Dice City Review

Dice City

Players: 1-4

Time: ~50 minutes

Times Played: 6

Dice City is the most bored I’ve ever been playing a board game. It was almost Catan-level in my want for the game to end. At least Catan made me feel my heart beat as the frustration of playing that game reminded me of my own mortality whereas Dice City could legally proclaim me comatose for the time between my last round and my next as nothing of importance happens.

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The premise of Dice City doesn’t really matter as the theme is generic city building that utilizes colorful dice to activate spaces on your player board. You roll the dice and place them on their corresponding spots on the board and then use other rolled dice to manipulate the few you actually want to use. The spaces let you get resources or defenses or attack strength which you can use to build buildings, establish trade, and attack bandits. I have nothing against the basic concept of dice-manipulation but I don’t like how Dice City implemented it (more on that in a few).

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Lil’ bits

Getting back to the theme, I feel like it could have been expanded on and made into something completely different and it would have improved the game immensely. With the cute art, a city building of Candyland would be awesome. Maybe an underwater civilization is being built up. Maybe the houses are actually dog kennels and they’re trying to make the city more pet friendly. I don’t know man. I feel like anything would be better than city-builder number six. But alas, we’re saddled with what we were given.

Dice City is one of the few games I’ve played where I actively space out and don’t particularly care what I do on my turn. This is bad. I think and want to talk about board games all day and all night but when Dice City is staring back at me, I’d rather stare into the abyss.

I also completely ignore what the other players are doing. I’m so competitive and enjoy the brain teasers that are games yet Dice City saps that from me. It’s like a pre-season game. Why bother trying your hardest? Even if I were to pay attention to what my opponents are doing, it rarely if ever impacts my own decision making. My player board is my player board and rarely if ever will that change. The amount of buildings up for grab might change if another player buys what I want but with the handicap on keeping resources between rounds, there isn’t much fluctuation in the building market between turns because players cannot afford it.

The game gives you so many options for each round yet none of them are interesting or meaningful. By the second and third round, you realize that what you’ve been doing will be what you continue to do for the rest of the game. The buildings will differ slightly and your dice won’t always cooperate but it’s not like a new phase unlocks or new actions will be revealed.

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The downtime between players can be unbearable when playing with more than two players. This isn’t because the actions are difficult or the decisions are mind melting; no, it’s more to the fact that it takes time to turn dice into resources which then turn into cards that are placed on your board. Even though players two and three are doing their own thing, you have to wait for each before it gets back to you on the off chance they do something that changes your strategy.

The issue of time is even more apparent with the Traveler space on the board. The only function of this space is to re-roll the die that’s placed on it. If playing by the rules, a player is hamstrung until their turn so they can re-roll this die and plan what they want to do. God forbid they roll that number again and we’re stuck in an endless roll off until they can take their two lumber and be happy about it. When we play, wWe just go off the honor system and let players re-roll immediately. No reason to delay the game over a die roll.

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This is the only game that I’ve ever purposely tried to end early. There are games where you’re in the driver seat and can basically plan when the game ends so that it will benefit you over someone else (such as Terraforming Mars or Azul) but Dice City is a game that I played just to end.

Luckily for me, the game has the ability to end quickly due to the requirements needed. This is fine when you did what I did (which to clarify, I am ashamed of) but terrible if you actually like this game. You’ll finally be getting to the point where you are giving your city a personality and character when *bzzzt*, games over. Dice City features the typical end game requirements that deal with running out of cards of certain decks but it also lets players end the game when a player fills two rows of their city. Depending on players rolls and their placement of buildings, this can happen very quickly. In fact, in looking back at our scores of this game, you can clearly see which game was ended early as there’s almost a twenty point difference between that game and the next lowest.

To nag on something different than gameplay, Dice City also takes up an insane amount of real estate on your table. It’s the second largest game to hit our table (behind Twilight Imperium 4) and every inch is used due to the gargantuan boards. I have no idea why the boards are so massive when the cards and components are on the mini-scale. Laying out all the card piles and playing Food Chain Magnate doesn’t take up as much room as Dice City. It would be borderline acceptable if the boards were double-sided and/or variable or there was a playmat for the amount of cards that are placed down for all players to vie for but there isn’t.

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This isn’t even its final form.

The rulebook was helpful in explaining how to play and score the game but I find it curious that it covered some cards but not all. There aren’t that many and a full glossary of cards could have really helped players when tricky situations arise.

I enjoy the cutsey artwork but that style of family-friendly design doesn’t translate to the game put in front of me. I think if Dice City removed the militaristic aspects of the game and went more with the building of the city, the theme and art would compliment one another much better than they do now. I honestly can’t look at some of the art and imagine it fairing well in a militaristic duel with bandits. I’m definitely being hyper critical but with so many games having art that breathes life into the world they’re trying to build (Scythe, Clank!, Fresco), Dice City doesn’t evoke that emotion from me.

The box is also a mystery to me. This game can only ever be stored on its back as for whatever reason, the insert includes a shallow pit for the resources and dice. If this game is ever jostled, those resources will then be thrown about the box and into the separate card slots. Maybe my box didn’t come with a bag or something because I just don’t understand this. I thought I had the dice and resource sections switched but honestly, it doesn’t matter because there is nothing keeping them in place.

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Now that that is out of my system, let me comeback to my issues with the gameplay. The inability to carry resources over from round to round also tends to create some weird mechanic dynamics as the game progresses. As you can only carry over one of each type, players tend to spend their excess on whatever they can so it’s not wasted. This typically means they’re purchasing Mills, Mines, and Quarries. These buildings provide two resources, which is better than the starting one resource unless new math changed that. But the problem comes in that then you’re just getting more of the same. If you can only build Mills, eventually you’re the lumber king (or queen) of the table, sitting on a commodity that has a shelf life of six seconds. It rarely, if ever, does you any good and I can’t think of the thematic reasoning as to why the wood goes bad. Termites, maybe?

My single biggest issue with Dice City is that no matter the player count, you’re pretty much playing a game on your own. Sure, you can be indirectly impacted by players taking the building you want or beating the bandit you’re aiming for but it’s easy to switch strategies in that case. There’s too many options and it’s typically very easy to move something if need be. You rolled a six but really needed a five? Use a different die to move it over one space or more if needed. You’re rarely, if ever, penalized for what you roll.

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The game does feature direct player interaction in the idea that players can attack one another but every time we played we had to ask ourselves “why?”. Attacking an opponent just gives them a reason to attack you, which starts guerrilla-style strikes against each others city for the rest of the game. Repairing buildings that suffered damage is easy enough and more of a minor inconvenience as opposed to a full-on detriment. If two players spend time attacking one another, the third pacifist-esque player will be able to run free and do what they want as they’re not using their dice for attacks, defense, and repairing. I could just never find a time when this was a viable strategy which hurts to say because I wanted it to be one. Being able to attack another players custom city is all kinds of cool and yet it never happens.

I tried to like this game. I like city-building and dice games. I tried games where I just built buildings, maximizing my resources and trading goods throughout the lands. I tried being a militaristic might, squashing all bandits that come before me and keeping neighboring cities in line. I even tried just forgoing any and all narrative and grabbing purple buildings to only score points.

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The problem was that none of it mattered in the end as they all work fundamentally the same as you roll and plug away on your personal plus-sized player board. I’m sure there are other strategies but these felt like the main ones. As long as you’re the only one doing one of these strategies, you’ll quickly have a monopoly on it. While that’s true of a lot of games, it felt painfully true for Dice City. Once you started slaying bandits and no one else could, you were in the lead from then on.

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Nothing felt challenging or rewarding and worst of all, nothing was fun. If you want to do something, you can. You’ll have to pay for it, but you can do it. That is nice since this is a game with randomness due to the dice rolls and being offered the ability to mitigate that randomness will help players but it was too easy to. I also never felt like the randomness was ever an issue, even in regards to the buildings that would appear (or disappear). There’s just so many duplicates of buildings and spaces that it’s hard to be hung up about a turn or two where what you really wanted to do was unattainable because that never happens.

Dice City ensures that you’re never truly out of the game or kept from performing your chosen tactile action. It also makes a point to remind you that what you do doesn’t matter as you can either perform the action or two that you want by spending other die to facilitate the deal or you may have been graced with a good roll that let’s you do those actions and three other things. I can’t remember one instance of playing this game and not being able to accomplish my goal for the round, minus the first turn or two.

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By this point you’re probably thinking one, if not two things. The first is probably how wrong I am and how this game is amazing. Please feel free to try and change my mind. I love open discussion. Maybe the expansions help fix some of the issues I have with the game. I haven’t looked at them yet. The second thought is “if you hate this game so much, why do you play it?”.

That’s simpler to answer. My friends enjoy it and since they play games I like, I play games they like. Just like Chinatown, everything comes down to negotiation.

Dice City is an easy game to learn. It’s incredibly lightweight and a good introduction to dice-manipulation. I have no doubt my parents or the kids I mentor could pick this game up and play it without me explaining the rules to them. I find the rules so simple that if this was shorter, I would categorize this as a filler game as opposed to anything else.

That might be one of my bigger issues with the game. It’s too lightweight. I honestly find more interesting decisions made in Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne, which BGG has rated as lighter games than Dice City.

This is a game where I can sit back, chuck dice, and not think for an hour. That’s a compliment and a criticism but sometimes you just want to play a game without having to be too invested in it. Dice City is perfect for that. It’s board gaming on auto-pilot.

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If this game could be condensed into twenty or thirty minutes, I might actually ask others if they want to play it. Forty minutes to an hour just feels like an eternity when you’re barely interacting with each other and there are so many better games that take that long and are downright better.

It’s the awkwardness of your in-laws meeting for the first time. You know everything so there’s nothing to talk about. I’m not going to turn towards Rachel and say “good job on that bandit hunting” because that statement, or any statement while the game is in play, adds no value or inherent worth to what is happening when Dice City is on a table.

 

Author: Two off the Top

Just a guy that wants to talk about board games more than his future wife tolerates.

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