Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Rustan Hakansson


No. of Players:
2 - 4

G@mebox Star



Civilization-type games always have been rather popular especially among gamers and serious hobbyists, and over the last few years the choice of games following this topic has been considerably enriched both by CGE's Through the Ages and the somewhat easier accessible Nations from Finnish publisher LAUTAPELI. However, building a whole civilization certainly takes some time, and so many of the games from this field have playing durations of two hours and up, sometimes accompanied by rather bulky rules with lots of details for research, conquest, and age-spanning advancement. A somewhat off-mainstream exception to this general trend is Matt Leacock's Roll Through the Ages, a Yatzhee clone which sees the players collect resources and food to advance with their civilizations. However, Roll Through the Ages found its limits due its rather simplified approach, and so the players can build some cities and monuments and develop some advances, but the development of the civilizations does not even leave Bronze Age. So, the market still is in need of a nice, short civilization game, and that's the moment where Nations The Dice Game steps into the spotlight, offering a rollercoaster ride from antiquity to modern times...

Rustan Hakansson was one of the developers of the aforementioned Nations boardgame, and as it seems he must have felt a calling to make this outstanding game accessible for an even greater circle of gaming enthusiasts. So, he created Nations The Dice Game, and indeed he did not only succeed in incorporating many elements of the big boardgame into this new version, but he can also claim that he has found a good balance between the complexity needed for a civilization- game and the simplicity which can usually be expected of a dicegame.

The game runs over a total of four ages (rounds of play), and at the beginning of each age each of the players takes his hand of dice in order to determine his available resources for the upcoming round. Instead of numbers the 44 dice included in Nations The Dice Game have faces showing gold, stone, food, books and strength, and the number and kind of dice available to each player is determined by the five buildings and military cards available on each player's own civilization board. At the beginning of the game all players start with an equal hand of 5 white dice, but during the course of the game they may acquire buildings and military cards which will slowly cover their initial buildings. The new cards will have their own dice allowance, and so the simple white dice slowly will be replaced by more efficient blue, orange and red dice showing advanced faces with multiple symbols. In a way, this replacement of a player's starting dice reminds of Andreas Seyfarth's Airships (Giganten der Lüfte) where the players could modify their hand of dice by acquiring equipment cards, but apart from this more general observation both games are not really similar.

The new building and military cards are available from a common progress board, and together with cards showing wonders, colonies and advisors a new choice of available cards is revealed on the board at the beginning of each age. The players can use their turn's action to acquire one of the cards from the progress board, and the price of the card in gold or strength is determined by the card's position on the progress board, ranging from a value of "1" to "3". This price may be paid by using dice or chits provided by conquered colonies and built wonders, and the new card then is placed onto the player's board, replacing one of the five cards on the board (this applies to buildings and military cards - wonders and advisors do not take one of the five slots).

In comparison to Roll Through the Ages Rustan has nicely avoided longer periods of downtime by a one-to-one implementation of the turn structure found in Nations. So, each player just is allowed to take one action before the next player follows, and this keeps the game fluent because each player will perform quick actions and has enough time to think while the other players act. In connection with this stands a quite neat handling of the newly acquired buildings and military cards. As mentioned, these cards usually provide better dice than the card they replace, and this replacement of dice is made immediately upon acquiring the new card. This means that the active player can remove one of his already used dice from his stockpile, take the new dice from the general stock and roll and use it during the same round. This procedure of immediate replacement corresponds quite well with the comparatively short duration of four ages, because an investment to get better dice pays off already during the age in which the investment is made.

Advisors and colonies are known from Nations, but they have found their place in Nations The Dice Game as well. So, colonies may be acquired for strength-symbols, and instead of replacing dice colonies usually provide chits showing resource symbols. These chits are refreshed at the beginning of each age, and so they effectively are an additional income which may be used in addition to the symbols from the player's dice. Advisors on the other hand provide chits with re-rolls, allowing the active player to re-roll some or all of his unused dice if he is out of matching resources. However, Rustan went one step further to mitigate the influence of luck, and so it is allowed to trade resources on a 2-to-1 basis, thus giving players access to some desperately needed resources. In fact, this trading option is really important to prevent a player from getting stuck with otherwise useless dice, and the game simply would be too short if a player in this situation would be forced to wait for better luck during the next round.

Another well known element from Nations are wonders like the Pyramids or the Terracotta Army. They are acquired normally from the progress board, but the player needs some additional stone-resources to build them. When a wonder is finished, it may provide some kind of chit just like a colony, but it also has a value in victory points which will count in the final evaluation after the fourth age. Some of the other buildings, advisors and colonies may bring victory points as well, but there are also some possibilities to score points during the course of the game. So, the players may use book symbols to make progress on the knowledge track, and they will score victory points at the end of each age depending on their relative positions on this track. In addition, an event tile showing values for famine and war will be revealed at the beginning of each age, and a player who can meet the required quotas of food/strength at the end of the age also will be awarded victory points.

As can be seen, in Nations The Dice Game the players strictly focus on the progress of their own civilization, and so player interaction remains indirect by competing for the best cards on the progress board and by scoring in-game victory points during the end-of-age knowledge scorings. I am usually quite fond of games which offer some means of direct interaction, but in case of Nations The Dice Game it must be conceded that the use of dice plus direct interaction through wars or something similar would have lead to major balancing problems which could only be tackled through an increase of playing time (i.e. more turns etc). However, this would destroy the general scope of the game, and so I prefer Nations The Dice Game as it is. In fact, I have to confess that I am quite smitten with Rustan's design, since he really succeeded in creating a faithful dice-version of Nations. There have been many tries to create dice-clones of successful boardgames, but there has hardly been a dicegame which could keep up with its major boardgame sibling. This is totally different with Nations The Dice Game, since it gives the players an interesting choice of options apart from simply combining and using dice. For a dicegame, the implementation of the civilization-topic is outstanding, and considering the fact that the weaker Roll Through the Ages was able to gain a nomination for Spiel des Jahres in 2010 I think that this game would deserve to do even better!

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Copyright & copy; 2015 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany