Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dice Town

While I was pondering about posting a piece about Dice Town, the They Might Be Giants song Cowtown entered my head unbidden, and found itself morphed into a somewhat different version...

I’m going down to Dice Town, the dice are friends to me
Living in the Wild West, and that’s where I will be
Beneath the skies, the skies, the big blue open skies
I’m gonna see the town with all the dice

It’s enough to make any TMBG lover cringe, but I just had to get it out of my head.

Now that that’s done, let’s take a look at Dice Town.

If it’s not clear by now, Dice Town is a dice game with a Wild West theme. Players roll poker dice in order to try and visit various locations in the town as determined by the faces on the dice.

On the face of it, Dice Town appears to be a fairly light and not supremely strategic game. As it happens, that’s quite an accurate assessment. It’s not without strategy, of course, and therein lies the core fun of the game: attempting to outguess your opponents by either rolling what they are not, or trying to outroll them and get to visit a particular location instead of them.

Before we look at how the dice mechanic works, let’s mosey on into town to take a closer look at the various locations on the board.

Each location can only be visited by one player each round, so it’s important to choose wisely as sometimes there’s a battle to be the one who collects the good stuff.

First up we have the gold mine. And wouldn’t you know it, there be gold nuggets in that there mine. Any nuggets you obtain from the mine (and manage to hold on to) will be worth 1 Victory Point (VP) at the end of the game.

Next to the gold mine is the first of the town’s buildings: the Bank. All money deposited at the bank is available for withdrawal (at gunpoint naturally) by one enterprising player each round. In front of the bank you’ll find the Stagecoach. Any money spent by players during a round is placed on the Stagecoach ready for delivery to the bank at the start of the following round.

The General Store is the next stop in town. Here there are various cards available for the taking. A visit to the store will get you a card which bestows a benefit upon your good self. Some cards are worth VPs at the end of the game, while others allow you to take extra actions during the game (like doubling your takings at the gold mine or allowing you to change a dice roll).

The Saloon is where you get to have a drink of the local brew and win the favour of the Girls. Using their feminine wiles, the ladies will assist you in taking a card from another player.

I’m not sure if the regular Sheriff patronises the drinking establishment, but he just so happens to handily have his own place right next door. In fact, it seems he must be holed up in a dark corner of the saloon, as he’s delegated his sheriffy duties to the players. The youngest player starts with the sheriff’s badge, but anyone else can take it for themselves with a visit to the jail. Being sheriff means you get to break ties during the game (bribes from the other players are actively encouraged), and if you are the sheriff at the end of the game, you get a bonus 5 VPs.

The final stop in Dice Town is the Town Hall. This is where the town dishes out Property Claims, and with each claim valued at between 1 and 5 VPs, this is where the bulk of the scoring takes place.

Now, if things don't go your way, it's not the end of the world. Just the end of town. For any player who didn't get to visit one of the six main locations, Doc Badluck is but an arrow's flight away just waiting for you to come blowing over like a tumbleweed.

Doc Badluck is, as his name suggests, there to make you feel better about being shut out of town. His services include providing barbed wire for one of your properties so no one can steal it, letting you draw the top card from the General Store, making every other player give you $2, or making every other player give you a gold nugget. That's not too bad huh? In fact, those last two are very nice indeed, especially in a 5 player game (the game plays from 2-5 players), and it can sometimes be advantageous not to fight for a spot in town when you know the good Doctor is going to assist you in the acquisition of four gold nuggets.

Alrighty, so you've had a look around and assessed the lay of the land, and you have an idea what you might like to go for. Alternatively (as happens a lot) you have no idea what you want to do and will just play it by (front) ear as the round progresses.

Now we come to the meat in the proverbial sandwich, passes for grub in this neck of the desert: the dice.

Everyone gets five, shiny poker dice and a cup to put them in. At the start of the round every one shakes their cup, then turns it face down on the table. Now it's time to see what you rolled. Everyone secretly lifts up their cup, keeping the dice hidden from the other players and peeks at their dice. Then comes the hard part: deciding what to keep.

You get to keep one die for free. You choose which die you want to keep, then secretly remove the other dice. However, you can choose to keep more than one die if you want. Heck, you can choose to keep all five if you had a really good roll.

The catch is that you have to pay $1 for every die in excess of one. So if you keep three dice, you have to pay $2. To keep all five dice,you'll have to fork out $4. Oh, and if you don't like the look of any of your dice, you can choose not to keep any of them. It'll cost you $1 to remove all the dice from under the cup.

Once everyone has removed the dice they don't wish to keep, everyone lifts their cup and reveals what they kept. Everyone who paid to keep extra (or no) dice now places their money on the Stagecoach.

All kept dice are then put aside and the process then repeats for the remaining dice. Deciding what to keep on subsequent rolls now takes on a whole new dimension as not only do you have to keep in mind what you've already kept, but you also now get to see what everyone else has kept. Have you kept the same dice as someone else? If so, do you try and roll the same again, hoping that they won't, or do you try for something different?

"But hang on just a second there mister," you say "How do I know what to keep if I don't know what the effect of the dice I roll will be?"

Well, to answer that question, here's the rundown:

The player with the most 9s goes to the Gold Mine and takes nuggets equal to the number of 9s he or she rolled.

The player with the most 10s robs the bank and takes all the money currently in the bank.

The player with the most Js takes cards from the top of the General Store deck equal to the number of Js he or she rolled. That player keeps one card, and discards the rest face down next to the board.

The player who rolls the most Qs goes to the Saloon. He or she chooses one other player and takes cards (either General Store or Property Claims) from that player equal to the number of Qs he or she rolled. One card is kept, and the rest are given back.

The player who rolled the most Ks becomes Sheriff and takes the Sheriff badge.

The player who has the best poker hand goes to the Town Hall and takes the bottom-most face up Property Claim, plus an extra claim for each Ace in his or her hand (though you can never take any more than the three face up claims).

Any player who hasn't got anything so far visits Doc Badluck and chooses one bonus. If you have at least one 9 or 10, you can choose to barbed wire a property by removing it from your hand and placing it face up on the table. If you have at least one J or Q you can take the top card from the General Store pile. If you have at least one King, you can force every other player to give you $2. Finally, if you have at least one Ace, you can hold everyone else at gunpoint and order them to give you a gold nugget.

Now, where was I? Ah yes: choosing dice to keep. So as I said, you keep one die for free or pay to keep more or less. Kept dice are put aside, and the process is repeated until one or more players has kept and set aside all five of their dice.

At that point, any player who has not yet kept all five dice gets one final roll. There are no more choices now; you just keep what you roll. The good news is that if you are rolling more than one die on this final roll, you don't have to pay anything. You just keep what you roll for free.

And then you look around and either give a self satisfied "yippee!" or a disgruntled "you %^&(#;@ bastard!" when it becomes clear that another player has beaten you to the punch.

Then everyone sees who has rolled the most 9s, 10s, Js, Qs and Ks, and each action is taken from left to right on the board. You'll find that ties are a common occurrence. Two or more people are often tied for the most Js or Qs or whatever it may be. That's where the Sheriff comes in as he or she gets to decide who takes the cake.

Now let me make this abundantly clear. Being Sheriff can be a very good thing. You may think that rolling the most Ks just gives you a shiny badge but no actual nuggets or cards so what's the point. Bribery. That's the point. Any time players are tied, they can offer the Sheriff money, nuggets or cards in any combination. If you can start the tied players in a bidding war it can be very lucrative indeed. Plus the 5 VPs for being Sheriff at the end of the game ain't too bad, but this can also make the Sheriff's badge a popular target when everyone knows the game is about to end.

That end comes when one of two criteria are met. The game will end when either there are no more nuggets in the Gold Mine (there are 30 to begin with) or when all 25 Property Claims have been taken.

And then, wouldn't you know it, everyone adds up their points for nuggets (1 VP per nugget), dollar bills (1 VP for every $2), General Store equipment cards, Property Claims, and for being Sheriff (5 VPs). The highest scoring player wins. If there is a tie, the player with the most Property Claims wins. If there is still a tie, the Sheriff gets to decide who wins.

Dice Town is, first and foremost, fun. You will laugh a lot, and quite possibly curse a lot as well. If you're like me, you may well curse at your own stupidity when you bribe the Sheriff $1 to visit the Saloon so that you can take one card from another player, and that card turns out to be useless as the game is about to end, and you then realise that had you not spent that $1, you could have gone to Doc Badluck and taken a Gold Nugget from everyone because you had an Ace. Sigh.

I've played the game three times so far: one 2-player game, and two 5-player games. It was certainly a lot more fun with more players as you all vie for the various spots in town. Going to Doc Badluck is a viable strategy in the 5-player game. Just don't expect ever to do that if you only have two players.

It's hard to know what is a good strategy in this game. There are many paths to victory as they say in the classics. One such path I found that worked for me with five players was what I cunningly call the "Saloon Strategy" in which I consistently kept Queens and took the Saloon action (stealing cards off other players) for the majority of the game. This proved to be a very successful strategy, and I amassed 42 points (second place was 34) which is a pretty impressive total if I do say so myself.

I heartily recommend Dice Town as a good, fun, family-friendly game, as well as one you can pull out at games nights with more serious gamers to get those competitive juices flowing. The game box says games last 30-45 minutes, but you can easily double that time if you have anyone prone to analysis paralysis in your group. The good thing is it's not one of those games where you worry to much if you make the wrong choice.

Not excuse me while I get back to my song.

I’m going down to Dice Town, the dice are friends to me...



Qey said...

Very comprehensive overview. I could quibble with some of the details, but as I have not myself played the game, it would be nothing but humbug.

When the Big Q and clan return to the wide brown land we will rely on you to edicate us in how to play such games proper.

Jeremy said...

We're more than happy to provide edication to the Qs.

And constructive criticism is always welcome. :-)

dw said...

constructive criticism? here you go: stop it with these reviews! now i have another game i want to buy. and my allowance is sooo small (my kids get all the cool stuff).

cheers, and thanks!