Publisher: AEG (Alderac Entertainment Group)
Designer: Vangelis Bagiartakis
Artist: Gong Studios
Release date: 2015
1 – 4 Players
Favouritefoe score: 8/10
Coming Soon – video review of Dice City by AEG Games!
*Fun * Simple to Learn * Dice Chucking * Tableau Building * City Crafting * Engine Building * Light Strategy Game *
We Built This City On Rock and Dice Rolls!
The Kingdom of Rolldovia is in a dicey predicament! Bandits have ransacked the stores, destroyed the mills, and basically run roughshod through the place. Queen Statisia is in tears, the people are floundering, the animals are loose. But have no fear. For you have a handful of dice, and a head full of plans for re-building Rolldovia. For making it THE place to live, work, and play!
But where do you start? Let’s find out!
I Like Big Boards And I Cannot Lie!
This review would be entirely remiss without first mentioning the enormous personal player boards. They are huge! The biggest in my collection by a country mile. Before rolling a single dice, or laying a single card, I already feel like I am the city planner for the next medieval metropolis! And I like them – they make me feel powerful!
YOU see, the boards are your foundation – what is left of Rolldovia after the bandits swept through. They are a 6 x 5 grid comprising 30 locations in your city. And this game is all about the upgrades. Because better buildings = more stuff = more points!
You need to do something with those boards to get those upgrades, however, and this is where those handfuls of D6 come in. Dice City is a “dice crafting” game. By that, I mean you are essentially using each dice to build up your city. To change locations on your tableau for something (hopefully!) better through rolling and resolving, and in the process crafting your dream city.
Roll to Resolve!
Turn actions are super simple in Dice City. Firstly, all players simultaneously roll their 5 coloured dice and place the corresponding numbers on the appropriately coloured row (so e.g. a red 1 would be placed on top of the first card in the middle row of your (GINORMOUS!) player board.
You then have choices to make for each of your 5 dice. Using just one dice as an example, you can:
a. activate the space underneath that dice;
b. “burn” it to move another dice to an adjacent space
c. refresh 4 location cards in the pool with new ones drawn from the deck (only once per turn);
d. bring a de-activated place back to life; or
e. or do nothing with it and gain a pass token (once per turn) which, once you have two, will let you take certain additional actions.
Sometimes the existing location underneath your dice is good enough and does what you want that turn e.g. paying out resources (wood, stone, or iron) which you can then use to buy new location cards for somewhere in your city. Other times, the rolls aren’t with you, and you need to start strategizing those upgrades using combinations of die to manipulate and mitigate the (un)lucky dice rolls.
Initially, some basic locations are more helpful than others – they are an easy way to start building your city building engine. Oh, did I not mention this? Yes, underneath those fistfuls of dice, and cute colourful cartoon graphics, is an engine slowing starting to hum. Patiently waiting for locations to fuel its thirst for more iron, more wood, more stone, more points!
But then, as you get into the meat of the game, military attacks, defences and special location powers come into play. Because, merely stockpiling resources is going to get you nowhere. Principally because you can only ever store one type of resources going into the next round!
As a result, Dice City encourages you to spend, spend, spend! [spoiler alert – as you may have found from my Space Base review, I like games where there is a push to purchase – I find it generally helps to sustain momentum and (for me at least!) feels more fun!]. In reality, this is the only way you are going to be able to upgrade your locations to those with powers great enough to produce the resources you need on a single turn. After all, you are going to want to buy trade ships, raise a battle ready army, and ultimately win Dice City!
On this point, the local planning authority of Rolldovia has been incredibly generous. You see, when buying new location cards, you can place them anywhere. Even on top of buildings already upgraded.
And this is really helpful, because some locations give one time bonuses whereas other keep paying out every time a D6 finds settles on it. You won’t get what is on a card once it has been covered up, but if a single hit great card has effectively been “used”, you can choose to replace it with something more useful in game (or even something with better value for end game scoring). It also forms part of the strategic decision making in this game (more on this in a moment!).
Mighty Military Meddling!
Now, I previously mentioned bandits and military attacks. In truth, this was the only part of Dice City I initially struggled to grasp from an initial reading of the otherwise super clear, easy to understand rulebook.
Essentially, Dice City might look like a multiplayer solitaire game, and in truth it can be played that way – eyes down, your city alone completely filling your visual splay. You can go hard on resources, upgrade for points, and get those ships in your sights. Plus, with enough military might, you can go ahead and defeat bandits circling your fine city, gaining even more points in readiness for end game scoring (so long as you have enough swords active and at the ready that is).
But you don’t have to play in isolation. If fact, if you want to win, you are going to want to meddle with neighbouring cities. Which you can. Oh yes, in Dice City, you can also steal their previous resources and attack your opponents’ boards; disabling their powerful locations, limiting their turn actions, and generally being a point scoring pest!
But this takes some co-ordination on your part. Because, you are only as strong as your army! So you need enough swords on a given turn in order to carry out your dastardly deeds. And to get these swords, you will have to have upgraded a number of the starting spaces in your city to prime military locations, probably combine available dice actions to active multiple military spaces at once, and generally have the nerve to go over and drop a deactivation token on your own favourite foe!
Where there is construction Ying, however, there must also be destruction Yang. And all the things you can do to other players can of course be done right back to you! So where you think you’re being cunning and blocking your enemy’s Great Wall or Storehouse, they might have sights on your Merchant Guild or Cathedral.
All is not lost, however, because, your military locations are dual purpose – there’s that construction karma again. As well as being the force for attack, those swords are your first line of defence. If the shields on the location your favourite foe is eyeing up exceed their swords, then it is safe from their clutches!
And it is this point in the game where Dice City shines brightly, like the little torches shown on the cards. There is so much to do! So much that can be done! And it is down to your brain to work out what to focus on because doing everything is likely to end up in a new-town design disaster. Deciding what to do won’t melt your mind, but it will itch it in a fun and colourful way.
There are also sooooo many cards that cycling through the deck seems like a mathematical impossibility. Which is great for re-playability as it means repeat games are likely to introduce a different combination of buildings each time (or at least require crafty dice work for players to hunt out the ones they really like!). Plus the ability to purchase so many on your turn helps to mitigate the dice rolls. Some appear a lot more powerful than others, mind. Oh, and location scouts beware: I thought I was on to a golden payday when my dice kept rolling on to my Grand Statue. But of course, that is just a one-time boom-town bonus (although end game VPs still count)! Doh!
And just when you think you have settled on a plan of action, those D6ers shred it to smithereens, and your opponents get stuck in, taking all the best locations, beating your army senseless, and disabling your top city spots!
But having so many choices means that you can adapt. You can stop gunning for bandits, and start looking to load up on those ships. Or, you can increase your chances of always rolling something good by being tactical in where you place the different kinds of locations. Replacing old ones with new ones is a great way to kickstart a stalled engine! But, it’s all well and good having Catapults and Quarries, however, if you never land on them, then their value takes a serious hit.
For example, Bearded Moon is a zoning champion – he likes to arrange his city into areas and then maximise use of cards that allow him to sneakily manipulate dice locations like a boss. I’m more of a cover-all-my bases kind of player because my lucky numbers rarely come up. My neighbourhoods therefore tend to have something of everything, just so that I burn fewer dice in the process of getting something useful. And something almost always turns into some things as moves chain-reaction together, your engine roaring at full speed.
And speaking of speed. Dice City ends when the bandit cards run out, two of three trade ship piles run dry, the location deck depletes (verrrrryyy unlikely!), or the player who fills two rows with upgraded built locations decides to call a halt to the proceedings. Yep, players can (to a degree) control when the game ends.
Now, I really like this racing element. It is like the nuclear button for me. If I see Bearded Moon amassing more points than Pooh Bear at a honey eating competition, then I am all about the row-down in a damage limitation effort. It won’t appeal to everyone, because it can run roughshod over long-game gamer styles. But it is helpful to be able to halt what is shaping up to possibly be a runaway lead.
On the flip side, however, if you need that extended play to gain back ground, a sudden nuke in the end-zone is going to hurt. Again, this is where a little strategy comes in. You have to keep an eye on the other boards and work out whether they are going for a row-off, or sprawling cityscape scoring. To make it a little fairer, we have a house rule such that we decide in advance if we are going to allow row-down mode or not!
I would say that so far we have only played Dice City at 2 player. I think our table could cope with more epic boards at once (maybe!), but we just haven’t had a chance to invite more people over yet. And at 2 player, we have found this game to be quite speedy.
Admittedly, whenever a game presents itself like a French patisserie full of tasty turn options, my analysis paralysis fires up, which can ratchet up down time for others as it slams the brakes on momentum. I sit and hover my hands over various piles, pools, and board areas. But so far, with so much to look at and plan, any stalling on my part has been quite happily absorbed by my opponent – in fact, giving him welcoe bonus time to play out scenarios in his head. I anticipate the knock-on effect could be more pronounced at higher player counts, however, and so I will be interested to compare the experiences when the opportunity presents itself.
I think Dice City is an easy to learn, fun to play, engine building dice chucker. It also has a sprinkling of strategy to keep your brain ticking and your eyes flashing over all of the lovely loot!
It also feels like a game with more rolls than a Las Vegas Casino! Granted, every turn involves the same roll to resolve action. There is no sudden social deduction or trick taking element to surprise you. But with so many possibilities arising from those actions, I don’t feel it plays repetitively in an unsatisfying way. In fact, the more I roll and build, the more I want to roll and build. And I like knowing what I need to do (in this case roll and place) in order to get to do what I want to do (about 100 different things!) – and a simple, single core mechanic is always good for that. I also like the fact that there is always something I can do. With the combination of dice moves, deck clearing, building, and blocking, I have yet to take a turn where I have been stuck for something to get or some way to advance.
When we are in a happy, greedy mood and want a fun, colourful game that gives us lots of stuff, and lets us do lots of stuff without getting tied up in pages of rules and restrictions, Dice City is one that comes to our table. And, whilst there are big spaces on our shelves filled with mean, cutthroat, competitive games and brain burningly tactical titles, there is also a special place for Dice City!
[please note that a copy of this game was kindly provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review but any opinions expressed are my own]