Dice City is a dice-driven (surprise!) resource management and city building game for one to four players, designed by Vangelis Bagiartakis. Game length can vary as there are several ways for it to end, but it tends to take around an hour.
The game is listed as 14+. I have no idea why – I can only presume it’s something to do with laws about components. I’m sure your average 10-year-old would be fine with it in terms of complexity.
Each turn players roll their own set of dice and place them on their city board, which is set out as a grid (numbers and colours matching the dice). They then use these dice to improve the buildings in their city or to otherwise earn themselves victory points.
The art is cutesy and won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but it’s well executed throughout. There are four large player boards, 20 dice, 70+ cardboard tokens and more than 150 small-sized cards. The components are solid throughout, making Dice City pretty good value for its sub £30 price tag.
While not quite a family game I can see Dice City fitting into the ‘gateway’ category, as you tend to have pretty limited choices each round and the depth of difference in the actions you play is relatively limited. There is also no hidden elements other than some of your scored points, so it’s easy to walk less experienced players through the early rounds.
Your individual player city is laid out in a 6×5 grid – you have different coloured six-sided dice, so once you roll them they have clearly defined spaces on which to put them. Each space represents a building and these variously give you resources (for building new buildings), military strength (for combat) or straight victory points.
You can just use each dice where it lands – or you can spend dice to move other ones to adjacent spaces which may be more useful to your current plans (as well as for a few other standard mitigation actions). You then get to claim points and put any new buildings over spaces on your original board, allowing you to improve the odds of rolling the things you want for your chosen strategy.
You need to make it clear that keeping an eye on other players’ boards is often crucial, as when a player has filled two of their rows with new cards the game will end (there are other ways, but this has been the most common with us).
If you’re planning a convoluted ‘engine’ strategy, for example, it pays to make sure someone else isn’t hurtling towards a quick-fire low scoring military coup…
The four sides
These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.
- The writer: Dice City is a solid gateway-style game for would-be city builders. Much like Lords of Waterdeep is to worker placement, it takes all the ‘101’ components from the tableau building toolbox and rearranges them with a light, friendly sheen. The point scoring balance between strategies seems tight and if you’re in the market for a light game of this style you’re unlikely to be disappointed – but nor are you likely to be wowed. It simply does what it says on the tin.
- The thinker: Have we really not moved on from rolling a six-sided dice and hoping for the best, especially in a civ building game? Every modicum of control I may want is either brought to me by a lucky roll or, the opposite – having to waste a dice to get what I want. Here, fortune favours the fortunate – and I will consider myself such if I never have to play this game again. There is nothing here for the serious strategist.
- The trasher: I love me some dice rolling and player interaction and Dice City has plenty of both; so why do I find myself unsatisfied? Taking the combat route can be quick and dirty, as in Race for the Galaxy or Deus, and you even get the chance to damage opponents’ buildings while still getting (slightly less) points – forcing them to spend a dice to repair them if they want to use them again. But your turns are so basic it renders the game boring, as you spend most of it watching others build up their clever engines while you lightly annoy them. It left me a little cold, and bored.
- The dabbler: I enjoyed Dice City. There are plenty of decisions and while you can get a bit screwed on luck you know that when you go in – it’s a dice game, right?! The art is light and colourful, like the game, and while you can have your buildings attacked it’s not devastating – and you can build your defences up if you want to. The icons are clear and people tend to pick it up quickly, while there is enough variety in the different buildings to stop it from getting boring. Thumbs up!
Dice City is random. You can buy great buildings and never hit them, while your opponents hit them every time. If this is a problem for you, see the MASSIVE clue in the title. Again – this game is random. You’ve been warned.
It is also a bit of a table hog. With four players, on a 5x3ft table, every inch of space was used and two of us had to have our boards at a right angle. Not a problem for most, but worth mentioning.
Even with a big table, four players is too many. If a few people are doing some serious resource conversion on their turns the downtime is pretty painful and it’s hard to focus on one other player’s board, let alone three (remember each player has 30 spaces for small card buildings on their board). Two and three is manageable.
Even with three though, downtime can be an issue if you’re not rolling well or doing much in the way of resource manipulation. After the initial five or six turns a potentially winning military strategy could largely turn to dealing damage – which is often a simple “I hit X for X damage” and that’s it. If the next player is turning X into Y to get Z, then turning Z into P and caring the Q things can get boring for you fast. And you know it will be your AP friend who will be lured in by the more complex cards…
The solo variant is pretty good, forcing you to try and score as many points as possible in a limited number of rounds and where the cards are being cycled through quickly. The basic game isn’t a challenge, but the harder version was enjoyable and if solo gaming is your thing – and you like the genre – Dice City is well worth a look.
But I would, of course. If I was often in groups where gateway games were required, then this would be a reasonable choice to get across some of the more complex terms used in the wider hobby gaming world. I can handle a bit of random and, with the exception of some downtime, I didn’t hate my experiences with it at all. But I also didn’t care.
Everyone in our group agreed that something was missing. Despite nice art and components, the game lacks a soul. It doesn’t tell a story, it has no real personality and never feels exciting to play. In a time when 1,000 games are coming out each year, what does this offer? It doesn’t ooze theme or bring any original concepts to the party – it is a simple rearranging of the tool box. Sadly, it simply doesn’t do enough.