Dice Throne Adventures + Season 1 ReRolled
I’ll start this off with a bit of a caveat: I enjoyed Dice Throne more back when the DTA kickstarter launched. I enthusiastically backed the project for the second set of fighters (the Season 1 ReRolled battle chest) and tentatively backed this Adventures box as well because it looked like a fun way to mix up the formula with cooperative campaign dungeon crawling instead of head-to-head combat.
The Dice Throne team certainly delivered on their promise. This is a gorgeous production, jam-packed with unique tiles, enemies, scenarios, and encounters. People who really love this are going to get a lot of mileage out of this box. Yet I found this expansion spoils an experience that was already trending downward due to my morphing tabletop tastes.
We’ve played and enjoyed our Dice Throne Season 2 battle chest over a dozen times, but most of those plays occurred in 2019 and really dropped off over the past year and a half. With King of Tokyo, the Yahtzee mechanism was one of our favorite entry mechanisms into the hobby years ago, and Dice Throne was an evolution of that concept. But over time, the weaknesses became more apparent when contrasted against other mechanisms.
The main area where the Yahtzee mechanism struggles to satisfy is when a player has horrible luck with the dice. When a person’s entire turn amounts to absolutely nothing due to a bad roll, both players feel bad and the fun is dampened. It was easy to overlook this weakness when Dice Throne had so many other things going for it. Fast forward a few years, and the competition is much more fierce with game systems like Unmatched.
Both Dice Throne and Unmatched fill the same niche of light 1v1 combat with a diverse cast of characters wrapped in a gorgeous production. Dice Throne gets bogged down by a slow pace, frequently anticlimactic turns and endings, and an on-the-rails decision space. On the other hand, Unmatched doesn’t overstay its welcome and has more diverse, interesting, and thematic fighters. After dozens of plays between both systems, a long span of time spent refining my gaming preferences, and finally revisiting Dice Throne, those key differences are much more apparent to me, rendering Dice Throne obsolete within my collection. I still get why Dice Throne has its fans thanks to all the love and care that has gone into this system, but I have to accept that it is no longer for me.
Within that context, I find Dice Throne Adventures to be an expansion that weakens the core experience. It simultaneously doubles the playing time while cutting individual player engagement in half. Dice Throne always worked best as a 2-player game where everything your opponent does has a direct effect on you, yet this expansion plays to Dice Throne’s weaknesses. Players now spend each turn directing their combat and effects towards an NPC (non-player character); so while one person mulls through their hand, selects cards to spend and dice to re-roll, resolves effects, etc., the only external engagement that occurs is when one other player has the brief privilege of mindlessly rolling dice for a NPC.
I can’t stress enough that any kind of downtime in a game like this is bad downtime. Dice Throne is a game that requires minimal planning and strategizing, you’re simply rolling dice when it’s your turn and deciding what to reroll thereafter, so all time between your turns is spent floating in a void. The card play certainly helps ease the chronic pain, but it’s more of a thin distraction than a cure. By lengthening the turns and reducing external engagement, Dice Throne Adventures only serves to amplify this issue.
While there’s an interesting cornucopia of rewards, surprises, and variety that comes with this campaign-style dungeon crawling expansion, those things are collectively overshadowed by the dramatically extended playing time. Where a standard game of Dice Throne usually takes an appropriate 30 minutes, our first Portal Crawl scenario blew far past two hours (and that’s not even including the setup, teach, and teardown). It’s impossible to justify spending so much time with something so light and unsubstantial, especially in the same universe as Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion.
And here is where I arrive at the two nails in Dice Throne’s coffin. On one end, I have the consistently more satisfying Unmatched to scratch my light, asymmetric dueling itch, and on the other end I have Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion as an accessible scenario-based dungeon crawler to keep me fully engaged. Nothing within this expansion gives me a solid reason to pull it off the shelf, or even keep it there for that matter.
Dice Throne Season 1 ReRolled: 6/10
Dice Throne Adventures: 5/10
Renature blooms from the dream-team assembled. Planted by designers Michael Kiesling (Azul) and Wolfgang Kramer (El Grande) and cultivated by Capstone Games’ Simply Complex brand (The Estates), we have a game bred for one purpose: tabletop domination.
Those looking for the next highly accessible game with a depth to satisfy all and a presentation to back it up need look no further. Renature is as simple as place a domino, add a plant next to it, and draw another domino. The design has the perfect amount of animal variety and hand size where your location options for placement are neither too overwhelming nor too restrictive.
Which plant to place where and when is the ultimate hinge upon which the points swing. Hotly contest areas gain late plants easy, immediate points; yet early, imposing plants can be great investments that discourage competition and net big points later.
What starts out slow and meandering quickly becomes tight and crafty. Domino placements must be carefully considered and deliberately planned. But the sneaky complexity really rears its magnificent head within the neutral plants and cloud abilities.
Surprisingly, this cuddly nature game is as nasty as Capstone’s meanest (The Estates, Stick ‘Em). That moment when you realize that a well-timed neutral can erase your opponent from an area and net you an easy batch of points is unrivaled in games of this weight. Neutral trees also bring a critical, zesty layer to the 2-player game that would be too predictable without. Moreover, the simple bonuses that spent cloud tokens can provide open up delicious opportunities. Blowing your cloud supply to pounce on an unsuspecting opponent or lock down a valuable area can be the difference between victory and defeat.
Renature is the complete package. It’s a beautiful game that I will happily bust out with all types of players at any count of 2-4. It bears an elegant pace with its heaping of classy dominoes and chunky foliage across the threshold of greatness into evergreen fields beyond.
Current Rating: 9/10
Under Falling Skies
“I don’t solo often, but when I do, I prefer video games.”-The Most Interesting Man in the World
That’s just the way it is for me. Growing up on Nintendo does that to a man. Yet these days, I get much more excited about board games than video games. Perhaps I’m jaded by all of the generic shooters, soulless open-world adventures, and cash-grabbing mega-publishers, but tabletop games usually contain WAY more value and payoff for me thanks to their tactile, social natures. A few exceptions to this rule include big-budget Nintendo games (Zelda, Super Mario, etc.), god-tier indie video games, and solo tabletop games. Any of these reasons will cause me to leap from the chair & table to the couch & screen.
So it’s all the more impressive when a tabletop game manages to reel me in and get me playing all on my lonesome. I’ve determined that a solo game will only work for me under the following conditions:
1) It is designed to be played primarily solo. For me, playing a board game solo that is intended to be experienced with others is a game not worth playing at all.
2) It is quick and easy to break out and play. Setting up a sprawling game for only myself is just too dang exhausting.
3) It offers interesting variability between each game. When you are playing against the game instead of players, that game better have a lot of tricks up its sleeve or it will get bland & predictable fast.
Under Falling Skies checks all of these boxes and has me eager to explore it more. The production and design are a full-course meal of fun. With clever dice allocation and manipulation, painful trade offs, sliding plastic ships, rising tension, and thoughtful replayability, Under Falling Skies is a solid solo game for me.
Current Rating: 7.5/10
Hadara takes a lot of inspiration from 7 Wonders, even going so far as to use eerily similar symbols, tokens, and color coding. Hadara feels like the faster, more streamlined, and less interactive version of 7 Wonders.
While Hadara is quick, simple, streamlined, and slick, it’s also completely devoid of soul, personality, theme, and meaning. This game might be the closest I’ve ever felt to managing a spreadsheet. It’s just a merry-go-round (minus the merry) of cards, points, and coins. Anything and everything grants points. Each new card nudges one of your tokens up the designated color tracks. Purchased cards become these ever growing columns of colors in front of you. Everything melds into a bland pile of stuff that costs stuff but earns you more stuff and scores you lots of stuff at the end.
It’s been a few years since my last play of regular 7 Wonders, but I do recall the drafting and strategic paths being much more meaningful. The spiritual sibling, Hadara, isn’t guilty of being a bad game, yet it is all too forgettable.
Current Rating: 5.5/10
Schotten Totten 2
So far it’s an interesting twist on the original Schotten Totten / Battle Line card game thanks to the asymmetry. This series of games pits one player against another, gives them each a hand of 6 or 7 cards at a time, and challenges them to commit one card at a time onto their side of the battlefield at 9 possible locations of battle. It’s a game of keeping your plans as opaque as possible for as long as possible. Once a card is played down at a location, it is committed there and the best set of 3 cards will claim the location. These sets have poker style rankings (sum of the numbers being the worst rank, a run of a single suit being the best) that will determine the victor at each site.
Schotten Totten 2 puts a spin on this concept by giving the 2 competitors unique victory objectives and abilities. The attacker must win at three total sites or twice at the same site to claim the victory. The defender must last until the deck is empty or complete all of their formations to win. Another major change is that the defender can use up to 3 oil spills to wipe out one card of the attacker’s (before they achieve a winning formation), and the attacker can retreat an entire formation to commit something even better to that section. And finally, the sections contain more variety with some limiting the types of sets you can play and others requiring more or less cards in a set.
After our first two plays, it seemed incredibly hard to win as the Attacker. Both games saw the defender annihilating the attacker. But of course, this is a Reiner Knizia game, so there’s a lot more nuance to the asymmetric strategies than what we discovered within our first two plays.
For games 3 & 4, we decided to add the tactics cards into the mix. Armed with these new opportunities and a deeper appreciation for how the game plays, we soon witnessed the attacker becoming the back-to-back champion.
Clearly, there’s no huge issue here with the balance. And even if there was, the best way to play ST2 is twice in a row, switching roles each game, and the rules provide a method of determining the winner if the victories are split.
ST2 is a very interesting twist on the original Schotten Totten / Battle Line thanks to the asymmetry. As for a main downside: it tends to be more AP inducing than the original, resulting in a slower game. But Knizia knows how to make a solid head-to-head card game!
Current Rating: 7.5/10
Loot of Lima
Loot of Lima is nothing short of an amibitious project from the team at BoardGameTables.com.
The self-assembly dual layered player shields with rotating hands are excellent components that make things especially easy for when players ask you questions about your own location tokens. The player sheets have a layout that is extremely functional and well thought out. The dice are satisfyingly large and the tokens work perfectly for what a careful deducer needs.
The production is not without its hiccups, though. In the dark cafe-like setting that we played, players often struggled to differentiate the colors on the dice and player mats. This sometimes resulted in critical mistakes of writing notes down in the wrong rows. Fortunately, those mistakes were usually caught… usually.
I worry that Loot of Lima’s rulebook is going to keep a lot of players from discovering the juicy goodness of this game and sharing it with others. The strict adherence to 4-pages is a detriment to rule clarity, experience smoothness, and player sheet potential. Within the brief rules, I failed to find any information about several different tokens and how to use them (the record tokens, the question marks on the backs of the player tokens, why the location tokens should be face down on your shield instead of face up, etc.). The rules could have even used instructions for how to fit the components back into box, which I and others seem to be struggling with (hint, you have to make a pair of hands overlap and face each other on the maps).
I also had to dig into the depths of the internet to figure out the basic principles of using your player sheet. The rulebook shows an example of a player sheet, but explains nothing about what all of it means (besides recording a player’s question and answer in the bottom section). I get that there may be a desire to not pigeon-hole players into one way to take notes, but the lack of direction left half of my group floundering. What do the X’s and O’s mean? Why box in some squares? What are good ideas for notes to write to the sides? Some simple player aids could have gone a LONG way to ease newcomers into the game.
I managed to figure out some of the basic ideas of how to use the player sheets, and I explained these tips and suggestions to my opponents, but without any kind of player guide or formal rules I saw multiple opponents get completely lost and underutilize their player sheets. This of course wasn’t something I could correct mid-game, as these sheets are kept secret, so they instead had to just suffer through an hour+ of floundering.
The game also requires an unprecedented level of discipline, care, and attention to detail that severely increases its fragility. One person giving a wrong answer can break the game for everyone, or recording information into the wrong column/row/box can break the game for one’s self. The opportunity for victory-crumbling mistakes are high, higher than I’ve ever seen in another board game.
All of these rough edges unfortunately rubbed all 4 of my opponents a little too raw, and it seems like none of them has a desire to try Loot if Lima again. That’s a heart breaker for me, because this game is incredibly good if you manage to survive the barefoot run across the coals.
I think the best litmus test for a good candidate for this game is a person who LOVES Cryptid and is quite good at it. I would place myself into this category, and I am certainly hungry for more Loot of Lima. I nearly deduced the two correct locations, as did one other player. Yet nobody truly won the game, and most didn’t seem to care for the bumpy journey either. If I can just manage to find a few compatible candidates, I have no doubt that Loot of Lima will be a killer game for experienced players.
Current Rating: 7/10
Article written by Nick Murray. Keep an eye out for his first published design, Social Grooming, which will debut in a Kickstarter bundle alongside two games from critically acclaimed designer, Reiner Knizia! Don’t miss out on this killer filler bundle coming in 2021! Subscribe to the Bitewing Games monthly newsletter to stay in touch.