Designer: Mike Elliott & Eric. M. Lang
Publisher: WizKids Games
Players: 2 (with more players possible with more starter sets)
Time: 30 minutes
Ages: 14+ (on the box – but my 10 year old does just fine with it)
Times Played: Amazing Spider-Man – 3 (with review copy provided by WizKidz Games);
Uncanny X-Men – 16; (with our own copy purchased by me); the two sets combined – 2
I have religiously avoided buying into the whole collectible card games addiction/credit card/crushing loads of debt death spiral. Well, if I’m completely honest, I did manage to buy a whole lot of Illuminati: New World Order (once it was OOP and on clearance)… and there was that brief flirtation with the Pez Card Game. (I take the Fifth on the buying of expansions, particularly games with plastic figures. Hasbro & Days of Wonder essentially have me in indentured servitude, thanks to Heroscape and Memoir ‘44.)
But Marvel Dice Masters made it past my CCG radar – and not just because it was dice instead of cards. (Again, in the interest of complete honesty, it’s actually dice AND cards, but we won’t focus on that right now.) It was a Quarriors with Marvel super-heroes, which to my Avengers-obsessed sons was kind of like telling them that they could have pizza AND ice cream for dinner.
The boys & I bought a starter pack of Uncanny X-Men, along with enough booster packs to fill out our forces. We have (spoiler alert) enjoyed the game as the grown-up and more gamer-friendly cousin to Quarriors.
So when WizKidz wanted someone to write a review on the newest flavor of Dice Masters, my boys & I were happy to sign on.
I’m A Little Bit Lazy
The Grand Poobah of the Opinionated Gamers (paging Dr. Yu!) already did a very nice job of writing up how Dice Masters works – if you’re unfamiliar with the system, go right ahead and read his review of the Age of Ultron set.
Then come back here. I’ll wait for you.
Welcome back! (Or, alternately, glad you hung around with me while we waited for all those folks to return.)
Quarriors: Gamer-ized for Your Playing Enjoyment
Since I haven’t really had a chance to chime in on why I think that Dice Masters is an improvement on the already enjoyable Quarriors system, I’ll take the opportunity here.
Quarriors was the first “dice-builder” game design – but with the buying limits (one die per turn) and the required fighting (summon a creature and they immediately attack every other player in the game), it wasn’t a very subtle design.
The Dice Masters system adds a variety of new wrinkles that increase the depth of the tactical decisions in the game:
- after you roll your dice, you get a single reroll of any number of your dice
- you can purchase whatever you can afford – no buying limits
- global powers on various character cards and basic action cards (the rough equivalent of spells from Quarriors) give you new ways to spend your energy – sometimes even out of turn!
- attacking is optional – meaning you can field dice for defensive as well as offensive purposes
- dice that are KO’d go into your active pool – while dice that manage to inflict damage on your opponent going into the used pile… giving you reasons to mount inefficient attacks in order to build up dice for your next turn at potential cost
All of these combine to make for a much richer and more involved gaming experience. (Note: this is not a knock on Quarriors – there are times when you just want hire a dragon, roll dice and smack everyone at the table.)
Twist & Shout
Part of this preview is highlighting a couple of new twists to the Dice Masters system. (Please note: I am not an expert on Dice Masters – just a fan.)
There are three new keywords:
- Aftershock: When a character die leaves by any means(damage/ability/action die) their ability kicks into gear
- Ally: new special dice that also count as sidekicks (only in the field), in addition to their abilities
- Underdog: an ability that activates when your opponent has more fielded dice than you
And, for the really geeky among us, two new affiliations:
- the Sinister Six
Cross the Streams
We’ve played a couple of times mixing our two versions of Dice Masters together without any issues – I’m not claiming that constitutes adequate playtesting, That said, it’s worked fine and we have all enjoyed having the wider variety of heroes/villains to recruit.
We’ve tried two different ways to set-up a mixed game:
- giving each player their own set of dice/cards (in our case, Uncanny X-Men and Amazing Spider-Man) and letting them draft a team.
- randomly choosing one card of each dice type… then shuffling those cards together and dealing an equal amount to each player. Players then draft from the cards they are dealt.
The second method is a bit more labor-intensive on the front end – but no worse than sorting out Race for the Galaxy decks when you want to strip out the expansions to teach a new player. I prefer this method, as it keeps players from continually gravitating toward a few cards.
Find Your Happy Place
One of the things I like best about the Dice Masters system is the ease with which you can adjust the game during set-up to create your optimal battle environment. In our case, we’ve settled on drafting 10 dice and giving each player 25 lives.
Conversation on BoardGameGeek seems to lean toward using the Rainbow Draft outlined in the rulebook – but for our money & time, a simple “alternate picking team members and choose the number of dice you want of that superhero/villain” seems to work very well.
Since certain characters work well together (their special powers are keyed off an affiliation), we have also played games where each one of us simply took a group (Spider-Man allies, X-Men, Villains, etc.) and created our own teams using just those cards.
There are also some variants that allow players to draft certain basic action cards (common pool dice with powers) into the game. We usually shuffle the basic action deck and simply deal out four cards before drafting our heroes – it’s a way of “varying the terrain”, so to speak.
Like I said, the flexibility of game set-up is a real plus.
Batteries Not Included
No, you don’t actually need batteries – but you’re certainly going to want better dice bags than those included with the starter set. They are colorful printed paper bags that only hold up for a few games.
You’re also going to want a better way to store the games – WizKids will be more than happy to sell one of their storage solutions, of course. We simply repurposed an extra Quarriors expansion box.
I’m not really griping about this – one of the attractive things about the Dice Masters series is that the barrier to entry (cash-wise) is pretty darn low. The starter sets have a lot of dice & cards – but if they included high-quality bags, they’d be pushing the price point too high.
I do want to say some nice things about their “mouse pad” mat for the game – it makes it much easier to teach when you have a playmat so players know what goes where. Again, I’m not sure it’s necessary, but if you’re going to be playing a lot of Dice Masters, it would be worth owning a couple of them (one per player).
I don’t think Dice Masters replaces Quarriors – they are different enough that I’m glad both of them are in my collection. But I do think that your interest in the Dice Masters series (including the newest incarnation, Amazing Spider-Man) will hinge on:
- your willingness to deal with the collectible nature of the game system – are you able to resist needing to collect all the various cards & dice?
- having adequate opportunities to play 2 player games
If you’re good to go on those two, you’ll find the Dice Masters system to be relatively inexpensive ($15 for a starter pack, $1 for each 2 dice/2 card foil pack) and highly customizable fun. And for Spider-Man fans, you’ll get a big chunk of the Spidey universe in dice form… which is not a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all.