It's not often that a game promises to allow you to build a civilisation in such a quick time as Nations: The Dice Game. Taking the theme of it's more complex big sibling, Nations, this dice version offers 1-4 players the chance to butt heads and compete for the most points.
Roll for the Nations
Nations: The Dice Game sees each player taking charge of a nation player mat, which in the base game are all identical. This player mat illustrates the players starting dice and tokens. In this base game the players start with five white dice which are illustrated as blue buildings, future buildings will be played on top of these - replacing any dice or tokens with the ones illustrated on the new building. Tokens work the same way for the most part, with the exception that your starting tokens never get replaced.
Tokens can be any of the icons from the dice, or a special ability like a re-roll. Each round players will roll their dice, lay out new tiles for purchase and also lay out an event tile. Then, in turn, order they will take one action at a time until every player has passed. Actions include using dice and tokens to buy a tile, build a wonder, re-rolling, and using two dice as a gold, sword or build action. Using a dice or token places it on your player mat in the used area.
Tiles come in four types. Buildings are blue and must be placed over an existing building on your player mat, returning the dice shown on your old building and gaining the one or ones shown on the new. New dice are immediately rolled and may be used later in the round. Advisors are yellow and give you points and/or tokens. They have a space on your player board and like buildings replace any old advisors and the tokens they gave you.
Colonies are a little different, they are not placed on your board, but to the side. You take any shown tokens immediately and can buy as many colonies as you want. Wonders are similar but must first be placed on your player mat and built before you gain any bonuses.
Nations the Game
This carries on for four rounds or 'ages' when players count up scored points to determine the winner. There is a little more complexity than this, with some round to round scoring and 'book' collecting. The most interesting aspects of this being that you can choose not to use dice and instead save them towards end round points.
At the end of the game your nation will look a little different than it did at the start. You will have collected more tokens, upgraded your dice pool and built wonders with the help of advisors. This all sounds pretty thematic, however in practice the theme is somewhat abstract. You don't ever feel like you are moving a civilisation through the ages, instead you are rolling dice and becoming more powerful through collecting tiles. Somehow this doesn't make a bad game.
Maybe because it's so damn quick, but I find Nations a compelling game. I am not adverse to the luck of the dice, particularly when you feel that you have good options whatever you roll. In Nations, tiles are limited per age so you have to decide when to purchase them, because if you don't they may be gone by the time your next action rolls around. Even a roll that isn't ideal can be used for points or mitigated.
Nations Built on Books
One way of gaining points is to get ahead on the book track by rolling books. This is a potentially big point earner as you get points for each player behind you on the track. You could save swords and leaves to win the end of the round famine or war phases. In short there is lots to do for such a simple, quick playing game. The colour of dice you gain can give focus your strategy as their faces favour some icons over others.
There are even some solo rules included, normally this wouldn't bother me, but Nations plays so quick that I gave it a try. I love it! The solo mode works really well, and can help practice strategies for the multiplayer game. It even replicates the player interaction with the AI player potentially taking tiles after each of your actions.
It's not perfect, the base game nations are identical apart from name and the cardboard components are not the best. The dice are great though, nicely engraved and consistent. There is a lot of tiles in this game which adds variety but also more luck. This means it is a risk to plan to far ahead as you have no way of knowing what might tiles might appear. As I already mentioned, the theme here really could be nearly anything, but the gameplay really shines by asking you to do the best with the resources you have. This might not scratch your civ itch but anyone who likes dice games should check this out.
Way to Grow
Nations: The Dice Game also has a small expansion, known as Unrest, that adds asymmetric player mats, more powerful tokens, new scoring tiles, including bonuses for passing first and green dice. It may not sound like much but the player mats alone make the world of difference. The game had a lot of variety anyway and this adds more, I was concerned that this might tip the luck balance to far, but actually, whenever I include the expansion the game opens up much more.
For me this is an essential expansion, easy to add in without adding complexity, you can play this with new players right off the bat.
With the expansion, this game gets an 89% review score.