Dizzle board game: A four-sided review

The Dizzle board game is a Yahtzee-style roll-and-write dice game for 2-4 players, lasting around 30-45 minutes. And the printed age range of eight-plus feels about right.

Plus the abstract design and simplicity of rules make it approachable for just about anyone. In fact it almost has an anti-theme, throwing in features such as bombs, gems, spaceships and chequered flags with childlike enthusiasm.

The game comes in a standard small roll-and-write box (the same as That’s Pretty Clever, for example). Inside you’ll find a large pad of game sheets, four cheap felt-tip pens and 11 small black dice. The components are standard at best and get the job done (see ‘key observations’). And I’d much rather have this at the price it is – around £10 – than pricier with flashy dice or artwork.

The pad of game sheets splits half way. The first half have level 1 on the front and level 2 on the back; the rest levels 3 and 4. These represent a growing level of complexity you can play with different groups, or work through as you play with a regular group. (It reminded me of the escalating ship designs in Galaxy Trucker). You all have to play the same sheet, but it’s a clever way of bringing genuinely different levels of play to this popular genre of board/dice game.

Teaching the Dizzle board game

In the old tradition of roll-and-write games, this really is one for the whole family. You can literally teach as you play, rolling the dice and walking through the first turn – by the end of which, everyone should be up to speed. To start, each player takes am identical game sheet. You’ll notice a couple of places crossed out; these are the start spaces.

The start player takes the dice (8-13, depending on player count) and rolls them, also crossing off ’round one’ on their sheet. They choose one dice and places it on their sheet on a space matching the number rolled – and orthogonally adjacent to one of the start spaces. Each other player then does the same, in clockwise order (you can always place on round one, as the numbers 1-6 are all represented next to a start space). You always have to take and place a dice if you can.

On your next turn things get a little trickier, as the dice has to go orthogonally adjacent to one you’ve already placed. The exception is if you’re now boxed in. In this case, you go again as if you were just starting (so you can place next to any start space). If you can’t place, you have two choices: pass, or re-roll.

Stick or twist…

Passing simply puts you out of the round with your already claimed dice intact. Rolling again is risky, but can pay off. You re-roll all remaining dice. If you can now place one, you do. If you can’t, you put back a dice already on your sheet. A set back – but at least you’re still in the round.

When the dice run out, or if everyone passes, the round is over. All players put an ‘X’ on the spaces they’d placed dice, gaining any special effects (see below) they mark off doing so. These spaces also now become extra start spaces for later rounds. The dice now pass to the next player clockwise, who marks off their ’round one’ space and the game continues as before. Once each player has been start player 3-6 times (depending on player count), the game ends and final scoring begins.

What makes the game come alive are the effects of the spaces you cross off. Some trigger end game points (straight points, or bonuses for completing rows/columns). Others affect your opponents. Bombs are safe for the person who triggers them first, but everyone else loses points; while chequered flags score most for the first person to reach them, with diminishing returns for other players when they cross out the same space. Later level effects open previously locked areas of your sheet, or score negatively if you’re forced to cross them out.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: Several modern roll-and-writes have nailed keeping players involved in every decision. What Dizzle adds beautifully are knock-on consequences to those choices. While I wouldn’t compare the game directly to Azul, there is clearly a bit of that thinking in the design choices. What will be good for me – but also, what might screw others over. And, like Azul, these decisions are baked into an incredibly simple design which won’t scare off grandma. Later levels even have genuinely different paths to victory.
  • The thinker: I’m not sure why I tolerate this, but I do. You can’t plan much due to re-rolls and there’s lots more luck than I’d like. But on the more complex levels, you can go for a direction: work out how you want to score points and try to head that way. This makes it pleasingly thoughtful, while being short enough not to become infuriating. At least the last player only gets one more round if everyone else has passed, so they can’t go on some mad gambling run a la Ra.
  • The trasher: Dizzle doesn’t have what you’d call direct interaction (except the bombs), but it’s pleasingly interactive. I find myself watching what each player is taking, where they’re heading on their sheet; even assessing how likely they are to gamble on a re-roll. There’s plenty of room in this genre for more interactive games than this, but for a family game this ticks an awful lot of boxes.
  • The dabbler: Winner! We taught it really easily and everyone got involved. Different groups reacted really differently though. Some were goading each other to take risks, and oohing and aahing on re-rolls. While others were playing proper poker style, looking out from their sheets with stoic looks. But importantly, both groups were enjoying the experience. What more can you ask for?

Solo play

The Dizzle solo mode is well thought out and pleasingly simple. You roll eight dice and choose one. Then you roll a separate two dice: if they match any remaining dice in your pot, you remove a matching one (so a max of two dice are removed). I find this maintains the sense of dread/randomness from the base game nicely, although for some it will be too random.

What’s odd to me is that, unlike That’s Pretty Clever, Dizzle doesn’t have an app or easily accessible online implementation (it is available at Brettspielwelt). Especially as it comes from the same publisher. Maybe it’s just too early and it’s on the way. Or maybe they’re waiting to see if it becomes a bigger hit. But either way, it feels like an opportunity missed when you need to do something to stand out in a large crowd. Especially as the popularity of ‘Clever’ will be driving traffic to the online portal already.

Key observations

While the sheets are pretty good layout wise, some of the dice numbers on some of the images are a little hard to read. This is frustrating, as it is such a fundamental part of the game. It’s also a little tricky to see what people need, as the dice on their sheets obscure the numbers behind them. You can work it out, as your sheet is the same, but it does detract a little from the experience. But these are both minor niggles.

Others criticise its generic/abstract look (fair, to each their own) and a potential lack of replayability. Some are already finding it repetitive, or found it a little long for what it is. Sure, it doesn’t have the ‘I have to beat my score’ addictive quality of ‘Clever’, but it isn’t going for that. And yes, you may not want to play each level 10 times. But at this price, and in this modern era when many games are played a few times then traded, I’m a little surprised by this criticism. Roll and writes are filler games: this is no different.

It’s also worth noting an expansion has already been made available for the game. It is a new pad of sheets, this time with levels 5-8 on them. They look likely to add some fun new challenges and I hope to get hold of them soon (looks like they’re only currently available in Germany). And the price, at less than €5, looks like solid value.

Conclusion: The Dizzle board game

If you’d said last year I’d give three good reviews to roll-and-writes in 2019, I’d have laughed you out of the building. But as with That’s Pretty Clever and Welcome To, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my plays of Dizzle. If you’re a fan of the genre, I’d say it’s a must try. And if downtime and turtling have put you off the genre until now, this is definitely worth taking a look at. A simple, fun and engaging filler dice game.

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