What is this game about?
Dice Stars is an abstract, number-crunching roll and write that involves only a handful of different-colored dice and a scorepad. Each turn, you will roll dice to contribute to a pool, then draft one or more of them. You can either take all dice of one number, all dice of one color, or all dice with stars on them. But these choices are tricky, and will affect your score and your flexibility during later turns of the game. The game will end if one player fills up all of the main scoring spaces on a score sheet, or when a player needs to take a die from the pool and can't because that part his or her score card is full. And the star dice offer the trickiest choice of all—each row has a different number of star spaces, and if you fill them all, you can double your score for the row. However, if you start filling up star spaces on a row but don't finish before the end of the game, you get zero points for that row. It's up to you to decide what you will risk!
How does it play solo?
Dice Stars plays roughly the same way for one player as it does for several, but you'll be playing against a timer/AI opponent that scores based on the dice left in the pool at the end of each of your turns. The solo game is less passive-aggressive than the multiplayer version of the game because there is no hate drafting, but the timer is tough to beat and offers a pretty good challenge.
Dice Stars is like an iPhone game—temporarily .addictive, but ultimately forgettable. I went through an initial period where I played this game repeatedly, and it's a quick one, which makes it easy to chain game after game together in close succession. However, the theme is so abstract that I found myself having little to latch onto after the initial rush of learning to play. I'm burnt out on Dice Stars now, and I'm not sure I can imagine myself wanting to play it again. There are a lot of good roll and write games out there, and while this one is decent, I wouldn't say it's the best.
Do I recommend it?
If you like roll and write games and find Dice Stars for a good price (it's currently about $16 on Amazon), it's entertaining until it wears out its welcome.
Overall Rating: 3 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.
Merry Christmas! Hope you don't have to buy gifts for anyone else in your life, because you'll definitely want to buy several for yourself if Kickstarter keeps going like this. Let's get down to business.
I did not give Ragusa a second thought until this weekend, when Jeremy Howard from Jambalaya Plays Games taught me to play it at PAXU. I am so glad he did, because I enjoyed the hell out of this game. Ragusa is a euro-style city builder, but it's not quite like any other game I have ever played. You place buildings and get resources, but there are a ton of fascinating mechanics that spice it up. Depending on where you place buildings, you can collect up to three different resources, as well as trigger opponent actions—or enjoy the benefits when they place buildings and help you! There are also secret objectives that give you special goals in the game, and extra ways to score. I haven't gotten to play a game solo, but I spent some time checking out the solo AI cards, and what I see is really promising. I will go out of my way to back this one.
2. Nemo's War: Bold & Caring and Dramatis Personae Expansions
If you like Nemo's War, rejoice! There are a couple of expansion packs to add a little extra spice to an already-good game. Get some new game-changing motives for Captan Nemo, as well as some new adventures to experience. Also, if you still don't own a copy of the base game, it's possible to pick it up by pledging to this campaign. The expansions are reasonably priced ($12 for the two new ones), so if you're already a fan of Nemo's War, this is an easy back.
3. Tainted Grail: The Fall of Avalon
This campaign doesn't actually hit KS until December 5, but there is a preview page that I've linked to in this post. If you're looking for another big box campaign game with a lot of miniatures, this one might be for you. Your campaign can have several different endings, and you'll be able to develop your characters across several play sessions. Also, Adam Smith of Rolling Solo has some gameplay videos out on YouTube, so you can see it for yourself.
Before PAXU, I had never before demoed a board game. It's no surprise that I enjoyed it—I am a teacher by trade, and I love helping people learn and appreciate new things. But showing people how to play a board game over and over again also does a lot of interesting things to your relationship with that game. Especially if you only play the first 2–3 turns of it repeatedly, without ever getting to finish.
I wrote a positive review of Stellar Leap earlier this year, and I am a fan of Carla Kopp's solo bots. So Stellar Leap was the game that I demoed several times this weekend. I smoothed out my patter, found my weak spots in terms of remembering the rules, and learned what aspects of the game were most challenging for new players so that I could focus on explaining them better next time. I also, however, learned pretty much every card in the planet and event decks. I need a few months before I play this game again.
That said, I remain a fan of Stellar Leap. Actually, I think more highly of it as a game now than I did before I demoed it. I typically revisit games and my reviews of them anyway, but it was an especially cool experience to return to a game again and play it so intensely. I found myself thinking about strategies and desperately wanting to finish (or watch someone else finish) a full game, because I wanted to see what could happen. I have had a lot of time to contemplate Stellar Leap, and I definitely have a few new tricks up my sleeve to try the next time I go up against the AI during a solo session.
I think my biggest takeaway from this experience is: Never, ever agree to demo a game you don't enjoy. Demoing is a highly repetitive process, and there are going to be moments when your voice is failing or when you're tired of explaining the same rules for the 15th time that day. You will burn out on the game you are teaching to others, right at the moment when you're trying to help them see its charms. But as with any relationship, if you're spending lots of time with a game you really like, you'll end up glad that you put in that time... even if you also need to take a break.
This experience has also given me so much more respect for people who playtest their games extensively and who demo them at cons. It's probably different when you're showing off your "baby," but still—that is commitment.