4 Chits, 3 Giggles
The one thought that kept entering my head over again while learning and playing this game was ‘How has nobody thought of this before?’ Not only are the mechanics at play here neat and sound, but it’s so simple-to-learn yet strategically fulfilling that in this day and age of board games, it’s crazy how this is the only game that’s truly utilised dice and cards in this way. If I’m mistaken by the way, please correct me. I love it.
In Dice City, you roll dice, you construct buildings, and from doing this, you make your city better and you carry on, repeating this until somebody triggers the end of the game. It’s so damned simple and yet so frustratingly addictive, really how has nobody has thought of this before?!
I’ve already confessed my admiration for this game in our podcast, but having played it a few times now, I’ve learned its quirks, its smirks and how it works. Rhymes, yo. But in all seriousness, it’s a game with a lot more to offer than you might suspect based on it’s rather meagre innards.
The theme isn’t very tantalising; you’re the mayor of a city competing to be the country’s new capital (though the name of said kingdom, Rolldovia, is delightfully twee). Let’s talk about the mechanics instead. Each player has a board, representing their city. Upon it are five rows and six columns of varied buildings, totalling thirty individual spots. Each turn, a player will roll five coloured dice and then place them on the appropriate spots on their city. For example, a red die showing the number five will be placed on the red row in the fifth column, and so on. Afterwards, you can see which buildings are active, and what your potential rewards are. Maybe you got yourself some resources, or perhaps your army has some fight to give. Maybe a precious victory point or two is heading your way. That's great, as they’re all useful, but if you’re not happy there are ways to change your situation.
This is where the strategy creeps in. Instead of using a location’s ability, you can use that die to shift another one along its own row to a better location. Alternatively you might choose to collect a ‘pass’ token (which can be spent in pairs for various abilities) or reactivate a ‘spent’ building to use it again later on. At first it seems so simple that you might wonder if it has any depth at all, but when you play it a few times you start to scratch the surface of just how devilish you can be. I’ve witnessed a few impressive manoeuvres that have stemmed from unlucky rolls and along with the option to mix and match military, economic and resource collection strategies, the possibilities are indeed endless. Except if you’re a logician in which case forgive my whimsy.
But wait, there’s more! Not only do the dice rolls count and can be countered, but there’s strategy in where to build your buildings too. Each row has one die assigned to it, so do you for example fill an entire one with military constructs to guarantee yourself some fight power, or do you spread these same cards over many rows so that you have a chance at activating more than one at a time? And the edge columns; are they less useful because they only have one adjacent space to move to? Or are they where you put your protective buildings? If that doesn’t make sense, don’t worry. It will do once you play the game, I’m simply trying to get across just how many options are at your disposal. Such as removing cards from the public building row so your enemies can't build them. And buildings that allow you to re-roll dice. Ok, I’ll stop, but you get my point by now.
There are are whispers in the community that compare this game with Machi Koro, and truthfully if you boil it down you could argue these two games overlap. Both are card based games where you're building up a town by buying better buildings, while each turn the dice decide which buildings get activated, but there’s too much difference here to consider that a true comparison. While IDW Games’ offering falters in its quest thanks to runaway winners and ‘dice hate me’ problems, Dice City counters this with many previously mentioned alternate uses of the dice if luck doesn’t go your way. They both aim at a less strategy inclined crowd too, but if I had to pick one I’d choose Dice City almost every time.
It’s not all great news though. Upon first glance at the games innards I worried that the number of location cards and, as a result, strategic options in this game weren’t going to be enough but it’s not as bad as all that. However, the sheer volume of empty space in the box reeks of potential future expansions and when you’ve played video games for as long as I have, it’s hard not to see some of the big publishers being lured towards a model of cutting out content just to sell it to us later as an expansion. This might seem overly panicked, but if I can broadcast my distaste for this issue before it comes to anything, hopefully it will alert the games makers that this isn’t something we want.
As well as that though, while I’ve played this with mainly three and four players, I don’t know how exciting it would be as a two player game. I put this down to the fact that, in my humble opinion, there needs to be a race to victory from at least two different paths (for example one aiming for military and another trying to trade their way to victory) or else the game becomes less fun. When three or more people are involved, the likelihood of everyone choosing the same route is slim, because of the limited number of buildings available at any one point. I have a confession too. I really wanted to try at least one duel before publishing this review but time was getting on and I had little luck setting one up, particularly as I’m not that excited to try it in the first place, so I figured instead of waiting even longer, I’d add this caveat to the review as a compromise. If somebody wants to try it as a two player and add their own comments below, I would wholeheartedly welcome your thoughts. We also discussed ‘head vs heart’ players in a recent podcast, and this is certainly a game where head players have a lot to mull over, the disadvantage of a game with a multitude of options, so be warned if you are playing with long thinkers.
Overall though, this is a capital ( *wink*) choice. It looks inviting with its quaint, colourful art style and plays easily, with a rule book that gets you into the game very quickly. As a final thought, it still shocks me how this is a new idea. Despite the minor issues, this is still a game I’m excited to bring to the table, and there are still many ways I’ve yet to attempt to build my city which I'm keen to try out. It only brings me back to my original point though. How did it take so long to come up with an obviously great idea? On that note, what other stupidly obvious yet brilliant ideas have yet to be made? If I'm going to make myself a million quid, this calls for a cup of Britain's finest on my thinking chair...
Review by Russell Chapman