WBG Score: 8
Player Count: 2-4
You’ll like this if you like: Ganz Schon Clever
Published by: Radical 8 Games
This is a review copy. See our review policy here
Die of The Dead was a successful lockdown kickstarter that you can find out a little more about here when I sat down with the publisher near the end of the main game's crowdfunding campaign. Since then, two expansion have been released and the game has picked up a lot of traction. In this review we will look at the main game and the two expansions. So, let's get it to the table and see how it plays.
How To Set Up Die Of The Dead
For the main game, place the four caskets out in a row, left to right. Keep the lids on, but have the casket on the far left open. Underneath these, place the four casket boards in numerical order, and the four token boards. Place the tokens for each onto these boards. The token boards are double-sided, so make your choice as to which powers you want to have in the game. Next, assemble the Marigold steps. This takes five minutes for game one, but then is a simple process for any subsequent game. Each player now takes a player board and their matching colored dice. The player boards are double-sided, one showing a unique player power. Make your choice if you want to include these or not. Add the City of the Dead board to the main play area and then each player adds their three power souls (the dice with the skulls on) onto this board.
Each player now rolls two souls (dice) to determine the starting player. The first player will add a soul into the first casket and one onto their player board. The second player adds a soul to casket one and two. Player three adds a soul to casket one and two and one onto their board. Player four adds a soul to casket one, two, and three. And player five adds a soul to casket one, two, and three and adds one to their board. You are now ready to play.
Xolo Expansion Set up
If you are adding in the Xolo expansion, there are a few modules you can bring in. Place the Xolo boards under the casket boards if you want to add this. The last player adds the Xolo meeple onto one of the boards, adding one Xolo token to it during setup. Place the other tokens to the side.
There are also two new double-sided caskets for space three that you can swap in for variation, and new token dice that you can add to the City of the Dead, one per player
Ofrenda Expansion Set Up
Each player takes an Altar De Muertos board and places it in front of them. They then add one of their normal dice to the front of the steps, showing the single pip side. Any dice not used in lower than five-player counts are distributed evenly among the players. The unused power dice are added to the City of the Dead board. Players then add one die from their supply to each casket. This will be the scoring die. Note, the caskets are now seen as representing one of the four token symbols. One player now takes a start marker.
How To Play Die Of The Dead
Starting with the first player, players will take it in turn to take one action. This can be either one of the four actions as shown on the four casket boards. One part of this will benefit them, the other may benefit any player.
The first casket is where you can add souls (dice) from your player board to this casket and the game. This can only be souls from your board, though, not your supply. Souls on your board are called prepared souls. Then, if there are at least two different colored dice in the casket, put the lid on and give it a shake. If any ones are rolled, then all caskets move one space to the right, with the casket in the final fourth spot coming back to spot one. The whole game is one big conveyor belt.
The second casket is where you prepare souls. This means you can add two dice from your supply to your board. Now shake the casket again and see which player wins. This is the player who has the highest roll. In the event of a tie, it goes to the second-highest dice for the two winning players. Whomever this is can now prepare one soul. Any ones rolled move the caskets one space to the right again.
The third casket is where you can remove souls. Shake the casket and remove any duplicates. The player who shook the casket then takes one token. The expansion variants for this offer the chance to add variation by removing all ones and twos, to remove half of a player's dice if you guess correctly who will win when you roll them, or to remove all dice from the winning player, although one of the dice is ascended. More on that soon. But with each of the variants, you now get two tokens.
The fourth casket is where you ascend souls. This means adding them to the steps which is how you win the game. Shake the casket and ascend two of the winners' dice. You can then also move the caskets, gain a power soul, or ascend one more soul from this casket. Ascending means placing a die onto the lowest row that you have not placed a die onto yet on the Marigold steps. If there is a depicted bonus on this location on the steps, gain this right away. The bonus spaces will be to either gain a power soul, prepare a soul, or take one of the four available tokens. You can only have one die on each row, and the goal of the game is to get a die to the very top. The first player to do this wins.
The tokens can be used whenever a player wants and offer the chance to swap locations of caskets before you roll, peek into a casket, adjust dice values, add prepared souls to caskets, and reshake the caskets.
As soon as one player reaches the top of the steps with a soul, the game is over, and that player is declared the winner. You can play with all caskets open if you prefer, and there is a two-player variant where a dummy player adds two dice to a casket every third turn.
Xolo Expansion Additional Rules
When you choose a casket above the location of the Xolo dog, take the dog meeple and any tokens at this location. At the end of your turn, place the dog back into any location you chose along with one additional token taken from the supply. At any point in the game after a casket is shaken, any player can spend a Xolo token to take the action that relates to the shaken casket. The Xolo token used is placed onto the board you activated. The Xolo powers allow players to add dice from their supply or prepared souls to the caskets, change dice values by one, flip dice to the alternative side, prepare a soul, remove souls from the casket, ascend souls, or gain tokens.
The new token dice are gained in the same way as the power souls, and when added to caskets, can gain players additional tokens.
Ofrenda Expansion Additional Rules
Players are now aiming to ascend as often as they can, rather than just be the first to do so. Players will now on their turn add any dice that are on top of the casket, more on that later, into the casket and give it a shake. They will now draft one die from this casket as their mandatory action. Drafting a die means taking one die from the open casket and either adding it to your player board or, preferably, your Altar De Muertos board. You must pay for this drafted die by placing a die on top of any of the other three caskets. The start player must pay with a power die from the City of the Dead. All other players then carry out an action of their choosing for this casket, either drafting a die for themselves, moving a die from their player board onto the Altar De Muertos board, taking a token, or if there are no dice or tokens, you may ascend one step, but you cannot take the ascend step bonus.
After all players have chosen their action, the Altar De Muertos boards completed this round are scored. Scoring lets you ascend more souls up the steps. Altar De Muertos boards are completed when the fourth die is added to a row or column. Scores are tracked using the die placed by the steps, and the scoring die is moved up based on which row or column was completed, as shown on the Altar De Muertos board. Players can also discard three tokens to ascend one step or four tokens to ascend two steps.
After scoring, if at least one section from any player was scored, move the caskets one space as per the usual rules. Dice on top move with the caskets.
When one player has completed all four sections on their Altar De Muertos board, they ascend one additional step, and the game ends. Otherwise, pass the start marker clockwise and carry on for another round. The player that ascends the most steps is the winner.
The Ofrenda expansion also offers a solo variant using the Altar De Muertos board. To do this, remove all power dice from the game, but still put three dice onto the City of the Dead, just use normal dice. During setup, add three different colored dice to each casket and remove the rest from the game. Use just one token of each type on each board.
You will always be the start player but can now choose to move dice or take a token as your action. If you move dice, remove a die from the City of the Dead board. Tokens are removed from the game when used. The game ends when the City of the Dead is empty. The goal is to ascend 18 steps for a perfect score, although the rules suggest anything above 12 is good.
Is It Fun? Die Of The Dead
Before I get into the game itself, I want to touch on the effort the publisher put into honoring the theme and origins of this game. There have been some minor quibbles thrown, rather unfairly, at the game (check the comments section of the Dice Tower review for some), and I thought it only right the publisher had a chance to comment on this.
"I completely understand people's concerns about cultural appropriation, which is why one of the first things we did was hire a cultural consultant and a Mexican artist to advise us on the game and tell us if they think any of it would be a cause to retheme. Instead, they both loved the theme, and the fact their culture had inspired a designer halfway around the world, and were eager to advise and guide us as we were designing. Finally, one of our playtesters is Mexican and was also a great help throughout and joined in on the original Kickstarter playthrough video. Ultimately, we did everything we could to ensure we weren't appropriating Mexican culture."
Now, onto the game.
First up, to address another complaint I have seen about the game, which suggests it cannot be packed away with the insert still in, and even then it is difficult. Above is the box all packed. It's fine. The perfect size, although it doesn't hold the expansion parts.
Now, properly onto the game!
Die of the Dead plays as well as it looks, and that's saying something! This is an awesome production, both in terms of how it looks and also the thought behind the entire process. As you read above, a lot of thought has gone into the look and feel of this game, with people who understand the significance and importance of the theme the game is based on being consulted and involved in the design to ensure this game is done in the right way. And it pays off. Both in terms of the theme, but also the stunning art design that pulls you straight into this beautiful world.
The game plays incredibly fast and can be taught in minutes. The expansions are a simple add. The Ofrenda variant being a little more complex but still can be added with just a few additional minutes added to the teach, and from game one if you wish. The Altar de Muertos board is my favorite addition to the game, but it does feel like a completely different game, rather than a usual expansion. In a good way, this creates a completely different experience.
Both the base game and the Ofrenda variant are fantastic games. Turns fly by, and you always feel involved. Players are shaking the casket to try to activate their own dice, but this won't always be the case. Of course, there can be some frustration here, but generally there is enough control in the game to manipulate the rolls, dice, or the casket you choose to ensure you get to do what you want most of the time. The trick is to remember what is in each casket. The rules don't say you can't touch or shake a casket before you choose it, unless I missed that, so we often do that, but all this tells you is that some dice are in there. Not which ones.
The player who can keep track of where their dice are the best often wins at this game.
The conveyor belt of dice is an interesting concept to play with. The first two caskets get your dice into the game, the third gives you a chance to manipulate what dice make it to the fourth casket. The final casket is where you move them to the steps and get your path to victory moving. In the Ofrenda variant, this is still your goal, but less of a race and more of a battle of efficiency. How many dice can you ascend during the course of the game.
I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys playing with lots of dice and has to use them to make clever and interesting decisions. There is some luck involved but not as much as you would initially think. The game looks glorious, moves along at an incredibly fast pace, and offers some interesting choices as you play. I like the solo variant, but it feels a bit too much for me to play solo. Not in terms of the rule set, more the setup. Not that it is a lot, or complicated or time-consuming, more that for solo games, anything more than a paper and pen can be too much for me. But as a solo experience, it is excellent, and one I would recommend to fans of solitaire play.
The two player works well too, but I found I was regulalry forgetting to carry out the dummy players actions, but didn't realy think it affected th egame that much. But it was an irritant. But it is still fun and feels like the three, four or five player experience. But three plus is where the game shines for me. More people, more dice, more choices, more competition. This is where I found I had most fun.