Ever since my wife and I got a copy of Dice Town in a BGG Secret Santa program, it has become one of our favorites. It’s a great game to play with people who aren’t gamers, and it’s fun enough for gamers as well. When I heard about the expansion coming out, I fully intended to cover it on this blog. However, it fell between the cracks and I didn’t get a chance to talk about it before its release. I recently got a chance to play, so I’ll combine my usual preview with a review of:
Dice Town originally came out in 2009, designed by Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc. It was for 2-5 players, and was published by Asmodée and Matagot. The game revolved around an Old West poker game, with dice taking the place of cards. Each combination of dice could yield you benefits – having the most nines gets you gold nuggets; having the most tens allows you to rob the bank; having the most Jacks allows you to draw from the general store deck; having the most Queens allows you to steal a card from another player; having the most Kings makes you sheriff, and thus able to break ties (and gives you five bonus points if you have it at the end of the game); and having the best poker hand allows you to make property claims.
The Dice Town Extension doesn’t really change the game, it just adds to it. It adds an extra player, extra general store cards, extra property claim cards, new outlaw and river cards, and more choices. Let’s take a look.
COMPONENTS: New components in this expansion include more cards, more gold nuggets, an Indian die, and components for a sixth player (including $8, five more dice, and a cup). There are several types of new cards: new general store cards which expand the special abilities you may be able to do; ranch houses, which are new property claim cards that accumulate more and more points in a stacking method the more you have (1 is 1 point, 2 is 3 points, 3 is 6, and so on); outlaw/wanted poster cards (more on that in the mechanics section); and a deck of river cards (also to be discussed later). Overall, the cards are fine. In the copy we were using, it was noticed that the expansion general store cards were slightly darker than the base set. It was subtle, but noticeable if you were paying attention – Asmodee seems to be having trouble with that.
Also, the game comes with an Indian die, which was part of a previously released small expansion. It’s just one (red) die that you can use to give yourself a special ability. It’s a big red die that you have to put stickers on. I think I’ve mentioned how I dislike having to affix my own stickers because of being terrified that I’ll screw it up. Fortunately, it wasn’t my copy and someone else did it. I should note that the way this expansion is presented could be offensive to some people, and I’ll talk about that momentarily.
THEME: This expansion continues the theming of the original, which was really appropriate for the game style. Some of the new mechanics actually increase the thematic feel – being able to pan for gold rather than just having to mine for it, being able to rob the stagecoach as well as the bank, hiring outlaws from the saloon, and then hunting them down from the Sheriff’s office made a lot of sense. I like the theme of the original, and this expansion continues the tradition.
MECHANICS: Let’s talk about how the game plays. Originally, only the person who won each section of the game (the most 9s, the most 10s, etc.) got to reap the benefits of a space. With the Dice Town extension, now the first place player gets to choose what they want to do from two options. The second place player gets whatever is left.
- Gold Mine: Originally, the winner got gold nuggets equal to how many nines they had. Now, they can do that or draw a river card. This could be gold nuggets, or cash, or the sheriff’s badge, or take a general store card from the discard pile, or nothing. When used up, no more cards can be drawn from this deck. This adds a little bit of push-your-luck to the proceedings.
- Bank: Originally, the winner got to take all the money out of the bank. Now, you can choose to take as much money out of the bank as tens you rolled. This is good for when there’s only a dollar in the bank and you rolled three tens (assuming, of course, that there’s anything in the stagecoach).
- General Store: Originally, you got to draw general store cards equal to the number of jacks you rolled, and keep one. Now you get the choice between that and taking the Doc Badluck action (which was originally reserved for people who won nothing – that’s MUCH more rare now).
- Saloon: Originally, you got to steal as many cards from a player as queens you rolled, and keep one. Now you can choose to hire an outlaw. Outlaws will allow you to set two of your dice as a pair of something, then go into the wanted poster area. It’s a nice little wild card you can use at your leisure.
- Sheriff: Originally, winning this gave you the ability to break ties. Now you can choose to go after the used outlaws in the wanted posters. Reroll your kings, and if you roll anything that matches an outlaw, you get it. The cash reward goes to you at the end of the game (every $2 you have is a point). It’s not cash you can spend, and money doesn’t help as much as you want it to in terms of points, but these can add up.
- Town Hall: Originally, having the best poker hand got you a property claim card from the face up pool (or up to three if you have aces). Now you can choose to take your chances by drawing the top card of the property claim deck, which is really nice when all the properties are close to worthless. You may want a couple of worthless property cards, however – more on that in a minute.
Overall, the new choices are great. The problem is that they slow the game down. Now, instead of one person just doing something, you now have someone deciding what to do, and another person to do whatever’s left. I didn’t try the game with just two players, but the recommended way to play there is that whoever wins gets to choose what to do, and the other person gets nothing. I wonder if that variant might make even the bigger games move faster.
The other mechanic I want to talk about it the Indian die. If you got a property claim card on your turn, you can choose to give it to the Indians in order to use the Indian die, which could allow you to protect yourself from being robbed, close off a section of the board for a turn, turn one of your dice to the side of your choice, or force an opponent to reroll a die. This adds a little more interaction, though it’s completely random which benefit you get. I mentioned that it might be a bit offensive to some people. You’re giving away a property card to get the die. However, since you get points for property claims, you’ll want to give away the most worthless piece of property that you can. Now, as un-PC as this may be, it’s definitely keeping with history. I can’t tell if it’s meant to be some kind of political commentary, it just seems weird that this red die is acquired by dumping nearly worthless property cards.
I like the new mechanics. I don’t care one way or the other about using the Indian die, but I do like the new choices. I just think it’s a little too much and extends the game (it is called the Dice Town EXTENSION, I suppose).
LUCK VS. STRATEGY: In dice games, it’s a fine line of balancing between having too much luck and having strategy. One thing I’ve always liked about Dice Town is the strategy of building towards a poker hand, based on what you need and your initial roll. Of course, you have to be smart in managing money, or it will be all luck. The expansion adds some extra strategy by adding choices. There’s still a ton of luck – dice rolls and card draws are very unpredictable. However, you get to decide which path you’re going down, so that’s pretty cool.
ACCESSIBILITY: I think Dice Town is a wonderful gateway game. It’s relatively simple, and uses a poker mechanic that most people are familiar with to drive the new mechanics. The expansion doesn’t take away any accessibility – in fact, I tend to think that it makes it MORE accessible by increasing the chances you’ll get to do something with your roll. However, as I’ve mentioned, it does make the game longer, and I wouldn’t suggest playing the extension rules with less than five players (unless, perhaps, using the “one player gets a choice” variant).
REPLAYABILITY: One of my major concerns about the Dice Town replayability. After a while, every turn starts feeling like you’re just doing the same thing over and over. I don’t know if this expansion changes the replayability value, but I think it might breathe new life into the base set if you’re getting tired of the original.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes. It’s a good addition to the base set, and while it’s by no means necessary, it does add enough different to be intriguing. It’s very nice that it goes up to six players now. I haven’t tried with that many, but I bet all the extra choices really make things difficult with that many. I’d recommend this to the Dice Town enthusiast, though I should add the caveat that not everyone playing with me seemed to be having a good time. I think it was because we just had four, and the game really seems like it will be better with more. I liked it, so it’s an expansion that I want to get into my collection sometime in the near future. Thanks for reading!