Ever play Yahtzee? If you’re reading this, I assume you have at least heard of the classic dice game. Now think quickly – name another table top game where the dice are the main component. Hard to do, really.
Over the last couple of years I have discovered a few dice games that I have found to be quite enjoyable. These games range from a simple “press your luck” mechanic (no Whammies!) to the more involved mechanic that I call “dice mitigation” – where you have the ability to change the outcome of dice rolls through the rules of the game, thereby minimizing the luck factor inherent in dice rolling. In this article I’ll talk about a few “press your luck” dice games that you may want to add to your collection.
1) Zombie Dice – Steve Jackson Games
It doesn’t get any simpler than Zombie Dice. You are a zombie trying to eat thirteen brains before getting hit with three shotgun blasts. The game consists of a container of 13 dice. That’s it. The dice faces have either brains, shotgun blasts, or footsteps on them. The dice come in three colors: green, yellow, and red. Green dice have more brains than blasts, red dice have more blasts than brains, and yellow are balanced between the two.
On your turn you randomly select three dice from the container and roll them. You keep any brains or blasts you roll. Footstep dice represent the people you haven’t caught yet and will be rolled again only if you decide to continue your turn. Once you see your results, you may elect to score the brains you rolled and end your turn – they are banked and can never be lost – or you may elect to press your luck and keep going to see if you can get even more brains before getting shotgunned. If you elect to press your luck, any brains and blasts you have rolled so far this turn remain in front of you. Grab any footstep dice you just rolled and however many more you need from the canister so that you have three dice total, and keep rolling. If at any time on your turn you have 3 blasts, your turn is over, and any brains you ate on this turn are not scored. First player to 13 wins.
Zombie Dice is a great game if you are sitting at a pub or waiting in line at a Con. It is easy for a child (10+) to play, though I guess the subject matter might be too dark. It is compact and easy to carry with you. The games are quick and usually conducive to smack talk. It also can accommodate several players because turns don’t take very long. There is very little strategy involved, however, and most seasoned gamers will grow weary after a couple of games per session. But at $14 MSRP or $10 at most online retailers, it provides a good little distraction for the price, and it goes well with alcohol, since you don’t have to think too much.
2) Dragon Slayer – Indie Boards & Cards
Dragon Slayer is another press your luck dice rolling game. This time, you are a hero trying to slay as many dragons as you can before dying from dragon breath exposure. Like Zombie Dice, the components are few. There are three each of white hero dice, red dragon dice, green dragon dice, and blue dragon dice. The dragon dice have some combination of heads, bodies, tails, mountains, or dragon breath. The hero dice have some combination of axes, shields, and dragon breath. The red dragon has the most instances of dragon breath, green has fewer, and blue has none. Coincidentally, the red dragon is worth 6 points, the green is worth 4 and the blue is worth 2. On your turn pick any color dragon, but you can only fight that color again after you defeat the other two colors. And once you start fighting a dragon, it is to the death.
On your turn you roll the white dice and all the dice of one of the dragons. To kill a dragon you must get one each of the head, body, and tail, as well as an ax icon on your hero die. Mountains rolled are neutral and will be re-rolled if your turn continues. You lose hero dice if you don’t roll a number of shields equal to the number of dragon breath rolled. For each dragon breath left undefended, you lose that many hero dice. If you still have remaining hero dice, you must keep rolling until you defeat the dragon. If you run out of hero dice while fighting a dragon, you are defeated, your turn is over, and you lose all the points you earned this turn. If you defeat the dragon, you may choose to end your turn and bank the points, or choose another dragon and fight it using only your remaining hero dice. You also risk losing what points you already earned this turn if that dragon defeats you – hence, press your luck. The first player to 40 points wins the game.
There is a “twist” to this game that adds a bit of strategy. Each player gets one challenge token that they can spend once per game. When another player elects to end their turn and bank points, you can spend your token to issue a challenge to fight one more dragon. If she declines your challenge, she only gets half the points she earned this turn and the turn is over. You, as challenger, get five victory points. If she accepts the challenge, she must fight another dragon. If she loses, all her points for the turn are forfeited, the turn is over, and you get the five victory points. If she wins, you get nothing, and she gets DOUBLE the points for the dragon she killed as a result of your challenge. Then she can choose to keep going or end her turn and bank her points. This provides a chance for you to interact (aka, mess) with an opponent, which really adds to the fun. Think of it as a +1 Token of Smack Talk.
Retailing at only $12.99, Dragon Slayer provides a quick and mobile table top experience that manages to be fairly immersive despite its simplicity. There are times where you won’t roll any dragon parts or axes, but you’ll roll just enough shields to repel the dragon’s breath. In those instances You might imagine your knight exchanging blows with a blue dragon, as he would in any fantasy role playing game. This game also works well over a few drinks.
3) Dungeon Roll – Tasty Minstrel Games
Dungeon Roll is (you guessed it) a press your luck dice game where you roll up a party of adventurers -the white dice, and delve into the dungeon to look for shiny things. Players fight monsters rolled by another player using the black dice. These dice contain oozes, skeletons, goblins, and even a dragon. Players may also find potions and treasure chests, all the while gaining experience points (XP) for each level delved. Trick is, you have to know when to get out. If you keep pressing your luck and can’t defeat all the monsters on a level, you flee the dungeon without banking any experience points for that turn, which obviously sucks. After each player completes three delves, the player with the most XP wins.
Dungeon Roll requires a bit more strategy than either Zombie Dice or Dragon Slayer. First of all, you draw a character card at the beginning of the game. Your character has a minor ability that he can use at any time, and a more powerful ability that can be used only once per delve. A character may also level up once per game, increasing the power of his abilities. Knowing how to use your character’s abilities properly can get you just a bit deeper into the dungeon, gain you just a bit more XP, and greatly improve your chances of winning the game. Each party you roll up will contain a number of different adventurers: mages, fighters, clerics, thieves, and champions. Each of these have their strengths and maximizing them is very important.
Dungeon Roll is easy to learn, but it is meaty enough to successfully scratch the itch of adventuring and looting. The different character cards provide a bit of variety and replay value. Dungeon Roll can even be played as a solo game. The rule book allows you compare your final score against a chart to see your hero’s ranking. I would suggest playing the game with no more than three players. The turns in Dungeon Roll tend to take enough time that waiting for two other people to take a turn starts to be a drag. It definitely plays great as a two player game. The game box is a treasure chest players use to draw loot from during the game – an excellent design choice! For $20 retail, Dungeon Roll is a clever game well worth your time.
4) Firefly Shiny Dice – Upper Deck
If you are a fan of the Firefly TV series, you’ll probably enjoy Shiny Dice. As press your luck dice games go, this is one of the more rules heavy ones I’ve played, though it is still easy to learn. Shiny Dice immerses you in The ‘Verse, allowing you to take control of the crew of Serenity, complete missions, and hopefully beat up Niska, Saffron, and Badger, misbehaving, and banking money and supplies. Each player gets three turns. At the start of your turn you roll all 15 dice included with the game, 5 for the bad guys and 10 for the Serenity crew and passengers. The dice faces contain icons for the different characters from the show. Each character and bad guy has special powers that they bring to gaming table. For example, Wash allows you to re-roll his die along with another crew member. Jayne can cause two points of damage (removing two dice) to a single bad guy. River can be used to re-roll a bad guy die or she can cause one damage to all of the bad guys in a fight. You can even pimp, err, I mean, “companion” Inara out for $100 a pop. (eww, is that where that saying came from?) Anyway, you get the idea.
Once you assemble your crew, you draw a mission card. Missions contain dice icons on them. If you have those same icons on your dice you can complete the mission, gaining any rewards or avoiding any penalties that would have occurred had the mission been a failure. Failing a mission may keep you from taking any more actions or possibly force you to keep flying even if you don’t want to, putting any loot you got this turn at risk if you fail the next mission. The mission cards are a random luck of the draw, but it’s a dice game, so you kinda sign up for that already. In a game designed for quick play, I am perfectly fine with how the mission cards effect the game. Plus, they provide flavor text and still shots from the show that add to the immersion.
After working your mission, any bad guys attack your crew and passengers. If there are any Niska dice still on the table, one of your dice must be removed from the ship. For each Saffron die on the table, you put that many of your dice in the cargo hold and they can’t help you unless and until you decide to keep flying and release them. Badger dice are just annoying, stealing supplies until you are able to defeat him. Once the above casualties are assessed, you get to use your remaining crew to fight back. As in Dungeon Roll, maximizing your crew’s various strengths is key to getting the few extra bucks a turn that can bring you a satisfying victory over your opposing captains. It’s press your luck, so if you can’t defeat all the bad guys or escape with Book’s help, your turn is over and you lose any cash or supplies you didn’t bank. If you manage to defeat the bad guys then you can decide to bank points and end your turn, or keep flying.
I really like Firefly SD (can I call you that, SD?). It takes about thirty minutes for a two player game, yet it feels like you are squarely in The ‘Verse. I really like Firefly, the board game, by Gale Force Nine, but it takes 2-3 hours to play and I don’t always have that kind of time. SD is a good occasional replacement and also a nice gateway game to introduce non-gamer-Firefly-fan friends to the hobby. The components in SD are top notch and even come with two attractive mouse pad mats that act as game boards. The only complaint I’ve heard component-wise is that Mal and Zoe have similar icons on the dice (revolver and shotgun) that make it hard to differentiate. I can see that, but it is a minor setback at most. For all its compactness, I can’t complain one bit about the components. At $30 retail Firefly SD is well worth the entertainment money.
Well, I hope this helped give you the heads up on some of what’s out there in terms of press your luck dice games. They are excellent games that are easy to learn, easy to transport, and great to play while enjoying a few drinks with friends. For these and other nerdilicious games, check out my store, Dice Drop Games!
In parting, remember, a handful of dice are always fun to roll. Enjoy and nerd on!!!