Dicemaster

I like dice games, even though it’s a difficult category with few good entries and only one that I know of on the “gamer’s game” level. This is why I so wanted to like Railroad Dice, and why its mediocrity was such a disappointment to me. However, if it got Dicemaster – one of my favorite rarely played games – off the shelf, the total experience can hardly be considered bad.

Dicemaster is a game from the final days of ICE, and was codesigned by Kris Burm and Jean Vanaise. The basic idea is that you are traveling along an adventure path, fighting monsters and gathering treasures. Each turn you roll a subset of the action dice available to you to determine what you can do, which actually run quite a large range of events that help you or hinder your opponent. It’s actually a modestly complex game, perhaps on the scale of the most complex euros like Die Macher, with a variety of different procedures for fighting different kinds of monsters and a large range of various types of dice for resolving game events. Because of this, it’s actually not so much a probabilities game like most dice games because they are simply too hard to calculate or even get much of a feel for without doing some computer simulations. Instead it’s more of a resource management game with probabilistic elements – you never know exactly what you will be able to do, and need to work your probabilities mix to your general objectives by choosing the right dice to roll each turn and the right dice to have for your pool in general. There are also some tactics to managing your dice pool, as dice can enter and leave throughout the game and you need to keep your options open generally.

I rather like Dicemaster. It’s not an every-week kind of a game, I think because it’s a touch repetitive and maybe a touch too long, although I suspect this is for good reason as all the probabilities need to balance out so the game doesn’t feel like it’s just random (although I should mention that playing it again, I discovered a rule that I had been misplaying for ages which actually shortened the game significantly, down to about 1 hour, which is fine). And ICE came through again on the rarity issue, the rare dice are not so much more powerful than the commons or uncommons, just more specialized, so you get dice in about the proportion you need them, and you don’t have to buy a ton (as always though, more dice means more options and a richer experience). However, it’s a bit problematic these days to acquire, because while the starter sets are ludicrously cheap (less than $5 each for the two base sets plus the Wilds of Doom fixed expansion, which adds a lot to the game), the expansion dice fetch a modest price on eBay – occasionally above retail, in fact, and one of the problems with Dicemaster originally was that it was a bit expensive at full retail. You can find them from dealers and at flea markets and cons and such at good prices, though, and commons at least can be gotten cheaply online here – a lot of the price spike for booster packs is driven by the desire to acquire the handful of ultra-rare dice, I assume. The base set plus Wilds of Doom is a quite solid game, but for real replayability you need the boosters.

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