This month, The Eleven is focusing on Dice Allocation games. This is not an official mechanic as defined on BGG, but it’s one that has been gaining in populatity recently. We’ll define it as rolling dice, then manipulating the results/assigning the dice to various locations/pieces in order to accomplish certain goals in the game. As always, I’ve tried to only pick games that I’ve played (there is one exception here). Games are listed in alphabetical order.
In Alea Iacta Est (which means “the die is cast”), dice are being used in different building to gain certain VP producing items. The game (2-5 players, 60 minutes) was published in 2009 by alea (Rio Grande in the US), and was designed by Jeffrey D. Allers and Bernd Eisenstein. The game is played over five rounds, and each round, players take turns rolling all of their dice (you start with eight). You then put some of them into one of five buildings:
- Templum: The first player to place here puts in one die of any value and take a Fortuna token (worth 1-3 points at the end of the game). The second player must put in two dice that add up to more than the first die. They get two Fortuna tokens. And so on. At the end of the round, you can keep two Fortuna tokens if you have the most dice there, and one otherwise.
- Senatus: You build a road, or a sequence of dice (2-3-4, for example). You can’t place a sequence that’s already there. The player with the best road (longest and with highest values) gets first choice of Senate cards, worth bonus points at the end of the game.
- Castrum: Here, you put dice of the same value. Again, you can’t put in a set equal to what’s already there. The player with the best set gets first choice a province.
- Forum Romanum: Here, you put either one die or two dice that add up to five. The lowest dice go first in line, and push any other dice to the back. At the end of the round, players (in order of the line) choose a patrician, which can be matched with provinces for points.
- Latrina: Any leftover dice go to the Latrina. Each die here gains a reroll token.
A round ends when one player has placed all their dice. After five rounds, the player with the most points wins.
As a dice allocation game, Alea Iacta Est is interesting in that people are competing for various point-scoring areas. There’s a little bit of a bidding aspect as you’re trying to get the best combination in each area, and each area awards you points accordingly. You’re rerolling your dice every turn, so you’re not just stuck with one result. One rule I missed the first couple of times I played was that the round ends once one player has placed all of their dice. This means you have to gauge what others are doing so you’re not left with extra dice at the end. It’s a very interesting game, one I recommend.
I’ve talked about Alien Frontiers a few times on this blog. It’s the 2010 game from Clever Mojo and designer Tory Neimann that Kickstarted the Kicstarter trend. However, it’s also a good entry into the dice allocation genre. The game is for 2-4 players (up to five with the expansion), and is set in a kind of classic science fiction universe. You’re trying to colonize an alien planet (with regions named after classic sci-fi authors) by collecting resources and trying to prevent others from doing what they need to do.
On a turn, you roll your dice, and then allocate them to different spaces orbiting the planet. You then get certain benefits based on the dice placed:
- The solar converter turns a single die into fuel – 1-2 gets 1, 3-4 gets 2, 5-6 gets 3. Up to eight dice can go here.
- The orbital market allows you to trade fuel for ore at a rate determined by a pair of dice you place. So a pair of 2s means you can trade 2 fueld for 1 ore, while a pair of 6s makes the rate 6:1. Two pairs of dice can go here.
- The alien artifact allows you to a new alien technology, as long as the dice you place add up to more than 7. Anything less than 7, and you can sweep the available options for a new set of three. There can be four dice here.
- The raider’s outpost allows you to steal a combination of four resources from your opponent, or a single tech card from an opponent. The dice you place must be in sequence (e.g. 2-3-4). There is only space for 3 dice here, but a better sequence can replace a lesser one.
- The lunar mine allows you to place one die for one ore. However, the die you place must be equal to or larger than any other die already there. There are spaces for five dice.
- The colony constructor allows you to place three of a kind and spend three ore to place a colony on the planet. These give you one point for the colony, plus a point for controlling a region. If you control a region, you also get that region’s benefit. There can be two sets of three here.
- The colonist hub allows you to place up to three dice to advance a colony marker along a seven space track. When it reaches the end, you can pay a fuel and an ore to place the colony on the planet. There are four tracks, and three dice can go on each track.
- The shipyard is where you get new dice. You need a pair, and you have to spend 1-3 fuel and 1-3 ore to get a new die, which then is placed in maintenance to be used next turn. You start the game with three dice, and can go up to six. Up to three pairs can go here.
- The terraforming station allows you to place a six, pay a fuel and an ore, and place a colony immediately. You lose the die you used, so you’ll have to build it again later. There is only room for one die here.
The game ends when someone places their last colony, and the player with the most points wins.
Alien Frontiers is a good game because there are lots of different options for dice placement. It also can get fairly combative as people compete over various areas – the lunar mine, in particular, can get clogged with 6s quickly since dice aren’t removed until your next turn. The raider’s outpost is pretty mean, and the alien technologies have lots of ways to bend the rules. You can bog down with AP, particularly late in the game, but it’s a fun experience.
I might be stretching a little with this one, but I wanted to mention Backgammon as a very early form of dice allocation. Created in around 3000 BC, it’s one of the oldest games for two players that we know of. It’s an abstract game where you’re simply trying to move all of your pieces off the board. On your turn, you roll two dice and choose which pieces to move. If you roll a 3 and a 4, for example, you can move one piece three spaces and one piece four, or you can move one piece three, and the same piece four, or vice versa. You cannot enter a space where there are more than one of your opponent’s pieces. If you land on one of your opponent’s pieces, they are removed to the bar in the center, and must roll certain numbers to get off. The player who gets all of his pieces off first wins.
Obviously, that’s a very brief glossed over description of the game. It’s not complicated, but there are a lot of strategy elements that go along with the game. On the surface, Backgammon looks like a roll and move game, but I put it more in the dice allocation category because you can choose which pieces to move based on the numbers rolled. You have to be clever about what to move because an experienced or lucky player can really make you pay. It’s a great game that has definitely stood the test of time.
Can’t Stop is a 1980 game designed by the great Sid Sackson. Its most recent edition was published in 2011 by Gryphon Games. It’s a basic push-your-luc style game where you roll dice and apply them to pieces on the board in order to claim tracks. Each player has a set of 11 cones in their color, and there are 3 neutral cones. The board is in a stop sign shape with tracks number 2-12. The 2 and 12 columns are the shortest, while 7 is the longest. On your turn, you roll four dice, then split them into two groups of two. The sum of each pair of dice indicates a neutral cone that can be moved up its track. With only three cones, you can only be working on three tracks at once. Once you have moved cones for the turn, you decide whether to roll again, or to stop. If you stop, you replace the neutral cones with cones of your color – this is your starting point the next time you roll a pair for that track. If you roll again, then the process repeats itself. If you ever roll and cannot move or place a neutral cone, all three are removed from the board and your turn is over. Once a cone reaches the top of a track, that track is claimed and no cones can be moved on it again. When a player claims three tracks, they win.
The dice allocation here is fairly intuitive as there will only ever be three combinations of the dice. Say you roll a 2-3-4-6. You can move the 5 and 10, the 6 and 9, or the 7 and 8. The question you have to ask is which ones you want to go for. Generally, 6-7-8 are rolled more often than anything else, therefore the tracks are the longest. On the other hand, 2 and 12 only have one way to be rolled (1-1 or 6-6), so the tracks are the shortest. You may want to go for them because, given a hot streak, you can fill the tracks quickly. You may also not want to waste time on a track someone is already high on. There may also be combinations you can’t use at all because the track has been used. There are a lot of factors that go into how you want to split your dice, and I think that fits it well into the category.
Dungeon Roll is the only game on this list that I haven’t played in one form or another…yet. It does have the honor of being the first and only game I’ve ever Kickstarted. Designed by Chris Darden, this game is being published by Tasty Minstrel. Playable by 1-4 players, it’s a dungeon crawl where you roll dice, then assign them to different monsters. On your turn, you roll the seven party dice, which could include Champions, Clerics, Mages, Thieves, Fighters, and Scrolls. Another player will then roll some dungeon dice (3-7, depending on the level you’re currently on). This could be Goblins, Skeletons, Ooze, Dragons, Chests, or Potions. If there are monsters, you’ll have to decide which heroes you want to use to defeat them. Each hero has a different specialty:
- Fighters can defeat any number of Goblins, or one Ooze or Skeleton.
- Clerics can defeat any number of Skeletons, or one Ooze or Goblin.
- Mages can defeat any number of Oozes, or one Skeleton or Goblin.
- Thieves can defeat one of anything.
- Champions can defeat all of anything.
- Scrolls allow you to reroll dice.
Once a die is used, it is moved to the graveyard. Dragons are a different type of monster – they are not attacked until three have been rolled. You then must spend three different heroes to defeat the Dragon. If you ever can’t defeat a monster, you’re out. If you defeat all monsters, you increase your level. You can use a Thief or a Champion to open a Chest that has been rolled (gaining you treasure), and you can use Potions to return dice from the graveyard (reroll the dice as they return). This goes until you stop, either by choice or by defeat. If you stop by choice, you gain experience equal to the current dungeon level. After three rounds, the game ends, and the player with the most experience wins.
This is another push-your-luck style game, and I think the aspects of allocating your dice to defeat different monsters will be very fun. At least, I hope it will since I backed it. Its place on this list is based on the way you have to determine the best way to use your dice, looking ahead to future levels (particularly the dragon) or just trying to survive for another floor. It’s light, but I think it will provide some good times.
Elder Sign is a 2011 game from Fantasy Flight Games and designers Kevin Wilson and Richard Launius. It was based in the Lovecraftian universe, and is a dice game follow-up the FFG’s 2005 reprint of Arkham Horror. In the game, 1-8 players (though PLEASE don’t play with more than 4) attempt to secure the Elder Signs that will defeat an Ancient One by entering various rooms of a museum and rolling dice. Each room has its own challenges, and different rewards are given out for defeating the room.
Each player has an investigator, and on your turn, you choose a room. You then will roll 6 dice (possibly less with bad effects, possibly more with the right spells) and attempt to fulfill the conditions of the room. Each room has several spots where you’ll need to have magnifying glass symbols, terror symbols, peril symbols, or scrolls to defeat. If you defeat one of the spaces, the dice used are set aside and can’t be used for anything else (you can only defeat one per roll). If you fail to defeat a space, you must discard a die and are rolling fewer on your next turn. If you fail completely in the room, bad things will happen to you. If you clear the room, good things will happen (and sometimes bad things will also happen). Every four turns, the clock strikes midnight, and something else bad happens. If you gain a requisite number of Elder Signs before the Doom Track reaches a certain point, you win. If not, the Ancient One awakens and you have to fight or be devoured.
Elder Sign is all about giving yourself the best chance to succeed. The dice can be fickle, and if you’re rolling poorly, you’ll lose. The allocation here has less strategy, probably, than any other game on this list. There are certain spells you can use to enhance your luck, but really, it is almost 90% luck. Still, you are allocating your rolls to different places, and you sometimes have a difficult choice where you’ve rolled enough to unlock two, but you can only unlock one.
Escape: The Curse of the Temple is the big hit of Essen Spiel 2012. Designed by Kristian Amundsen Østby, this Queen Games release is a fast, real-time dice rolling game where players are trying to, well, escape a temple. Basically, you have 10 minutes to get to the exit and get out. This task is complicated by a few different factors – you have to get rid of gems in various locks placed around the temple; you have to avoid cursed mask symbols; and you have to go back to the start tile twice during the game or risk losing a die.
Everything in this game is simultaneous. From the initial “ESCAPE” intoned by the soundtrack, you have to start rolling dice. You are trying to get certain symbols to move from one room to another – certain combinations are given on each tile as the requirement for entering it. Unlike a lot of games, you don’t have limited rerolls – you can roll as much as you want to get what you need, and set things aside. However, every once in a while, you’ll get a black mask. These cannot be rerolled until you roll a gold mask. Other players can give you a gold mask if they’re in the same room. Every so often, a gong will sound. You have to make it back to the entrance space before the sound of a door slamming, or lose a die for the rest of the game. This can be very painful. If you’re in a room with a lock, you’re given a certain number of symbols needed to put gems in the lock. The more, the better, because if you make it to the exit, you’ll need to roll as many keys as there are gems left in the gem storage space. If everyone makes it out of the temple, you all win. If anyone does not, you all lose.
The allocation here is strange because it is so fast. Really, you have to make snap decisions about what to do with your dice. Sometimes, it boils down to going left or right, and sometimes it comes down to how many gems you can get. You can also help people out, but you have to be in the same room with them. If you get stuck away from everyone and have nothing but cursed symbols, you could be in trouble. It’s a very fast game, and that ten minutes does NOT feel like enough time.
Kingsburg is probably the quintessential dice allocation game. Released in 2007, this Andrea Chiarvesio/Luca Iennaco design (oublished in the US by Fantasy Flight) really set the standard for using dice as a way to spread influence and produce resources. It also kind of led the charge for the current crop of hybrid games – games with a lot of Euro-style mechanics attached to a American-style theme.
Kingsburg takes place over five years. In each year, you get three productive seasons. In these seasons, you roll your dice, then take turns allocating them to different people around the board. These people are numbered 1-18, and you place dice that add up to the number shown. There are various modifiers that can be used, and no one can use the same person. Once everyone has placed their dice, you gain the advantage of the person you influenced. Generally, this is in the form of resources, but you can also get points, die modifiers, or soldiers. After the season, each player may build, which gives them other benefits. At the end of the year, some enemy attacks, and if you don’t have enough of a defense system built up, you’ll be in trouble. After 5 years, the game ends and the player with the most points wins.
That’s a very simplified explanation, but you can see how the dice allocation is really the central mechanism of the game. You can combine or split your dice in whatever way you want, but you also have to keep an eye on your opponents to make sure they don’t take what you want. It’s also helpful to build a strategy around buildings, so you need to do things that will get you the resources you need. And whatever you do, don’t neglect your defense – it’s not terribly difficult in the beginning to win, but by the end, you will be hurting bad if you can’t fight off the enemy. It’s a great game, and certainly one of the best dice allocation games.
Lords of Vegas is a different kind of entry on this list because you’re using dice of preset values to claim spaces, but then may be rerolling them later to gain more influence. It’s a 2010 game from Mayfair Games and designers James Ernest and Mike Selinker. You’re playing a mogul in Las Vegas trying to build the best casinos on the strip.
On your turn, you draw a card, which gives you a new lot. You then collect money and play your turn. You can take any number of actions in any order any number of times. You build by placing a casino tile with a die set to the number printed on the lot. You sprawl by taking over an adjacent lot (which could be taken over from you). You can remodel by paying to change the color of tiles in one of your casinos. You can reorganize by paying to reroll all dice in a casino, hopefully giving yourself more influence but possibly increasing everyone else’s. You can also gamble in a player’s casino by trying to roll certain numbers. The game ends when the end of game card is drawn. The player with the most points wins.
This is a dice allocation game where you’re not rolling the dice initially. You can roll the dice throughout, but you’re always taking a risk when you do that. It’s very much an area control game, but one where you can change your fortunes at just about any time. It’s very interesting how you try to manipulate the dice after they are already in place, and that’s why I’m including it on the list.
Shanghaien is a 2008 game from ABACUSSPIELE and designer Michael Schacht. It’s a two player game where you’re trying to claim cards to gain points. There’s kind of a weak piratey theme on the game, but it’s mostly about using the dice to get the right cards. On your turn, you roll two dice and choose one to place next to one of six cards (the Tavern). You take turns doing this, and once you’ve played at least two dice, you can choose to Shanghai instead of roll. Calling Shanghai means the round is over, and you claim cards. To claim a card, you need to have the highest total of dice on your side of the card. If it’s a tie, you look to see who has the highest total of dice on neighboring cards. If it’s still a tie, no one gets it. These cards can be numbered in different colors (sailors) or dirty tricks (which you can use to break the rules). The game ends after eight rounds, and the player who has the most points wins.
Shanghaien is a very simple game that I’ve only played on Yucata.de. The decision is between two dice, so it’s not complicated. However, you have to be careful and try to gain the most points. The scoring is a little convoluted as you either want a lot in a color, or very little to try to Shanghai your opponent. You’re trying to place dice to give yourself the best chance of getting cards you need, and you’re trying to try to keep your opponent from getting what they need. It’s a fun game, one I’d like to play in its physical form sometime.
Finally, Troyes. Troyes was designed by Sébastien Dujardin, Xavier Georges, and Alain Orban. It was released in 2010 by Pearl Games. It has a very European theme of recreating four centuries of history in Troyes, France. Players are trying to gain influence in religion, military, and civil domains while trying to prevent others from doing the same thing.
Over the course of 4-6 rounds, you will be rolling dice based on the number of meeples you have in certain places of the board. For example, if you have two meeples in the yellow area, one in the red area, and one in the black area, you’ll roll two yellow, one red, and one black die. These dice are then placed in your area on the board. You’ll then take turns spreading your influence around by using dice. The thing is, however, that you don’t necessarily have to use your own dice. You can pay to use someone else’s dice, thus making it harder for them to do something. You’ll be activating activity cards, constructing the cathedral, combating events, placing a meeple in a building (pushing another one out), using agriculture, or passing. All of this serves to gain you prestige points, which is how you win the game.
Troyes is very much a Eurogame, but I find it fairly interesting. I’ve played it with four and with two, and I much prefer it with four players. There are a lot of interesting choices to be made, and it’s always a challenge to find just the right spot for your dice to go. It’s definitely a good example of dice allocation games.
That’s it. Looking back over this list, I think I could have called it “games that use dice in different ways than your standard roll-and-move or Yahtzee style gmaes”, but I think I’ll stick with Dice Allocation. Let me know of others you think of. Thanks for reading!