Elemenz is a tactical dice duelling board game from BadCat Games. It's designed by Jason Maclean Jones and features two separate game modes: A 3-4-player challenge and a two-player battle. An average game is said to last between 12-30 minutes, and it has an age rating of 8+.
Playing the Game
Each player gets seven dice representing Energy and a matching Shaman board representing the Master Shaman of their choice. Each Master Shaman has a particular focus on one of the four mystical elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water) but will still have use for the other three. The energy dice all feature at least one of each element with a second element of the type relevant to the Master Shaman (the dice for the Earth Master Shaman Xyrix has two sides showing the Earth element).
The final side features a Z symbol (pronounced in the American ‘Zee’ rather than the British ‘Zed’). This acts as a wild element but can only be used when paired up with another element and acts as a copy of that element. A triple Zee roll causes a Wild Surge which automatically ends a player’s turn with no Combos (actions) activated.
The boards show the six Combos each Master Shaman can perform and the energy recipe needed to be rolled in order to activate them. Each energy space is designed for the rolled dice to be placed in them to help all players identify what Combos a player may be able to perform on their turn. The results of each Combo are shown as icons which need to be referred to in the rulebook or on cheat sheet cards given to each player.
The boards also have an area for energy to be used as a shield to deflect attacks from other players and a reminder of the effects of rolling three Zees.
Each player also receives a Totem board, again matching their Master Shaman and four random Pulses which go on the spaces for them. The Totem’s main ability is to discard two Pulses to cancel the loss of one energy dice. It can also use Wild Surges to swap out the existing Pulses with random new ones. The Pulses themselves are free to use and can be die re-rolls, extra energy, extra health or avoiding a Wild Surge. Energy can also be actioned, like with a Combo to replace Pulses or to Burn (remove) another player’s Pulse. If at any time all four Pulses are removed from a Totem, the Totem is lost.
As an optional extra, each player is given two Avatar tokens which have similar abilities to the Pulses and can be Burned in the same way. However, each time one is used or Burned, they are placed face-up in the pool and can be purchased by any player to be used (or Burned) again.
Each turn a player may roll each dice up to three times and then activate the Combos from that roll. With only seven dice at their disposal a choice may be needed to keep dice in the Shield area, action a Combo or buy or burn a Pulse or Avatar. Actioned Combos will affect other players and can cause re-rolls, remove dice or attack. Attacks compare the number of dice in the attack and the defence’s shield. If the attack is greater than the Shield, the defender loses as many dice as the difference.
Play continues until only one player has any dice left.
There is a two-player option in Elemenz. It's played on the reverse side of the Shaman Boards, where each player takes two associative boards (Earth with Fire and Air with Water) and match them up. They also take three dice of for both related elements.
Rather than being combative, this version of Elemenz sees both players take turns to complete eight Combos (requiring one to four dice for both elements). As with the main game, each die can be rolled up to three times. Rolls that come up Z are automatically removed from play for that turn and cannot be used or re-rolled.
Each time a Combo is completed, one die is Locked into that Combo and cannot be used for subsequent turns.
There are also five other Combos available on each board to do extra actions to help (re-rolling Z dice or getting extra dice) or hinder (unlocking opponents dice or forcing the opponent to lose a dice).
The winner is that player to complete their eight Combos first or if their opponent starts a turn with no usable dice available.
There can be bit of downtime with a four-player game of Elemenz. Those who aren't the active player can be left watching up to nine dice rolls and decision-making following each roll. Some Pulses or Avatars can be used as a defensive move, but most the time it’s a roll-then-wait game. The Wild Surge is the unfortunate ‘Miss-a-turn’ mechanic disguised behind a ‘Push-your-luck’ front but can hurt if it comes up in your first roll. Also, as with other ‘last-player-standing’ game, the first player eliminated ends up sitting at the table not playing anything for the remainder of the game.
The two-player variant is a lot more player intensive with players planning their next possible actions while their opponent has their turn.
Although there are four different Shamans, they are pretty similar with only one special ‘race ability’ to make them stand out. However, rolls of the dice are always unpredictable, even with so many re-rolls so this game can potentially be varied enough to come out the cupboard from time to time.
There are only the two board set-ups for the two-player variant in Elemenz. This may keep younger children interested but would probably only be tried once by most players.
If certainly feels like a lot of the attention in the making of Elemenz has gone into its production. The dice have a nice weighty feel and show their faces clearly. They also have a nice marbling within their colour-palette giving them a more ethereal look. The artwork on the box and boards are beautiful and clear with a full-colour glossy rulebook all fitting with the Elemenz theme.
The boards themselves are solid. The punch-out tokens are standard quality and clearly show their details. Thought has also been given to the symbolism which to make logical sense to their actions and should be easy to remember.
Some Combos do automatic actions to players adjacent to the main player, but others do force a player to choose who to attack. Some actions can also be responded to with various counter-plays. Burning other players’ Pulses and Avatars can also encourage retribution.
As players are focused on their own boards in the two-player variant, there is next to no interaction (apart from sacrificing completing their own Combo for undoing the opponent’s).
Final Thoughts on Elemenz
There is no doubt that Elemenz is a beautiful looking game that unfortunately gives this impression that it has more substance than it does. As a warm-up or filler game for those who want a combat-lite game, this does just fine. For those taken in by its impressive looks they may find that they play this and wonder what they did wrong.