Kickstarter has been a hotbed of activity recently, with new designers and projects as prevalent as the fast-flowing backer funds. But it’s not just the unpublished who are turning to Kickstarter for a boost. Established companies have been using the platform as well to fund their projects.
One of these projects is DiceAFARI, a new dice game from Stratus Games. (We loved their Eruption, which came out earlier this year.) Stratus Games, in a bold (and genius) move, has made the prototype of DiceAFARI available to anyone who wants to give the game a try. Below are our impressions.
[Ed. note: This is a preview of a non-final non-production copy of the game. Our opinions reflect that of the game at the time we played it; the final product may feature different gameplay, art, and components. The pictures are of a print-and-play prototype version of the project, with components were robbed from a copy of Agricola.]
[Ed. note 2: Also of interest is the Board Game Geek designer diary by designer Chris James.]
How It Works
DiceAFARI is a dice-based area control and set collection game for two to four players. The winner is the player who scores the most points by collecting photograph sets of animals on the safari and by occupying spaces on the safari map.
The board is modular, and the game comes with eighteen terrain tiles in six types. The included map cards show different setup configurations in the shape of different animals. (The different animal maps also reward different strategies and vary in difficulty.) There are five dice, four dice with each side matching a different terrain type and one “bonus” die featuring numbers 2-4.
At setup, players choose a map configuration, shuffle the tiles, and lay out the map as printed on the map card. Next players shuffle the photograph tokens and place one token wherever two tiles meet. Excess tokens and tiles are removed. Players roll the terrain dice, and whoever rolls the most mountains goes first.
A player’s turn consists of three actions: 1. roll the dice; 2. claim a safari route; 3. take a photograph token. A player may roll the terrain dice three times in an effort to match terrain on the board (the player may not reroll the bonus die). The goal is to get terrain types in a straight horizontal or vertical line, or in a postage-stamp configuration as represented on the game map. After rolling the dice, the player claims a safari route on the board matching the terrain dice just rolled. (The bonus die shows a number 2-4, and if a player claims a route that many segments long, that player must place another token on any unoccupied terrain square on the map.) If a claimed route has another player’s tokens on it, the current player’s token replaces the other’s. Then the active player claims a photograph anywhere on the board that is between two of his own tokens.
Play continues until all spaces on the board are occupied with player tokens (and each player has had at least three turns). Then players collect any photographs that are between terrain where their tokens are, and players add up their points. The player with the most points wins.
DiceAFARI piqued my interest when I first saw it announced on the Stratus Games website. While dice aren’t my favorite game element, the rest of the game looked interesting enough, and the complete package looked like it might mitigate some of my usual frustrations with dice. After playing the game several times, I can say that the game is enjoyable, even if it’s not quite my cup of tea.
Let me preface my remarks by saying that I don’t play games with children very often. Most of the time I game with other players my age, and my favorite games are mostly thinky/strategy games. I’m reviewing this game from that perspective (because that’s what I know). I imagine that DiceAFARI would be just about the perfect game for young gamers, though, because it’s simple, puts adults and children on a level playing field (through the use of dice), and introduces younger gamers to weightier gaming concepts in an accessible package. So just because it’s not my cup of tea doesn’t mean it’s not a good game or won’t find an audience.
And really, there’s a lot to love about the DiceAFARI package. I pieced together the print-and-play version, and even this beta version is very well-designed graphically, giving me great confidence in the finished product. I like that the board is modular and is shaped like one of the animals you might find on a safari (it adds flavor). I also like that the different map configurations provide different challenges, so each game is a little different. Whereas you might have more opportunities to collect four-tile routes on the lion or gorilla maps (using lines or postage stamps), the flamingo is mostly straight lines, yielding fewer of these opportunities. I like that this dice game is more than dice. I lose interest in dice very quickly, but having a board on which to track game progress helps to keep my interest a little more. The game is tight and plays quickly, which is a necessity for any dice game. There is player interaction (as you can remove other players’ route tokens) and a small take-that element without being overpowered by spiteful play. And at a $20 buy-in, the game is very reasonably priced, even when considered against other, pure dice games.
That being said, DiceAFARI isn’t quite my cup of tea. The game is very simple, and it just doesn’t fit in my collection. Let me explain. With a short-and-simple game, I want something that allows me to get a lot of people involved. It doesn’t need to be weighty, but it should be satisfying. While DiceAFARI allows four people to play at one time, the game really works best (in my experience) with two. I didn’t care for playing with more than two players because the game felt too chaotic. There wasn’t much opportunity to make meaningful choices (because there was little chance to plan ahead), and if you went last, you were at a disadvantage compared to the other players. Also, with more players, the game was too short to be satisfying; I didn’t feel like I had done anything before the game ended. Dice games are meant to be fast, but I would have preferred the game to last longer with more players. DiceAFARI hit its stride for me with two players. There is more back-and-forth, more opportunities for interesting decisions, and more control over outcomes. The game also lasted the ideal length. So while the two-player experience might merit its purchase, DiceAFARI doesn’t quite fit where I would want it to.
Like I said: I’m reviewing this from a gamer perspective. I don’t think I would play this game often with my gaming friends (or even my older family members). The game is a little too simple for that. However, I can imagine this being a great family game for younger children, especially as it introduces gaming concepts in an easy-to-understand and attractive package and is infinitely more interesting than Uno or Candy Land or many other children’s games. My wife and I both, after playing, thought our seven-year-old nephew (and maybe even our younger niece) would love the game. But it wasn’t satisfying enough for our adult taste.
Let’s just be clear on this: even though DiceAFARI has a board, it is best classified in the style of dice games such as Zombie, Martian, and Cthulhu Dice. Essentially you are rolling a small set of dice trying to land a combination of rolls that nets an optimum amount of points.
DiceAFARI is simple and straightforward, but it is not a deep game. And treating it as such can be your undoing—@Farmerlenny might be able to attest to that fact. Overthinking not only slows the game down, which makes it less fun, but trying to plan a long term strategy doesn’t work too well when the game ends so quickly. And make no mistake: this is a very quick game—maybe about 20 minutes—and that’s a good thing.
DiceAFARI is fun for what it is. A simple, quick dice game. It’s great for a filler between games, or when you only have a few minutes to spare, or when playing with kids. Rolling dice is fun, and these dice lack the cruel outliers (usually, rolling 1 sucks). Each color is viable; the ability to “lock in” certain dice and re-roll a few times can circumvent a lot of the luck that might work against you. And the game is short enough that, even if you do roll the worst dice rolls in the history of mankind, you won’t have to suffer long.
The setup time is perhaps a little long for what the game is; putting together the tiles delays the game for a few minutes in what should be a quick, play-and-go game. Of course, that might have something to do with the construction-paper print-and-play pieces, which were light and slipped around easily.
Also, it seemed like the player who ended the game had a distinct advantage; since all photographs are collected at the end, the last player can easily overlay an opponent or take a key area of the board without anyone else having a chance to respond.
All in all, DiceAFARI is a decent, quick game. It’s colorful and bright, easy to learn, and accessible. It plays quickly, and it’s fun to roll dice. If that’s what you’re looking for, it’s definitely worth a look. If you want something with a little deeper strategy… look elsewhere.
DiceAFARI is currently on Kickstarter (through December 19) and could use your support. Stratus Games has made it easy to give this game as a Christmas gift. If you think this sounds like a game you’d enjoy, now is the time to back it to make sure it gets made. If you’re on the fence, print out the prototype and give it a try! This is a great way to introduce geeks-in-training to some basic board game mechanic concepts. Thanks to Stratus Games for passing the print-and-play prototype along to us.