Marvel Dice Throne
- Designers: Nate Chatellier, Manny Trembley, and Gavan Brown
- Publisher: the OP Games
- Players: 2-6
- Age: 8+
- Time: 20-30 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by The OP games
Per the Publisher’s blurb: “Marvel Dice Throne is a heart-pumping, fast-playing game of skilled card play and dice manipulation supporting multiple modes of play, including 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, 2v2v2, or free-for-all. Attack your opponents and activate abilities by rolling your hero’s unique set of five dice. Accumulate combat points and spend them on cards that have a large range of effects, such as granting permanent hero upgrades, applying status effects, and manipulating dice directly (yours, your teammate’s, or even your opponent’s).
In Marvel Dice Throne , you become one of eight of Marvel’s most famous heroes, including Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Loki, Thor, Doctor Strange, and Miles Morales Spider-man! Every Marvel Dice Throne hero was painstakingly designed and balanced to provide the most thematic experience possible, allowing you to truly embody your favorite heroes like no other game. “
Apparently I’ve been living under some sort of gaming rock during the pandemic, as I managed to completely miss the whole Dice Throne phenomenon in these unprecedented times. Well, that is a bit of an exaggeration I guess – as my research shows that the original version of the game was produced by Roxley Games way back in 2018 – so I can’t really use the pandemic as a full excuse. In any event, I honestly knew nothing about it – and now I have two versions of the game to play – both this as well as Dice Throne Season 2… In the system, each player needs their own hero dice and cards to play Dice Throne. The nice thing about the game is that the characters from all the different versions can be mixed/matched! For now, and for review purposes, I’ll not combine the bits from the different games, and I’ll look at each on their own.
To start the game, each player needs to choose their character (again, this could be from any Dice Throne box), and take all the bits for their choice – a hero board, leaflet, health dial, combat points dial, dice, deck of cards, and any associated tokens. The leaflet is a nice concise player aid this lists your special abilities, your possible dice faces, the relative complexity of that particular character, as well as a FAQ for your particular hero.
In a 4p game, the players are split into two teams of two – and each team shares a single health dial… At the start of the game, health dials are set at 50. If your health is ever reduced to zero, you’re eliminated from the game! Players start the game with 2 Combat Points (CP). A start player is chosen somehow. Each player shuffles their deck and adds 4 cards to their hand to start the game.
On each turn, there is an active player who first does any upkeep actions (specified on their cards/board) and then takes income – generally gaining 1 combat point on their dial and drawing 1 card from their deck. Then, in the main phase, the active player can spend CP to play upgrade or Main Phase action cards. Upgrade cards are played directly to your board. There are 3 levels of abilities; you can go straight to level 3 if you can pay for it. If you have played the level 2 card, when you play the level 3 on top of it, you only play the difference in costs between the two cards. Action cards are single-use cards – the icons on the left side of the card tell you when you are able to play the cards (and whether they can be played as instant/interrupts).
You can also discard unwanted cards to gain 1 CP each. You may want to do this as you might need the CP to play a particular card. Also, you are only allowed to have 6 cards in your hand at the end of the round, so sometimes you have no option but to sell your cards.
Now, it’s time to roll some dice. The active player rolls their 5 dice, getting up to 2 re-rolls – the goal is to try to get a dice result that is seen on one of your played cards. If you match the pattern seen on one of your cards, you can activate the associated action. During this phase, anyone can play a “Roll Phase” action card- which might affect the result of the rolls, etc. You can stop at any point in your re-rolls; just remember how many you have.
When you are satisfied with your result, announce the result, which action you want to use, and who is being targeted by it. Ask the other players if they would like to play an action to alter the dice – if they do, change the dice; then decide if you are going to accept the new result (possibly announcing a different ability activation) – or use any re-rolls you have left and repeat the process. Once the final roll is agreed upon by all players, activate the ability.
Now, the defender gets a chance to roll defensively (well, if the type of damage or effect dealt is even blockable). The defender can choose to activate a Defensive ability from their player area; they also get a defensive roll to help them deal with and non-damage effects. Finally, tally up all the damage, prevention, healing and anything else that might have happened, and apply the totaled results now.
There is another Main Phase where the active player can again play an Action card, an upgrade card or sell cards. Then, finally, your turn ends. If you haven’t already done it – sell any cards in excess of 6 in your hand for 1CP each. Then the next player goes.
Continue playing like this until only one player is left in the game. Winner Winner Chicken Dinner.
My thoughts on the game
When I first learned about the game (and well the whole series) – my brain instantly thought that this would be “Gamer Yahtzee”. And, in fact, many people have made the same connection. However, while the game does share the roll three times mechanism with Yahtzee; that’s the only connection I see between the games; and honestly, it’s not like Yahtzee is the only game that has you roll dice three times…
The player aid helps keep everyone on task – and when you are learning the game, it is super helpful to be reminded of the flow of the turn. The cards also help as they tell you on the left hand side when they can be played in the turn. Speaking of the cards; they can definitely be helpful – and you have to make sure that you figure out a way to generate enough CP to play the ones you want. Further, you only draw 1 card per turn as basic income; so trying to find ways to draw more cards is an important part to the strategy as well.
There are a lot of terms in the game – and the rules do a fairly good job of explaining them all. But it can get confusing talking about damage, regular damage, unblockable damage, pure damage, etc. After you play a few times, most of the terms become second nature – but when we started out, we often had to refer to the back of the rules for clarifications. (Also, don’t forget to refer to the individual pamphlets for your character – this may also help shed some light on your questions).
I really like the idea that there are different characters in the box; and also that you can play pretty much any Dice Throne character you have against any other. Each of the characters that I have played with have a definite style to their game; and as you gain experience with each, I think you will learn some subtleties about their strategy – through their special effects as well as their cards. There are some characters which can “borrow” traits or powers from other characters in the game, and these are naturally more complex to learn how to play because you realistically have to then also learn the powers of all the other characters! The downside of this aspect of Dice Throne is that there is a somewhat steep learning curve to the game, and novices will likely be at a significant handicap to someone who knows their character better.
I’ve played the games in a number of different player counts so far, and I think my favorite is 1v1, followed by 2v2 in teams. My least favorite was cut-throat 3p games due to some timing issues. In the 3p game, there is an additional targeting step which just feels wonky. The game tries to prevent dogpiling by rewarding players that attack a player in the lead – but there is nothing that prevents two players from simply ganging up on the third. When you play 1v1; the game feels more pure. I’m attacking you all the time. For me, this is the way to go. Of course YMMV, and the game allows you to play with any of these player counts; so do what you like best.
Regardless of player count, the turns can still be a bit choppy. The rules have the active player roll until they accept a result, then see if any other player wants to modify the dice. If this happens, the active player can then try to use any re-rolls if he has any left, and then the opponent again gets a chance to modify the roll. Once the roll is accepted, then there is a likely a defensive roll, and the some tabulation to figure out what happened as a result of the turn. Once you get used to it, those phases don’t take too long – but a little part of me wants it just to be more streamlined. Again, maybe this will change with more experience (or if we play with less complex characters).
The artwork on my Marvel characters is great – as you would expect – and the overall presentation of the game is great. Each character comes in its own self contained tray that holds the board, pamphlet, dice, chits, and whatever else that character needs. In fact, if you were playing with other friends who owned the game, each of you would only need to bring the tray of the character you wanted to play! The cards are nicely organized with all of the important information easily found.
Right now, games for us are lasting 30-40 minutes, which is a bit longer than the box would recommend, but I think that some of this is due to the fact that we’re still experimenting with the game, often switching to a new character with each play – and this requires us to spend some time learning all of the powers and card effects each time we play. I think, with some more experience, the overall play time will lessen – and the game will be a good fit for its duration. For me, this would be a great game in the 15-20 minute range; I’m not sure I’m looking to play this sort of thing for more than half an hour. But, while it’s on the table, it is a fun dice-rolling romp where you get to zing your mates with damage, and it’ll likely stick around awhile as we continue to experiment with all the different characters. You certainly get that feeling of exploring a new game each time you play with a new character; and that is a feature that also appeals to me.
In the end, I think it is a bit too simple to refer to this as “Gaming Yahtzee” though I suppose there are worse things to be compared to.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Mark Jackson (thoughts on Dice Throne system after 8 plays): The time element gets better (but never quite as short as the game feels like it needs to be) after 5+ plays… but the problem is that a couple of rounds of swing-y rolls (either very good by your opponent or very bad by you) can put you behind the curve in building up resources and powers. That’s to be expected in a dice (yes, it is “gamer yahtzee”) game – but the length makes that less acceptable.
With Dale, I’d warn you away from multi-player free-for-all games. The system does not work well (a trait it shares with many combat-oriented games).
It’s a game I’m willing to play but wouldn’t ever ask for. For better hero vs hero games, I’d suggest the excellent Unmatched series from Restoration Games, the Exceed system from Level 99 Games, or Shards of Infinity from Stone Blade Entertainment.
Matt Carlson: Now, I only own the Marvel versions and I’ve only ever played the game 1v1 with my (early teen) boys but they are serious fans. I’d also like the game to move at a faster clip, but one of my boys plays slower than the other. I think we’re running closer to 45 minutes than to 30. The game does encourage speed, as many hero defenses center on granting the defender fun toys and abilities rather than actually reducing the damage. Thus, hero health keeps ticking downward even with good defense rolls.
When reading through the rules, I also came up with the idea that the game is akin to “Combat Yahtzee.” There are other roll dice and reroll 2 times style games out there, but few lean so close to Yahtzee. King of Tokyo comes to mind – there individual dice can grant specific effects, whereas Dice Throne really leans into claiming very specific sets of dice in order to trigger an attack or power. Here is one of the dangers – there isn’t much in the way of consolation prizes if you miss what you were rolling for. Since most attacks run at least 5 to 10 damage, having a “null” turn due to poor rolling (or poor rolling choices) is quite a setback. While I’ve often saved dice-changing powers for the endgame to trigger my unavoidable ultimate, I’ve been thinking lately it may be more prudent to save them in order to recover from very bad rolls.
Despite the wide range of abilities and powers, the various heroes seem pretty evenly matched, with most games going down to the wire – give or take a turn. I was surprised at the nice theming of the heroes. Spiderman is pretty basic, but can often take an extra attack, Loki is always messing with you (and himself), Black Widow is extremely annoying to try to damage, and Thor has his hammer. Really, Thor’s hammer does very little damage, but you get to use it all the time by “throwing” it at another player and than calling it back. There was just a minor benefit, but I thoroughly enjoyed using it. Dr. Strange is completely different in that he has no “upgrade” cards for his powers, but casts and prepares spells from his hand and discards – essentially getting little bonus powers for free whenever a spell casting option is triggered.
While I’ve only played 1v1, I’m interested to try 2v2 – particularly since shared health means both games only go to 50 damage. In particular, many player powers are triggered by tokens – these can be placed on one’s self or others. These tokens have a “stack limit” so one can often generate more than can be used. These could be used, however, if there were an ally or extra enemy around to provide somewhere to place more tokens.
Final verdict: My boys love the game and I enjoy it enough to keep playing with them. I don’t have any of the non-Marvel Dice Throne characters so I will have to wait and see how far down the rabbit hole my boys want to go.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, Matt C.
- Neutral. John P, Steph H, Mark Jackson
- Not for me..