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Diceland

Designer: James Ernest
Publisher: James Ernest Games
Players: 2
Time: 10 minutes
Reviewer: Frank Branham

Diceland is a tabletop combat game that contains elements of miniatures games, dice games, and dexterity games. And it comes with paper dice.

Early press on the game caused me to tilt my head, furrow my brow and say "huh?" a lot. The folks who bought Cheapass's Chief Hermans Holiday Fun Pack had a much better idea what was in store, as one of the games is an early version of Diceland using standard 8-sided dice.

Components

Unpunched Diceland dieUpon opening the (very small and flat) package we are greeted with the dice themselves. 25 paper dice on fairly hefty cardstock must be punched out and assembled. The die design and die cutting are remarkably well done. The dice go together without glue, and I have seen no signs of them starting to come apart. The final dice are rather light, and about the size of a child's fist. The actual assembly is a slot and tab affair. The folds are pre-scored, making it very hard to mess up a die during assembly.

Fully assembled Diceland dieOf course, once assembled, you cannot take the dice apart again, so a small box to keep the game in should be first on your list of extra bits to acquire.

Second item on the list is a good surface to play on. A round dining table is a perfect choice. A thick tablecloth covering is also fairly crucial. This makes the dice roll instead of slide, and provides enough friction to keep the dice in place once they land. A large piece of felt is ideal as a covering.

The Game

Basically players each choose a team of 5 dice, and take turns throwing a die onto the table. Each die face has a few rating numbers:

Face (Orange Triangle): Sort of like Hit Points for the die.

Sight Arrow (Red Triangle): The direction the die "faces".

Defense (White Shield): How well a die defends.

When a die shoots another die, you compare the strength of the Sight Arrow to the target's defense. If it is bigger, the die is destroyed, and you get Victory Points. If your attack is smaller, you will reduce the Face of the target by one.

You can also simply shoot with dice that are already on the table, or move them around to line up a better shot.

The Dexterity Bit

At the core of the game is throwing dice on the table for positioning. Most dice can only shoot things in the 180 degree field in "front" of them. So the core of the game is to be able to land dice in the blind spots on the field.

The game also allows you to throw dice into other dice so as to change their face. (One of the reasons that the gaming felt is so crucial.) If one of your dice is on its last face and about to die, or an opponent's die with a strong attack is ruling the table, a good shot can twist fortunes around quite quickly. The paper dice work remarkably well to this effect. The oversized dice are easy enough to target, and lightweight enough not to go flying every which way when hit.

The Frills

At least half of the rules are given over to special powers on the dice. And there are enough that it will take a couple of games for players to become comfortable with the extra powers. Some dice are immune to certain colors of attacks, can shoot in all directions, heal other dice, give actions to their teammates, and freeze other dice in place.

This combination of dice face powers and varying strengths on the dice makes for many possible combinations of dice on the table.

What We Thought of It

Diceland is actually quite addictive in the same manner as Button Men. Diceland is a more "full" game that still plays in a 15-20 minute timeframe, however. Choices are tougher, and deciding whether to reposition an existing die or introduce a new die is often fairly tough. The game overall even has the feel of a tactical firefight, with dice locking other dice in position, and commanders rallying their squad to wreak serious damage on the opponent.

Caveats

The big problem with Diceland is that until you become familiar with the game you will likely not enjoy it much.

Hurdle 1: The provided teams seem very unmatched in overall strength. In particular, the red team always quickly overpowered any team sent against it, and the blue team always lost horribly. Comparing the dice faces showed us that Red's overall strength and defense were very high on average, while Blue's seemed pathetically weak. Our first games involved these two teams pitted against each other, and were horrible experiences. Often the weaker team would send one die onto the table to get exterminated by the other team.

The other teams seem to be more closely balanced, and have led to some of the more enjoyable matches.

Hurdle 2: Hurdle 2 is that Diceland is still difficult to play until you learn some of the basic tactics involved with the dexterity part of the game. James Ernest's strategy guide at http://www.diceland.com is required reading. Without a grasp of the lob throw he describes, it is incredibly tricky for players to control where dice end up on the table. If you cannot accurately place the dice, the game will feel too random.

Also, we found that playing on a short, narrow banquet table was confining. The small space between players makes it tricky to keep dice on the table, and downright hard to knock dice around successfully.

Summary

Diceland is an extremely weird bird. The curious thing is that the game does feel like a squad based firefight. Its extremely quick pace and deadly outcomes actually make it more like high speed combat than other miniature-based games. Also compare the costs. For under $20 (you need anew box to keep it in), you get 25 dice, with quite a bit of variance in the skills and behavior.

The random faces also make the game more tactical in nature. (Fans of Mageknight's special effects rotating in and out of play will be familiar with this concept.) Those same random faces also make battles between the same teams feel like completely different games.

- Frank Branham

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