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Review: Dice City

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Dice City Box

The kingdom of Rolldovia is in trouble. The capital was sacked by a horde of bandits and now it’s your job to build a wonderful city to replace it. How you do that is up to you: You can strive for military might, open new trade routes, or build marvelous centers of culture. Just like real world city planning, not everything will be completely under your control, however. You may not have to deal with contractors and red tape, but the dice will have something to say about where you go and what you build. Do your best to plan around the whims of fate and build a city that will please even the pickiest monarch.

How It Plays

Dice City is a dice drafting/dice placement game in which you first roll your dice and place them on city spaces dictated by the roll, then activate those spaces for your benefit. The goal of the game is to be the player with the most victory points at the end.

Each player has their own personal board (their city) where they place their dice and any cards purchased from the central market. A player’s turn consists of four steps.

First, players roll their dice and place them on the board space indicated by the color and number of the die. (On your first turn, you’ll do this and then immediately resolve the dice. In future turns, you’ll roll and place dice at the end of your turn so that your next turn begins with the dice resolution.)

Once your dice are placed, you can take one of the following actions with each die:

  • Use the ability of the location beneath the die.
  • Move the die to an adjacent space on that die’s own row.
  • Discard four location cards in the display and replace them with four new ones. (Once per turn.)
  • Reactivate a deactivated location anywhere on your board.
  • Pass and take a pass token. (Once per turn.)

You can also spend two pass tokens to gain one resource of your choice, increase your army strength by one for the turn, or force all other players to re-roll one die of your choice.

Dice City Board
Each player gets their own board/city.

Second, you will perform any attacks that you are capable of/wish to perform. If you have enough army strength (gained from using pass tokens or activating military locations on your board), you can attack either the bandits or a location on another player’s board. If you attack the bandits, you earn the victory points shown on the bandit card which you attack. If you attack another player’s location, that location is deactivated and you gain victory points equal to the value of the location. You can also attack another player’s stock and steal some of their resources.

Third, you can build new locations and/or export goods for points. You can cash in your resources to buy location cards from the display and add them to your board. You can place purchased locations anywhere on your board, but any locations covered by other cards are no longer in play and will not count for end-game scoring. There’s no limit to how many cards you can buy as long as you have the resources to pay for them.

You can also ship your resources away on trade ships, receiving the victory points shown on the trade ship card(s) you fulfill.

Fourth, you discard any extra resources (you’re only allowed to keep one of each type in stock from round to round). Then you roll your dice and place them on your board so you’re ready for your next turn. The next player now takes their turn and play continues until the end-game is triggered.

Dice City Cards 3
Some of the buildings you can buy and add to your city.

The game ends when any of the following conditions are met:

  • The bandit card piles are empty.
  • Two or more trade ship piles are empty.
  • The location deck is empty.
  • Two or more rows in a player’s city have been filled with built locations and none of them are currently deactivated. (This is optional. When a player reaches this point, they can choose to call for the end of the game or continue playing.)

Play continues until everyone has had an equal number of turns. At that point, points from victory point tokens, trade ship and bandit cards, and built locations (whether active or deactivated) are tallied and the player with the most points wins.

Are We Going to “Paradice” City, or the Dicey Side of Town?

I’ll state it upfront: I’m one of “those people” who really enjoys dice games. So bear that in mind when reading this review. Those of you who don’t love dice are likely going to have a very different opinion of this game. (Although it’s called “Dice City,” so it’s not like they’re trying to hide the dicey-ness of the game.)

Aside from the dice, the first thing that attracted me to the game was the artwork. I love the happy, colorful look of the game. So many city builders/civilization games are kind of flat and colorless. (Although that’s changing a bit with the arrival of games like Machi Koro, Quadropolis, and Imperial Settlers. Thank heavens.)

So the dice and the looks got me to pick up the game, but was the gameplay enough to keep me interested? That would be a resounding yes. Dice City manages to hit almost all of my sweet spots in a game.

Dice City Cards 2
The basic locations generate the resources you need to buy better stuff and earn points.

Easy to learn? Check. The rules are straightforward and well explained.

Under an hour to play so it’s good for a weeknight? Check.

Quick setup and teardown? Check. There are some cards to sort out based on the number of players, but if you predominantly game with the same sized group, it’s easy to keep the cards you need separate.

Scores high on the “Let’s go again,” meter? Check. I find Dice City addictive and, much like a video game, I want to beat my high score. The addition of a solo mode makes this “score chasing” extra fun because you can just battle yourself over and over. 

Plays well with two? Check. I love this game at two and find it to be my favorite player count, owing to the fact that it moves quickly and we can agree to attack only the bandits rather than each other.

Good replayability? Check. The cards come out differently each time and, of course, the dice never roll the same, so each game has you reaching for different strategies and card combinations.

Dice City Resources
Resource and VP tokens. (The white stuff is stone, not cheese, contrary to what it looks like.)

Speaking of strategy, for something that looks like a light, fluffy game, there’s a surprising amount of strategy and thought that goes into a game of Dice City. However, you may not notice it on your first couple of plays. At first, you’ll just buy cards and plonk them anywhere on your board. You might even just stick with the spaces printed on the board and cover a resource with the same (but upgraded) resource, or a military space with another military card. You don’t have to do that, however. Cards can be placed anywhere you want. During the first games, though, it’s hard to break that, “Cover green with green, purple with purple, etc.” mentality.

But once you get past that, a whole new world opens up to you. Since you can place cards anywhere, you can go after any strategy you choose and set up your city any way you want. Want to generate tons of resources so you can trade a lot? You can do that. You can also cover your board in military cards and attack your neighbors, or go for upgraded buildings and hope to chain them into awesome scoring combos. Or you can try for a mix and hope to cover all your bases.

Of course, this is a dice game so you won’t always get to deploy your strategy the way you want. Those awesome combos only work if you roll the dice to trigger them. The military only gains strength if you roll the dice to increase it. Even if you spread your resource generators out and hope to achieve an even mix, you can find yourself rolling nothing but stone (for example) turn after turn and having no way to use it. Dice are fickle critters and sometimes they’re not going to do what you want.

Dice City Cards 1
Attacking bandits and filling trade ships can earn you victory points.

That’s okay, though. I like the balance of luck and strategy in Dice City. It feels like it levels the playing field, which is nice in a game that’s family weight. Your opponent may have great buildings, but if she never rolls the dice to trigger them, then you can sit back and snicker at her misfortune. Of course, if she does manage to trigger them she’s going to hurt you, so you have to consider the possibility of attacking part of the combo and deactivating it.

Speaking of attacking, that’s another thing I like about Dice City. Well, not the attacking per se. Nobody likes having their stuff shut down. But attacking other players is a choice in Dice City, and not always the best one. This can keep the meanness and hurt feelings down in some groups.

When you have an army with decent strength, you can choose to attack bandit cards for straight victory points, or your opponent’s locations for points plus the thrill of deactivating that location (at least until your opponent spends a die to reactivate it). The deactivation can be useful, but the points aren’t often significant. Many times the bandits pay more, making attacking another player an expensive choice that only pays off when you have to shut down a high-earning combo or stop an opponent from ending the game early.

Dice City Tokens
Pass and deactivation tokens, plus the start player marker.

If you’re in a group that doesn’t enjoy attacking each other, that’s fine, just go after the bandits. If you’re in a group that doesn’t mind a little bit of attacking but doesn’t want to get too nasty, you can attack only when really necessary, such as to temporarily shut down a high-earning combo. Or if your group is really mean, you can attack each other all the time, pick on one player every turn, and make them cry. It’s up to you.

When we play two-player, we usually agree to attack the bandits and not each other unless we have no choice. In two-player, attacking can’t help but feel a bit mean because, well, who else are you going to attack? Plus, the payoff is rarely there.

I also like the way the game ends. There are several ways to end the game and most of them can and should factor into your strategy. Players can “rush” the end game by emptying the bandit piles or the trade ship piles. They can also build out two rows of their city and, as long as no locations in those rows are sporting deactivation tokens, call for the end of the game. This is an important point to remember because if you think you have the points to win, you can try to rush the end game before your opponents have a chance to catch up.

That’s also a bit of a negative to the game. If one player is bent on rushing the end, the game can end before you really get your engine going. Some games end with you saying, “That’s it? But I never did anything.” Fortunately, the game is quick enough to play another round.

Dice City Player Aids
Handy player aids help keep the turn steps straight.

Are there any other complaints about the game? The only one I have (and it’s minor given how much fun I have playing this game) is that despite the cute artwork, the story and the theme don’t really come through. You don’t feel like you’re helping a kingdom that’s in trouble, or that you’re part of a noble family fighting to build the new capital. It doesn’t feel as much like building a city as does, say, Suburbia, or even Subdivision. It’s more of an engine builder with cute art. When you’re finished, your board doesn’t look like a city.

I’ve heard people complain about the downtime, especially at higher player counts, but that hasn’t been my experience. Maybe I just play with speedy people, but I find that as long as everyone remembers to roll and place their dice at the end of their turn, turns move fairly quickly. There will be some changes to the market before your turn comes around again, but you can make preliminary plans while others are playing.

The only other negative is that for such a simple game, Dice City takes up a lot of table space. Each player gets their own city board and they’re quite large. However, if they made them any smaller, the cards would have needed to be reduced in size, as well, meaning, the text would be harder to read. So there’s a tradeoff and overall my old eyes think the designers made the right choice. Just sometimes I lament that I don’t have a bigger table.

In case you can’t tell, we really love Dice City in our house. (So much so that I’ve got all the expansions, which I’ll try to review at some point.) It’s one of our staples and one that we’ve introduced to many non-gamers. It’s light and fun but with some decent decisions that keep our gamer brains engaged. There’s luck, but it balances nicely with the strategy. There’s also an addictive quality to it that just makes me want to keep rolling those dice and building my city. If you’re in the market for a family dice game with a little weight to it, but which is easy enough to introduce to non-gamer friends, I highly recommend Dice City.

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Summary

Pros

Vibrant, happy artwork.
Nice balance of luck vs. strategy.
Attacking is not mandatory. Peaceful groups can go without it.
Easy to learn, relaxed play, good family/weeknight game.
Many paths to victory.

Cons

Attacking can feel mean in some groups, or with 2p.
It's a dice game, so randomness will irritate those looking for full control.
Takes up a lot of table.
Can end quickly before your engine really gets going.

9.0 Awesome

I like games with tiles/modular boards that set up and play differently each time. I'm also one of "those people" who likes dice and revels in randomness.

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