We Built This Dice City

First off, I would like to give a belated Happy Birthday to Donald Duck, whose birthday was yesterday June 9th. The duck is looking wonderful at 85 years old!

With that out of the way, it was a very fun weekend with some fun dice-rolling and epic gaming on boards. Over the past 3 days, I was able to get in plays of Suspend, Root, Dice Forge, Dice City, Terraforming Mars (my first play!), and ICECOOL.

Closest game and favorite play of the week: Root — I introduced my oldest son to this game on Saturday. He played the Marquise de Cats and I was the Eyrie Dynasties. The eagles are a fun faction — I enjoy the complexity of trying to get your Recruit-Move-Battle-Build program to work consistently each round as it grows. And wow!! was I surprised at just how easily complications can make your program run into a dead end. That said, I did a pretty good job of disrupting my son’s empire, cutting his logging movement off at some crucial times. Towards the end of the game, it looked like his mighty Cat warriors might take the win out of sheer volume, when he managed to finish a turn just shy of 30, at 29 points.

I knew that left me with one turn to see if I could get to 30 first — I was at 25, so I needed a strong round. I wanted to craft an item to get a point, but the cats had messed up my access to roosts in bunny clearings. And then I saw it, yes!! move here, battle this, and then build in such-and-such a clearing thanks to my special ability to rule where there are ties and bam! exactly 30 points to finish the round and take the win.

Not only did I really enjoy the gameplay, but the back-and-forth tightness, plus seeing us finish so closely really heightened my enjoyment of this game. On top of that, it was very pleasing to see Root play well at a 2-player count.

Now, let’s get to the Monday review. This week, my plan is to discuss another game I got to the table this weekend, a slightly older title, but one that I still enjoy breaking out and playing — Dice City.

The stats: Published in 2015 by AEG and Artipia Games; designed by Vangelis Bagiartakis; Art by Gong Studios; 1-4 players; estimated play time at 45-60 minutes (at a full player count, I would say the game could stretch to the 75-90 minute range); ages 14+

The background: Dice City is another game that my son and I initially “discovered” at our local board game cafe. We really enjoyed the unique (at least to us at the time) take on dice rolling / action triggers — plus, games with city building hit a sweet spot! We have since acquired the game, including the Crossroads expansion, which we utilized for the first time this weekend.

The setup and components: Dice — the game comes with 20 dice, coming in five different colors in 4 sets. Boards — there are 4 identical boards, one for each player to grow his city on. The boards are good quality, with a single-fold and open up nice and flat. Pieces — there are several different punchboard pieces in the game, representing resources, special actions, and victory points; the quality of these tokens is good. Cards — the cards in Dice City are ‘small cards’ and you get plenty that cover your market of unique buildings, standard buildings, bandits, and ships. I like the quality of these cards a lot. They are sturdy, but still easily shuffled.

While there are quite a few piles that need setup before gameplay starts, I believe that if time is put into “putting away” the game properly , the next session’s setup should be streamlined and quick.

Individual player board; multi-colored dice; cardboard components

The Gameplay: In Dice City, everyone’s player board starts with the exact same starting elements, which are buildings / locations pre-printed on the board. These will provide army strength and victory points, but mostly resources. The iron, wood, and stone resources can then be used to purchase new buildings. When a building is purchased, it is then placed on top of one of your 30 board spaces, covering/upgrading the city element below it.

Top right shows the resource cost to purchase; Bottom right is the card’s end-game VP; lower middle is the ability that will be activated when a die is placed on the card; lower left is the city’s defense value

Each turn — at the beginning of the game, everyone rolls their five colored dice and then places them on the board according to what was rolled (i.e. the yellow die rolls a 4 — that die would get placed in column 4 of the yellow row). At the beginning of your turn, you can then “use” each of your five dice. The main action for a die is to simply activate the ability of the card below it (earn VP, gain army strength, earn a resource, or some special card ability). Instead of activating a card, a die can be used to move another die to an adjacent spot on that die’s row (one left or one right). If at some point, a card is deactivated, a die could be used to remove the deactivation token, making that city available to visit & use again.

Next, if a player has enough army strength, it is time to attack. You could either attack another player’s buildings or the bandits, which earn end-game VP. After the attack phase (if any), then players can use their resources to build. Choose a city from the market, pay the appropriate resources, and then place that card on your 5×6 board. At the end of the turn, a player can keep one of each resource type, but any excess must be returned — so, for the most part, use it or lose it! Then, re-roll your dice, placing them on your board where appropriate and then let the next player take his/her turn.

The game will continue this way until an end-game trigger, which most frequently ends up being row completion. Whenever a player has two rows on their board that are full with building additions, that player can choose to end the game — at that point, the current round is completed and VP is tallied up [VP from stars earned throughout the game + points on cards showing on your gameboard].

Standard buildings (lumber mill, quarry, mine, plus a regular army). 5th is the gold mine which is included in the Crossroads expansion.

Review Thoughts: I love rolling dice and while there is always luck involved in games with dice-rolling, it is nice that no matter what you roll, each die can perform an ability. Part of the game’s strategy is determining where to place a card so that its ability can either be used to a max benefit or could be triggered more often. While some of the cards simply increase production, there are several in the game that create useful and exciting combos. Because of that, a diverse city CAN perform well, but many times, building a city with a focus can create more effective turns that lead to higher, consistent point accumulation.

There is no ‘bonus’ for triggering the end game, so completing two rows and opting for end-game requires some strategic calculation. On Saturday, I did just that (completing two rows and saying Yes to the End Game!) but I misjudged the value of my son’s board and he ended up winning by two points.

Overall, I love the mechanisms of this game — dice rolling, triggering abilities, upgrading my city, earning victory points. The two cons I would give the game: A) low interaction –> which isn’t always a bad thing, but in Dice City it is easy to be unaware of another player’s actions and even if you are aware, the ability to thwart their plans is minimal. Dice City ends up feeling like a solo game played against other people; a concept that many players may actually prefer. B) Waiting time — in a 2-player game, time between turns is fairly low and feels just right for giving you a chance to plot your next turn before it begins. But at a full 4-player count, the time waiting between turns feels a little lengthy. That said, with experienced players, turns should proceed quickly, reducing the length of each round.

Last, I really enjoy the art style of Dice City — the buildings are cute and colorful — I just wish that there was a bit more variety. Everyone’s city ends up looking generic and similar, instead of being able to feel like you created your own unique metropolis.

If you haven’t had a chance to play Dice City, I definitely recommend giving it a try, especially if you love dice rolling with plenty of mitigation opportunities.

That’s it for my Monday review — I hope you all had a great weekend and even better rest of this week 🙂

For more board game reviews and discussion, follow me on Twitter @boardgamecrock1

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