Thursday 9 January 2014

Dice Town

Yet another brilliant game set in the Wild West (I am thinking of the game Bang!, which I might cover later)

Very cool box art

Name: Dice Town (2009)

Publisher: Matagot

Players: 2 to 5 but an expansion allows for a 6th player. Best with 4+. Okay with 3 players, but rather strange with 2.

Age: 8+

Time to play: With a small group, probably 20-30 minutes, but it can be as long as 60 minutes.

Price Range (AUD): $42.90 to $76. Quite pricey - anything over $55 is way too much

That being said, the components are quite good (you get plastic "bullet" cups and lots of dice - see my "Rules and Components" section below to get a better idea). But it is still on the pricey side.

Availability: Reasonably available online, maybe not locally.

  • Dice Rolling (Yahtzee-style)
  • Simultaneous Action Selection (with mild elements of auction-bidding coupled with Game Theory undertones)
  • Cowboy Western Theme
  • Possibly a Family Game?

Andre Lim's Rating and Brief Summary:

7.5+* out of 10. (Great - See my Rating Scale)

The competitive (and rather mad) rush as each player quickly attempts to accrue certain dice symbols to perform particular actions makes for a great gaming experience, particularly in an old west setting. All players receive 5 dice. Each dice symbol represents a certain action, and the aim is to accrue the most of a particular type (See Rules for a better overview of the game). For example, if you have the most Green Queens, you get to perform the steal action. Rolling the most Red Kings lets you become the sheriff and you get to decide tiebreakers.

However, there are certain twists and turns in this game. For example, it is actually the best poker hand that nets the most points; doing so rewards you with property cards that actually give you a lot of points. Furthermore, you also get a pretty powerful reward if you deliberately choose (or aim) to not win anything (eg. securing your property cards so that no one can steal them!).

There is also a certain excitement and unpredictability to this game as each person (almost) blindly "bids" their dice to obtain a reward of their choice. Some strategic depth exists as well as it pays to keep a close eye on what your opponents are doing.

This is one of my favourite dice games and I would highly recommend it to most people. See the Rules for more information.

*June and August 2014: Revised down from 8.65. Initially I revised this down to 8.55 on the grounds that I just couldn't, on principle, give this a higher or equal score to Tichu. However, upon further reflections, I have problems with giving Dice Town a rating of 8 and above; whilst it's a fantastic game, that little bit of chaos and unaccountability that goes on (especially when it comes to rolling dice and paying cash to re-roll - everything just happens too quickly for you to keep track of what is going on), for me, dampens the light of this game. If you trust everyone to know what they are doing, then this probably isn't a problem for you. Furthermore, some actions in the game don't seem to be that powerful if you play often enough. In a conservative group for example, being Sheriff doesn't really hold that much water (especially since people are unlikely to pay lots of money just to resolve a tiebreaker in their favour, when the prize is relatively insignificant); the same could arguably also be said for the "robbing the bank" action when people don't bother paying too much for re-rolling die. However this is likely to vary depending on who you play it with. An important quality of a game is its accessibility to all types of people and groups. This almost fits the bill. I think games like Las Vegas and Say Anything are significantly better and do meet this requirement.

The Good:
  • Light set-up
  • Good quality components that make for a more thematic Cowboy Western experience (especially the old-style plastic cups)
  • Rolling dice multiple times to bid for certain actions is inherently fun
  • Some strategic depth and fun is derived from trying to guess what your opponents will do with their dice
  • The "Doctor Badluck" feature makes the game very interesting from a strategic point of view; if you end up winning nothing you actually get some powerful rewards! (see Rules section below)

The Bad:
  • Little accountability when it comes to rolling dice as everyone rolls at the same time and it is difficult to check whether people are playing the game correctly - this may annoy some people if they feel that they can't trust people.
  • Might not suit people who don't like frantic gameplay
  • It can take a while to resolve everyone's dice after everyone has rolled it (see Rules section below) but this is probably minimal.

What makes this game fun? 

If you like rolling dice and the idea of "secretly" (kind of, anyway) bidding for certain items and trying to anticipate what other people are going to bid for, then this is a good game for you.

- This concludes the basic overview of the game.
If you are interested in reading about the components & rules to the game, please read on -

Rules & Components
What the board looks like in its totality

Each player receives a cup and 5 "poker" dice as shown below.
The aim of the game is to get as many Victory Points as possible.

(I explain the dice symbols and the actions associated with the symbols here first; I explain dice rolling later)

Dice Symbols

There are 6 symbols on each dice, and each symbol correlates to a certain part of the board.

6 Symbols. From left to right:
The Black Spades represent 9
The Red Hearts represent 10

The Blue dice represents Jack
The Green dice represents Queen

The Red dice represents King
The Solitary Spade represents Ace

I have to now show you how these symbols interact with the game board.

There is a lot going on here so let me split the board in half.

Left half of a prepared board:
From left to right:

Gold Mine (9's)
Bank (10's)
General Store (Jacks)
Saloon (Queens)

As you can see, the dice symbols are imprinted on the board.
This game is all about majorities.

Whoever rolls the MOST....:
  • 9's controls the Gold Mine. You take 1 Gold Nugget (worth 1 Victory Point per Nugget) for each 9 you rolled.
  • 10's robs the Bank. You take all the money in the bank (Above the "Bank" sign). The area below (on the stagecoach) is for all money spent re-rolling dice [see below rules on Rolling Dice] and will be used to re-fill the Bank for the next round.
  • Jacks gets to take cards from the General Store. You take as many cards as Jacks rolled and pick one. These cards give you special abilities and some also give victory points.
  • Queens gets to STEAL cards from other people. You get to look at as many cards as Queens rolled and steal one.

  • Kings gets to become Sheriff. You receive the Sheriff Badge and get to decide TIEBREAKERS (which is actually more useful than you might think - you can receive bribes for deciding a tiebreaker in favour of someone). Eg. if three players have 2 Jacks, you can choose who to favour for the right price.
Extra things to win:
  • Whoever rolls the BEST POKER HAND (Ranking, I think, goes like this: Five of a kind, Quadruples, Full House, Straight, Two Pair, Lone Triple, Lone Pair...) gets a reward from Town Hall and gets to take the bottom Property Card (in the above picture, it's the 5 Victory Point card). These are extremely valuable and will most certainly be a defining factor when deciding who wins. 
  • Note that, if you "win" the right to get property from Town Hall you get to take an additional Property Card for every Ace rolled but only up to a maximum of 3 Property Cards. (So if you had Triple Ace Double Nine, you can only take the 3 Property cards shown above). These property cards are replenished
  • If you win NOTHING you activate Doctor Badluck who gives you rewards based on what you roll (eg. making your Property Cards safe from stealing; taking a General Store card; forcing other players to pay you either $$ or Gold Nuggets)

Game's End

The game ends when all Property Cards are taken or if all Gold Nuggets are taken.

Every $2 held equates to 1 Victory Point.
Every Nugget = 1 Victory Point
If you are Sheriff at Game's End = 5 Victory Points
Certain General Store cards give you Victory Points
Count up all Victory Points on Property Cards.

Winner is the one who has the most Victory Points.

How to roll dice

Everyone gets unlimited rolls but you must adhere to certain rules.

First, roll your dice in your cup by putting all dice in your hand and shaking the cup over your hand. You then "slam" the cup on the table/carpet and peek underneath.

Now, after each roll you may ALWAYS choose to KEEP 1 (and ONLY 1) dice here for FREE.

If you wish to keep any additional dice on top of your free dice, you must pay $1 for each additional dice kept. (I will give you an example below)

You may also RE-ROLL THE WHOLE THING if you aren't happy with your roll but you must pay $1.

For example this could be someone's first roll (Ace, King, Queen, 10, 9):

Let's say I choose to keep the 9 above. I can leave it aside like this for FREE (placing it to the right):

I can now re-roll the remaining 4 dice in my cup. Let's say on my second roll I get three 9's and a Queen.

Now, as stated before, after this roll I can take the first 9 out for free as follows:

However, I am very happy that I rolled 2 extra nines. If I want to keep any extra dice in addition to the free 9 I took outI must pay $1 for every extra dice I want to keep.

So here, because I want to keep two more 9's (in addition to my "free" 9) I pay 2 dollars as above to the stagecoach and keep the two 9's:

(Your paid dollars will be used as the jackpot for the bank the next round, given to whoever rolls the most 10's the next round)

I then re-roll the Queen and the same rules above apply.

Notes on Dice-Rolling

The crazy thing about this game is that EVERYONE rolls at the same time. So it can get quite chaotic. (There is therefore a strategy to looking at what other people roll to see if you should compete with them)

If someone finishes before everyone else, they yell "FINISHED". 

When that person yells everyone gets one last re-roll of their unkept dice and they must stick to that roll whether they like it or not. This is to prevent people from adjusting their dice after looking at what the finished person's dice are.

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