Before there were so-called “micro-games,” there were dice games. Simple, exciting, and fast, the genre enjoyed a fad of its own back in the day. Okay, so like 3-4 years ago. Just as portable and just as light on components, they haven’t quite faded out, yet. Now and then, the genre continues to toss in a unique example to keep the category fresh…
How it Plays
As the name implies, Dice & Daggers is a dice game; although the title’s second half is a bit misleading…there are not actually any daggers included. Pity. There are four ways to play, with three different win conditions. They all share at least one salient objective – don’t die.
In the main game, players vie to be the first to earn 20 gold. You achieve this by rolling dice. Specifically you roll three, six-sided dice each turn. Generally, you will choose two of the results to use, but sometimes the decision is made for you. Meanwhile, the unused die may benefit your opponents.
If you roll a Dagger (1), you lose a heart – as in life point, not romantic interest. You have four hearts to begin the game. If you lose them all, you’re not quite dead, but instead start over with only half your gold. A Thief (2) basically results in nothing. Unfortunately, you must select any Daggers and/or Thieves before choosing any other dice. On the bright and extremely lucky side, if you happen to roll all Daggers or all Thieves, you get to stick it to your foes, instead. Three Daggers are called a Strike, which lets you target another player to lose a heart. Also, three Thieves are appropriately called a Mugging, in which case you can steal gold from others.
There are goods things, too, of course. Rolling a Shield (3) lets you take a shield token (maximum of one). You can discard this on a later roll to cancel the effect of a Dagger. Three shields are called a Hold and restore one life point. Broken hearts do mend. Coins (rolls of 4 and 5) earn gold, which is nice since that is how you win. Your “stash of gold” is marked on a coin track on the game board. Rolling three Coins is called a Huzzah, gaining you five gold, instead of three, while denying your opponents anything. Huzzah, indeed. You can also spend 10 gold to restore a heart, proving once and for all that money can buy you love. But you knew that, already.
Finally, you can also roll Crowns (6). This earns you a crown token, of which you can hold a maximum of three. Crowns let you manipulate the dice a little. You can spend one to re-roll any one of your own dice. You can discard two in order to force another player to re-roll a die on their turn. Or you can spend three tokens on your own turn to change the face of one die to any other symbol you wish. However, if you spend three tokens to change a die, those are removed from the game. Otherwise, discarded Crowns are returned to the available pool. And again, triples are extra special. Three Crowns are called a Royal, which earns you two crown tokens and two gold.
In the primary game, the winner is the first to 20 gold. However, Dice & Daggers includes three other variations. You can play to the death, either by the normal rules, or by using Daggers to remove shields/hearts from a player of your choice. In either scenario, the last survivor wins. Or you can play a timed version in which all crown tokens are discarded after use. When they’re depleted, the game ends and the winner is the one with the most gold. The rules even invite you to submit your own variation, which might be included in future printings. Just please don’t suggest the use of real daggers.
Should You Give This One a Stab?
For some reason, Dice & Daggers reminds me of playing slot machines. Okay, so you’re not gambling at all, and there aren’t any lights or jackpots. But it sort of involves coins, is oddly addicting, and rolling the three dice is reminiscent of anticipating where the machine’s reels will stop. That and even grandma can play it.
Dice & Daggers ably accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do. This isn’t a mainstay for any game night nor is it a deep design. Rather, it is an accessible “filler,” with a touch of strategy and one unique twist on the genre, and is also great for the whole family.
Dice & Daggers is simple to learn and easy to play. While simplicity may be endemic to most dice games, this design eschews constant re-rolls which are common to the genre. Instead, you roll three dice – you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. No? Well, that phrase doesn’t work with my Kindergartners, either. Not to worry – such restrictions are only prevalent early in the game. For most of the game, you will typically have a Crown on hand in order to re-roll any unlucky tosses.
There are two decisions to make in Dice & Daggers, and both can cause some angst. The first one is how and when to spend your crowns. You can’t horde them limitlessly, so you might as well use them. However, saving up to three can prove very useful to change a die to any result you want. Of course, in the meantime you might have to live with some bad rolls. Plus, when you finally spend three at once, they’re discarded from the game, restricting the supply of future Crowns.
You can try messing with an opponent by spending two crowns, forcing them to re-roll a die. However, there’s no guarantee it’ll do any good. Even if they do roll a Dagger or Thief, they can simply re-roll that, if they have their own crown. While that bit of interaction is appreciated and can come in handy, it’s still usually more worthwhile to use crowns for yourself.
The other major decision rests in dice selection. There are unfortunate times that you don’t actually have a choice, much to the mocking delight of others. There are other turns in which the decision is a no-brainer. However, there will also be times when it’s difficult to choose, because all of the options are good and you know your opponents will benefit, too. Mostly, those cases boil down to a choice between Coins and Crowns – which to keep and which to allow your adversaries. Gold is how you win the game, but crowns can potentially save a bad roll.
There will be times when you can do nothing with a roll, essentially losing your turn. This may sting especially more when the third dice is a fat, shiny copper that goes to your enemies, while you whiff at the air or get stabbed in the chest! Alas, your heart will soon be assuaged when watching it happen to another. In any event, it’s typically not a recurring issue. Since you often benefit from other players’ dice, those consolations make up for uneventful rolls and keep you constantly engaged. Plus, there is no real downtime and the game’s pace is brisk enough that your next turn comes around before you know it.
There are only a couple of quibbles with Dice & Daggers. First, there’s no thematic tie-in to anything at all. Not even flavor text, aside from generic terms to label symbols and triples, and the basic central crest artwork that hint of something medieval or courtly. Perhaps this oversight was intentional as stretching things too much would have seemed forced. Besides, custom dice would fix much of that issue, which is the second quibble. Custom dice are available, but unfortunately sold separately. They look nice and would add a great touch to game play.
Even without the custom dice, Dice & Daggers is addictively enjoyable. It won’t be that staple fall-back or your night’s centerpiece. But it’s accessible, plays fast and quickly, and offers a fun bit of strategy. At a reasonable price point, it’s a nice filler and great for the entire family.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank General Nonsense Games for providing a review copy of Dice & Daggers.