I was told for weeks that Dice Masters was a game. I saw websites and updates about it. I had game store-owner friends of mine up in arms due delays surrounding it. I heard great things about it. All kinds of positive press and hype surrounded it.
I had just never seen it. Every store in every known universe apparently sold out of it in January, which is weird because the game didn’t debut until April and stores quickly sold through their allotment.
Until a week ago, that is, when I finally snagged me some. Now I roll it.
Dice Masters is WizKids’ new brand of collectible dice-building game currently based in the Marvel universe, with the first set titled Avengers vs. X-Men. I specifically say new brand because the game engine itself largely based on the Quarriors stand-alone game by the same publisher. If you are familiar with Magic: The Gathering or any of the various deck-building games out there, this game will have a familiar feel. Each player in the standard, 2-player game starts with eight identical, generic dice in his bag, four of which are drawn and rolled into the Reserve Pool – a sort of staging area. These starter dice will either roll as one of four types of energy – fist, bolt, mask, or shield, a wild energy, or a generic pawn character called a Sidekick. After the first roll the player can choose to re-roll any or all the dice one time, after which the rolls are locked. The player then uses the energy to buy additional dice from their pre-constructed team of eight characters. Any dice purchased in this manner are placed in a “Used” pile; once all the dice from a players bag are exhausted, the Used pile is then placed in the bag, thus the purchased character dice make their way into the flow of the game.
Each character in the game is represented by assorted character cards, and each differently subtitled version of the character has slightly different energy costs and abilities. The die used for all versions of any given character, however, are the same. For example, Wolverine – Wildboy and Wolverine – Canucklehead each have different abilities and die costs on their card, but all versions use the same yellow Wolverine dice. These character dice have three sides with their specific type of energy on them, and three sides that can roll with a character face which have the character’s unique logo on them, along with their fielding costs and attack/defense ratings. Fielding costs are energy costs that must be paid to move the any character dice or Sidekicks (which generally cost 0 energy to field) from the Reserve Pool into the Field of play. Once fielded, these characters can be used to attack or block.
Combat works very similarly to Magic. A player assigns attackers, then the opponent assigns blockers if desired. Blockers can only block one attacker, but multiple blockers can be assigned to jointly defend against an attacker. Attack and defence ratings are compared and damage is assigned. If damage assigned to a character meets or exceeds the opposing character’s defence then that character is knocked out and gets recycled into the Reserve Pool for the following turn. If a character is defended (or blocks and survives), then it simply returns to the Field and is ready to attack or block the following turn (there is no tapping mechanic in Dice Masters, so character dice used to attack on your turn can immediately block on the following turn as long as they remain in the field). If an attacker is unblocked then damage is assigned to the player and subtracted from their life pool, which starts at 20. A player wins when he reduces the opponent’s life to zero.
Gameplay. The mechanics of the game are solid, and the concept is a bit unique amongst the popular games out in the environment – the entire game is played face up, so each player knows exactly what the other can do before the game even begins. The only unknowns are what faces will show up on the dice when rolled, and what dice will be drawn out of the bag (and an astute player will realize even this is largely a known quantity). The game, therefore, is one of situational tactics. Once players are familiar with the game and their characters, games are typically finished in 10-20 minutes, and tournament matches are best of three.
The Licenses. Marvel is a widely recognized, top flight property, and WizKids recently announced they are partnering with Wizards of the Coast to release a set based on the Forgotten Realms universe from Dungeons and Dragons.
The price point. Starter packs have an MSRP of $14.99 and come with enough materials for two people to start playing against each other, although it’s best if each player has their own starter, and some boosters to boot. Starter collation is static and is comprised of eight characters; there are three cards and two dice for each character. Starters also come with all the generic and basic action dice a player will need. Boosters have an MSRP of $0.99 and contain two cards with their corresponding dice. One card will be a common, while the other will be a randomly selected common, uncommon, rare, or super rare card. For this price, a player can get into the game for $20-$40 and be prepared to have a great time.
Quality of materials. Ouch. Just ouch. Lots of problems here. The dice are light, feel cheap, and have a wide variance in ink detail on the faces. Some faces haven’t been stamped well enough, and others have been stamped too deeply. As for the cards, because they are packaged with two dice and are densely packed into the booster boxes, all cards are rounded and bent. Not creased, mind you, but mildly to severely warped. A number of the cards were poorly or mis-cut, and some were caught and embossed in the foil wrapper when the boosters were being heat sealed. If people are interested in collecting the cards, barring tournament promos or cards directly obtained from WizKids, the highest imaginable rarity you will see is Near Mint.
Art variety. The art chosen for the cards is just fine, but the gripe here is that the same art is used across all versions of a character. Most collectible games up to now have used alternate art for different versions of cards, so players have become accustomed to exactly that. It’s something that you don’t notice is there until its gone. I’m suspect this was a cost-cutting move on WizKids’ part to keep their licensing fees down, but I’d have gladly paid a little more for a different picture on each of the distinct cards.
The rulebook. This game doesn’t have a lot of text in it, relatively speaking, but there are a number of cards that have text missing or contain keywords that aren’t defined in the rulebook. There’s also currently no official FAQ or errata documents, so players are left to trust the semi-official rules question responses provided by Watch It Played in the comments of their YouTube videos. I’m quite sure that WizKids will rectify these gaps, but players eager to jump into the Dice Masters fray will instead be somewhat left in the lurch until official documentation is released.
Dice Masters is an easy to learn, fun to play, and based on a great license. Although the materials are lacking in quality and the rulebook leaves something to be desired, these deficiencies are peripheral to the game itself – neither the dice nor the cards will disintegrate, and the rules explain things sufficiently enough that most situations will be covered. The only major drawback to the game at the moment is the fact that it’s sold out of its first two printings – many retailers/resellers are selling starters for over $30 and boosters for more than $2.50. By July, however, the supply issues should have largely worked themselves out. My recommendation is to buy it if you can find it, and buy as many boosters as you are comfortable with picking up on the initial purchase.
The score: 8/10
Game: Dice Masters
Designers: Mike Elliott and Eric M. Lang
Game length: 10-20 minute games; 45 minute best-of-three matches
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