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July 05, 2003

Favorite Games XVI

Another family of games today, this time one still in development from Cheapass Games...

Diceland is an odd style of game. It's part miniatures game (of the MageKnight variety, with custom individual units whose powers and abilities are encoded on their playing piece), part dice game (the playing pieces are large eight-sided dice, usually thrown randomly onto the table), and part physical activity (new dice can be thrown to collide with and shift existing dice... and, in fact, this is a central strategy). And, in total, it's an amazingly original sort of play, supported by some very clever game piece design to make the whole thing possible at a very low price.

Playing pieces in Diceland are eight-sided dice. Each die comes as unassembled cardboard, ready to be carefully punched out, folded, and all the right tabs inserted into all the right slots. This takes the fairly small initial package, roughly the size of a thin paperback book, and expands it into a fair number of hollow (and all too crushable) dice 2" along each side. A good box will be needed to carry them once they are assembled. The dice stand up to play quite well, but you'll want to protect them during transport.

When you have your dice, each player selects a force (usually made up of a small to moderate number of dice) and play begins. Players alternates turns, in which one die can either be added to the table (by tossing it on) or a die on the table can be maneuvered (flipped to another side by pressing down one top corner... which both moves the die and changes its facing an usually its attack options) or its powers/attacks used. Many dice have special attacks or powers (varying depending on which face is up) that let them do all sorts of odd things. Strange things such as enhance the attacks or defenses of allied dice, repair allies, confuse or paralyze enemies, leap off the table to be thrown again, summon additional allies into play, or even activate all their allies (letting you move or shoot more than one die in a turn). Careful balance of these powers is a major strategy element of this game. Every side of every die has one or more attacks, arrows pointing out to show the sight lines (most dice can't shoot behind themselves, for example), with color, number and shape indicating the type, strength, and range (respectively) of the attack. Every die side also has a block value (given in a small shield). If hit, they will either be eliminated or forced to flip down one face (from 6 to 5, 5 to 4, etc.), depending on how the attack strength compares to that block value. Dice that are eliminated must sit out at least a turn before being returned to play. Some dice are immune to some attacks, which is indicated by coloring their block shield the color of any attack they would be immune to. When you eliminate a die, you score points based on its strength (stronger dice are worth more points). If you knock a die off the table, your opponent scores points, so collisions need to be used more subtly. Unless, of course, the die is more dangerous in play than the loss of points costs you... The game is played to a victory point total.

That's really about it. The rest of the game comes from the cleverly designed dice, many of which show great care in balancing out their facings, attacks, block numbers, and special abilities. Each die also has art on each side (the same illustration, repeated), and surprisingly communicative icons and codes to give all its combat options. The design is elegant and clear, far easier to learn to read than you probably expect.

Diceland: Deep White Sea is the original set. It is made up of 5 teams of 5 dice each, colored to indicate alliance. Each die represents one crew member from one of the groups trying to capture a lost ship on a dangerous ice planet. The teams are reasonably balanced, though some require more careful use of their funky powers than others. Rules exist (in later sets or on the Diceland web site) to create more personalized teams. Do check the website for a rules change made since this set was printed (which allows dice to maneuver on the turn they are thrown if they choose to do that rather than shoot)... it's minor, but adds a lot to the game.

Diceland: Space is made up of two sets of 25 dice each, representing ships from the fleets of several alien races. There are 8 total races, two with 11 ships each, two with 8 ships each, two with 5 ships each and 2 with just one ship each... but those two single-ship sides are monstrously good ships. Teams are less certain in this set, with "army construction rules" added to the basic game to let each player assemble their own force. Smaller ships have reduced survivability (they are still 8-sided dice, but are numbered 1 to 4 twice). Space also adds some new powers to the game (Shields that let you ignore small attacks, cloaks that make you invisible to most attacks), but is sufficiently compatible with the original set that you can mix them up in a fight. Though it does seem weird to have huge starships battling individual people on a reasonably even footing...

Diceland: Ogre is a licensed product, mixing the mechanics of Diceland with Steve Jackson's classic board game Ogre. The scenario is familiar to any Ogre player... a giant, nearly unstoppable cyber-tank against a force of much weaker but far more numerous defenders. Most of the trappings are kept (the Ogre has expendable missiles it can fire, the defenders have a Command Post they must defend and can target individual bits of the Ogre to nibble it to death), but the Diceland style adds new twists. For one, the Ogre itself is a double-sized die, four inches to the side, so it dominates the table (and is very hard to shift via collision). Also, the Command Post gives the defenders a free "command all" power, so it can activate every allied die on the table rather than just one per turn. The Ogre must work fast and focused or it will get swarmed or nibbled to death. And the defenders must slow the Ogre down as much as they can and hope they can achieve critical mass of units to overcome the massive armor of their enemy. The game allows you to play either an Ogre Mark III or Mark V (a larger army is available to the defenders if you go with the Mark V). The Ogre set is smaller than the others (only 18 dice, one the double-sized Ogre), but also adds two control sheets (one for the Command Post, one of the Ogre), and is still well worth the very reasonable price. And you can mix in dice from the earlier sets if you don't mind extreme weirdness in your Ogre game.

More dice are coming soon (an expansion set for Space is due out within the month), so this game isn't even near to done showing its potential yet.

And at under $15 per set (Ogre is $1 more), there's a lot of fun in each little packet.

(There is another game, also called Diceland, published by Kidultgame and distributed by Mayfair in the US. From its rules, it looks interesting, but don't confuse it with the game reviewed here. The Cheapass Diceland is something entirely unique.)

Funagain Purchase Links
Diceland: Deep White Sea
Diceland: Space: Garthans vs. Muktians
Diceland: Space: Terrans vs. Urluquai
Diceland: Ogre

Posted by ghoul at July 5, 2003 07:33 AM

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