Designer: Yusuke Matsumoto
Artist: 別府さい (Sai Beppu)
Playing Time: 30-45 minutes
Times Played: 5 with a review copy
Nokosu Dice was one of many trick-taking games released at Tokyo Game Market this fall. Rather, I should say, re-released. It was originally a 2016 release from Quoth Games, and one I wasn’t aware of until now.
The game has a number of interesting twists, each of which center around a pool of dice. Each player will have a few dice in front of them which act as an extension of their hand: a red die showing a 4 is the same as a red 4 card in your hand.
We’ll discuss it further below, but the key feature here, I think, is that you will bid for how many tricks you’ll win _after_ you play your hand of cards: you will play all of your cards, and all but one of your dice, with the face of the last die determining your bid.
Nokosu Dice uses cards valued 0 to 7 in each of five suits in a four-player game, and 0 to 6 in a three-player game, with one suit also being removed. The numbers here are important, as they are pegged to the die values: you know the 0 will be the lowest and the 7 will be the highest! (In a three-player game you lose this certainty with the highest-valued cards, but I haven’t noticed an adverse affect on gameplay.)
The game follows the typical trick-taking structure, where players must follow suit if they can (with a card or a dice), and the highest card/dice of the lead suit will win, unless a card/dice of the trump suit was also played.
This game does have the not-so-common, but also not unheard of, ‘supertrump’, where a specific number value is placed above the trump suit. In the game, a single die will determine both of these. Using our earlier example, if a red 4 is the die that determines trump, this means that the highest card/dice in the game is any red 4, followed by 4s in all other colors, then all other red cards/dice in their expected rankings. Think of the red cards/dice and the 4s as no longer being their original suit, but becoming part of some new trump suit.
Players will earn one point per trick they take, but points an order of magnitude greater for hitting their bids (10 to 30). Effectively, the points from taking tricks will only amount to a tie break of sorts.
(A bid of winning no tricks is also allowed. This bid happens after dice have been selected, but prior to the first trick. To do this, a player also removes one of their dice and thus will play all of their cards and dice.)
In addition to a hand of cards you’re dealt from the deck, you’ll start with a few dice, 2 in a four player game, and 1 in a three player game. A pool of dice is then rolled in the middle (13/10), and in turn, players draft dice to add to their “hand” (3/2). One die will remain and this is the die that determines the ingredients of the trump suit.
The wake of your dice draft selection will ripple throughout the remainder of the hand, but I’ll talk about that more in a bit.
Bidding is one of my least favorite aspects of trick-taking games, though I certainly acknowledge the utility role it can play in smoothing out the un-evenness of card deals. I do get a thrill out of trying to avoid winning some tricks –the part I don’t like is the bidding itself. But here, I don’t have to worry too much about it!
Hands are long, but I feel engaged throughout with each trick.
It’s a balance beam of a game, as you as carefully navigate how to hit your bid. The supertrump number means that there are an above-average number of trump cards in everyone’s hands, and constant pressure that you _might_ win more tricks; are you ready for that?
If you have more than one dice left, have you left yourself in a position that another player could force you to follow suit with the die you had planned on keeping as your bid? How can you get out of that? Can you hit the bid of another of your dice?
Maybe you have the choice to play the red 4 dice in front of you or the red 4 card from your hand –which is better? Will it aid your plan or hinder it if the other players know you have the red 4 dice still to play?
These are many of the thoughts that enter your head when drafting dice as well. Considerations of suit population, diversity of bids, and consistency of bids. What have you left? Are you leaving in the pool the dice that you would want to be considered for trump and supertrump?
As a person who isn’t predisposed to like bidding-based trick-takers, I like that this one makes me tread across a tightrope as I balance what remains of my hand with the possible bid I will end up declaring.
The publisher had been teasing a reprint of _something_ without stating what it would be, but after it was finally announced a few days before it’s re-release, I was unprepared for how much the Japanese-language portions of my Twitter feed filled with folks raving about the game, and now I see where they were coming from.
As I write this, it’s a busy time for the Japanese trick-taking community and those of us partaking from further away: last week there were around 25 new trick-taking games released at Tokyo Game Market; kumagoro_h’s Trick Taking Party design competition began on Sunday, with 49 submissions the first day, and 48 of those from one, as of yet, unnamed designer; the trick-taking “advent calendar” has begun again, a series of blog posts on different related topics; and kumagoro_h is also holding a Time Palatrix world championship tournament on December 8th (I’ve scheduled a review of it the day before.)
Nokosu Dice has its own place in that stable, as just 2 weeks after releasing at Tokyo Game Market, it will be exhibited and available for sale at Pax Unplugged in Philadelphia. The publisher, engames, will be sharing a booth with Big Cat Games (TT04), and you can pick up Nokosu Dice and other doujin games there. It’s a thrill to see titles like this (and Hiktorune) be available to a wider audience from a Japanese publisher at all, let alone so soon.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it. James Nathan
Not for me…