It is bizarre to me how I went into Pax South thinking it would be largely about the Nintendo Switch for me… and it wound up becoming almost entirely about Tabletop gaming. More so it was the tale of dice games… and my experiences trying three different ones. There was King of Tokyo that I had never actually played, and while I found it enjoyable it wasn’t exactly the sort of game I was going to rush right out into the store and purchase. Then there was Dragon Dice… which sounded familiar at the time as a game that TSR once published… and it turns out that in fact it is the same game just self published by the creator now. The problem is that I looked in the general direction of the booth and got sucked in by an extremely motivated salesperson in the form of what I can only guess was the thirteen year old daughter of the creator. I sat down to play… and got Ashgar roped into doing the same. So we played and tried our best to wriggle out of the booth as soon and as politely as possible. It was bad… and not just in a general sense of not fun… but bad in a sense of whoever attacked first essentially put the other player on the ropes for the rest of the game and since attack and defense is out of the same dice roll… it made it extremely hard to ever recover. As a result we avoided anything else that was dice related like the plague… that is until while waiting in the hour and a half long Dauntless line I ended up getting into a random conversation with the folks I was standing shoulder to shoulder with as is the way of PAX. We started talking about our favorite games of the show so far, and one of these other folks mentioned Dice Throne. So before the night was up we wound up making our way over to the Dice Throne booth in the PAX Rising area, where unfortunately no one was giving demos at that moment. However they mentioned that in the tabletop area there was a completely different set up where folks had been playing nonstop. Little did I know that essentially this would be the last thing I played during my time at PAX and would eat up my last few hours.
I am of course swiping images left and right from the Dice Throne twitter and Kickstarter for the purpose of this post. The game itself is a weird mix of dice battling, action RPG and Magic the Gathering starter deck duels. Each player chooses a character to play from the current list of Barbarian, Moon Elf, Pyromancer and Shadow Thief… with Paladin and Monk playable at the show but ultimately stretch goals in the kickstarter. Each character comes with a unique play mat, card deck, five dice, and a sheet that describes their status effects that they can give to opponents and explains the chance of rolling a given symbol on the dice. What made the game addictive to me was the aspect that as you move through the session you can play cards on top of your playmat and upgrade your base abilities. Sometimes this is just a matter of making the abilities more efficient, or having a lower number of dice needed to trigger the effect. In the case of the game where I played the Shadow Thief… some of the cards actually served as two completely different abilities that you could then choose from. I personally only have experience with the Barbarian and Shadow Thief, but I think Ashgar and Paragon wound up playing Shadow Thief vs Paladin… in which I heard that the Paladin is completely brutal.
Regardless of the specific configuration the game is ultimately a game about duels… which admittedly is the part that makes me the most excited. I love tabletop games… but I don’t exactly have a wide circle of people that I can play them with locally. I mean I could branch out and just show up at a game shop and look for people to play… but that isn’t really my way. I am way too introverted to ever make that work. So instead I have limited opportunities usually one friend at a time to play things. Dice Throne is absolutely perfect for this situation because it creates a completely meaningful experience with only two players. In theory this game also works with any multiple of two, in that players can set up 2 vs 2 or 3 vs 3 scenarios and some of the cards would play perfectly into that situation. The reason Magic the Gathering comes into play as a reference for this game is that it is set up in a number of phases: Upkeep, Income and Draw, Main Phase 1, Offensive Roll Phase, Defensive Roll Phase, Main Phase 2, Discard Phase.
Players start out with 50 Health, 1 combat point or CP and 4 cards from their deck with the ultimate goal of reducing the other player down to 0 Health to win the match. Each round the players gain 1 CP during the income phase and draw one card, with the CP being spent to play the various cards they have in their hand. Each character plays a little different in that the Shadow Thief seemed to be all about hitting the 15 CP cap as soon as possible and then striking from the shadows with critical attacks that scale based on the current CP number. The Barbarian seemed to be about healing back lost health and avoiding taking damage by simply overhealing the incoming attack… all the while smashing with big attacks that can easily become unblockable. Barbarian absolutely was “my thing” but it also sounds like the super defensive Paladin might have been a good fit for me as well. Each round of attacks you roll your 5 dice and then take the symbols and numbers and try and make something with them. You are given two rounds of re-rolls as you attempt to hone in on the exact thing you need. There are also cards that shift your abilities so that you can make certain dice wild, or with “samsies” swap any dice to match any other dice. These however take the luck of the draw and the CP to play them when needed.
What I found most interesting is that essentially you are having to look at the symbols and the numbers to see what the best course of action is. All of the characters have something interesting that happens when you roll a small straight (4 numbers in sequence), and something interesting that happens when you roll a large straight (5 numbers in sequence). Then again there are other things that are super powerful that can play off of the other attacks. For example 2 swords and 2 “pow” symbols on the Barbarian gives you an attack that deals less damage… but becomes undefendable which when upgraded serves as an amazing way to finish off your opponent. The Shadow Thief allowed you to shift in and out of the shadows… allowing you to be essentially untargetable until you exit on the next round. Attacking from the shadows allowed you to roll an extra dice as you exited to deal a little bonus damage. Every hero has an ultimate attack that is essentially triggered by rolling five 6s, but in truth I found these pretty freaking hard to make work unless I had a wild card or two available in my hand. There is a lot more nuance that I feel like I cannot adequately cover after literally having only played two games. Suffice to say there is a lot of meat on these bones, and I am sure more than enough to start to develop even a bit of a meta game among players. I was not well suited for the Shadow Thief because the whole poke from the shadows thing is not really my deal. That said I know players that would absolutely excel at that game play style since essentially the Barbarian and the Shadow Thief are playing two completely different games. From what I understand each of the characters plays this way essentially with the Moon Elf focusing on dealing damage while defending for example.
The long and short of this is that as soon as I got back home on Sunday night I went out to the Kickstarter and backed the game. I was completely and thoroughly sold. As of this morning even though the page has not updated they have already hit the Paladin stretch goal so it will be included in the Champion version of the game. Next up is an upgrade to Linen Cards at $35k, Vacuum formed tray at $40k, Thicker Box at $45k and finally the inclusion of the Monk Hero at $65k. With 24 days to go they are already sitting at 200% of the original goal, and I have to think that Pax South is going to give them a lot of good exposure going forward. There was a pair of guys who had literally spent about twelve hours over the weekend playing the game… and wound up serving as surrogate coaches when we had so many people wanting to play the game in the Tabletop area. The rules are pretty simple and easy to pick up, and the game play while actually taking awhile to resolve itself… feels like it moves forward instead of stalling out. I have to say for something in prototype form… the game felt really damned polished. The cards and artwork all felt great… with the only complaint being sticker dice. However the first stretch goal was to upgrade to engraved dice so that will in theory no longer be a thing. I went with the $39 Champion edition which seems to be the point that the majority of backers are entering at, which in theory should give you access to all six characters and slightly nicer multi-tone dice. The base game will include four characters: Shadow Thief, Barbarian, Moon Elf and Pyromancer which sits at $29… so I felt that extra $10 was more than warranted even for the shot at two more characters. Dice Throne was definitely my tabletop game of the show… but in truth I think probably it was my game of the show as a whole. I highly suggest if you have the opportunity to check this out at any conventions between now and the projected November release date that you grab hold of it with both hands.