It can be hard to get a game noticed. Go in to hard on the visuals and people will question if there is enough gameplay to back up the looks. Conversely, concentrate solely on theme and mechanics and it can be hard to grab people’s attention. Adding a unique seldom used mechanic may be seen as a gimmick.
Stepping into this minefield with gorgeous visuals, promising gameplay and a dice crafting mechanic that sees you change the faces of the dice as you play is Dice Forge. Are fears founded? Or can Dice Forge negate these waters and come out the other side unscathed?
Like Seasons and Lords of Xidit before it, Dice Forge is a gorgeous game. Designer Régis Bonnessée clearly values strong and colourful art in his games, and although Dice Forge is undoubtedly a much lighter game than Seasons, the friendly art might be a double-edged sword.
To look initially at the boxes you might expect a family friendly light weight experience, and in Seasons you’d be wrong; In Dice Forge you’d be half right. To compound this feeling of ease of use are the Lego like dice that can have their faces changed to improve the odds of rolling what you want.
Yet the rest of the many components, the various icons, the cards and dice faces, the separate board and everything else present Dice Forge as a more complex affair than it perhaps is. Let’s take a closer look:
In the Box
In the midst of increasing prices for board games, there does seem to be another trend of packing real value for money into game boxes. For around £30 English pounds you are not only getting a lot of game but a lot of quality components.
These components are protected and kept in place by one of the best inserts I have seen, that not only locks everything snuggly in place for storage, but also serves a (semi) practical purpose. The game revolves around rolling dice to obtain resources that can be used to purchase new die faces or cards.
As well as all the necessary components for that, the game has four player boards and five cubes per player colour to track you income and expenditure as you whip through the nine to ten rounds.
The dice face are cleverly contained in a cardboard train with two levels. This area is referred to as the Sanctuary where you can buy dice face, and the Gardens where you can obtain them through cards. During play this can sit in the box next to the main board (The Islands) meaning everything you could possibly need is nice and close, or you can just lay it on the table.
The Islands board is neatly arranged in terms of art work, that runs from the board on to the cards that sit in the relevant slots. Cards cost either Sun Shards, Moon Shards or both and come in four types; vanilla points cards, instant effects and two types of permanent cards, one that gives you extra options each turn and one that is a reactive power. These are illustrated brilliantly on both sides and it is always clear which card is which.
The player boards have cube shaped holes in them to hold your tracking cubes in place, and record the amount of gold, sun shards, moon shards and victory points you have accumulated. All in all it’s clear a lot of thought has gone into the components to aid gameplay, and to make down time between your terms absolutely minimal.
At the start of every player's turn all players roll both dice, this is called a divine blessing. This is a brilliant feature because it means you are always involved, even on other players turns you will be collecting resources and planning out your next spend.
After taking a divine blessing you will activate any appropriate cards, and then take an action which equates to a visit the Sanctuary or the Islands.
If you go to the Sanctuary you can buy as many dice faces as you can afford, or go to one of the Islands on the board to buy a card. If you have two sun shards left you can spend them to take another action and that’s your turn over.
There is quite a lot to spend your resources on, a variety of tempting new dice faces to replace your lowly starting faces, but if you want points you are going to have to start buying cards.
There are some really clever cards included in the base game, cards that let you smelt gold for victory points instead of saving it, resource board extensions, special dice face, and one use tokens. You won’t use all the components in one game, but you could well have seen them all after three games.
The game lasts nine or 10 rounds depending on player count, and that is going to feel quick most of the time, maybe too quick. Once the allotted amount of rounds has been played you will add the victory points from your cards to the ones earned during the game and the person with the most points wins!
Final Thoughts on Dice Forge
Dice Forge is a good game, but it's certainly light despite the many icons and things going on. Turns flow and the lack of down time is superb. It’s just over too quickly. You get your dice to where you want them and you barely have a round to benefit. Then there’s the cards which are so well designed, but there’s just not enough of them, or perhaps not enough difference between them.
Despite this you almost always want another go to try something new with the dice or snatch up the best cards as soon as possible. The game scales incredibly well and is easy to teach. The rule book is well written, but for some reason they made it open vertically so it’s a bit of a swine to wrestle with, thankfully there’s not much too it.
I like Dice Forge and I look forward to seeing where they take it. It doesn’t belong in everyone's collection but there is enough there to keep me coming back… for now.