Welcome to the Essen Mini Peak, a special preview of games from Essen 2014 (based on those I promised to cover in Dragon’s Peak #4). My thoughts are based on reading through the rulebooks which I’ve provided links to below. In this issue we’ll be looking at four dice game that will be making an appearance.
Essen Dice Games
I’m not normally all that interested in dice games but this year has really gotten me excited for what’s in store. I’ve already shared my excitement for a good number of upcoming dice games (Ciub, Nations: The Dice Game, Roll For The Galaxy, Roll Through The Ages: The Bronze Age) but Essen is loaded with even more! Here are the ones that caught my attention (check back a little later for my thoughts on Massilia as well).
Mechanics: Dice Management
In Brief: In Dice Brewing you’ll be running a brewery with dice representing the different ingredients used to brew beer (hops, light malt, dark malt) as well as your skill in crafting these ingredients. The ultimate goal is to prove that you are the best in your craft by gaining the most mastery points. Available recipe cards will present players with different combination of ingredients (along with minimum values) that can be used to test your skill and bring in rewards such as money, extra dice, action tokens, and coveted mastery points.
The interesting and unique thing about Dice Brewing is that it’s a game about dice management not just dice rolling. Players are given plenty of options for manipulating their available dice and their values in a way that doesn’t simply reward lucky rolling. Instead of having the typical “reroll your dice several times” mechanic that a lot of dice games use to let players have some semblance of control (or choice to push their luck) you’ll be rolling once and presented with options from there. First you’ll decide which dice you want to store up for actions or recipes and which you’d like to reroll on your next turn. Then you’ll be able to assign dice (and seed tokens) to your personal board in order to gain more dice, change their color or value, and take special actions. After you’re done crafting ingredients in your workshop you’ll finally have the chance to use those dice to complete recipes.
There are additional tokens that you can acquire at the market to help spice up your recipes for nice bonuses or take special actions to speed up your process or hinder your opponents. While it’s not a traditional worker placement game you will need to keep an eye on what the other players are doing so that you don’t get blocked. Once a certain number of players have taken the same action on a given turn it will become unavailable to the remaining players. Everyone has their own area where they’ll be crafting their ingredients but there’s still plenty of room for interaction between blocking and competing for recipes.
Dice Brewing really plays on the idea of using dice to present the players with options while also making the goal straightforward – collecting sets to fulfill recipes. You start the game with only a few dice and actions available to give you a gentle progression into the flow of the game. Eventually you’ll be adding more ingredients (dice) to your stockpile and actively manipulating them rather than simply rolling them until you get the results you’re happy with. This sounds like an excellent addition to the smart dice games that are really pushing how you can play with dice. To top it off, the beer crafting theme is a nice novel touch!
Mechanics: Route Building (Drawing), Dice Drafting, Puzzly
In Brief: As the name implies Doodle City is a game where you are literally drawing up a city plan. It looks and feels a bit like a multiplayer puzzle in the vein of Take It Easy, you have identical starting boards which you’ll be drawing roads on in order to score the most points. But instead of presenting all players with the same option each turn, Doodle City uses dice drafting to ensure that everyone won’t be working at the exact same puzzle.
Your city is represented by a 5×5 grid that has different features spread across the board. There are green squares that contain houses where your citizens live and white squares that show attractions around town: hotels, shops, and taxis. There’s also a beautiful forest neighboring your city that you can preserve or chop down in order to draw up your plans more efficiently. Each round one blue die and several white dice are rolled to present the players with their zone requirement. On your turn you’ll select one of the available white dice and draw a road (or house on green squares) at the intersection of the dice with the column indicated by the blue die and row by the white. Every time you draw a road you’ll score points for the type of feature that you drew through. Hotels score based on the length of the road passing through it, shops score for connected houses, and taxis score at the end of the game if they are connected to another taxi. There is also bonus scoring for being the first player to complete a shop at certain point values
When a dice showing a 6 is used it indicates that any column (blue die) or row (white die) may be selected. This flexibility comes at a cost, when a 6-value white die is selected a tree must be chopped down (crossed off). Not being able to draw in the space that you selected (because it already contains a road or all houses are full) will also force you to cross off a tree. At the end of the game the player with the most trees crossed off loses points and the player with the least receives a bonus. Play continues until a player scores the maximum number of points from hotels/shops or crosses off their last tree. Tally up your points from the hotels and shops that you scored during the game and add in points from connected taxis along with the bonus or penalty from tree chopping. The player with the most points is declared the best city planner!
When I first heard about Doodle City I dismissed it as being gimmicky and cute without even taking a look at the rules. That was incredibly shortsighted of me because of the similarities with a game that I’ve had great success playing with family, Take It Easy. The fact that Doodle City looks cute just increases the likelihood that it will be well received by families. The scoring is straightforward and easy to grasp, the design is clean, and the mechanics use two engaging elements that will be familiar to most people (rolling dice and drawing). I particularly like the idea that players are each working on their own puzzle (due to being presented with different options through the dice) rather than competing to solve the same puzzle most efficiently. It’s a clever twist on a formula that is already proven to be accessible and addictive. If you’re like me and dismissed this one without even considering it for being too cute and simplistic I’d encourage you to take a second look. Doodle City sounds like it will offer a fun puzzle that you can enjoy by yourself or with just about any group.
Mechanics: Pen and Paper Puzzle
In Brief: Much like Doodle City this is a dice driven pen and paper puzzle game where players are competing to fill out their board the best given randomized options. But Rolling Japan looks and feels even more like you are solving a puzzle right alongside your fellow players. Rather than being accessible because it looks cute, this one is accessible because it looks familiar, almost as if it was pulled straight out of a Sudoku book.
The gameplay is incredibly straightforward. Each round 2 dice are drawn from the bag at random and rolled. All players must then pick an empty space with the matching color for each die and fill it in with the corresponding value. However, if the value in a neighboring square is not equal to or within 1 of the number you are attempting to fill in then you must instead write an “X”. For example, you cannot write a 3 in a square if there is a 5 neighboring it. Continue doing this until six dice have been selected at which point you will put all of the dice back in the bag and the round is completed. At the conclusion of eight rounds fill in all remaining empty spaces with an “X” and the player with the fewest X’s wins.
There’s some added flexibility to give you extra decisions to make during the game. First up there’s the wild purple dice lets you pick the color that you want to place it in. You also have the option to change the color of a die 3 times per game when you’re in a pinch.
I’m curious to try out Rolling Japan. It’s incredibly puzzly by nature which is something that I enjoy quite a lot from time to time. The nice thing is that the ruleset is so simple that you can introduce this game to nearly anyone. If someone enjoys doing puzzles, they should be able to pick this one up quickly and enjoy it a great deal. Unlike the kind of puzzles that you’d find in a book, Rolling Japan randomizes your options meaning that it’s not inherently solvable. This lets you and your fellow players still compete without danger of everyone coming up with the exact same solution. Much like with Doodle City, I’m looking forward to trying this one out both as a light solo puzzle and an accessible family game.