Dice Throne (Brandon Kempf)
Designed by Nate Chatellier & Manny Trembley
Art by Manny Trembley
Published by Mind Bottling Games & Roxley Games
I don't say this to sound all knowing or particularly plugged into the board game hobby, but there aren't very many Kickstarter games of merit that pass me by without me at least seeing them. I don't go looking for them on Kickstarter, but through various social media networks and friend networks, most games of note that pass through public funding get at least seen. That's why Dice Throne has been a surprise for me, I never saw it on Kickstarter. I'm not sure what it was, or why, but somehow back in January of 2017 this one passed right on by. But we remedied that in January of this year and we ordered Dice Throne, partially based on positive word of mouth around the PunchBoard Media Slack channel and partially based on me purposefully seeking out a 2 player competitive game to play with my oldest daughter who loved to play Magic and Summoner Wars with me (why we don't play those games still is a whole other story for a whole other day).
Dice Throne is a tactical card and dice based game for 2-6 players that plays in about 20-60 minutes, just depending on player count. The rule book comes with rules for playing 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 and even 2v2v2 and Free for All for 3-6 players. It uses tactical card play for upgrading abilities and gaining additional bonuses (by spending your CP or Combat Points) and a Yahtzee mechanism for combat that sees you trying to decrease your opponent, or opponents, health meter to 0. My review here will mostly be from a 1v1 perspective. I have played the Free for All mode with 5 players and it was fun, but only once, so I'll reserve judgement on that mode and the others till later.
Everyone will start a game of Dice Throne by picking 1 of the 6 characters available in the box. They range in play difficulty from the Barbarian (easiest) to the Shadow Thief (most difficult), with a Moon Elf, Pyromancer, Monk and Paladin thrown in the middle. Each player will then take the deck of cards for their chosen character, the 5 dice for that specific character, player board, side board, various tokens and a CP Dial and Health Dial. Set the Health Dial to 50 (unless this is a Free for all match), the CP Dial to 2, shuffle your deck of cards and draw four of them for your hand, roll a die to decide first player, now you are ready to begin with annihilating your opponent to attempt to win the Throne.
A player turn has 8 easy to navigate phases:
- Upkeep Phase - This is where any status effects that are on your hero are resolved, such as poison or a burn effect). Usually these will decrease your health pool
- Income Phase - 1 player of the game skips this phase but from then on out gain 1 card and 1 CP
- Main Phase (1) - This is where you can play any Main Phase Action Cards, hero cards or sell cards by discarding them for 1 CP each. The cards all have an emblem in the upper right corner of the card that will help denote when the cards can be played. There are three different types, the aforementioned Main Phase, the Instant and the Roll Phase (which we will be covering next)
- Offensive Roll Phase - This is where you get to roll some dice, all 5 of them to be exact. After rolling those five dice, you may sit any number aside and re-roll the remaining dice. After that 2nd roll, you may set any number of dice aside that you would like to keep and re-roll the remaining dice one more time. After rolling the dice that final time, you may then activate any ability cars that requires the final outcome of the dice.
- Targeting Roll Phase - This is skipped in 1v1, but any group larger than that, the player rolls a die and the result determines who is attacked this round.
- Defensive Roll Phase - If your opponent is dealing you damage this round as a result of their Offensive Roll Phase, your Defensive Ability is activated and you follow your Defensive Ability instructions. After this roll is finished, players will have one more chance to play any Roll Phase Action Cards, Instant Action cards, or use any status effects like Chi or Evasive. Resolve all damage, both offensive and defensive.
- Main Phase (2) - Takes place after all combat but otherwise is identical to Main Phase 1. You can play cards and you can sell them as well.
- Discard Phase - There is a hand limit of 6, you must sell cards at this point to get to that limit if you are over.
That's really the gist of the game. You do this until there is only one Hero still standing.
Game play wise, Dice Throne is really a lot of fun. It's a hugely tactical game with you trying to react to what your opponent does to you at every turn. Flexibility with your CP and your cards is really important. You have to know when to forcibly change your opponents rolls to best serve you and when to hold on to that card. The Offensive Roll Phase is where most of the action is and your abilities all having different dice combinations to activate them makes it almost feel like one of those fighting games where you have to hit those specific movement combos to trigger a specific attack. Do you go for the Small Straight or just go all in for the Ultimate Ability that your Hero has. The six sided dice all have two icons on them on two faces and the remaining two are singles. Your ultimate is activated if you have all of one of those Hero Specific singles. So card play is really important here as well with some of the cards granting re-rolls or even turning dice into specific icons based on the player's preference. Now, this is a dice game, so there are going to be times where the dice just don't favor you, and it hurts, but the variety of dice combinations on the actions makes it pretty difficult for you to be left out to dry and have no actions to take, although it can happen and it will put you at a pretty distinct disadvantage. All of our games have been really close, so any missed opportunities are going to hurt, so you have to stay on your toes and make the best of what you have each round. Each Hero, while feeling wholly unique, is balanced, I've not felt that any character that I've played or played against was too strong in the 1v1 mode, they each have their strengths and weaknesses.
Production quality wise, this is one of the most fantastic game packages I've seen in a long time. I went into it knowing next to nothing, I just figured it was going to be an average run of the mill dice and cardboard game, but the production on Dice Throne is through the roof, as I suppose we should expect from a company who asked for $15k to publish a game and made over $180k. Each Hero has their own individual plastic holder in the box for their cards, tokens, dials and dice and the individual holders are easy to remove and hand to players to keep everything together during play, it's a small and mostly superfluous touch that is appreciated and welcomed. The cards themselves seem a bit on the cheaper side, but I think the design on them, if maybe a bit spartan, is wonderful and makes reading and identifying what you are going to do with the card a breeze. Art wise, Manny Trembley knocked this out of the park with a look that is unique and fits the game style perfectly. It's inclusive and it's beautiful. One thing I do want to mention, I love when folks go that extra mile and give us art on the back side of boards, it's one of the things in board gaming that I just absolutely love seeing and they did that here with some wonderful art on the backside of each hero's player board.
So it seems my only real issue with the game is that there just isn't enough characters. In the box there are 6 and they are all fun, they are all unique and they all have a specific feel to them, but with a game like this you always want more, right? Well fear not, because on February 14, 2018, Roxley Games and Mind Bottling Games are launching Dice Throne Season 2 on Kickstarter. The graphic design and the style of the boards have changed a bit, so they won't match Season 1, but that won't matter, you are still getting some really fun characters showing up like the Gunslinger and the Samurai to take on your Paladin or your Barbarian.
I'm not saying that Dice Throne is the greatest game to come into existence, it isn't, but it is possibly the most fun head to head combat game that I have played in a long time. As anyone who knows me will attest to, dice are not my friend, they rarely do what I ask of them, but I've had a fantastic time chucking dice since we picked this up and I look forward to many more battles to come. If you are averse to head to head fighting games or dice, this may not be the game for you, but I think if you give it a try, you'll see the quality and the fun, you may just not appreciate it as much as others that lean towards these types of games.
Most importantly for me though with Dice Throne, is the fact that it has managed to bring my oldest daughter back to the gaming table willingly. There is just something about these types of games and the ability to kick her dad's ass, that makes it even more fun for her, and when the game is actually really good as well, that's a bonus for both of us.