Finally! You’re not fighting over an empty throne. Nope! This one’s all yours. Alas, you have no subjects, though. They’re out there and you can lure them to your kingdom. The problem is other monarchs are trying to sway them to their realms, also. So it’s come to this. Royalty of noble birth electioneering and politicking like lowly presidential candidates. Whatever happened to divine right, feudalism and dungeons?
How To Play
Players exchange dice for their royal scepters in King of the Dice and roll for the best citizens to enhance their kingdoms. Really fortunate rulers might also increase their tracts of land. Those unfortunate sovereigns could just as easily wind up with village idiots or ravaging dragons!
To collect citizens, players roll six dice every turn hoping to match numerical or color combinations and sequences on citizen cards. There are always five of these available on your turn, each beneath a unique stack of color-coded village cards. You can attempt to lure whichever citizen you wish and must roll a sequence – pairs, sets, runs, values, color combinations, etc. – matching that as required by the card. In traditional Yahtzee style, you are allowed up to two rerolls.
If you succeed, you win that citizen and add the card to your pile. It’s worth points at the end of the game. Additionally, if the citizen type matches the location’s color above it – for example, Dwarves and the Mine are brown – then you also earn the top village card from that stack. Shift all citizens one location to fill the gap, as needed, and replace the first spot with a new card from the draw deck. If you fail in your rolls to entice a new subject, you are penalized with a village idiot card, instead. In that case the drafting row is still replenished – the last citizen is discarded, the remaining cards shift and a new one is drawn to fill the first spot.
Some citizens award their owner a special ability. For example, a sorcerer’s apprentice grants an additional turn, the elf gives you an extra reroll on your next and collecting multiple fairies scores exponentially more points. You can even recruit dragons, but those are sent to other kingdoms to penalize them.
The game ends as soon as any one deck is depleted – either the citizens, one of the locations or the village idiots. Players count the points in their collected pile and the winner becomes President, er, the King of the Dice!
Make it Reign?
I learned a very important lesson from the movie Ratatouille. It’s easy to be a critic, namely the negative kind. Food reviewer Anton Ego delights in tearing down restaurants, building his career on a foundation of one harsh, scathing condemnation upon another. Until he is shaken to his core by a simple peasant dish that fondly whisked him away to his childhood. It gave him a perspective that he had lost. That moment reminded him of the comforting and happy roles food often plays. We may not recognize it at the time, yet those latent memories remain within us to resurface with just the slightest triggers. Ego realized it wasn’t always about art or creativeness or innovation. There was a simple joy in food that might be found anywhere, especially when you least expect it.
And King of the Dice is about as simple as it gets. But more about that in a minute.
Without attributing more innovation to it than what it is, the one obvious twist the design injects into the genre are colored die faces. So in addition to standard pairs, sequences, runs and sets generated by pips, you can also opt for color combinations. The two aren’t ever combined – say like requiring a full house in reds and blues – which could be really interesting, if not convoluted. But the option to lure some citizens in that manner means considering different odds since each die offers a one-third chance of rolling a specific color. Speaking of odds, the points awarded per citizen generally correspond to the degree of difficulty in matching their required sequence.
The various end game scenarios also provide some measure of uncertainty. Although you can gauge how low any one stack is running, you aren’t always able to guarantee when the first will be completely depleted, thus possibly ending the game before you can make your way through all of the citizens. Our sessions generally ended with one of the stacks of village cards emptying. There are only three in each pile. Hence they can be ransacked quickly, although it does depend on the right citizens visiting the right location at the right time.
The special abilities are a mixed bag. The concept is a welcome idea for such a superficial dice game with little way to make your own luck, otherwise. Alas, there’s too little of it to be either interesting or generally useful. And no way to alter dice rolls. Only the extra reroll if you can lure that subject to your realm. The others involve both luck of the draw (getting one out and available on your turn) and luck of the roll (hitting the sequence to nab it). So the ability to take another turn or use a reroll are rare and arbitrary.
So perhaps the game is solely for children? That demographic is the likely target here, yet still with an aim up the family tree. After all, HABA is known for their preeminent line of engaging and quality kids titles. But King of the Dice remains extremely rudimentary. Sure, it works as a kids design. However, game play will barely entice youngsters experienced with modern games to any degree. There is the added element of slight interaction with the dragon cards that offers a little more to seasoned children. But I’m doubtful of its efficacy. It might be fun to stick mom or dad – or an older sibling – with the nasty beast and resultant penalty. But it’s teaching them spite for spite’s sake as the effort to penalize another leads to zero points on your own behalf. While I can get behind some good old-fashioned spite, it’s nonetheless an odd inclusion for a kids design which could lead to hurt feelings just as easily as smirking joy.
So here’s the thing about King of the Dice. It’s wholly unoriginal. Aside from a few minor special bonuses, you roll the dice and abide by the results with no way to mitigate bad luck. Sure, you have a choice as to which card you roll for. Other than that, it’s a concept as old as the Romans. The reality is it will struggle to find acceptance in the seas of the hobby and even then likely quickly forgotten amidst the unremitting waves of new titles. It will even struggle to challenge children with a modicum of experience in designer games. Quite frankly, it’s a lazy attempt at a modern family game.
However, like Anton Ego, it can be helpful to retain some perspective. Because in that sense, King of the Dice can also be a simple joy, reminiscent of games from your youth that bring to mind family, warmth, laughs and other good times. Specifically in this case I couldn’t help but remember all the times I played Yahtzee with my parents, my sister, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles, my cousins, my friends – all from my childhood. I didn’t expect those memories to resurface in this unassuming dice game. But like the plate of ratatouille, it reminded me of the role games can play, the influence it can have, in our lives. And while it may be difficult to supplant the classic, this new iteration is just as good as the inspiration. So, yes, there’s nothing here to offer even moderately experienced gamers. Unless, that is, you’re looking for a simple pleasure to introduce young kids and very casual non-gamers. In that situation King of the Dice could well be a crowning achievement.
HABA USA provided a copy of King of the Dice for this review.