#880 – Dice Forge [Mini]

Base price: $40.
2 – 4 players.
Play time: ~45 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 14

For no discernible reason, I’m writing this actual review AT GAMA. Had a free hour or so and figured I could clean up some of the edges while I waited between a few things. That said, the siren song of late lunch / early dinner may still win out at some point, so, there’s always that as a point of contrast. Haven’t decided where I’m going to end up yet. Probably in the vicinity of some food. In the meantime, though, let’s talk about Dice Forge. This one dropped on the scene at Gen Con a few years ago, and I remember it being a game I really wanted to pick up there. So I did. Mission accomplished; it’s not a very good story. How’s it play?

In Dice Forge, players are given divine dice and tasked with defeating their rivals in order to earn their place among the gods. Tall order, but it’s workable. To make things easier, everyone rolls their dice every turn and gains resources, so you’re never too far from getting something. The dice are no ordinary cubes; they can be reforged by spending money to replace dice faces with progressively better ones, allowing you to slowly build a strategy (and your dice) as you move through the game. Beyond just forging, however, you can also take on Heroic Feats to try and boost your reputation, earning points for completing them (and a variety of useful bonus effects). Those cost Sun / Moon stones, though, so keep track of your resources if you want to be able to buy. Will you be able to achieve your rightful apotheosis?

Contents

Player Count Differences

Ironically, the major differences here are just … how many times you roll dice between turns. Thankfully, the game compensates for this by either giving players more rolls or more rounds. At two players, you roll twice per turn (helps a lot), and at three you get ten rounds, rather than nine. All things being equal, I barely notice. I think there’s some weight to the argument that you still end up rolling the dice more at higher player counts, just by virtue of the extra double roll (“Divine Blessing”) you get when you’re kicked off of a location, and with more players there’s more getting kicked from locations, since there are more players and more players to kick, but that seems like a mathematical calculation that I can’t quite make after fourteen games, so we’ll call it a suspicion based on recording scores from multiple player counts. The one thing I will say is that the Board Game Arena adaptation makes playing at four players a bit of a nightmare. It took us a month to finish. There are so many microdecisions that each player needs to make on nearly every roll, and Dice Forge blocks on those decisions. In real life, you can all make those decisions at the same time, but Dice Forge generally wants players to decide if they’re going to use the money on their hammer advancement or to keep it as money on every roll, which can be annoying. In person? No player count preference. On Board Game Arena? Let’s keep it to two.

Strategy

  • You really want to get an extension to your resource board. You’re rolling your dice a lot. If you don’t get an extension to your board, you’re risking missing out on rolls! You can get a lot of money all at once with a simple 6-gold roll, and it’s much better to get an extension (or two!) to make sure you can hold everything. If you’re not going to get an extension, at least get a Hammer so you can invest excess gold rather than just leaving it on the table.
  • It’s worth focusing up a bit to get some good dice faces; your return on investment can be pretty good across a game. Granted, it’s Dice Forge, not Card Forge, so your odds of a useful ROI aren’t exactly going to be 100%, but you do have a one in six chance of rolling any die face any time you roll (and you roll a lot). Maybe you’re lucky. Some of the 12-gold die faces can be pretty great as you roll them, so focusing on getting one early can potentially maximize your returns.
  • There are many workable strategies that revolve around having One Good Die. Get One Good Die and you can focus on getting the x3 face a few times, so that you can triple the outcome of the die. It also lets you focus on the Heroic Feat that lets you roll one die six times, rather than the one that lets you roll both dice twice. It’s not always going to work, but it’s a decent strategy.
  • Keep in mind certain locations will push your opponents back to center, giving them a free roll of their dice. If you want the Heroic Feat, I mean, it’s worth it to kick your opponent back, but if you don’t explicitly need that card, maybe consider not going for it. Better to not give your opponents more opportunities to make money, if you can avoid it.
  • You should try to loosely keep track of what cards your opponents are taking. There are a lot of points in the Heroic Feat cards, so, make sure you’ve got a sense of which cards your opponents have so you know where you stand, points-wise. This is, granted, much easier at lower player counts than higher player counts, but do your best to have at least a vague idea.
  • Sun Stones are pretty obviously better than Moon Stones, and that’s fine; but make sure you keep a few Sun Stones so that you can take an extra turn when you need one. Using Sun Stones to take a second turn can be useful, provided you have the resources necessary to make the most of it. I often use the Sun Stones to take a second turn so that I can do a Heroic Feat on one turn and then Forge on the second turn, especially if any of the Heroic Feats involve rerolling dice.
  • Going for a Hammer mid- to late-game gives you a lot of flexibility to get some residual points when you’re not as interested in Forging anymore. After you have a bunch of dice faces, honestly, you may not be buying that many more. A lot of good ones are probably taken, at that point, so why not do something more useful with the money? Getting a Hammer lets you spend money on just gradually getting a bunch of points, which can be pretty handy. Just, of course, make sure you advance through a track before teh end of teh game.
  • When in doubt, try to roll more. Certain cards give you additional rolls or let you roll a bunch all at once. Use those! Put yourself in spots that other players will likely want to go, so that they’ll push you back to the start and you can get some additional resources.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • The dice are very fun. They’re big, chunky, and fun to roll. I like them! They’re a bit goofy-looking, but, you know, that’s what you have to do to get some dice that are modifiable, I think. It’s also fun to pop faces out of the dice and swap in new ones, and I really like the idea of modifying dice and rolling them a bunch. It’s a good concept and the game, albeit simple, works well for what it’s trying to do.
  • I really like the core board for the game, as well, and especially like how the various cards fit into it (and continue the art). It’s a very nice color scheme and the art is pretty nice, as well. Even if you swap out certain Heroic Feat cards for other ones of the same type, the art still matches up with the board, which is cool. This also has the nice benefit of letting you know if you haven’t matched up the correct cards, yet. If you don’t see the art match up, then you know it’s the wrong card.
  • It’s also nice that there are variable loadouts for the Heroic Feats, which is nice. This has the benefit of making the game expandable (as would additional dice faces), but it also gives you a variety of different card types to work with and potential strategies. At the end of the day, the overarching strategy is still “roll well, buy well, and make your resources work”, but having different card paths that players can take to get there makes the game feel interesting.
  • I appreciate how bright and colorful the game is; it makes the experience a lot more inviting. I do like bright, colorful games, and Dice Forge is no exception. The board, in particular, looks very good, as mentioned, but I think there are versions of this game that could have been created with more muted art that wouldn’t feel quite as engaging.
  • There’s something to the idea of gradually making your dice better and being able to progressively buy better dice faces and cards. The sense of progression, here, is a really nice aspect of Dice Forge. It seems like you’re gradually getting better and better dice as you play, which is cool. Fundamentally, it plays in a similar fashion to gradually improving your deck as in a standard deckbuilder (or, more precisely, improving cards like in Mystic Vale), but there’s something to rolling dice instead of just drawing cards, I think. They’re different feelings, and Dice Forge makes that progression exciting (unless you consistently have bad rolls).
  • Having players roll every turn is a great way to keep them engaged. It’s very smart to have players rolling constantly, and it helps make sure that players are consistently gaining resources. Also, it makes sure that players are constantly paying attention during the game, as opposed to checking out when it’s not their turn. An additional bonus roll can come from players moving onto a space where another player is, kicking them back to the center and earning them another roll.

Mehs

  • Not really a complaint about the game as much as it is about one version of the game, but I wouldn’t recommend playing at four players on Board Game Arena. No fault of the developers, but there are a lot of decisions that block progression for other players. It’s kind of a quirk of how BGA works; there are very few implementations that allow for distinct simultaneous decisions. If all players are deciding on the same thing, that’s one thing, but if everyone needs to make a different decision at the same time, it’ll generally block on decision types. This means that if you need to decide if you’re getting two points or three gold, it’ll block all of those types of decisions to be simultaneous, but players deciding to convert gold off of a roll to advancing their hammer will have to wait until you’re done. This just means that my last four-player game of Dice Forge on BGA took about a month? Asynchronous play, friends.
  • Hoo, buddy, it can be irritating if you hit the cap on resources. It’s really annoying to lose resources! Everyone hates it. If anything, it’s just more of an incentive to get one of the extensions while you can, but it does also make for a particularly aggressive strategic move to buy more than one, leaving your opponent stuck with their starting board as their maximum cap. They’ll definitely be annoyed by this during the game.
  • It takes up a bit of table space. Be prepped for that. There’s a reason all my setup shots are diagonal.

Cons

  • I would love to play this with someone who hates dice games, because this will likely be everything they hate about dice games all happening at the same time. It’s all dice, all the way down. There are some strategic choices you can make to improve your probability of good rolls, but you’re still rolling dice. That makes this a bit fundamentally different than, say, a deckbuilder. In a deckbuilder, you’ll eventually draw the card you bought, but there’s no such guarantee in a dicebuilding game; you might just never roll the 12-gold face you bought. That can be frustrating for some players, but I think that’s part of what makes this game exciting.
  • I’ll be honest; I really thought after my first few plays that this was going to spawn an entire genre of like, dicebuilding games. And that never really happened. I mean, there was an expansion for Dice Forge, but beyond that and a very complicated Roll for the Galaxy expansion, I didn’t really see a cultural shift in this direction. My best guess is that while deckbuilders have a low cost of entry, dice-building games … don’t, really, since the construction components here are so highly specialized. I think dice-building games are really more the stuff of Kickstarter games, I suppose, to cover those costs, but this isn’t really a genre that I see many people breaking into. But I was really excited when I first played this! So, you know, turns out I’m not the greatest arbiter of big trends in board gaming, though I keep hoping the next year will be trick-taking’s big year. We’ll see.

Overall: 8 / 10

Overall, I’m a big fan of Dice Forge, but I also find it a bit perplexing. Where was the dicebuilding revolution? What happened to it? I guess, as I mention elsewhere in the review, it just never really came around that way, and it makes me sad. There’s something really cool about this game, about just building up a bunch of click-clackey dice that have the faces you want, and I imagine there are a lot of applications for something like this. I also imagine that this is a huge pain to build and assemble and manufacture, which then presents a high cost of entry to game designers, so not a lot of work is being done in this space, perhaps? Not sure. That’s my functional hypothesis. But what a loss! Dice Forge does a great job showing what a genre like this could look like, as it’s a functional and fun gateway game with a lot of opportunities and interesting ways to extend it. But, aside from an expansion and a few other games with modifiable dice (yes, I’m aware Rattlebones came out a few years earlier), the future that this made me think was coming just … didn’t happen. That’s the way it goes, sometimes. I think that part of it is that the finicky nature of dice makes them less reliable than cards for -building purposes, perhaps, but also I really do suspect that this game is just a lot less practical to prototype. As a game, though, Dice Forge has got a lot going for it. It’s bright and colorful, it’s reasonably simple to learn, and it invests a lot in making sure that players stay consistently engaged. Why it took me five years to review is anyone’s guess, but I’m glad I came back around and tried it. If you’re a huge fan of dice or you just like popping faces off and swapping new ones on, I’d recommend trying Dice Forge! Maybe it’ll inspire you to design a dicebuilding game that advances the genre.


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