Geaux Gaming: Forging for Glory with Dice Forge
Have you ever been betrayed by your dice? Have you ever thrown a die across a room in rage? What about threatened it, wagging finger and all, with harm when you get home? Have you ever put the offending die in a vice and filled it full of holes while your other dice were lined up to watch? Okay, this may be getting a tad sadistic, but you get the idea. Sometimes dice are the eternal disappointment and we would love nothing more than to just pop off that single pip and throw it in the bin.
You can. In Dice Forge.
Dice Forge, from designer Régis Bonnessée and publisher Libellud, is a game about gathering resources by rolling dice, then spending those resources to purchase powerful actions and upgrade the faces of dice. Each game consists of a fixed number of rounds in which each player takes a turn as the Active Player. They may take a single action to either buy die faces or power cards. The twist is, each turn, whether the active player or not, every player rolls their dice to harvest resources. This provides the feel of constant activity and evaluation as players see their resources grow over the four rounds before being able to spend them. In the end, the player with the most glory points, from rolling appropriate die faces as well as purchased cards and actions, is the winner.
Setup is a simple process, made easier by the insert. Players collect two dice (starting faces include one of each advanced resource, sun shards and moon shards, two glory points, and loads of gold), five tracking cubes, a player board, and pawn. The Island Board holds the cards and rests against the box which holds the die faces on the Temple Board. Cards are placed in their designated locations, based on cost, and pawns on their starting spots.
After setup, the first player gets three gold with each subsequent player in turn order receiving one less. This is due to the fact that a) the game is fixed rounds and b) the first player only gets one turn to roll their dice before they are active, whereas subsequent players receiving additional rolls before being active. From this point, all players roll their dice every turn, collecting resources.
After rolling, the first active player takes an action. There are two choices: purchasing die faces to forge onto their dice or moving their pawn to a portal space and purchasing a card (called "Heroic Feats" in the game). Die faces are purchased with gold and cards are purchased with sun shards and moon shards. When buying die faces, players may purchase any number of faces as long as a) they can afford them and b) each purchased face in a given round is unique. No, the first player cannot buy all the "3 gold" faces from the cheap pool on their first turn! New faces are used to pry old faces off the die then the new face is applied. Consider carefully where these go because they stay there for the rest of the game. Purchased cards are flipped face down next to the player board. The back side of the cards, while less art intensive, is informational in that it provides you with a graphic indicating if the card has activated abilities or simply worth points and no further effect.
Time to talk resources.
Gold: this is primarily spent on die faces. Faces are separated by cost in various "pools" on the Temple Board. Faces include: varying amounts of gold, additional sun and moon shards in varying amounts, glory points in varying amounts, and combinations of all these. Players may spend four gold to buy a face that, when rolled, earns them a sun shard and a point. Alternatively, the same amount of gold will earn a face that allows the player to choose from one of several resources when rolled. Most pools contain four of the same type of face but some have unique faces that, once bought, are gone!
Sun and Moon Shards: these resources are used for purchasing cards on the Island Board. Cards offer immediate, one time effects ("Gain three moon shards and three gold"), actions players may trigger during their active turn ("Spend three gold to gain four glory points"), or just lots of glory points! The cards are where things in Dice Forge get interesting. The activated abilities are useful, but some even let players forge a special die face immediately. These faces are only available to players who buy the card and offer powerful effects, like multiplying what is rolled on the other other die by three or copying the rolled face of an opponent.
A note on sun shards: they have a unique and very powerful second use. Once a player has taken their first action, they may spend two sun shards to take an additional action. This can be any action, not just different than the first.
Glory Points: as expected, glory points are for winning. These are often gained by rolling dice, and subsequently tracked on the player board, but most cards also offer glory points that are scored at the end of the game. They can also be earned by activating certain card effects.
Once every player has been the active player, the round marker advances and the round begins anew. An added note about gameplay before moving onto the official review. Players who move their pawn to a portal occupied by another player are considered to be "ousting" that player. There are no ill effects for the ousted player, in face, they get to roll both of their dice! This effect is called a "Divine Blessing" and is identical to the roll that happens at the start of each turn. Players have to be conscious of where other players want to go and get their first to make the most of their actions.
First, let's talk bits and bobs. The art in this game is fantastic. All the little mythical characters are cute and it really draws you into a world that is largely pasted-on. The cards art illustrated such that they merge perfectly into the island board when placed correctly. The graphic design ensures that, when you flip your purchased card, you'll know exactly what it does and whether or not you need to pay attention to it as the game goes on. Biboun is also credited in other titles like Zombie 15', Happy Pigs, and Don't Mess With Cthulhu. I'm looking forward to seeing more titles in this artist's style.
The dice are easily tied for best component in the box. They are sturdy, weighty, and, even after six plays, grip the die faces firmly. They really are a delight to roll. The die faces appear to be a heat transfer process, similar to what is found in Star Wars Destiny. I have no evidence of chipping or damage despite doing as instructed and using a purchased die face to pop out the old one. Pro tip: don't force the face off on the first side. Loosen it, then go to the adjacent side and finish it off. Keep your finger over the face so it doesn't fly into the air and land in a drink/crevasse/pet.
Second place component? The insert. There is literally a place for everything with room to spare. The pool of die faces go into a recessed board that slides into a sleeve with all their places illustrated (I use it as a player aid for new players so they can plan their purchases). This gets wrapped with an elastic band to keep it flush. The board goes underneath, with perfect slots to fit it's odd shape (it's cut to hold the cards in little alcoves), on top of the player boards, cubes, cards, and pawns. The dice ride shotgun on the sides along with the other components you'll need as you play the game. Because the box is used during the game, the Temple Board with the die faces sits in the box perfectly with necessary components ready to be grabbed. Pro tip: when wrapping the elastic band around the Temple Board, put the Island Board underneath first; this will give you a tighter fit and it all still fits where it belongs perfectly. I had my box in a bag on my desk and it fell, end over end, onto the floor. I just knew those bits were everywhere. I sighed with resignation, picked it up - not a sound. Not a rattle. Opened it up and everything was still perfect!
Now the less than stellar stuff. The player boards are very thin. This isn't helped by the vast quantity of holes punched in them for tracking resources. Mine warped initially (this is just part of the hobby, nothing to complain about) but when I tried to gently coax them back into position, as I've done a hundred times in other games, I got some light creasing as a result. Be more patient than I was - let humidity do it's thing. Given a choice between thin boards with tracking slots and not so thin board with just designated graphics for cubes, I'll take the thin boards and punched holes and day of the week.
The cards aren't top quality card stock, but they're good enough. It helps that they are never shuffled and handled minimally. The rulebook is odd in that it's one long page folded in half and runs vertically down both sides of the page. Not a strike against it just...odd. The game does come with a great player resource that explains what the various cards do. Finally, this games lacks diversity in player representation. There are four characters, printed on the player boards; one is a woman and all four are white. It's disappointing that a game made in 2017 by a long time publisher can't exert the effort to represent more than one demographic in a game. You can do better, Libellud.
As for the game itself, I'm a fan. I've always been a fan of Seasons, Lords of Xidit is also one I'll always play when suggested. I feel like Dice Forge is another layer of design for Régis. Seasons has a good amount of complexity and weight whereas Dice Forge is one the lighter side. It almost feels like a Season Junior. There's no drafting and minimal player interaction, compared to Seasons, but it has a lot of the same feel when it comes to picking and activating cards.
The dice forging is a lot of fun and really makes the game replayable. I always want to try new combinations of faces and see where to focus my play. I feel about this the same way I feel about 7 Wonders - I know I've played in that sandbox a lot, but I still want to do it when I can because I want to see what the next hand will give me. In Dice Forge, I want to see that next roll and what I can do with it. I already have some ideas rattling around in the old noggin' about how to use this modifiable dice mechanic for other genres of game...
The mixture of cards, especially the ones that allow you to explore all the card-only die faces, make for a new experience for many plays in a row. You can choose which cards to use or you simply randomize the options for each slot. It was six plays before I felt compelled to swap out the recommended starting cards. I don't want to overstep my assumptions here, but I'm secretly hoping for an expansion that increases the range of options even further. Just the occasional tuck box with cards would be a great way to keep this game fresh for years to come.
As of this writing, I give Dice Forge a solid 7 on BGG. It is good and I am usually willing to play it. I'd mark it a 7.5 if I used decimals just because alternate cards give it that added zing of more than "usually willing". Maybe 7.5 is "often willing". If you're consistently frustrated by not rolling what you want or prefer more mitigation and control to your dice chuckers, this game may be a pass for you. However, I can strongly recommend Dice Forge if you a) enjoy the excitement of rolling dice (a lot) and b) want a lighter experience that still provides a range of choices in gameplay.
Forge your way to glory and GEAUX GAMING!