Review of Nations: The Dice Game
- Designer: Rustan Hakansson
- Publisher: Lautapelit.fi / Asmodee
- Players: 1-4
- Ages: 14+
- Time: 20-40 minutes
- Times played: 8, with review copy provided by Asmodee
Nations: The Dice Game (N:TDG) is a followup to Nations, a critically acclaimed game from Essen 2013 – one of many games trying to squeeze a civilization building game in a reasonable time frame. N:TDG takes some of the similar themes/mechanics from Nations and squeezes it into an even shorter game!
Each player starts with a player mat that has 5 blue tiles (buildings) pre-printed on it. There are a bunch of other tiles in the game that can be purchased and they will be stored on the player mat in appropriate places. There is also a board with two tracks on it – one track for victory points and another track for knowledge (the book track). There are also 4 different types of dice – the bulk of which are white in color.
The game is played over 4 rounds, and there are specific progress tiles and event tiles for each round. A tableau of progress tiles is laid out for each round and a single event tile is flipped up from the corresponding round stack as well. At the start of each round, each player grabs his allotted dice (by looking at the printed dice icons on all of his tiles) and rolls them. Then from the start player, each player takes a single action – there are 4 options: reroll, buy a tile, build a wonder, pass.
1) Re-roll: If you have a re-roll chit available, (each player starts the game with one) you may re-roll one or more unused dice. That’s your whole turn. Push the re-roll token off to the played area of your play area so that you do not mistakenly re-use it later in the round.
2) Buy a tile: at the start of the round, a tableau of tiles is setup. There are three rows of tiles, and the cost of the tile depends on which row the tile has been randomly dealt to. The bottom row costs one unit, the middle row costs 2 units and the top row costs 3 units. Most tiles are purchased with coins though there are a few that are bought with swords. The currency type needed is seen on the left side of the tile. To buy the tile, you move the corresponding amount of coins or swords into your played area on your mat. These will be found on either chits or dice. The color of the tile’s border will tell you where you place the tile. Blue tiles (buildings)go on other blue spaces, brown (wonders) and yellow (advisors) on the brown and yellow squares, and the green tiles (colonies) go off to the side of the board.
Each type of building works differently –
Blue tiles are buildings. You have room for 5 blue tiles on your mat. The pre-printed tiles each provide a white die. If you buy a new one, you will have to cover up one of the existing tiles. If you place one with a yellow die icon on it, this means you get to add a yellow die to your pool. If you covered up a white die icon with this tile, you must discard a white die to the supply – this can come from either the active or already used area of your player mat.
Yellow tiles are advisors – you can only have one at a time. These generally grant you extra re-roll actions. You take chits matching the tile’s icons. You will be able to use these chits once each round.
Green tiles are colonies – these are the type of tile that is purchased with swords instead of coins. You can have any number of these. Many of these come with icons at the bottom which will grant you the corresponding chits – giving you items/abilities that can be used once each round.
Brown tiles are wonders – you can only be working on one at a time. More on this in the final action choice.
3) Build a wonder – if you have previously purchased a wonder tile, you can pay the construction cost found on the left side of the wonder – it is always a number of rock icons. This cost can be paid with rock icons on your dice or on chits. Finished wonders will score you VPs at the end of the game (but only if they are fully built) and some will also give you chits.
4) Pass – if you do not want to do anything else, you can pass. You will not take any more actions this turn. You may still have unused icons on chits or dice at this time – you can still use them in the scoring phase.
When all players have passed in the action phase, you move to the scoring phase. There are a number of different steps in this process.
First, you score books. Any unused book icons (on chits or dice) are now scored. Advance your marker on the book track, 1 space per icon. Then players score VPs for their relative standing on the book track. You get 1VP for each player who has a lower number of books than you.
Second, you fight off the famine. At the start of the round, remember that an event tile was randomly flipped over for the round? The top half of this tile tells you how many wheat icons you need to fight off the famine. If you are able to meet the requirement, you will score a number of VPs equal to the round number.
Finally, there is a war. But before you fight, you first figure out turn order for next turn. The player with the most unused swords at this time becomes the new starting player, second most swords is second in turn order, etc… If there is a tie, you keep the same respective turn order. Note that you don’t discard any swords when determining turn order. Now it’s time to fight – look at the bottom half of the event tile – it will tell you how many swords you need to have to be victorious. If you can meet the requirement, you will score a number of VPs equal to the round number.
If there is another round to be played, get out the appropriate tiles for the next round and randomly select progress tiles and an event tile. If it is the end of round 4 – you do a small bit of endgame scoring – namely adding VPs from any tiles that you have purchased (Except for unfinished wonders – these only score points if they are complete.) Ties are broken by turn order as determined in the War phase of the final round.
My thoughts on the game
I was first introduced to the game at GenCon 2014, and I was immediately attracted to the game. First, I really have a love of dice games. Second, I liked Nations, so a re-boot of it with the added bonus of its quickness was a surefire way to get me interested. With experienced players, a 4p game should run about 20-30 minutes – and there’s a lot of game to be had in that time.
The game flow is easy to pick up – you really don’t have too many choices each turn – you either buy a tile (or finish a wonder) and use up icons, or you are re-rolling to try to get better icons. This is the main reason why your turns go so quickly. At the start of the game, you have 5 white dice, and by the 4th round, I’d say that most gamers are averaging 8-9 dice.
The setup keeps games feeling similar because relatively equal powered tiles will show up at the same time in each game – but the fact that not all tiles are used in every game and the varying costs of those tiles on the purchase board ensure that each game is different. There is a lot of value in going earlier in turn order as the tiles are generally cheaper earlier in order.
There are a number of ways to score points, and this variety allows you to make the most of your dice rolls. You can choose to focus on books, and in a 4p game, this could lock in up to 3 VPs per turn. The event tiles give you two chances to score points in each round (Escalating as the game moves forward) – and the wonders also escalate in VP as the rounds progress. You can try to meet all these needs by collecting more dice to roll – or you could instead look for tiles that give you icon chits. You are able to use each chit once a round, so this is a good way to lock yourself into a successful strategy. (i.e. if you want to get the famine points, collecting wheat chits means you have to roll few of them on your dice, and you can try to use your dice to get other things).
After 5 plays, I’m still experimenting with different strategies – for instance, is it better to concentrate on 1-2 of the scoring tracks and guarantee points in them or if it’s better to try to diversify my holdings and compete in all of them. Heck, I’m not even sure yet if this is possible to pre-determine your strategy or if you really must just roll with it based on your dice rolling luck.
Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers
Dan Blum (1 play): I didn’t care much for Nations due to the random nature of the tiles available; I thought there was far too much luck for a game of its length. N:TDG has a bit more luck, but is much shorter, so here the luck is about right for the length. Furthermore, I did enjoy it in general. There are not a lot of dice games that involve swapping out dice (Airships is probably the best-known one), so having another is nice. However, I do have some concerns. People have complained that being last in turn order is really bad; it didn’t seem like a huge factor in my game but I will be on the lookout when I play again. Something I did notice is that the last round seems kind of anti-climactic since there’s nothing to do but pick up VPs.
Craig Massey (2 plays): This feels like a missed opportunity. As Dan mentioned, the last round seemed pretty anti-climactic in the race for final victory point tiles. The overall feel from game to game and round to round is just too similar. I was hoping that there would be more differentiation between the civilizations and just a bit more variety in general. And while Nations itself creates a fair amount of tension in dealing the event tiles, here they seem like an afterthought. In the end the game is less than the sum of its parts.
Brian L (4 plays) The challenge with a dice game is to allow the player to have enough control to enjoy dealing with the random results of a roll of the dice. N:TDG does this very well. You are given the opportunity to select purchases that improve your position, let you re-roll dice or gain you points right from the outset. The race to score points for books can feel like an afterthought, or like a critical element of your strategy. Just how much is going first on the last round worth, and should you commit to swords instead of wealth for a shot at it? Do you re-roll now, or grab that tile you can afford before it disappears, even though it means that even with the re-roll you’ll miss out on the more expensive but better one for you? It moves right along and makes a terrific filler with some thinking, some luck and a hint of theme.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Luke H
- I like it. Dale Y, Alan H, Nate B, Dan B, John P, Brian L
- Neutral. Jennifer G, Jonathan F, Craig M
- Not for me… Lorna, Joe H