This is a review of Dice Forge designed by Régis Bonnessée. It plays 2 – 4 players. Realistcally, I’d estimate the playtime at 45 minutes (30 for seasoned players).
Dice Forge is a game that stands out largely as a gimmick, so an analysis of what makes this game tick is something that the more skeptical gamers among us will likely seek out.
So, let’s start at the beginning – deck building. Well, more specifically, dice building. Take the tried and true deck building mechanics of buying powerful and/or profitable abilities and stuffing your personal deck with them and apply that to two six-sided dice. Every player starts with an identical set of dice, but paths quickly diverge as you literally pop off dice faces and replace them with more powerful upgrades.
On a turn, every player rolls their dice and applies their effects, generally increasing your own personal tracker of resources and victory points. Then you have a choice to either buy a card, granting you abilities (and victory points), or upgrade your “engine” via improved die faces. The age old balance of long-term efficiency vs instant gratification.
Specifically, the die faces will improve your resource production. A few have abilities such as copy the face of another die or a multiplier, but generally speaking, the dice are meant to produce resources, which are used to buy better die faces or cards.
The resources (fire and ice) are used to purchase cards that either grant an instant ability (resources, disruption, etc) or a once-a-turn ability (rerolls, etc). All cards have a VP value and some cards are strictly VPs.
The game plays over a set number and rounds and that play with the most VPs at game’s end is, of course, the winner.
Far and away, the most novel part of this game is the dice-building aspect. Where games like Orléans repurposed the deck-building into a bag-building, worker placement game, Dice Forge applies the same thinking to your resource dice.
Disappointingly, however, the novelty basically stops here. There are otherwise few things noteworthy about the game and we found ourselves instead imagining how this could be used in a bigger game. But, its simplicity certainly had its benefits, which I’ll explain further down…
Alright, I do love a thematic game as much as the next guy, but it is absolutely not a make or break for me. What’s more, games that try to cram theme in where it doesn’t belong, irks me. Dice Forge maybe takes place in a similar universe to Régis Bonnessée (the designers’s) previous game, Seasons. There’s magical stuff, mythological beasts, similar artwork, etc. but it is largely inconsequential to the actual gameplay. As I said, the game has little depth beyond its main dice-builder mechanic, but they have REALLY tried to super glue a theme over it.
And, frankly, this can be really obnoxious. Too many games suffer from convoluted terminology in the interest of force-feeding you a theme and this is exactly what’s happening here. Each turn, players receive Divine Blessings, which is an up-you-own-ass way of saying “roll your dice”. There are also minor blessings (roll one die), the Garden and the Sanctuary (the die and card market), and so on. I’m not even sure I’m getting these totally accurate because we abandoned the terms so quickly, simply for the sake of clarity…
Though it’s my own cynicism that has me annoyed at this and I accept that. If this game had NO THEME, it would likely be painfully dull. As far as themes pulled out of thin air, this one works well.
Like Seasons before it, Dice Forge has whimsical, colorful, and intricate art. What’s more, the packaging on this game is INCREDIBLE. The entire game is housed in a very carefully crafted tray that holds everything in place just so – and this is absolutely crucial because there are a ton of small bits in the game. The rulebook makes a specific point that if you put Dice Forge away carefully, it won’t be an absolute nightmare to setup next time and I can’t stress enough how important this is.
The die faces lay into a small tray that is covered with a sleeve and an elastic band. Each component, card, die, etc has it’s own compartment and, when fully assembled, the box fits together exquisitely. It even doubles as a platform for the market and components that is intended to be used in-game. This care in packaging is absolutely crucial to the games success, as it would otherwise take as much time to setup as it would to actually play. Major points on this thoughtful design.
Dice Forge moves fast. As mentioned, seasoned players could probably blow through a game in 30 minutes or less. Each turn, everyone rolls and you buy something. Play passes and turns repeat – it couldn’t be simpler.
The game is capped at a certain number of rounds based on your player count, so it doesn’t drag on either. Games last just as long as they should.
Value is another area where I am totally floored by this game. I bought this at retail, brand-new, freshly released at a modest $39.99 and, for what you get in terms of components, theme, artwork, a unique mechanic, and thoughtful box design, that’s honestly a steal. I could easily have seen this game retailing for $50 or $60.
Dice Forge also comes with twice as many cards as you need, so you can swap out the market cards for an entirely fresh set. It was a small touch that adds a ton of variability to the setup.
The mechanic of building your dice via swaps is mechanically unique, but potentially a very accessible introduction to pool-building mechanics. Stuffing a deck with bought cards can sometimes be intimidating, confusing, or seemingly disconnected from the game to a new player, but the dice building is a much more urgent implementation. For inexperienced players, upgrading a die is simple. The choices are much more black and white and players can see the results of their pick almost immediately.
If you think a deck-builder would be too heady for someone in your group, there is a good chance they can handle dice-building. I would, actually, bring this game along to our public game nights if it didn’t have so many easily lost pieces.
It may be apparent from my comments above, but I’m not exactly stimulated by the actual gameplay. The concept is novel and there has clearly been a ton of work put into this game, but I struggle to see it hitting my table as much as others.
Dice Forge could, though, be easily expanded with the use of new cards. As mentioned, you get two full sets with the game, but fresh cards in the form of expansions could keep the variability going for a long time.
However, my interest is piqued in how this mechanic can be used in a larger game… There is definitely something to this and the chunky dice feel good, but an entire game hinging on this mechanic dries up pretty quickly. If this were dropped into something more robust, I could see it being a big hit.
I’m glad to have bought and played this game. It was fun to experience and got me thinking about ways in which this mechanic could be used elsewhere. Long-term, though, it lacks substance.