2 – 4 players.
Play time: 20 – 30 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Logged plays: 3
Full disclosure: A review copy of Captain Dice was provided by Big Cat Games.
Back with even more doujin games! You didn’t think I was just going to stop, did you? There are so many more games to play and, well, it’s a new year. So let’s get right back to it with Captain Dice, published by Grandoor Games. They also published Wing Spirits, that game I reviewed a while back, and Strategist Strategy, which I’m getting to a bit later once I have a chance to sit down a play it. I’m not much of a wargamer, but, let’s see how that turns out. Anyways, onto Captain Dice!
In Captain Dice, you play as pirates! Of course. Trying to stake your claim on islands that you’ve discovered treasure on. Unfortunately, a bunch of scallywags that call themselves your opponents have also claimed that they deserve a cut of the treasure, so, combat will likely ensue. If you win, you can kick them off your island; lose, and you might be stuck with watching them make off with your treasure. Will you be able to claim the sea’s riches?
Have each player choose a player color, and give them the dice in that color:
Also give them the Attack Cards in that color:
If playing with two players, remove two of the Spy Ships (5).
Then, take the Island Cards:
(They have Treasure on the back side)
Make a square out of several Island Cards, depending on your player count:
- 2 players: 3×3 (9 cards)
- 3 – 4 players: 4×4 (16 cards)
If playing with two players, remove the top 10 cards of the Island Deck from the game. They won’t be used.
Set the bell as close to the center as possible:
You should be ready to start!
A game of Captain Dice is played over a series of rounds. Each round has four phases, as players endeavor to claim (and then keep!) islands full of treasure. You’ll have to fight your opponents, those marauders, because they’ll rob you blind at the slightest opportunity. Once too few cards remain, the game ends, and the player with the most Treasure Cards wins! Let’s go through each phase.
During the Dice Phase, as soon as the start player rings the bell, all players move simultaneously. Roll your dice and place them! You can place a pair of dice on any Island Card if the dice placed match the numbers on the card.
The phase end depends on your player count:
- 3 – 4 players: Whenever three cards in any horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line are occupied by dice (there can be gaps in the line).
- 2 players: Whenever more than three Treasure Cards have been occupied.
Once that condition has been met, any player can ring the bell to end the Dice Phase and begin the Set Up Phase. That player becomes the new Start Player.
Set Up Phase
Once the Dice Phase ends, it’s time to Set Up! Starting with the Start Player, every player chooses one of their Attack Cards and replaces a pair of dice with that Attack Card, face-down. If you run out of dice pairs, well, you can’t replace anymore, so you stop. I usually don’t remove the dice just so I remember what’s what, but you can do whatever you prefer.
If you run out of Attack Cards, take your discarded Attack Cards from previous rounds and return them to your hand.
And after all Attack Cards have been played, reveal them to begin the Battle Phase! Attacks are resolved from low card value to high card value, starting with the Start Player. Attacks affect all opponents’ cards in the indicated area (but don’t affect yours).
- 0: This card cannot be defeated.
- 1: This card defeats all adjacent cards (orthogonally and diagonally).
- 2: This card defeats all cards in this card’s row.
- 3: This card defeats all cards in this card’s column.
- 4: This card defeats all cards diagonally in each direction.
- 5: This card does nothing. That’s nice.
Now, players will collect the Treasure Cards they’ve earned with their Attack Cards. Normally, you’ll take the cards that are still covered by your attack cards, but, if you have empty spaces vertically, horizontally, or diagonally between your Attack Cards, you take all of the Treasure Cards between your Attack Cards. This, of course, doesn’t apply if your opponents have any cards of theirs between yours. Then, you’d just take the Treasure Cards below your Attack Cards.
End of Game
Once there are too few cards (fewer than 8) remaining, the game ends. The player with the most Treasure Cards wins! If there’s a tie, the player with the most Treasure Cards with doubles wins. And then, apparently, if you’re still tied, “the most delightful bell ringer” wins. It’s in the rulebook.
Player Count Differences
Functionally, there aren’t many; there are just more players competing for a limited bit of real estate. The big one is at two players; the game switches to be a bit more aggressively tactical, since you can’t just play your own dice and then call it a round. Plus, you’re not defending from all sides; it’s really just you and your opponent. It’s a great thing if you’re fine with real-time and you can scan quickly. At four, it’s going to be a bit more hectic. I actually like it at both! I think the hectic bits are pretty great, honestly. If you’re looking for a hectic experience, then yeah, try it at the higher player counts! If you’re looking for something a bit more chesslike and tactical (or, at least, as much as you can expect from a real-time game), then I’d recommend trying the two-player version.
- You need to ring that bell first. I think that one of the single strongest moves you can make is being first in the battle phase; you win tiebreakers. The thing to note is that other players get to see where you placed (not what you placed), so they may use that as an implicit statement of your priorities. You could try to trick them with that, or you could just basically try to place a low card as a major show of strength? Your call.
- Just, don’t ring the bell if you don’t have any Islands claimed. I made this mistake once. It’s really nice to be first player, yes, but if you have no Islands claimed, you don’t get to … do anything. You can’t claim any Treasure Cards. It’s a fool’s errand. Don’t do that. It is, however, occasionally useful if you’re in the lead by a lot and ringing the bell will aggressively disrupt other players. Especially if they have two or fewer pairs placed.
- If you’re starting as first player, get a sense of the cards available. Nobody plays until you ring the bell; might as well make sure that you can get a good sense of the cards before you do ring the bell. If you know what’s out there (a bit), you know what pairs you should go for and when you should re-roll the dice. That might help you out, long-term.
- Also try to make sure one player is distracted before you ring the bell. You’re not here to make friends. I mean, is it rude? Yes. Cruel? Quite possibly. But … it’s definitely a winner of a strategy. I’m not going to say I waited until someone new showed up to game night and we were making introductions to ring the bell, but I’m not terribly popular.
- Watch for bell-eligible completions. This is the kicker. You need to keep an eye out for when you’re allowed to ring the bell and end the round. If you can get your dice pairs down quickly enough, it’s possible to end the round before anyone else gets to even play. That would be ENORMOUS, but it’s extremely unlikely to happen. Doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying for.
- When you’re playing cards, keep an eye on what your opponents play. Noticing where they play cards may influence what cards they potentially play. Cards placed near many other cards are likely to be 1s, horizontal or vertical adjacency may be a 2 or a 3, and watch out for those 4s on the diagonals; they may try to knock your cards out so that they can get the bonus treasures from the gaps.
- Make sure you’re trying to leave gaps between your cards so you can get bonus treasure. This is such a big move, if you can pull it off. Naturally, if you see that your opponents are eligible for it, you should try to knock them out, as well. Don’t forget that you can block a gap bonus by having one of your cards in there, and that 0s cannot be removed by your opponents’ cards.
- Also note which of your cards cannot be knocked out by your opponents. Don’t waste your ringers on that one. Those are great places for your 5s. Just out of the way, unimpeachable.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I mean, it’s got a bell. How can you not love a game with a bell? You can’t. It’s against the rules. You love the bell.
- I like that the game forces players to place pairs, rather than singles. It makes the total amount of information hard to keep in any player’s head, so it’s still pretty tough to plan too far ahead.
- I also appreciate the sandwich-sort-of-rule they’ve got. Allowing players to get additional treasure cards without needing to place more attack cards is, I feel, pretty interesting! It forces you to have to worry about the spatial elements of your opponents’ placement. A cheap way to make the game more tactical, which is smart design.
- Pretty easy to learn. You basically just place dice and then use attack cards to try and secure your position. The hard part is the real-time element and the ordering benefitting the first player.
- Relatively language-neutral. It shows on the cards what you need to place or where the card attack effects hit; the rest of it is really just flavor text. That’s nice, especially for a doujin game.
- Encouraging other players to be a jerk about ringing the bell is amusing. I mean, I’m not going to say that it’s the best thing you can do in the game, but, it’s certainly something the rulebook wants you to do. Did a player just look away? Ring the bell. Did they drop a die? Ring the bell. Did they leave the table to get a cup of water? Maybe ring the bell, depending on how you feel about them dropping the cup on the floor? Up to you.
- The real-time element is not going to be for everyone. So, I normally note this in the Cons because some players hate real-time games, vehemently enough that I need to note it as a potential con. There are also, bonus, non-real-time rules included in the rulebook! I haven’t tried them, since I vastly prefer real-time stuff, but they’re also present. Very turn-based.
- Yeah, this isn’t a game you can play in a lot of places. While I love the bell, there’s some penalty to ringing a very loud bell in public spaces during public games. It tends to attract a lot of stares. Don’t play this one if you have jumpy friends or other players trying to focus. And don’t bring this one to a quiet room at a convention. It’s very loud.
- If one player’s running away with it, short of dogpiling them there’s not much you can do. There’s not much in the way of a catch-up mechanism, and if you’re playing an experienced player they usually have ways of fortifying critical and non-critical positions. The best you can do to take them down is to throw everyone’s everything at them, which isn’t particularly fun for anyone. And if it doesn’t work, you’re pretty well-hosed.
- Rulebook’s a bit of a mess. There are a few different places where it’s unclear how things change when you’re playing with two players. It happens, and we’ve mostly figured it out, but can’t have that in a rulebook.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I think Captain Dice is a blast! I’m basically going to add this to my list of Fantastic Pirate Games, which is awesome. Actually, yeah, there are four great ones: Silver & Gold, ShipShape, Skull King, and Captain Dice. You could really have a great game night with those, and they’d all be pretty different genres! That’s good. Anyways, Captain Dice has all the things I’m looking for in a real-time game: it’s fast, it’s not that complicated, and it’s fun. The additional bonus is that it’s got a nice bit of strategy to it, with the battles and such. Dogpiling may occasionally happen, but there’s only so much you can do without a coordinated effort, honestly, so, go for it. The rulebook could use some work, yes, and that’s unfortunate, but once you get the game it’s a hoot to play. I just … maybe wish it were possible to play it in more places? It’s a pretty easy fix; replace the bell with a stone that you have to grab and when you put the stone in the center, the round starts. But the bell is so exciting. And terrible. And I love it. The game does too! That’s why it encourages all that bad bell etiquette. Definitely rang the bell during introductions at game night, which, while not my best move, was one of my more effective moves. So that’s fun. If you’re not a fan of real-time games, there are instructions for a more strategic mode, so that might work. Otherwise, if you like real-time games, a bit of combat, and just being a jerk with bells, I’d definitely recommend Captain Dice; I’ve had a blast with it.