This is a porotype copy sent to me for free for our early thoughts. For more information on the game you can check here.
Rolling and placing dice is something I love to do. There is something about the luck of the roll mixed with the strategy of the placement that just works well for me. Whenever I see a game offering this mechanic I am always interested to see how it has been implemented. With Dice Barons, the beauty comes in the simplicity. Turn structure is simple. Draw four dice from a bag, roll them, and then place them into your expanding castle. And you know that bit in a game where you realise you are in to it? That time you become aware you are currently in a state of happiness? When you realise you are actively having fun? Well, this happens in Dice Barons very quickly. And a lot.
I love puzzling out where to place my dice. I really enjoy thinking about how I can fit all four dice into my castle. You see, you always need to end your turn with all dice placed in legal positions. Which mostly means, you must have orange roofs on all parts of your castle. These can be built on later with other dice. It doesn't mean you have reached your maximum height. But each round must end with this rule obeyed. If you have two dice showing an orange face, and two without, perfect. Build up using two dice on one level and two more on top. But if you have just one orange face to work with, can you place the other three below it, in a way that works for you? Your walls can show any colour, but you will score more points if you can build showing grey outer walls. Even more if you can construct the archery windows facing outwards.
Speaking to designer, Matt Reed, he explained, "The unique feature of Dice Barons is that the dice are also the building blocks from which the castles are made. They are rolled as dice, but then used the same way up they fall to build the castle. There are rules about which colours may be used for walls and which colours for roofs, so the top face and the side faces all matter. The only other game that I can find where dice are used as building blocks is 'Blueprints', but that game uses ordinary d6s with pips and the sides don't matter. As far as I can find out, my game is unique in this way."
Set up is so simple. Just choose one of the various bases to work from, give one to each player, and then start drawing dice. It is that simple. The way the bag is used to draw four dice to randomise what dice you get, followed by the dice roll randomising what dice face you end up having to work with, does makes a large part of this game luck based. But it does not feel luck based at all when you play it. This is down to the simple fact that all dice work for you. What you draw matters, but you won't ever get "screwed." Most dice faces can be used in a way that can work for you. A tricky draw and roll just makes your construction phase more strategic.
But there will be some occasions when you cannot place all your dice. Any dice that cannot be used are simply placed back into the bag. The game carries on until which point there are not enough dice in the bag for all plyers to draw four in a new round. At this point, final scoring takes place. You will score points for each outer wall that shows a grey side. One for a ground level dice. Two for a second level, and so on. Bonus points will be awarded for all archery icons seen on an outer wall and all turret icons shown on a roof top. Tally this up, and surprisingly, most points wins.
Dice Barons is a lovely little game, made with a lot of love and heart. Matt Reed has a clear understanding about what makes a game work. I enjoy the simple clean structure of the rules, game flow, and find playing Dice barons to be a calming, enjoyable, but absorbing process. Games only take 10-20 minutes, and I am fully locked into the game for the whole time. It's a great pick-up-and-go game, perfect for pubs, restaurants, anywhere.
I will follow the Kickstarter for this with great interest. I hope it hits its goals and fulfils soon. This game scratches an itch for me that not many games in my 600 plus collection do. It's lighter than Sagrada, which is a bit too much for me. But offers more thought than first meets the eye, and is an all round, very enjoyable experience, addictive, and one I will play many more times.