Full disclosure: A review copy of Nokosu Dice was provided by Big Cat Games.
Back with more doujin games! This one’s particularly exciting, as I got to try it at PAX Unplugged and really enjoyed it. Now it’s here! Photographed! For y’all! Hooray. Anyways, I’ve still got a few more doujin games / non-US titles coming down the pipeline, so, as always, keep an eye out for those. I still need to write up Formosa Flowers, for instance! Among a few other things. It’s been a wildly busy year and we’re not even really in Kickstarter season, yet. But let’s dive into Nokosu Dice; lots to talk about with this one.
In Nokosu Dice, you’re taking tricks all over again. There’s not really lore for this one, so even my best attempts to willfully misinterpret it can’t really do that much. The problem is, if you look in the box, there aren’t just cards for your trick-taking game; some clown also added a bunch of dice??? Why are these strange implements in your game? One way to find out!
Setup isn’t too bad. You’re going to have to do some prep for the cards, depending on your player count:
- 3 players: Remove all cards of one color and all 7s.
- 4 players: Use all cards.
Deal the same number of cards to each player (10 at 4 players; 9 at 3 [and remove the extra card from play). Now, prepare the dice:
- 3 players: Remove all dice of the already-removed color and one die of each remaining color.
- 4 players: Use all dice.
Have each player draw dice from the bag and roll them.
- 3 players: One die each.
- 4 players: Two dice each.
Now, the dealer draws dice out of the bag and rolls them all.
- 3 players: Ten dice.
- 4 players: Thirteen dice.
Players in turn order starting with the player to the left of the dealer choose one die until every player has taken 3. The leftover die is the nokosu, and we’ll deal with that in a bit. Give each player a Zero Tricks Card:
You should be ready to start!
So, a game of Nokosu Dice is played over as many rounds as players. This section will outline one round (essentially a mini-game). Over a round, you score points, and at the end of the game, the player with the most points wins!
To start it off, each player, starting with the player on the dealer’s left, will need to decide if they want to declare Zero Tricks. If they do, they assert that they will take no tricks this round and may remove one of the dice in front of them from the game. If not, nothing happens.
Once that’s resolved, the player to the dealer’s left starts the trick. Nokosu Dice plays as a fairly standard trick-taking game in that the lead player plays a card and all subsequent players must play a card of the same suit (color), if possible. The highest-value card of the led suit wins the trick. However, there are a few differences that are worth mentioning in this one.
As with many trick-taking games, Nokosu features trump cards, or cards that will win a trick if played. Unlike most of those, the trump card isn’t determined by suit necessarily, but by value. A certain value is designated a trump value, and all cards of that value will win a trick if played. A suit is designated a trump suit as well, but trump value beats trump suit (and a card of the trump suit and value beats everything else). You cannot play a card that isn’t of the led suit unless you have none of that suit, however, so you cannot throw a trump suit unless the trump suit is led or you have none of the led suit. You may throw the trump value normally.
How is trump determined? Via the nokosu. That leftover die is the trump’s suit and value. Curious that dice are in play for a trick-taking game, though, right?
Dice? In My Trick-Taking Game?
It’s more likely than you think. In Nokosu Dice, the dice you drafted serve as effective cards. For all gameplay purposes, they are cards that sit face-up in front of you. Your opponents can see their values, and you may play all but one of them during a round.
This creates a situation where multiple cards of the same value may be played during a round. In the event of that, the trick winner is the player who played the last card with that value. This can be critical!
End of Round and Scoring
Once all cards and all but one die have been played (all dice for players who are attempting Zero Tricks), the round is over and players move on to scoring.
Every player should have one die left over — their own personal nokosu. This die determines the number of tricks you need to take in order to earn the bonus. You also earn the bonus if you attempted Zero Tricks and successfully took no tricks. The bonus is distributed based on how many players also earned it:
- 4 players earned the bonus: 0 points.
- 3 players earned the bonus:
- 4-player game: 10 points.
- 3-player game: 0 points.
- 2 players earned the bonus:
- 4-player game: 20 points.
- 3-player game: 10 points.
- 1 player earned the bonus:
- 4-player game: 30 points.
- 3-player game: 20 points.
Additionally, players who successfully attempted Zero Tricks gain 10 points. Players who did not gain 1 point per trick they took.
Calculate total scores and move on to the next round. After you’ve given every player a chance to be dealer, the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Thing about this one is, it’s basically the same at three and four players. They’ll have you remove all the 7s and all the cards of one color, and as a result there will be fewer dice in the draft at three players, but beyond that it’s essentially identical at three and four. I wouldn’t say I have much of a preference; I find it to be a nice, very challenging trick-taking game in either case. This is probably one of the harder ones I’ve tried, being honest, but that’s not really a meditation for this section of the review. But I digress. I think the game doesn’t have any major differences at lower or higher player counts, so I’d recommend it at either three or four. There are no two-player or more than four-player modes for this particular trick-taking game.
- Stay flexible, if you can. This is pretty much the strategy in almost every trick-taking game, though, right? You never want to play such that your options are limited, but you want to try and force your opponents to play to your advantage. The more options you have, the easier it is to decide if you want to win or lose a trick, which will be critical for getting the bonus.
- Using your dice early does limit your opponents’ information. It might also lock you into getting a certain number of tricks for your bonus, but it can be helpful. I generally try to leave two dice until about midway through the round, so that I have a better sense of how my tricks are progressing. If it’s going well, I take the high one; otherwise, I take the low one. That way, I can stay flexible, as previously mentioned.
- Remember how trumps work. This is the thing that throws off a lot of people: look for the number first, not the color. You might be throwing a high card into a trick you can’t win, or you might be throwing a trump into a trick that you want to lose! Neither option is that good.
- Going for zero is tough; be careful. This is probably the hardest thing to pull off in the game itself. I’ve seen it done once (maybe I did it? honestly, can’t remember), and it was super challenging. You only need to mess up once to lose that bonus, and the later you mess up, the lower your score is going to be in the round. Plus, other players might want to keep you at 1 trick so that they can hit their bonus targets. It won’t mess up your game if you don’t make it, but you’ll be operating at a loss, for sure.
- Use the dice draft to your advantage. It’s really great if you can choose which die value is going to be the nokosu, since that’s getting you a lot of leverage. Choosing something you have nothing of will help you a lot towards hitting Zero Tricks, and choosing something you have many of will possibly let you hit a higher-numbered bonus target. Just make sure you look at what your opponents have, as well; don’t help them too much.
- If you miss your goal, make sure nobody else gets theirs. Play the spoiler! If you miss your goal, your new goal is take as many tricks as possible. Unless your opponent has reached their goal and are resting on their laurels. Then, force them to take one to knock them off their high horse. Is it cruel? Yes. But this isn’t Niceosu Dice.
- If multiple cards of the same value are played, the last one wins; use that to your advantage. It’s also just worth keeping in mind; if you want to lose a trick and you know your opponent will be forced to play a number, you can play that number first; they hopefully won’t have a choice. Just be careful if that ends up winning the trick for you.
- Beyond that, win as many tricks as possible. Yeah, you just want those straight points if you can’t do anything else. It won’t save you from getting crushed by a bonus, but it might be a tiebreaker if you end up playing multiple rounds. Just try to get the bonus if you can.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love the colors. It’s just a very pleasantly colorful game. I particularly like the box art, but all the cards being so bold really does make the game look great on the table; I’m into it.
- I really like the idea of having a trick-taking game with some public information. It’s super interesting that the public information can diminish, as well, based on what you choose to play. So do you make a slightly suboptimal move now so that you can keep more information hidden? Or do you take the best move now even when it might cause you problems down the line? It’s an interesting tension and I think the game manages it well.
- I particularly like that the dice can repeat values, leading to interesting decisions about when to play or how to potentially throw a trick. It’s not anything even close to a “normal” trick-taking game, and I’m very glad for that. It’s refreshingly novel. You may have the best card in the round and still lose because it’s also on the dice of two players who take turns after you. It requires you to think about tricks in a fairly new way, and I’m always down for games that push the envelope like that.
- Also the role of players changing as players miss their goals and start trying to become spoilers is interesting. It’s a bit humorous, since it’s a trick-taking game with the unbridled cruelty of Skull King, but I’m definitely a fan of trying to go for broke and prevent everyone else from being happy if I’m not allowed to be, during one round.
- Hitting your goal is extremely satisfying. I can’t really explain it, but it’s nice to have goals and crush them during a game. I think this is also why I like The Crew so much, though that one is cooperative so it automatically gets a few bonus points from me.
- Fairly portable. Currently fits into my Quiver quite nicely, which remains my standard for portability. I’m thinking about getting the Bolt at some point so I can just have a transportable trick-taking tote or something. I think it would be very good.
- Having your trump be number-based instead of color-based as the primary indicator is extremely confusing. Yeah, basically, nobody gets this right for the first couple rounds. It would honestly help if they had a like, player aid or something. Most people eventually recalibrate to it, but it’s a doozy for your first round or two.
- It’s one of those games that I treat each round as its own game, rather than as one big three- or four-round game. I don’t think there’s a ton of value to playing the multi-round game, and then it goes on for a while. Plus, if you get the bonus 2 / 4 rounds, you’re probably not going to be able to be stopped, which makes the last round or two a bit less interesting.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I think Nokosu Dice is a solid spin on the trick-taking genre! I mean, the dice alone were probably going to clue you in to that. It basically screams, “hey, there’s something weird going on with this one”. And y’all know I’m into that sort of nonsense. Pushing the envelope of a genre doesn’t always work, but it’s usually pretty interesting, and I think that Nokosu Dice manages to thread that needle pretty well! Plus, it’s got a nice color scheme / cool graphic design (always nice, since I spend so much time looking at the cards), so, that’s a bonus. Opting for smaller dice was a wise choice, too, as it allows the game to be decently easy to transport while still having solid dice to roll and draft and see during the game. I think, fundamentally, the idea of a trick-taking game with public information is really interesting, especially since you see your hand before you draft and you can try to synergize that information with the rest of your hand. Maybe you’ll use it to fill in coverage gaps? Maybe you’ll try to overweight one color so that you can always throw off another color? Either way, it allows for interesting player decisions in a decently short timespan, which is right up my alley. If you’re looking for a challenging trick-taking game that’s going to offer up a few new things, or you’re simply bored of being limited by “just cards” in your trick-taking, I’d definitely recommend Nokosu Dice! I’ve had a lot of fun with it.