Playing prototypes at Dice Tower West

March 6, 2020 - 1:35am

Over the past week, I was fortunate enough to attend the second annual Dice Tower West convention in Las Vegas, Nevada. Over 5 days, myself and 1000 other people had access to one of the best board game libraries out there, and I played to my heart’s content, dawn to dusk to dawn. One of the great things about Dice Tower conventions is always the amazing people I meet, and this year was no exception. Not only were the attendees an absolute delight to play with, but I also connected with designers Emerson Matsuuchi (Century: Spice Road, Specter Ops), Justin De Witt (Castle Panic), and John D. Clair (Space Base, Mystic Vale) and played some unreleased prototype games.

Emerson Matsuuchi, one of the nicest guys I have had the pleasure to meet, shared a prototype of his untitled social deduction word game, which I played numerous times. This game, which Emerson claims is only 2 weeks old, had several elements that simply amazed me. Firstly, in a 2-team social deduction game, one of the most annoying parts is dividing the group into good guys and bad guys- this usually involves closed eyes, table banging, a moderating referee or app, etc. Emerson has designed custom decks of cards, containing repeating patterns with random start points that allow the players to not only identify as good guy or bad guy, but also informs the bad guys as to who else in the group is on their team. This team selection was fast, worked flawlessly, and no one had to close their eyes! Actual game play involves single word guessing and clue giving: the guesser tries to get their target word from single word clues written on dry erase cards by the remainder of the players. If any of the clues are repeated among players, the bad guys score points. If the guesser gets their word, the good guys score a point. If the guesser passes or guesses incorrectly, the bad guys score points. Both teams are trying to reach a certain number of points to win, but if the good guys can guess the identity of the bad guy players at the end, good prevails. So, the tension evolves from bad guys trying to guess incorrectly on their turn without being obvious, or trying to give easy clues that may repeat, while good guys try to see through all the deception and guess the identity of the bad guys. The game was a delightful party game, easy to understand, and played well with a variety of group sizes.

Emerson also showed an early version of a worker placement game that uses the Liar’s Dice mechanic. All players start with a number of dice in a cup, which are hidden from the group, but known to themselves. Players place meeples one at a time on actions tied to the die values. For instance, twos are tied to collecting money, so I could place my meeple on value 5 on this money track – I am betting there are at least 5 twos on everybody’s dice, and if I am correct, I get coins. Similar tracks allow players to gamble for one-time bonus cards, purchase abilities, move on a progress track for bonuses, or defend against attacks, all for points. All the while, players are gaining or losing meeples for more bets, gaining or losing dice to their cup, and generally inciting chaos. And just to add spice, all ones are wild – they apply to every other track. The cumulative effect was a fun, fast bluffing game I would gladly play again.

Justin De Witt and the gang at Fireside Games were testing a new, frantic, as-yet-unnamed party game, which reminded me of a magic themed Happy Salmon. One player leads the rest through decks of challenge cards, each best described as timed chaos. Players try to complete as many cards as possible by throwing pieces at each other, assembling tangram type shapes, frantically gesturing at each other, and generally making spellcasting fools of themselves, all within the passing of a minute or so. Collected cards are then cashed in for points and achievements, then the role of leader rotates around the table. Even though players at the next gaming table looked at us sideways, goofy fun was had by all.

John D. Clair was hosting his latest card crafting game, the pirate themed Dead Reckoning, coming soon to Kickstarter from AEG. In this heavier area control game, players have 12 cards representing their 12 crew members. Each crew member has unique abilities – deck hands can add ship movement, the buccaneer can efficiently control islands, the bosun can upgrade the ship, etc. Players will always only have these 12 cards in their deck but will be modifying them throughout the game. On a turn, players draw a hand of these cards, use them for actions, then discard, as in other deck builders. Actions involve gaining movement points for their ship, moving from the relative safety of harbor to a grid of islands, collecting money and cargo, and placing control cubes on the islands. Battles are fought between players or with neutral ships, using a cube tower which dumps into labeled pits, showing damage, plunder and booty! There is a wonderful balance between collecting items from islands on your ship, which costs you speed, and running back to the harbor to bank resources and pick up more. Cargo is used to upgrade the ship and to buy see-through upgrade cards, which slip into a sleeve with a chosen crewmember à la Mystic Vale. Crew members can also be leveled up 4 times, improving their unique abilities. Players score achievements in leveling cards, controlling islands, collecting loot, and several other areas, and the first to 4 achievements triggers the endgame, where total points are tallyed. Dead Reckoning is scheduled to hit Kickstarter in May 2020.

John also showed his lighter, dice-collection racing game, Cubitos, which reminded me of a push-your-luck deck builder, but using dice instead of cards. In Cubitos, players start with a pool of 9 dice, each with 1 or 2 good sides, with the remaining faces blank. Players roll a “hand size” of dice, and keep good values, earning either money to purchase new dice or feet to move around the racetrack. The hook is that players can reroll blank dice as many times as they want, but if they roll all blanks, they bust and lose their earnings for the turn. Busting is not entirely bad, and allows progress on the “fan track”, giving bonuses to money and hand size. Newly purchased dice have comic, cartoony theming, such as the Smelly Cat, Reckless Cheese, Mr. Soldier and the Rich Dog. Plus, each character die has a deck of variants, adding tons to replayability. Each die may only have 2 or 3 good sides, but they add new interesting abilities – Rich dog gives lots of money but tends to get bored and leave, Smelly Cat gives more movement, and Big Cheese rewards players for pushing their luck further. The game plays like an open hand bag builder, with players collecting more and more dice that cycle from an available pool to a discard pool as each hand of dice is selected and rolled. The game play was boisterous, funny and exciting. Cubitos is due to be released at GenCon, this October.

Cell Biologist, Veterinarian, Banjo player, Computer historian, Dice Tower writer, all around eccentric guy.