- Designer: Tom Lehmann
- Publisher: Rio Grande Games
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 14+
- Time: 45-75 minutes
- Played 5 times with copy provided by Rio Grande Games
A lot of games come with a super complex backstory, brought to life through flavor text in the rules and on the box. The subtitle on the front page of the rules hints at the story: “After the Great Plague came regrowth and innovation…” The first sentence of the rules further expands on this: “In Dice Realms, each player rules a small realm, seeking to improve and enlarge it. Realms are represented by the faces on customizable dice: farming and grazing lands, hills with ore to mine, towers for defense, and tinkerers with ideas for improvements.” And… well, that’s it. Then it’s on to how to play. So this review will do the same. That was the introduction, and well, here’s how to play the game.
In Dice Realms, players vie to improve and expand their realms, represented by customizable dice with faces that can be popped out and upgraded for better ones. These special dice were seen before in Rattlebones (another RGG title), and they allow the players to customize the faces – popping plastic circles in and out of the six sides of the dice. There are a lot of dice faces in the box, 668 to be exact! And you’ll spend your first hour of ownership sorting the dice faces (which helpfully come in a number of different bags) into little spots in the included and very useful organizing trays.
Each game is different as during setup, players draw five tiles (from a bag of 35) to determine which extra die faces will be available beyond the five standard lines of faces: lands (victory points), farming (grain), commerce (coins), Settlement (defense), and progress (upgrades). There is one tray which holds all the basic die faces, and this will be placed on the table for each game. It also holds the chits you will need. There is a container for some of the 4-value chits, but be sure to check with your tiles to see if you need them in this game or not. We missed this rule in our very first game, and it made the game go on way too long. You will have to find the five additional sets of die faces to be used with the chosen tiles. Place them on the table next to their associated tile.
Each player begins with two identical dice and can gain more dice during play, in addition to upgrading their starting dice. The game also uses a special Red fate die – which is always in play – and the sides for this die can be swapped out if a special Fate tile is drawn as one of the five to use in this particular game.
Each player starts with their two dice, as well as 3 grain, a re-roll chit, and a treasury tile (which is placed on the “1 coin” side face up). One player also gets the Fate die to start, but this red die will move clockwise to the next player at the end of each round. Play is mostly simultaneous. There are 4 phases in each round: Roll, Collect, Upgrade, check for End.
Roll: To begin a round, players roll their dice, with one player rolling the Fate die, which affects all players. If Winter appears on the Fate die, players must immediately pay 1 grain for each die they own or take a -2 point “misery” chip for each grain they lack. Players may then re-roll one die for free and use any re-roll or “set-a-die” tokens (that allow you to choose the die face result) that they have previously invested in. Also, if your die has a mandatory re-roll icon on it, that die must also be re-rolled. Players then resolve any attacks showing, starting with the Fate die and then clockwise, with each player’s attack affecting all their rivals. Each shield showing on your dice lets you ignore one attack. Successful attacks can cost players grain, the use of a die for a turn, or even the loss of a die face (which can be later rebuilt). There are special red “pow” dice faces to show these destroyed faces.
Collect: Players collect any victory points (VPs), grain, and coins shown on their die faces. Coins are used to acquire upgrades, purchase re-roll and set-a-die tokens, repair destroyed die faces, or buy a new die. When you buy a new die, you expand your realm. You can buy grey dice – which start with the same faces as your initial starting dice – or you can buy green dice, which have only VPs on their faces and can only be upgraded with other green faces. At most 1 coin can be saved in your treasury from round to round (as noted by which side of your treasury card is face up). If you buy upgrades, use your treasury card and your wood disc to mark off how many you have at your disposal.
Upgrade: Upgrades are the heart of the game as this is how to change the faces of your dice to suit your needs. Players receive upgrades from upgrade symbols showing or by spending coins. Die faces have 1, 2, or 4 dots on them at the bottom. To change from a 1 to a 4 in the same color, you spend three upgrades, one for each dot. If you want to change from one face to a different color face at the same level, you spend just one upgrade for that change. (There is a special rule for white die faces where you still must spend an upgrade to move from one 2-dot white face to a different 2-dot white face). You do not need to stop along the way, you can calculate your total upgrade cost and exchange an old face for a new face. Note that faces that trigger re-rolls are limited to one per die; this helps prevent having a die that triggers unlimited re-rolls.
Check for Game End: If during a round any player needs to use a 10 VP token, a -10 misery token, or a 10 grain token (because all of the smaller value tokens have been used), then the game ends after finishing that round; otherwise, the player with the Fate die passes it clockwise to the next player and a new round begins. When the game ends, players tally their points earned, both from VP chips and improved die faces, with 2-dot faces being worth 1 VP and 4-dot faces being worth 2 VP. Each unrepaired destroyed face brings a -2VP penalty. Whoever has the most VPs wins. Ties broken in favor of the player with the most grain at the end of the game.
My thoughts on the game
Dice Realms is a big box game. Seriously big box; it is a bit larger than the usual 30cm box – kinda reminds me of the old Gold Sieber boxes. And, yes, if you know what I’m talking about, you’ve immediately outed yourself as an old fart in the hobby! There are a LOT of bits in the box.
The publisher has thankfully provided organizational trays to keep everything in the right place and easy to find. As I mentioned earlier, expect to spend up to an hour on your first time with the game to sort/organize all the faces and to construct the dice for the first time. I’d definitely recommend doing this by yourself in advance of your first play – given the small size of the faces, I would think it’s a task best done by a single person.
The game itself is deceptively simple. I had sort of expected a complex game based on the box size, but in the end, you are only playing with 5 different sets of faces in addition to the basic tray. It’s actually a reasonable number of new things to deal with in each game, yet there are over 324,000 different possible combinations, so I’d expect most games to be a little different. As in Dominion and other games with a similar variable setup each particular tile must be viewed in the setting of the other four in the game in order to value its action. A tile which seemed not useful in one game might combo very well with one of the faces in a different game. I’d make sure that you take a moment at the start of each game to really look at the five new options and understand how they work, and then take a second to decide how they might combo well together.
As you would expect, with any game that involves dice, there is a lot of luck involved. You might have a great strategy, but if you don’t roll the right faces, it could be all for nought. Sure, you have ways to mitigate the luck. You get a free re-roll each turn, and you can buy tokens to allow more re-rolls. Better yet, buy the expensive set a die token and force your strategy to work by guaranteeing that you get the roll you want. Of course, you can also just keep buying more of the face you want to show up and let luck even things out in the end – but… best of luck with that one.
I have tried a few times to run a strategy where one die is filled with faces that upgrade any green face to the 4 dot green face side. And then obtained at least one green die (to have at least 6 more targets). Both times I’ve tried this, even with as many as 3 of the “upgrade a green face” sides on a single die, I rarely saw the desired upgrade side! I guess I have to figure out how to roll better…
Some of my friends have been bothered by this variance in luck, but for me, that’s part and parcel of a dice game. The whole point of a die is to provide a random event, and for the most part, you just chuck the dice and pray. It should all even out in the end, but even if it doesn’t, the whole game usually runs 30-40 minutes, so it’s not a big deal if you suck at rolling.
The rules could be a bit tighter (putting on my developer’s hat). They are not entirely clear on the timing of the re-rolls. You get a free re-roll each turn. You must also mandatorily re-roll any dice with a single arrow on them. It is unclear whether you can do your mandatory rolls first and then choose your free one. Also, though play is meant to be simultaneous, it’s unclear whether you’re supposed to be able to see what your opponents are doing. For instance, if I know one of my opponents has an attack face showing; i’m going to want to know if he’s going to re-roll that before I decide to use a token to re-roll my castle die with a shield showing. The rules tell you that you can go in turn order if things matter, but otherwise to play simultaneously – but then, in my eyes, it would matter on almost every roll. For now, we just agree to pay attention to only our own stuff, say “done” when we’re done with our re-rolls, and then see what happens.
I would also make mention that you need to be sure that you are playing with the 4* tiles or not. The setup rules tell you to put them in the base tray for storage, and then later in the rules, it becomes apparent that you should only play with those 4* chits if one of your tiles tells you to include them in setup. If you keep them in and you aren’t supposed to have them, you’ll end up prolonging a particular scenario far longer than it should last. That rule seems to have been missed a lot from what I’ve read online, so I’ll mention it here.
The ways to score will change based on the tiles in play. In one recent game, I came in second, scoring almost all my points from upgraded faces on my dice. I lost by two points to a player who spent the whole game collecting VP chips (and actually triggered the game end by needing a 10VP chip).
So far, I’ve had a really good time with the game. Each one has presented a new challenge, and I generally like games with a “turn zero” phase where you look at the tableau of variable things and try to figure out how things work. You definitely get that here, though it is not as complex as Dominion as you only have 5 things instead of 10 to figure out. I do enjoy the hands-on “craft time” you get in the game as you assemble and disassemble the dice.
I know that I have only scratched the surface of the different possible combinations, but I look forward to experimenting more with them. We’ve avoided most of the attacking faces for now until we get a bit more clarity in the timing rules – but anyways, as the rules suggest, if you don’t like that sort of game, just avoid playing with those faces. And, thus we have. We’re happy with the game we’re playing, and if this means we only see 175,000 of the possible 324,000 setup combos, we’re ok with that. Anyways, this game seems ready for expansions, so we’ll likely be at no shortage of options in the future.
For now, I like the game. I might grow to love it with more plays, but I guess you’ll have to check out my re-review of the game in 2025 to see if that happened or not. This is definitely the largest game of Tom’s that I have and plan to keep, and it will sit nicely on a different shelf than the smallest Tom game that I keep, Res Arcana.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Joe Huber: (Ed note – Joe has penned his own review, posted here: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/2868746/review-dice-realms-update-review-gamers-alliance-f ) (57 plays as I write this) – My thoughts on the game are in my review, but to summarize – this is already my favorite game released since 2013. It’s a game I’ve most often played at least twice in a row, and both hope and expect to get in my 100th play before the year ends. Or maybe before the Summer ends…
Simon Neale: After playing a fair bit of Dice Forge online, I was keen to see what Dice Realms could deliver. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that impressed with the game which can be quite punishing if your luck at rolling dice won’t allow you to prepare for poor harvests. The “dice (aka engine) building” part of the game lacked the speed of a card based game and didn’t provide enough sparkle to keep my interest. I do wonder how many of the dice faces will end their days in vacuum cleaners after pinging off and flying through the air! Now if the game was online…..
Dan B (many plays): I don’t like this quite as much as Joe does, but I still like it a lot. Sure, there’s a lot of luck involved, but there are ways to mitigate the luck and as Dale notes, it’s not that long a game. (It tends to be longer if attack faces are used since then players do need to do their re-rolls in order, but it’s easy enough to play without attack faces if you want a shorter game and/or a more friendly game.) I certainly prefer it to Dice Forge in which I find the dice aspect quite dull by comparison.
Ben B (three plays): I found that changing dice slowed the game down alot for us. I thought it was a fun gimmicky concept but not a game I am eager to play regularly.
Larry (2 plays): It’s a Tom Lehmann game, so, naturally, it’s clever, well designed, and has scrupulous attention to detail. And, of course, there’s a huge amount of replayability. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would and, while I won’t be buying it, it’s a game I’ll happily play.
Mark Jackson (7 plays… so far): My younger son & I have found a new game for the two of us to explore… it combines the deck-building-ish feel (courtesy of the customizable dice) along with ways to control those dice (reroll tokens & set a side tokens) that makes this much less luck dependent than it first appears. In addition – we’re clocking in most games between 15-20 minutes, so it’s easy to want to play again immediately.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Joe H., Mark Jackson, Dan B
- I like it. Dale Y, Larry
- Neutral. John P (1 play), Ben B
- Not for me. Simon Neale