Life is good when you're a dwarf! The beer! The beards! The beer – did I already mention the beer? Unfortunately, life is less good when your stronghold is being attacked by dragons. In Dice Miner, you play the leader of a clan of dwarves who must return to their ancestral mines and rediscover the glorious heritage of their people. You must dig seams of ore, smelt pickaxes to protect your mines from cave-ins, create weapons to defend against the dragons; and if you’re lucky, maybe find a gem or two. Oh, and you’re doing this whilst drinking beer, obviously.
Dice Miner is a dice-drafting, trove-building, set-collecting, push-your-luck game for 1-4 players that plays in about 30 minutes. I will review the multiplayer and solo mode of the standard edition of the game.
How Does It Play?
Behold! The mighty mountain you must mine.
A game takes place over a series of three rounds. At the start of the round, players either draft, or are randomly dealt, a character card. This provides the beginning of your engine. Each character provides 2-3 symbols that can be used during each round to contribute to your overall trove of dice. Then, you fill the mountain by pouring dice out of the bag onto the cardboard construct until full. Any dice that fall off get returned to the bag.
Each round of Dice Miner comprises of four stages: excavation; magic; scoring; and replenish. During the excavation stage, players take turns drafting one die from the top of the mountain. The top is any die with at least two sides visible. When you take a die you place it in your trove, showing the same face as on the mountain. During the magic phase, each player can spend magic dice to reroll dice in their trove. During the scoring phase, you score the round. In the replenish phase, you refill the mountain and reroll the trove of dice you have collected so far, ready for the next round. At the end of three rounds, you tally points, and whoever has the most wins!
There are five types of dice in Dice Miner. The most common are the white Tunnel dice; these have a value from 1-5 printed on them, and you score by creating “runs” of dice in value from 1-5. Every pip on a die in a run is worth one point, so a run can be worth anything from just one point (for a single value 1 tunnel die), to 15 points. However, your runs MUST start with a 1 to score. Have a 2, 3, 4, and 5? Sorry, it’s worth zilch without a 1. Any breaks in the run break the scoring, and you can create multiple runs of varying value. For me, this is thematically like mining a seam, looking for mineral deposits – without finding the start of the seam, you can’t get any ore! The deeper you follow the seam, the more minerals you find.
Next, we have the black hazard dice. These show two types of hazards: cave-ins, and dragons. Every cave-in symbol and dragon symbol in your trove is worth -1 points at scoring, and hazard dice can never be re-rolled with magic dice, so you are stuck with those for the round.
Then, the green Tool dice. Two of these faces show pickaxes; one shows a shield, and the other two show treasure chests. Remember how those cave-ins and pesky dragons cost you points? Well, for every pickaxe showing in your trove, and every shield symbol, those hazards become worth positive points instead, creating some of the highest value scoring possibilities. Have 10 dragons showing, and three shields? Boom; thirty points for smiting those pesky lizards. The treasure chest symbols on the other hand let you cache dice at the end of each round: for every chest symbol, you can keep one die without re-rolling it. Useful for keeping low-value tunnel dice to ensure you can create runs, or for locking in high-value gem dice.
Speaking of gems, next we have the yellow treasure dice. These show between one and three gems (although one is the most common). These are very simple; each gem symbol scores one point. However, there is a majority bonus: the player with the most gems doubles their score, although ties don’t count. It must be a clear majority!
Finally, the turquoise magic dice. As mentioned, these allow you to reroll the dice you drafted (or the ones already in your trove) before scoring. Every magic symbol on the die (there are 1-3 on each face) allows you to reroll one die – however, if a die shows multiple symbols, you MUST reroll as many dice as symbols.
"But what about the beer?!" You cry. "You promised us beer!" Yes, I did. Every dice in the game has one face showing a beer symbol. During the excavation phase, when you start your turn and you have a die showing a beer symbol, instead of taking a standard turn, you may instead roll that die (and the rules are clear you must shout “Cheers!” as you do), and pass it to an opponent.
This means giving a potentially useful die to an opponent. When you do, you then immediately draft two dice in a row – and, rather than having to mine from the top of the mountain, you may mine from the side, giving you the option to claim a die you really need, that isn’t currently available. This is because drunk dwarves will take what would usually be unacceptable engineering risks – I think. Beer can be really useful for you but may also help your opponent if you roll a good result! This is also the main form of player interaction in the game, beyond the drafting itself.
Dice Miner packs a lot into a small game. The mountain creates a really unique, thematically brilliant, and satisfying drafting puzzle each round. It is usually obvious which the most valuable dice are, and every die you draft reveals new dice for your opponents. This is where the beer comes in, and it’s an inspired way to resolve the puzzle: there is a trade-off between gaining two dice that are not currently available, but risking giving your opponent a useful die.
In the last game I played, I desperately needed a particular set of two dice from the side of the mountain, and had a single beer, on a green tool dice. My opponent already had two shields, and ten dragons on his hazard dice. I knew there was a 1/6 chance of giving him another shield, scoring him another ten points, but felt it was reasonable odds. And what did I roll? Of course it was a shield symbol. I lost that game by just three points – but, as in the Hunger Games, I felt the odds were in my favour.
This is absolutely a luck-heavy game. Yes, there is strategy, and room for hate-drafting. I have played games where my opponents snagged all the green tool dice, and I was forced to take hazard dice that did nothing but lose me points. The treasure dice have an interesting strategy with the majority bonus, and are probably the most predictable and controllable, but are generally the lowest scoring. The tunnel dice runs, and the hazard dice (with tool dice) are where the big points are really to be found. But tunnel dice runs can be very elusive, even when re-rolling. Some games the dice just won’t be on your side. If luck-heavy games are a turn-off for you, then you won’t like this.
Ultimately, that’s a personal preference. Dice Miner is a great filler-length game that doesn’t really take longer with more players. The more people playing, the less dice each player will get. The drafting decisions are generally interesting and meaningful, as are the rerolls. The characters help set an initial strategy for your game, without forcing you down any one path. It’s a fun, fast-paced, and exciting game. You’ll be jumping for joy when you get the exact outcome you need with a reroll. And then scowling when your opponent rolls you a hazard beer, giving you four more pesky dragons you can’t defeat.
My only real complaint is that I would like a little more in the way of dice mitigation; for example, a way to adjust dice without rerolling; e.g. flipping (turning a die to its opposite side). Whilst I don’t mind the high luck factor due to the speed and weight of the game, having a little more control would be a nice thing, and provide more meaningful decisions to make.
Overall Dice Miner is a great gateway level game that would be suitable for a filler game at a game night, or a fun game to play with the kids. Fans of games like The Quacks Of Quedlinburg will likely enjoy this.
The Solo Mode
Dice Miner’s solo mode is a variant game mode. Changes are made to drafting and scoring, and there is no victory condition: instead, it is beat-your-own-score, with scoring thresholds to determine how well you did. You set up the mountain as usual, but do not take a character card – instead, you take three magic dice from the bag and roll them. On your turn, you take one of three actions:
Firstly, you can draft a die, if legally able to do so. Tool dice, and treasure dice, can always be taken. Hazard dice can only be taken if you have a tool die showing the appropriate symbol, and each tool die can only negate a single hazard die.
When you take a treasure die, you must immediately either place it in a chest (i.e. put it next to a tool die showing the chest symbol), which doubles its gem value, or it must go by itself and is only worth the number of gems showing on the board. Tunnel dice can only be drafted if they can start a new run, or can add to an existing run. As a result, at the start of the game, you can only draft tunnel dice if they show a value of 1. However, beer symbols are always wild, and whenever you take any die showing a beer symbol, you can immediately turn it to the face of your choice.
Secondly, you can spend a magic die to remove dice from the mountain (following the usual drafting rules). You must remove a number of dice equal to the magic symbols showing. The dice you remove are returned to the bag, whilst the magic die is removed from the game. This is how you remove dice you cannot legally draft, to get to the dice you can.
Finally, if you have no more legal moves (or do not wish to take any more dice), you may refill the mountain. You leave all dice on the mountain, and then top up from the bag. You may do this twice, and before you do, you score – you complete one final scoring at the end of the game as well.
Scoring works differently for runs; each complete run is worth five points. You never reroll the dice you have taken in the solo game, so a complete run in the first round will be worth 15 points by the end of the game. Likewise, gems score one point by themselves or 2 points in a chest. Each hazard symbol negated by a tool die is worth one point. 71+ points is considered an excellent outcome.
Personally, I would not recommend Dice Miner for the solo mode alone. It does present an interesting drafting puzzle, but it is highly luck-based. If the dice you need don’t come out or are at the bottom of the mountain, there’s little you can do. It does play quickly; maybe 10 minutes per game. But it doesn’t have the same thrill as the main game. If you are purely a solo gamer, I’d pass.