(2013 – Stronghold Games)
In 2012, the Engelsteins (Geoff, Brian, and Sydney) designed and released a cooperative game unlike any other, providing each individual player with a unique designated role as crewmen of a spaceship, that required each player to master their role to help complete objectives as a group. The winner of multiple 2012 Dice Tower Awards, Space Cadets became an instant hit amongst the board game community with its unique take on pure cooperation gameplay.
The Engelsteins however, were not done. Their newest release in the Space Cadets franchise, entitled Space Cadets: Dice Duel, keeps much of same characteristics of cooperative mechanics and role-oriented gameplay, but introduces dice-driven strategy and team-based head to head combat.
– Space Cadets: Dice Duel Game Board
Players are split into two teams; one controlling the white ship, while the other controls the black ship. The Spaceships for each team are placed on the game board at their corresponding start area.
Team members will take turns placing the Asteroid, Wormhole, and Nebula tokens on the game board as they seem fit. Crystals are also placed on the game board on their corresponding spaces.
Finally, station boards for each side are distributed amongst the team’s players, along with the matching dice for each station. Players can decide who controls which station, and in most cases players will need to control multiple stations at once. After the game board and stations have been set up, the play area should look something like this:
As with the original Space Cadets game, players will work together to man various stations of their spaceship in order to complete certain objectives. The main difference between the original and Dice Duel however, is that players are now split up into two different teams with the goal of destroying the opponent’s ship. Also, instead of the mini-game focus found in the original, stations are now controlled through the use of rolling and re-rolling dice for various actions. Most of the stations found in the original game return, with the exception of the Captain‘s Station, the Jump Drive Station, and the Repair Station. Anyone who has played Space Cadets will be quite comfortable with the stations in Dice Duel, as they work very similarly.
The basic goal in Space Cadets: Dice Duel is to destroy the opponent’s ship before they can destroy your own. Players will use the various stations of a ship to maneuver, fire weapons, balance shields, and target items in order to reach this goal. Gameplay between the two teams is simultaneous and real-time, with no turn order. There are only a few times in which the game will pause to revolve a particular action, but we’ll focus on those a bit later. First let’s take a look at each station, and how they interact with one another.
The Engineering Station comes with 6 white Dice that will be used to assign energy to the various stations of the ship. Stations can only take actions when they have the appropriate energy to do so. The Engineering Station board references which die rolls are needed for each type of station:
– Die facing of 1 goes to the Weapons Station
– Die facing of 2 goes to the Sensors Station
– Die facing of 3 goes to the Tractor Beam Station
– Die facing of 4 goes to the Shields Station
– Die facing of 5 goes to the Helm Station
The player controlling the Engineering Station can roll and re-roll these dice as many times as he wishes in order to acquire the facings he needs to distribute energy to the corresponding stations. A die facing of 6 does not match any station, thus it will always need to be re-rolled. Once the player decides to keep a facing, he will pass that dice to the player controlling the station that it matches. That player will then place the dice onto the top section of the station’s board where it will remain until the action is used. Each energy dice received from the Engineering Station will allow that station to roll 1 of its own dice.
For instance, the Engineering player is informed that the team may need to raise their shields on the ship soon. The Shields Station requires dice facings of 4. He rolls the Energy dice until he gets two dice with a 4 facing.
He then hands these dice to the player controlling the Shields Station, who then places them onto the Shields board. This will allow him to roll two Shield dice and place those into the corresponding spaces on the Shields board. The Energy dice are then returned to the Engineering Station to be rolled again.
Constant communication with the player controlling this station is key, as the balancing of Energy amongst the team’s stations are of utmost importance in the strategy and tactical maneuvering of gaining an advantage over the opposing team.
The team’s spaceship will need to move around the board in order to get into range for firing onto the opponent’s ship, as well as trying to avoid the various asteroid and nebula spaces on the board. The Helm Station provides for the function of this movement. When an Energy dice is given to the Helm Station, that player may roll 1 of the 3 available yellow Helm dice. These dice have various directional facings which show the way in which the ship will move.
The ship can only start and end its movement once all three Helm dice are placed onto the Helm board. Like with all stations, these dice can be rolled and re-rolled as many times as a player wishes before the places them on the station board. Once all three dice have been placed, the ship will move according the Helm dice, resolving left to right.
For instance, the following three Helm dice have been rolled and placed onto the Helm Station board. With the first movement, the ship will move forward 1 space and then turn towards the right. The 2nd movement will have the ship move forward 2 spaces. Finally the 3rd movement will have the ship move forward 1 space and then turn to the left.
– If the ship ever passes over an Asteroid token, 2 dice will be removed from that team’s Shield Station (if any).
– If the ship ever passes over a Nebula token, 2 dice will be removed from that team’s Sensor Station (if any).
– If the ship ever passes over a space with a Mine token, the ship will automatically take 1 damage.
– If the ship ever passes onto a space with a Wormhole token, it is immediately moved to the other Wormhole space on the board. This does not count as a separate movement. Movement continues from this new space as if the Wormhole action had never taken place.
The Shield Station is important in that it will protect the ship against enemy fire (which we’ll get to here in a bit). Each ship has 4 sides: the front, the rear, the left, and the right. The front is always at the nose of the ship, therefore positioning is important when trying to defend against an attack.
When the Shield dice are rolled, they are placed onto the Shield Station according to the corresponding side of the ship that the facing references. Up to 3 Shield dice can be placed on any of the four sides of the ship. When a torpedo is fired at a the ship, these shields will protect a certain amount of damage for getting through.
For instance, 3 Energy dice are placed at the Shield Station, therefore the player controlling the Shields can roll 3 of the Shield dice. After rolling and re-rolling he has the desired facings needs to place 2 Shields at the front of the ship and 1 on the left side of the ship.
A team is unable to fire weapons from its ship unless they have successfully locked onto the opposing ship. This can be done with the use of the Sensor Station. The Sensor Station is split into two halves. The left side is used for Weapons Lock while the right side is used for Jamming. Dice facings on the Sensor dice will contain either 1 or 2 icons for each type. Each icon represents 1 point, whether it is a weapons lock or jamming dice.
When firing weapons, the offensive team will total the number of Weapons Lock icons currently at their Sensor station. Next the team will count the number of spaces that their ship is distanced from the opponent’s ship that they are firing on. This is the range between the two ships. This range number is then added to the amount of Jamming icons on the opponent’s Sensor Station. If the number of Weapons Lock icons is at least equal to or larger than the totaled range plus opposing team’s Jamming icons, the firing hit is successful. If the number is lower however, the shot misses.
Team White is firing on Team Black. The range between to the ships is 2 spaces. Team White currently has 3 Weapons Lock icons on their Sensor Station board. Team Black currently has only 1 Jamming icon on their Sensor Station board.
In order to make successful firing attempts, the team must first have torpedoes loaded at the Weapons Station. A team can fire torpedoes from both the front and rear of the ship, but not from the sides. The Weapons Station board is split into two halves; the front portion of the ship with spaces available for 2 torpedoes and the rear portion of the ship with another 2 available spaces.
Weapon dice include 5 different icons, 3 of which are related to the loading of a torpedo. These 3 icons make up the different sections of a torpedo; the nose, the body, and the tail. Once a torpedo has been placed on the Weapons Station and includes all 3 of the needed parts, it is considered loaded and ready for fire. When a team announces that it is firing on another ship, gameplay automatically pauses until the attack is resolved.
The last 2 icons on the Weapons Dice show a number of hit icons. These will be used when determining whether a successful hit has caused any damage to the defending team. The number of hit icons needed to do damage is dependent on the amount of shields present on the side of the ship being fired upon.
Taking damage will not only force a team one step closer to losing the game, but it also removes a previously available Energy dice from that team, therefore they are more limited in the amount of actions they can do. Thematically, this makes sense, because the more damage done to a ship, the less functional it will be until it can be repaired. Luckily, while repairs can not be made to a ship, energy lost in this way can be regained with the use of crystals collected by using the ship’s Tractor Beam.
A couple of the facings on the Tractor Beam dice include “lightning bolt” icons. A successful attempt with the Tractor Beam is one where the number of these icons on the Tractor Beam Station board is at least double the range from the ship to the object (as with attacking range, spaces are not counted diagonally). When an attempt is successful on a space with a Crystal, that Crystal is placed onto the team’s Crystal space of the game board. Play does not pause during resolving the collection of Crystals.
However, teams can also attempt a Tractor Beam on the opponent’s ship. If this attempt is successful, gameplay pauses until the action is resolved. The team can move the Tractored ship 1 space in any direction (including diagonally). Teams can move this ship over a nearby Asteroid (removes 2 dice from Shield Station), Nebula (removes 2 dice from Sensors Station), or a Mine (immediately takes 1 damage) to gain advantages.
Each team is limited to placing 2 Mines on the game board during the game. Along with the “lightning bolt” icons, the Tractor Beam dice also include facings that show an “A” and a “B”. When these facings are used, players will essentially activate a Mine by placing it at the bottom left or bottom right corners of the Tractor Beam Station boards. Once activate, these Mines can be placed onto the game board at any time during the game, by placing it on the same space that the deploying ship is currently on. These Mines can never be moved to another space and remain on the game board until they explode. It is quite possible for a ship to take damage from one of their own Mines if the opposing team is able to Tractor them into it.
Crystals collected with the Tractor Beam have various functions. They can be used to increase energy, warping to a different area of the game board, and/or overriding individual stations.
Increasing Energy – Once a ship has been damaged and loses at least 1 of its Energy dice, it has the opportunity to gain those Energy dice back. A team can spend 2 Crystals per Energy dice to bring it back to the Engineering Station.
1 of the 2 Crystals spent for this action will be placed onto the Damage track in place of the dice being removed. Note that taking this action does not repair the ship, only allows the team to gain back the Energy dice. That is why a Crystal is switched in its place when the dice is removed.
Warping – By spending 1 Crystal token, a team can make a Warp Jump to another area on the board. This may be helpful if they have come under heavy attack or alternatively want to attempt to get closer to the opposing ship or a batch of Crystals on the board in a quicker manner than the normal movement.
When the team spends the Crystal and announces a Warp Jump, gameplay will pause until the action is resolved. Each of the Crystal spaces on the game board also include specific dice facings. When a Warp Jump action is taken, the team will roll 2 Energy dice. They are then allowed to move their ship to a Crystal space that matches one of the die facings of the dice that were rolled. If unhappy with the first results, the team can spend another Crystal to roll 2 additional Energy dice, and so on.
When Crystal are spent for any of these actions they are placed to the side. During the next Weapons attack, these Crystal will be placed back onto the game board by rolling an Energy dice for each Crystal returning. These Crystals are then placed on the spaces matching the rolled dice facings. There can be more than 1 Crystal on each space on the game board, however they can only be collected individually.
Team White decides to take a Warping action by spending 1 Crystal. They are currently at the bottom of the game board and would like to quickly maneuver to the top of the board. The #6 Crystal space is at the top of the board and also currently has 2 Crystal available there, so it would be a perfect area for Team White to go to.
However, their first dice rolls do not produce a 6 facing. They pay an additional Crystal and roll another two dice, this time receiving the 6 facing they need. The ship is then warped to the new location.
Overriding a Station – A team can spend 1 Crystal in order to place a Station dice of their choosing onto any Station, with the facing of their choice. This can save a lot of time when needing to take a specific action without having to use the time to re-roll the Energy dice for the needed result.
One of the most intriguing characteristics found in the original Space Cadets was the use of the sand timer, and how players needed to cooperatively work against the clock while balancing and perfecting the actions of their individual stations. Dice Duel however splits this cooperative play into a head-to-head game, therefore the use of the sand timer is removed. Luckily, the intense action that the timer provided is not lost in Dice Duel. The simultaneous gameplay forces each team to race against each other, trying to balance the decisions of which actions need to be taken in which order, always keeping an eye on what the other team is doing at the same time.
For those that have played Space Cadets, the station gameplay in Dice Duel will feel quite familiar. The teamwork, communication, fast-paced decision making, and tactical balancing of the stations are all aspects that were brought over from the original. However, the two games differ in how they are executed by a fair amount. The head-to-head gameplay now introduces a real-time opponent, were players must base their decisions on countering the actions of the opponent. The designers have done a good job of creating a game that fans of the original will find enjoyment in, without a feeling of redundancy. Same theme, same stations, but different mechanics, mostly revolved around the use of dice.
Dice Duel is also a much faster game than its counterpart, with an average game taking no longer than 30-45 minutes. Once the ships make their way towards one another, it can be an all-out slugfest and thematically captures the feeling of a galactic dueling battle between two starships. The gameplay is hectic, stressful, and will be a blast for most that won’t mind the occasional finger pointing, like being blamed for putting shield dice in the wrong place (still a sore spot in my household).