Think back to your first board game. There’s a fairly good chance it involved a die of some sort. Be it Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly or even Trivial Pursuit, the humble dice has been around for centuries. The Vikings used them if Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is anything to go by. Plus there are hieroglyphic tablets from Ancient Greece showing Senet pieces from 3000 BC. Fast forward nearly 5 millennia, dice-based role-playing games like Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons started to pick up momentum and pretty soon. The sound of clicky clacky math rocks echoes through games rooms across the world.
Newer games now use dice in a whole new way, not just for the movement of pieces. Because of the random element of the gameplay, these games have inherent replayability. For those of you who want a challenge of fate vs you (and your friends and family), here are five dice-based games to sink your teeth into.
BRAAAAAAAINS! *cough* Sorry, that slipped out. Starting with the simplest dice game to whet the appetite of the players in your life. Zombie Dice by Steve Jackson Games is a press your luck game with a simple objective. “Eat brains. Don’t get shotgunned.” You are the zombies. The dice are the humans. Of the 13 dice, six are green and very easy to catch a brain from, four are yellow and give a medium challenge and three are red. The red guys will fight back hard. But no matter… their brains are delicious…
The gameplay is so simple and can be very speedy. You draw three dice from the cup to symbolise your randomly fleeing victims and chase them. They either get captured by you and become dinner, run away and live to be chased by you again, or they shotgun you in the face. Three shotguns and your turn is over. You can keep drawing dice from the cup or you can stop and cash in the brains you have gained. First to 13 brains wins. This game is so easy to play and can be over in a matter of minutes. This makes it an excellent between courses game or to give your minds a break whilst you unwind from the complexities of Dominion or 7 Kingdoms. Above all, this game brings the excitement of random chance and introduces a lot of people to the world of dice rolling games.
Final thoughts? BRAAAAAAAINS!
Keeping in the horror theme. We move from simple zombies to a haunted castle with a variety of monsters for you and your friends to fight. You’re released from a prison and set about turning over 15 cards before challenging a major boss in order to Escape the Dark Castle. Fans of the Choose Your Own Adventure genre will love this dice game. Most of the cards offer you a choice between direct confrontation or a diversionary tactic to survive.
Each player has their own character and hit point pool to survive the horrors of the castle. The way to do that is rolling your character’s specific dice and… well, hoping mostly. Each character has their own balance of Might, Wisdom and Cunning to go against the monsters.
15 cards, 4 players with 12 hit points each? What could possibly go wrong? a lot. Like, really a lot. There is no player elimination in this dice game – you win or lose together. If one character dies, then you are all doomed to fall to the monsters in the castle. If you choose the wrong character to open the door and flip the next card, you could suddenly find yourselves on a proverbial canoe without a proverbial paddle whilst a creek lingers nearby. Some cards target the first player to enter a room, others will target everyone, but most will give you items. The joy of THINGS! Wonderful things! Things that will help you win and can be shared with your team.
The order of cards changes each time you play, and with three expansions and a sister game called Escape the Dark Sector, there is a lot of replayability in this game. Even how the monsters fight changes from game to game. The tension ramps up rapidly and keeps you excited and nervous throughout the game. This game is delightfully dark and keeps demanding more from you. One game is not enough.
See a full review of Escape the Dark Castle here.
Matt Leacock and Z-Man games team up once again to bring a fresh new twist to the classic co-operative board game synonymous with the year 2020. Four diseases have spread around the globe and it’s up to you and your team of experts to save the world. Take up your ID badge (complete with signature) and the signature dice of your character and set out from America. The dice are your friends and your enemies in this game. They represent the actions you can take and where the diseases will spread to. Players can treat civilians, attempt to cure disease with the collected samples and move about the board. Also, you can press your luck with the actions given to you. However, doing so risks your character getting tired and letting more disease back out into the world.
You may be detecting a theme here, but I love replayability in games. I picked up an expansion for PTC on sale in my FLGS, thinking it was an expansion for regular Pandemic. I was delighted when I got the right game. Drawing the disease spreading dice at random, rolling them out for their placement, and the possibility of your action dice betraying you are very exciting factors and mean that PTC will go from “this is fine guys, we’re basically gods here” to “oh lord, how will we save the children now?!”. Playing against the game is a great mechanic, but it doesn’t stop you from blaming the individual who rolled for an epidemic to happen. “Curse you, Steve! You left the petri dish open!” Top tip from an actual scientist – don’t leave the petri dish open, Steve.
A full review of Pandemic: The Cure is available here.
Cubitos is a press your luck, dice drafting game, where the goal is to scurry your cubic animal around the track. Think of a cross between Zombie Dice, Formula D and Legendary. The gameplay is straightforward. You take your little running figure (a cubic elephant, monkey, sheep or lion) and place it on the starting line. You draw as many dice as you’re allowed, indicated by a purple hand on your player board and roll them in the roll zone. (Top tip: when you roll, you may want a tabletop rolling tray, or you can use a cappuccino cup and a plate to create awkward Boggle) placing the “hits” (shown by coins, feet and creature faces) in your Active Zone.
You can then choose to roll any misses again. If you roll all misses, you go bust and your Active dice are wasted, and you flip your phase token over. Once all players are either bust or pass, everyone moves onto the Run Phase. Optional phase: you can comment on how each other did – for example “you did not just get the brontosaurus, Barry!”
Cubitos grants phenomenal replay value from a variety of actions granted to you by the dice and the different setups for each game, furthermore introduced the tactical element of choosing which dice you want to base your strategy on. You rarely have enough time to observe how your opponents are doing until you get to the clean-up phase. By then, you and your opponents are spread about the track and you really need to consider how you’re going to get across the line first. You also have to choose which dice you’re using carefully because once they’re used up, they’re discarded temporarily. You have to use ALL the dice you’ve gathered, including your starting dice. Because of the tactical element, this dice game is more complicated than the others listed so far, but once you get going, it’s a lot of fun.
The gorgeous artwork and cast of colourful characters are very appealing to the child inside and the chaos of simultaneous play and movement makes for some hilarious moments around a table at Christmas. Even those who are colour-blind are accounted for, as the podiums the dice sit on clearly show the faces available on each die. Speaking of inclusion, I’m a big fan of the tie rule. If there is a tie across the line, EVERYONE gets to continue playing. Choose wisely and push your luck as far as you can.
For a full review of Cubitos, check it out here.
Roxley have published some wildly creative games over the years, and Orin Bishop’s Steampunk Rally is no exception. According to the lore of the game, Nikola Tesla has summoned the world’s greatest minds to challenge them in a no-holds-barred race through the Swiss Alps. In an engine building, card drafting and dice rolling race, players will use their own unique combination of Heat, Steam and Electricity to power their monstrous machines, which often look like they would never work in real life (but 100% would totally work, this is Ada Lovelace racing Einstein here!) The strategy you choose may lead you to be aggressive against your opponents. Removing the cards you know they would really use, or totally self-isolated and building the best machine you can.
You can consider Sushi Go! as a mechanical ancestor (also an honourable mention to Sushi Roll! as a 6th dice game) as you layout the machine parts you’ve collected, set your dice upon them and vent the excess energy to let you power into the lead. With four different decks of machine parts to draft from, the colourful dice and the special powers of each inventor to keep the game fresh, you’ll be playing Steampunk Rally for as long as you can say Alberto Santos-Dumont, and you get a delightful history lesson in the process with gorgeous art by Mr Cuddington.
It is a complicated dice game to explain to your newer gamers, but it is surprisingly quick to pick up. I also enjoy the benefit of a visual aid to the learning process in the form of an instructional video. If you’re feeling like adding the flavour of nuclear aliens, check out the sequel – Steampunk Rally Fusion.
Steampunk Rally’s full review is available here.
We have come to the end of the tumbling fun of the dice roller games, with a variety of themes and playstyles. Dice have littered my home for days, but then they did that before I started this article!