Troyes Dice is the latest roll and write offering from Pearl games. As games of this genre go, it is surprisingly complex with numerous opportunities to develop your city. It lends itself very well to being played online, by zoom, or if you have the chance to travel, it can easily play whilst on the go.
The aim is to construct an organised society, based on three orders; the nobility, the civil, and the religious. The nobles protect the country. The civilians generate the goods needed for daily life. The church maintains education and spiritual well being. Troyes Dice is all about balancing these three areas of mediaeval life to score well in the end.
Troyes dice revolves around a central wheel. This marks the passage of the eight days used in the game. Each day is divided into morning and afternoon. This ensures that the game is completed within 16 turns, typically about 20 to 30 minutes.
Around the wheel are nine “plaza tiles”, flipped and placed randomly into curved notches. For each morning (afternoon) four plaza zones are available for play. It is onto these circles that the rolled dice are placed. The colours of these discs determine the districts that can be developed. The nobles reside in the red district, civil life in the yellow, and religious orders in the white.
The players score sheet mirrors these three districts; red, yellow and white. Each zone is also subdivided into six columns. These are labelled one through six and will indicate which part of the city can be regenerated according to the roll of the D6 dice. The labelling of these columns is not fixed. For beginners, it is recommended to label them all from one to six from left to right. For other more advanced play, this numbering can be randomly allocated. However, every player’s score sheet must have the same numbering so all everyone’s columns must be labelled the same.
On each turn, the four dice are rolled. They are placed in ascending order on the discs corresponding to the morning or afternoon. Three of the dice are clear, allowing the colour of the plaza to be seen. It is these three that are used for town development. The fourth die is black and this represents an attacking dice. The black die temporarily removes that plaza from play. From the third day, the value and place of the black die marks which area of the players score sheets are then damaged. This will prevent all subsequent building projects from occurring in that zone, although previously established buildings will remain.
The plazas have varying values in different parts of the wheel. The lowest value dice are placed on the tile with zero cost. The second dice plaza will cost either one denier or a resource of influence or knowledge. These resources are indicated by a yellow coin, a red flag or a white bible. The third and four zones will cost one or two deniers respectively. Gameplay continues simultaneously for all players. Everyone will select one of three remaining transparent dice. Several players can select the same die. For each die, there are three possible actions.
The simplest action is to gain resources; influence, denier (coins) or knowledge. The type of resource gained is determined by the colour of the circular plaza and the actual number of the resource by the value of the die. Players simply circle as many new resources as the value of the die. Sometimes, reaching a certain milestone will reward the player with extra citizens. These are also marked on the citizen tracts on the score sheet. Often it pays to use the higher value die which will have a higher cost as these will provide greater resources.
Players might choose to construct a building of the type indicated by the Plaza. This building must be one in the numbered column and (from turn three) not have been destroyed by previous black dice rolls. These prestigious buildings have an inherent value and bring bonuses if constructed - choose to build a fort (red building for nobility) and you will protect every subsequent black dice roll of that column. If a player works on the Great Hall (yellow dice) they might be rewarded with extra influence, knowledge, money or citizens too.
Building a cathedral with the white plaza unlocks end game scoring and is the key to doing well. As each cathedral is constructed so it unlocks the favour of a noble. Each noble will give one, two or three victory points for a specific building type. For example, building the cathedral associated with Hugues dePayns, unlocks the scoring of fortresses on the score sheet. Jeanne de Champagne will allow each City Hall to be scored. Failure to acquire any cathedrals will mean no “multipliers” can be applied to any buildings.
Victory through the workers
The third option is to use the dice plazas to construct a work building. These are not as grand yet reward the players with citizens of a specific type. The Count’s Palace requires a red dye and gives 2 red citizens. The City Hall and Bishopric require yellow and white dye respectively. Gaining citizens allow more bonuses to be unlocked. Acquiring a 15th or 20th citizen on each of the three citizen tracks gives a free prestige building or even two extra citizens. If a player builds a balanced portfolio of the workers, similar bonuses can be achieved.
Flipping the Plaza
Once all players have completed their actions the morning (or evening) is completed. The tile that contains the black dye is reinstated but instead flipped to the opposite side. This means that for subsequent days the range of plazas will differ. The central wheel has nine sectors; four mornings, four evenings and a space indicating the day.
The dice are re-rolled and placed on the four sections for the afternoon. At the end of each day, the wheel and central cog is advanced one step. The entire game is played out over eight days (morning and afternoon) so a game is completed within 16 turns. The final score is an amalgam of points for each building type (common, prestige and workers), along with resources and total citizens in the city. This means there are a number of pathways to victory.
Banquets and expansions
The game comes with a small expansion. This introduces more variability into the game. Three random tiles are selected. These are double-sided, one side containing positive effects (the banquet) and the opposite symbolises the raids (negative effects). Whenever a plaza is selected by a player, the corresponding tile (banquet or raid) is also applied. These tiles often have opposing effects. For example, if the banquet side is showing then playing that die and plaza is free. The reverse of the tile (raid side) might indicate that playing this die will increase the cost by one denier.
Over the course of the game when a black die is placed on a plaza with an associated banquet, it is flipped to the raid side for the remainder of the game and the negative effect persists.
Thoughts about Troyes Dice
Troyes Dice is more than your average roll and write game. Perhaps that is where game developers are going now. No longer are gamers being offered a few dice and small score sheet in a “Yahtzee – style” style random dice fest. So to call Troyes Dice just a “Roll and Write” almost seems like an injustice.
This is a quality game. As soon as you pick up this mid-sized box the artwork is clean and tidy. It brings the traditional Troyes game to mind, with mediaeval characters peeping out of a window. Inside Pearl games have developed a “good looking “game. The central playing board and nine plazas fit snugly together. The printing is clear on both sides of the disc. What a roll and write game needs is nice dice. The dice in Troyes Dice are lovely. The three transparent dice are weighty and crystal clear. This means that they readily take on the colour of the underlying plaza. The embossed numbers are crisp. This is an eye-catching game.
The rule book is well structured. The stages of gameplay with dice selection are clearly explained. The language is easy to understand and this is facilitated by excellent examples and pictures. On the reverse of the rule book is a series of attainment targets. These checkboxes remind me of attaining stages in The Crew. These are excellent for solo play as they give challenges to a player to try to achieve. Some are reasonable and straight forward, such as scoring over 45 points. Others would be a real stretch. Using these targets as a guide will ensure solo gamers explore a variety of point’s strategies. This means one might not just try to get a high score, but to enjoy working towards completing a series of tasks. This helps gives the solo game a purpose and is to be applauded.
Once underway, the gameplay is speedy. After the dice have been laid, and one plaza destroyed and flipped by the black dice, that leaves just three dice choices. Often one will be too expensive or impracticable so this usually leaves the choices with two dice. This is where the mechanisms of Troyes Dice is clever. The flexibility of using resources to affect the dice is very valuable. This means that if playing against others, what might seem like at first sight a limited set of possibilities, soon can allow your scoresheets to diverge wildly.
In my initial plays I was reluctant to “waste” resources to change the colour of the dice or their value. I thought it better to save the influence or religious tokens until later in the game where playing positions and choices have been narrowed. However, playing and developing buildings in adjacent locations to obtain a bonus is also an excellent strategy. From the third turn, the options will become more limited as the black dice will steadily destroy certain locations. This means another possible strategy could be to construct forts from the beginning, to “protect” certain columns. This is assuming the dice and plazas are placed favourably.
Troyes Dice scoring is weighted to develop cathedrals via the white, religious plazas. Without these, the end game and all scoring is very limited. Here too is a dilemma. The initial two cathedrals (and their patron) will only provide a x1 multiplier. So it is another strategy to allow “unimportant” cathedrals to be built, solely that the multiplier can increase to x2 or even x3. This can be a risky strategy as the further into the game you play, the more areas are removed courtesy of the black dice!
The balance of when and where to build is present in every round. Each of the 16 turns feels like a weighing up of risk and benefit. This thinking element is what elevates Troyes Dice far beyond simple roll and write games. To say that this game is about luck is to completely misunderstand the mechanics and at play. Every player has the same dice and thus the same choices. As you select one option, a lack of resources or later dice will mean that your reliance on better dice to proceed becomes even greater. Even if the dice are not rolled in a way you would like, options are still available. To play well in Troyes Dice is to either accept an “all or nothing” high-risk approach, or pursue a steady, more measured, but perhaps lower-scoring tactic.
There are elements of Troy dice that are a niggle. The scorepad is my main concern. Pearl games have provided a 100-sheet pad. This is only single-sided. New replacements are available but laminating a few score sheets and using a whiteboard paint pen would be worthwhile to save paper and ensure the game in its present form can be played over again.
A good score in Troyes Dice requires players to identify and multiply up the patron associated with a particular cathedral. While keeping with the mediaeval theme, the characters are not very clear, especially in certain light. The icons are very small. In my opinion, a series of six different coats of arms would make identification more straight forward. This is especially important if the column numbering is not sequential as occurs in advanced or experienced play.
The game finishes very quickly. With just 16 rounds there will always be a number of blanks and gaps in a player’s sheet. A review of the final sheets shows that there are often numerous alternative strategies that could have been considered. I find this quite interesting comparing how others have chosen to develop their towns the look is always so varied.
The beauty of role and right games is that there is a consistent time to play them. Troyes Dice will take about 20 minutes, irrespective of player count. Everyone plays at the same time. There is never any loss or focus while waiting for others to complete a turn. Every game is different. Initial set up with the random placement of the plazas along with different rolls of the dice each turn will ensure that every game played has a different outcome and direction.
The use of the banquet expansion tokens further enhances replayability. These will make certain plazas even more valuable and appealing, but when a black dice has being placed on them the banquet token is flipped and this makes for a difficult choice. For all future turns, this Plaza may have negative points or less favourable outcomes associated with it.
Playing Troyes Dice has been a real revelation. My first three or four games felt disjointed and a little chaotic. It was as though I had to accept what the dice said. This meant I was compromising my moves each turn, constantly hoping for a better roll of the dice to cover up for my previous poor decision-making. After the fourth game, suddenly the mechanics clicked. I was no longer constrained by the random behaviour of four D6 dice. I started to become the master builder, bending these dice to conform to my game plan. I realised those dice are a guide and I was in charge. By using my resources wisely I had the power to affect even the worst possible dice rolls. It was an epiphany.
Troyes Dice might be called a roll and write – four dice are rolled, a pen is used to write on the score sheet. To say that Troy dice is “just a roll and write” is to fail to understand. This is as much of a resource management game. It is a wonderful thinking game that plays well whether in solo mode with individual challenges and achievements or against any number of others around the table or even online. It is a worthy addition to my game collection and sure to be played on a regular basis.