Game Review - WizKids' Dice Masters
Remember how I was extolling the joys of the current wave of Deck-Building games? How you didn’t have to hunt for powerful cards…expansion pack after expansion pack…box after box?
WizKids’ Dice Masters game has forced me to rebut my own point. [Great, like there aren’t enough voices in here. – Ed.]
Let’s start this story back in the 2000s. Running from 2004 to 2009, Upper Deck released a Trading Card Game (TCG) called Vs. System. Unlike the current wave of Deck-Builders, DC with Cryptozoic and Marvel staying with Upper Deck, Vs. System was home to both Marvel and DC sets. So you could have a deck comprised of both Justice Leaguers and Avengers. You could have Superman take on Thanos. And so forth. Unfortunately, Vs. was coming up against stiff competition from Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh…all in their prime. It was this competition, coupled with some potential game design flaws (or at least so I’ve heard…I joined the party on this game long after everyone else had moved on), eventually spelled doom for the game [Doctor and otherwise. – Ed.] and it was discontinued.
Fast forward to 2014. WizKids releases Avengers vs. X-Men Dice Masters. I saw boxes selling expansion packs in the same aisles I saw stuff for the above mentioned games but I dismissed it for 2 reasons: first, I’m not that much into Marvel anymore and everything I’d heard about the crossover sounded pretty dumb to me, second, while I saw the expansion packs, I never found any starter sets. So even if I had been curious enough to give the game a try, there really didn’t seem to be a good way to get started. Later on, I’d find out this was due to initial release difficulties…put simply, there WERE NO starter sets, or, at least, they were damn hard to come by. It all faded from my peripheral vision and I returned my concentration to the Deck-Builders. That’s when I spied the next Marvel iteration, Uncanny X-Men. And behold, there were indeed starter sets now. Still, it was Marvel and, even though it said “Uncanny X-Men”, I’ve been around long enough to know that simply translates directly to “Wolverine and His Pals…but mostly Wolverine”. Thus, again, not terribly interested…but I had to admit that the dice looked neat and I was intrigued.
Then the announcement came. March 18th, 2015…Justice League Dice Masters would be available. Marvel and DC…together again…in one game? And if I hurried…I could still get in on the ground floor? It was upon that announcement that within a few days, I had in hand an Uncanny X-Men Starter set. Looking over the rules, the cards and the dice, there was a bit of a Vs. System flavor to it. There were Common cards, Uncommons, Rares and Super Rares, so yeah, there’d be some chasing. But at the price of only $1 for an expansion pack consisting of 2 cards and 2 matching dice…well, that just kinda screams “impulse buy” doesn’t it? You know, you’re in the comic shop, the bill comes to $17 and some change…ah hell, give me a couple packs of Dice Masters. Do that enough and collecting would be easy. And sure enough it was. By this time, the original Avengers vs. X-Men starter set had re-emerged on the streets as well as their expansion packs (although finding those to a bit more hunting). And as I hunted to complete my Marvel sets, looking at each of the cards only made me wonder more and more how the DC version would turn out.
And so I waited. Then, when the release got pushed back to April 15th…I waited some more. When the date got pushed back again, this time to April 29th, I got pissed…but I waited. On the 29th, sure enough, it was indeed out…but finding it day and date was proving difficult, especially in an area where Magic seems to be dominant. Ugh. Fortunately, a little shop to the north of where I lived had an abundance that no other store did (check out www.wanderinghavoc.com).
Alright, grandpa, enough story-time…how’s the game, the mechanics and so forth? I’m glad you asked, pushy invisible internet reader. [And you complain when I chime in. – Ed.]
Depending on what style of game you want to play, you start by choosing your team. I’ve mainly been playing Tournament style, which gives you 20 life (that you can keep track of either on a piece of paper or on a playmat) and 20 dice. The 20 dice you choose will depend on the team you assemble. In this style of game, you’ll choose up to 8 cards (most of them will be characters, but there are action items you may choose instead, such as batarangs, lantern power rings, S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarriers and so on) and assign dice to them. Be aware that these cards do assign a maximum to the number of dice that can be given to them (most commonly 4) and that each card must have at least one die. Another thing to keep in mind is that even though characters have multiple cards, you cannot have two cards of the same character on your team, you have to pick one. For example, you cannot have both Superman: Man of Steel and Superman: Not a Bird or a Plane on your team, you have to pick one or the other. Once you have chosen and gameplay begins, however, you CAN have multiple Superman dice in the field. After that, you’ll choose two Basic Action Cards. These are cards/dice that you’ll assign a color to and, if rolled, will allow you to bring an additional effect to the game in addition to the effects from your characters. One thing to keep in mind though, unlike your character dice, which only you can purchase, ANY player can purchase Basic Action dice. Lastly, you have your 8 sidekick dice. These are the dice you’ll start the game off with in your dice bag.
Above, I mention 3 types of dice: Character, Action and Sidekick. Let’s take a look at each of these.
Sidekick – These are the dice you’ll start off with. Each face will represent a type of energy: shield, fist, mask, bolt and “?” or wildcard. When “?” or wildcard energy is rolled, the play can choose what form of energy the “?” becomes: shield, bolt, mask or fist. The remaining face looks like a chess pawn with numbers in three of the corners: in the upper left is the amount of energy it costs to field this unit (in a sidekick’s case, it’s always 0), in the upper right is the unit’s attack value (1) and in the lower right is its defense value (1). Like pawns in chess, sidekicks when fielded are your most basic unit and, more often than not, cannon fodder. In your initial turns through, they prove to be the source of energy you need to purchase stronger characters as well as an initial presence on the battlefield to prevent your opponent from taking cheap shots…or allowing you take said cheap shots.
Character – These are your main troops, once you recruit or purchase them. In order to do that, you need to have enough energy to equal the purchase cost. Not only that, but each purchase cost comes with a symbol attached. At least one of the energy you use to purchase this die must match this symbol. For example, let’s say you want to buy an Aquaman die with a cost of 3 with a shield beside it. This means that if you want to purchase this die, you not only need 3 energy to do so, but one of those energy must be shield energy. Once purchased, the die enters your used area (unless card effects dictate otherwise) and will eventually end up in your dice bag for you to draw, roll and unleash upon your foe! Character dice offer both energy as well as symbols representing the character. The energy breakdown for the dice is a single energy on one face, double energy on 2 other faces. The energy these die provide is of the same type that is required to purchase them. Let’s go back to our Aquaman example. Since you needed shield energy to buy Aquaman, the energy he provides should you roll one of his energy faces is shield energy. The remaining 3 faces with the character symbol on it represents the character at three levels…each level being stronger than the last in some way and thus, sometimes each level being more expensive to field. Setup on these faces is just like that of our sidekick dice, just with different values. Going back to Aquaman, his level 1 face shows 0 in the upper left corner, 2 in the upper right and 3 in the lower right. This means it costs 0 energy to field him at this level, has an attack value of 2 and a defense value of 3. However, if you rolled a level 3 Aquaman, you’d see 1 in the upper left, 4 in the upper right and 5 in the lower right. This means that if you want to field this Aquaman after rolling him, it will cost you 1 energy to do. Unlike when you purchased the dice, though, any energy can be used.
Action – Action dice come in two forms, the Basic Action dice from Basic Action cards you selected at the beginning and any item/equipment action dice you selected as part of your team. Starting with the Basic Action dice, there are 3 generic energy faces, each providing 2 energy. This “generic” energy can be used in purchases, but does not have a symbol of its own, thus, if you were going to buy the Aquaman die we talked about in the Character die section, you would still need a shield energy in order to make the purchase. Generic energy, unlike wild card energy, CANNOT be assigned a different form . Item/equipment action dice are more similar to Character dice in that their 3 dice faces behave the same, 1 face is a single energy and 2 faces are double energy…the type of energy being dependent on what type of energy was needed to purchase the card. Both types of action dice may have one or two asterisks (or bursts) in the lower left hand corner. While not every action card will have additional actions dependent on the presence of these bursts, some do and can make a big difference.
Gameplay is broken down into steps: Clear and Draw, Roll and Reroll, Main Step and Attack. While we’re breaking stuff down, now would also be a good time to go over how the space in front of you is organized (either on a playmat or just…well…areas). Going with the flow of the turn you have the Prep Area (where knocked out dice go so that they can be added to whatever die you draw from your bag to be rolled at the start of your turn), the Reserve Pool (where you’ll sort out your dice and determine what you want to do), the Used Area (where spent energy dice and recent purchases go) and the Field Zone which includes the Attack Zone (where you send characters to be active or to attack). Back to the steps, Clear and Draw is where you clear any leftover dice from the previous turn (such as energy you kept in reserve) and move them into the Used Area. Characters that you have in the field are exempt from this. Then, you draw 4 dice from your dice bag and, if you have any dice in your prep area, add them to your hand too…then roll. Don’t like what came up? Don’t worry, you have the chance to reroll as many of the die as you’d like…but only once. Whatever comes up on your reroll…that’s what you have to work with. The Main Step is where you do your shopping. Take stock of what energy you have and use it to buy character or action dice (which go directly into the used pile…usually) or to field any characters you may have rolled, paying any energy cost that is required to do so. Any actions you’ve rolled can be resolved here if you want, or you could wait until… The Attack step, where you use characters you’ve recruited to attack your opponent. The flow of an attack is as follows. First, attackers are selected, then your opponent chooses his blockers. Against really powerful attackers, the defender has the option to pit 2 defenders against said attacker. If that happens and the attacker is blocked, the attacker chooses how the damage is divided up against the dual blockers. So how is damage decided? Compare the attacker’s attack value to the defender’s defense value. If the attack is equal to or greater than the defense, the defender is knocked out. That’s not all though…the defender isn’t going to just take this attack lying down! Compare the defender’s attack value to the attacker’s defense also…and the same rules apply…so if the defender’s attack exceeds the attacker’s defense, the attacker gets knocked out. Repeat until all contested attacks are resolved. However…if one of your dice attacks and goes unblocked, his attack value is directly deducted from your opponent’s health and then that attacking die is moved to the Used Area. Any die that attacked or blocked and was knocked out moves to the Prep Area to be rolled in the next turn. Lather, rinse repeat until one player’s health reaches 0.
So that’s the nuts and bolts of it…but how does it feel? Honestly, it flows pretty well…although this will also depend on who you’re playing with. Still, the game feels competitive, involved and…well…fun (even when you’re getting your butt kicked…like I have the past couple times I’ve played)! Granted, I’m always drinking when I play and since my opponent usually takes his time, that means I get to drink more…and more…which, I’ll confess, probably factors into the fun for me. But even if you have an opponent that is overwhelmed by decision making, games still go somewhat quickly in the span of 30-45 minutes. Keep in mind, and this is probably the only negative thing I can say about the game, that sometimes the card text can be a little confusing, as can be the case with games of this nature. While this may cause a hiccup from time to time during gameplay, it doesn’t really do much to derail the entire game or create any frustration.
Building your collection:
Hey, remember back at the beginning when I was talking about starter sets and expansion packs? Yeah, I probably should’ve talked about this up there. Anyway, I did say that sadly this isn’t like the Deck-Builders that I’ve talked about in previous reviews. You start off with a starter set. Now, the nice thing about these starters is that everything you need to play a two player game is included: 16 sidekick dice (8 for each player), 12 Basic Action Dice (3 dice for each of 4 colors) and then 2 character dice for each of the 8 characters included in the starter. Each included character has 3 cards with unique characteristics and effects. 10 Basic Action cards are included too…with 4 marker cards to indicate which color dice go with the selected actions.
But, to get the most out of the game, you’re going to need to pick up expansion packs and try to collect them all. As I said at the start, the $0.99 price per pack can make for an easy grab for a couple of packs here and there…and with the distribution of packs growing more and more (sure, you can find ‘em in the local comic or game shop, but I’m also seeing them more and more in Targets and Wal-Marts and the like), well, that impulse may become harder and harder to fight. Plus, given the tiers of common, uncommon, rare and super rare cards…well, sometimes random just doesn’t work. Or you’re just a completist like me. Whatever the case may be, you can also buy a flat out box of 90 packs. Cost’ll depend on where you get it, most brick and mortar shops will either give it to you for the $0.99 per pack (so…90 times $0.99…plus the sales tax…you do the math!) while online you can get some pretty solid deals for 30-50% off. But here’s the rub…even a full box isn’t going to get you a full set. But don’t despair!!! This is where the secondary market comes in. You can go to either online stores like www.coolstuffinc.com to buy singles or, if you’re feeling lucky, you can head over to ebay and bid your way to complete set.
To wrap up, Dice Masters proves to be a fun and addictive game, both in the play and in the cheap cost of expansion packs. Sure, it helps if you have the spare cash to spring for a box or fish around for the rares or super rares that you’ll likely need even after said box, but even if you’re not that gung-ho, $0.99 for a couple of characters to expand the game, even the slow build can be enjoyable. And, as a comic book nerd, the ability to mix and match Marvel and DC characters within the same game is such a welcome sight after so many years of segregation. But even without the comic book theme, as there are Dungeons & Dragons and Yu-Gi-Oh sets available too…with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles set on the way…the core mechanics prove fun no matter what license you’re interested in!