Dragon may cost you 8 or 9. Symbols representing Creatures (including Assistants, the weakest of all) are moved to your ‘Ready Area’, primed to attack anything else held by your opposition. Spells that are rolled can be attached to your monsters or used in more reactive ways, depending on what their respective cards say.

Of course the dice stay the same, but only one version of the monster will appear per game. Different levels have different powers and abilities.

Let’s deal with Creatures first. Each Creature type actually has three different levels of strength, either standard, Strong or Mighty. The dice stay exactly the same, of course – the difference is in their “burst” powers, signified by a small star mark printed on some faces of the dice. Should you roll a burst symbol, you consult the card for that dice and check out the additional power or ability you have at your disposal – Quarriors is a game where knowing what’s potentially on offer will give you a massive advantage. Bursts are relatively rare, however – most of the time you’ll be focusing on the numbers dotted around the corners.

Daenerys Targaryen has NOTHING on me.

Top left is the Creature’s level – some more powerful Quarry are unaffected by lower level beasties. Top right is the Attack level, and bottom right is the defense. Just for good measure, there’s a burst symbol there too, that star in the bottom left. The numbers on the right are – shockingly enough – used for combat which works very simply. The active player, having rolled their dice and moved any Creatures to their Ready Area, totals up ALL Attack values. Going around the table clockwise, defending players choose their own Creatures one at a time to knock the Attack total down bit by bit until finally one has a higher Defence than what’s left over. If one player’s Creatures are all defeated you move on to the next, hopefully destroying as much as possible to keep own dice safe, scoring you points when the turn order rolls round to you once more. As a side note, defeated dice aren’t cast aside, never to be used again – you just put them in a used pile, refill your bag when it’s empty and start all over again.

Spells can be used in many ways, for example augmenting Attacks and Defence or to gain extra points. Really though, the main meat of the Quarriors is to get powerful Creatures, hit some decent dice rolls and take out as many enemies as possible. However, even the mightiest of beasts can be taken down with a good roll by an opponent, and that is what will really divide gamers – Quarriors is a game that, even with the greatest strategic planning, ultimately relies on chance. The amount of times I’ve played it, managed to control more dragons than your average ancient King of Westeros and STILL get whupped is ridiculous – and yet, I find myself returning to the game again and again.

130 custom dice! Plus it comes in an awesome giant tin dice box!

Why? Because Wizkids have thrown everything into making Quarriors incredibly fun. It’s quick to play and easy to get to grips with – give it a couple of rounds and even younger players will understand the basics (though this is to be expected as the game is aimed at a younger gaming audience). Admittedly I have a couple of gripes with it – the backstory is pretty awful (especially the forced attempts to shoehorn Q words into the game – that gets grating fast) and the artwork isn’t particularly fantastic, but then you think about all the good stuff… the joy of snatching a win with an insanely good roll of the dice, the solid gameplay, the fact that there’s 130 dice in that box and they all look like the tastiest candy… Quarriors is pretty much the distillation of why I play games – to have fun, to enjoy the agony of defeat and the thrill of (occasional) victory. Choose to put your serious Euro-loving half to the side and give in to the lure of shiny dice – you honestly will not regret it.

Quarriors was designed by Mike Elliot (Thunderstone) and Eric M. Lang (Call of Cthulhu LCG). Released by Wizkids in Summer 2011, you’ll be able to pick it up here in the UK soon enough. Priced at around £40, it’s certainly a little expensive, but when you consider the amount of dice you get in there you’ll see where the money goes. While I think it’s definitely a good one to try out with younger players to try and get them into slightly heavier gaming, it’s also a great title to play with more experienced gamers. Roll lucky!

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