Radio Review #65 – Dice Town

 

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(2009 – Matagot, Asmodee)

 

“Cowboy Dan’s a major player in the cowboy scene….”

 

Over the past year and a half of compiling these reviews, and teaching others about the mechanics established within, the design team of Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc has increasingly been one that I look forward to with each release. While finishing my coverage of their latest release, Madame Ching, I realized that while I’ve covered some of their latest work (Mr. Jack, SOS Titanic, and Madame Ching), I’ve yet to cover my favorite of the group, Dice Town.

Dice Town is a Yahtzee-oriented, press your luck dice rolling game with an American West theme, where players will roll and reroll dice containing various poker card facings. After each roll, players will choose to keep a dice and place it to the side, continuing to reroll the others until each player has a full set of 5 dice. These dice can then be used to visit the various locations in town, based on the die’s facings. Players can dig for gold and the mine, rob the bank, shop at the general store, win items from other players at the local saloon, become the sheriff, and visit town hall in order to claim surrounding properties. Victory points can be earned in numerous ways at these locations and in the true heart of the Old West, may be stolen from other players. The player with the most at the end of the game is declared the winner.

 

 

 

Components:

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– Dice Town Game Board

 

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– Action Dice

 

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– Dice Cups

 

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– General Store cards

 

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– Property cards

 

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– Gold Nugget tokens

 

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– Paper Money

 

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– Sheriff Badge card

 

 

 

 

Setup:

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In Dice Town, each player will roll a set of 5 dice, resolving the facings on these dice in order to take different actions within the town itself. Each player receives a set of 5 Action Dice as well as a Dice Cup in order to conceal their chosen actions from their opponents. Each dice has a set of six poker-oriented facings; 9 of Clubs, 10 of Hearts, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace.

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The central board that players will be using throughout the game represents Dice Town itself , a western town full of shops, gold mines, and outlaws. At the beginning of the game, the Gold Nugget tokens are placed on the Gold Mine section of the game board. Players will be able to visit this location in order to mine these nuggets for Victory Points.

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The next location consists of two separate spaces; the Bank and the Stagecoach. Players will have the opportunity to rob the Bank throughout the game, gaining money that they will be able to possibly use for paying for additional dice actions in the game. At the beginning of the game, $3 is placed onto the Stagecoach space.

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The General Store is a location where players will be able to purchase items and bonuses that they will be able to use throughout the game. A set of General Store cards are placed above the location at the beginning of the game.

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Players will be able to visit the Town Hall in order to purchase property deeds from the deed clerk. These properties encompass the surrounding areas of Dice Town and contain a number of Victory Points equal to how valuable they are. A deck of Property cards is placed face down on the designated space, then the top three cards are drawn to fill in the available spaces. These three face up cards are the properties that will be available for purchase at the beginning of the game.

 

Finally each player is given $8 and a designated player is given the Sheriff card. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:

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Gameplay:

Dice Town is a Yahtzee-style dice rolling/dice selection game in which players will attempt to coordinate the best combination of dice in order to resolve certain actions amongst the locations of the western town. A Round consists of two main phases; the Dice Selection Phase and the Location Phase. Players continue to resolve Rounds until all of the gold has been mined from the local Mine. Because, I mean why would anyone want to stick around after a Western town’s gold mine is depleted? Let’s take a look at how each of these phases works:

 

 

Dice Selection Phase:

At the beginning of the game, each player is given a Dice Cup, 5 Action Dice, and 8 dollars. At the beginning of a Round, players will place all of their dice in the cup, shuffle the dice, place the cup face down with the dice underneath, and then look under the cup to secretly choose one of the dice to keep.

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Once all players have chosen, they will reveal their chosen die out in front of them. Players then shuffle the four remaining dice and choose another dice, and so on and so on until all five dice have been set out in front of them. Each facing on the dice represents a poker card facing (9 of clubs, 10 of hearts, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace). These facings correspond with the various locations in town (which we’ll look at in a bit) and a player will be able to resolve actions at the locations in town based on the type and quantity of the die facings that match that location.

Normally, players are allowed to choose only one dice to keep after each roll. However, the player can choose to keep more than one as long as they pay $1 for each extra dice they want to keep. This money is placed onto the stagecoach space on the game board, and will eventually be delivered to the bank. At any point that a player places his 5th (and last) dice out in front of him, all other players will only be able to roll one more time, no matter how many dice they have left, and must keep all of the dice rolled. For example, a player rolls all 5 dice during the first roll of the Round, then decides to keep all 5 dice instead of only choosing the normal 1 dice per roll. He would have to pay $4 in order to keep all 5 dice. Since he would have no more dice to place out after that, all the other players would roll one more time and keep whatever facings on the remaining dice (though they would not need to pay extra for these).

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Player A previously played a dice with a “9 of clubs” facing during his 1st roll of the Round. During his 2nd roll, he rolls a pair of 9’s, a Queen, and King, and an Ace. He can keep one of these for free, but decides that he wants to keep both 9’s.

 

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Therefore he would need to pay $1 to keep the extra dice. After this, he would roll the two remaining dice again and continue the Round until he had 5 total dice out in front of him.

 

 

 

Location Phase:

Once all players have finished rolling and selecting which dice they will use for the Round, they will now resolve the actions off of these dice, if they can. Each location in town is represented by one of the six facings found on the dice, and players will resolve these locations moving from the leftmost location on the game board (the Gold Mine) to the right-most location (Doc Badluck’s cart stand). In most cases, the player that has the highest number of a particular facing will be allowed to take the action at that location. If two or more player’s are tied, the player who is currently the Sheriff will get to choose which player is rewarded the location’s action. Let’s take a look at the various locations to get a better idea of how they work:

 

 

The Gold Mine

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– The player with the most 9’s will be allowed to dig at the Gold Mine. The player receives a number of Gold Nuggets that matches the number of 9’s he has. So for instance, a player that rolled three 9’s and has the most amongst all other players will be allowed to take three nuggets from the Gold Mine. Each nugget is worth 1 Victory Point at the end of the game. When all nuggets have been taken from the Gold Mine, the players will resolve all other locations for this Round, but then the game will end.

 

 

The Bank

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– The player with most 10’s will be allowed to rob the bank, taking all the money that has been collected there. As mentioned before, throughout the game players will pay money to the Stagecoach when choosing to keep extra dice during their rolls. At the end of the Round, all money that has been collected on the Stagecoach space, will then be deposited to the Bank for the following Round.

 

 

The General Store

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– The player with the most Jacks will be allowed to take a card from the General Store draw pile. The number of cards the player can draw is equal to the number of Jacks he has, though he will only be allowed to keep one of these cards, returning the others to the top of the draw pile in any order he wishes. The General Store cards are comprised of various Victory Point cards and special bonus action cards. Here are a few examples:

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There are six Victory Point cards in the General Store deck ranging from 1-8 points. The player that controls this card at the end of the game will receive the number of Victory Points listed.

 

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The Dynamite card allows a player to take twice the normal amount of Gold Nuggets from the Gold Mine as they normally would when resolving the location.

 

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The following card can be played when an opponent robs the Bank. That player will then be required to split the money with the player who played this card. A player with this card can focus on collecting dice for a location other than the Bank, since he’ll know that he can still collect some money from there when an opposing player robs it.

 

 

The Saloon

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– The player with the most Queens is allowed to go to the Saloon where they will be able to steal a card from another player (either General Store cards or Property cards). While they can only steal one card from the opposing player, the number of cards that they make take from the player and look at is equal to the number of Queens they rolled.

 

 

The Sheriff’s Office

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– The player with the most Kings is awarded the Sheriff’s Badge card and becomes the new Sheriff. Being the Sheriff can be extremely valuable throughout the game. At any point that there is a tie amongst players for a particular location, the Sheriff becomes the judge on who is rewarded the benefits of the location. How the Sheriff makes this decision is completely is up to him. He can take bribes from other players in cash, gold nuggets, general store cards, and property cards. The Sheriff Badge is also worth 5 Victory Points at the end of the game to the player that controls it.

 

 

The Town Hall

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– The Town Hall works a little bit differently than the previous locations. The player that has the best overall “poker hand” is allowed to claim property from the Town Hall location. Properties at the town hall vary from 1 Victory Point up to 5 Victory Points. The winning player is always allowed to claim one of the properties, however the player can claim an additional property for each Ace facings on his dice.

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For instance, the facings on Player A’s dice is a full house, which would beat Player B’s straight, and Player C and D’s two pairs. He would then be allowed to visit the Town Hall location. Since he also had a pair of Aces as part of his hand, he would be allowed to collect all three property cards (one for winning the location, and the one for each Ace in his hand).

 

 

Doc Badluck

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– There may be times in a Round when a particular player is not able to visit any of the previous locations because he did not manage to have the most dice of a particular facing, nor did he have the best overall poker hand. In this case, a player is allowed to visit Doc Badluck on the outskirts of town. The player has options on how to cash in his bad luck, depending on what facings he has. The player can only choose to resolve one of the following options:

 

– If a player has a 9 or 10, he can choose to put up a fence around one of his properties. This means that he will place one of his property cards to the side, and this card can not be stolen from another player for the rest of the game.

 

– If a player has a Jack of Queen, he can draw the top card of the General Store deck and keep it in his hand.

– If a player has a King, he can collect $2 from every opposing player.

– If a player has an Ace, he can collect 1 Gold Nugget from every opposing player.

 

After all players have resolved all seven locations, new property cards are drawn to fill up any available spaces near the Town Hall, and any money from the stagecoach is placed onto the Bank space. A new round begins with all players placing their five dice into their cup and beginning the Dice Selection phase.

 

 

 

End-Game Scoring:

As mentioned earlier, when all the Gold Nuggets have been collected from the Gold Mine, the remaining locations are resolved to complete the Round. Once the Round is over, the game has ended. Victory Points are recorded in the following ways:

– Each Gold Nugget is worth 1 Victory Point.
– Every $2 is worth 1 Victory Point.
– Any Victory Points listed on a General Store card.
– Victory Points listed in Property cards.
– The player that ends the game with the Sheriff Badge is awarded 5 Victory Points.

The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.

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Thoughts:

With Dice Town, Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc have combined a straightforward Yahtzee dice-rolling mechanic with elements of set collection and a bit of confrontational player interaction; this all revolved around a stylish Western theme. The two phases of a Round are essentially two mini-games within the whole itself. As players reveal their chosen dice after each roll, they are simultaneously able to see which dice opposing players have chosen, and get an idea to which locations they may be attempting to visit. This can alter a player’s die-rolling strategy halfway through the initial phase. It is important to figure out what other players may be attempting as much as it is to decide which locations to attempt yourself.

Knowing when to take advantage of certain locations is key. A player that can rob the Bank at the right time could gain a huge advantage by having the funds to play extra dice for an extended amount of time throughout the game. Winning the Town Hall location with an Ace gains the player two or more properties, while winning the Town Hall when all the properties are 1 to 2 Victory Point cards isn’t quite ideal. Even visiting Doc Badluck has its advantages. A player that can roll an Ace and somehow figure out how to not win majority at any of the other locations will obtain a Gold Nugget from every opposing player. Even without an Ace, having a King will force his opponents to give up $2 a piece.

While the game would hold its own weight based on the die-rolling mechanics and strategies involved with choosing which locations to visit at which time, the player interaction involved with the Sheriff location and Saloon location are where Dice Town grasps its longevity. Once players get an idea of what cards opposing players have, the Saloon will become a hot spot for stealing cards from each other. The highest Victory Point card in the game (8 VP Horse) can be obtained from the General Store deck. Once someone finds or when a few 5 Victory Point property cards have been obtained, the Saloon becomes a much more important destination for the remainder of the game. The bribing and deal-making that comes with paying off the Sheriff is classic and quite amusing. While the rules state that cash, gold nuggets, and cards can be bargained for, my game group and I are much more lenient with these rules, and it makes for some hilarious moments. Promises not to steal from the Sheriff in a following Round, a promise to split the next bank robbery, anything goes. Of course, none of these promises are binding, which can make for even more insanity and grudge bearing. But hey, it’s the Wild West!! The confrontational player interaction aspect of the game lends itself well to the Western-oriented theme.

As with most Cathala/Maublanc designs, they artwork and components are of high quality. The Gold Nugget tokens are a neat touch look great on the table. The card stock is thick and the cartoon designs on the various General Store cards are unique and have a certain memorable style. Above all however, are the dice themselves. Carved and etched with the different poker card facings, they are well made and beautiful to look at. This combination of high component quality with unique game play mechanics and whimsical interactions amongst players is what has keep it towards the top of the board game community’s want list for the past five years.

 

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