Sunday, August 20, 2017

GJJG Game Reviews - Dice Derbi - by Big Show Creations

Dice Derbi
Designer: Bryce McNalley
Publisher: Big Show Creations
2-10p | 20-30m | 13+
GJJG Game Reviews - Dice Derbi - by Big Show Creations
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Game Overview:
Fishing and board games...  They don't necessarily seem to go hand in hand.  But recently there have been a few games, like Coldwater Crown, that have tried to bring a fishing theme to the tabletop.  I don't think there have been any, though, that have both had a fishing theme and been fun to play on an actual fishing trip.  Dice Derbi is casting for that sweet spot though, so let's see if it's a real lunker or just a fish tale.

Dice Derbi is a tabletop dexterity game for two or more players (two teams of however many players you want - two to four are ideal though).  You can potentially play with even more teams, too, if you like.  Games take anywhere from 20-60 minutes, depending on a number of different factors, and it's appropriate for pretty much any age.  You can easily adjust game length by playing to more or fewer rounds or points.  Officially, Dice Derbi says it plays in under 30 minutes for two to ten players age 13 and up.  Unofficially I'd say Dice Derbi is best for two to four players, age 6 and up (with someone older to do the math), and will take about 30 minutes.

Components & Packaging:
The Dice Derbi packaging is very nice.  It comes in a square box with a custom plastic insert that holds everything in its place, even after some jostling.  two quad fold boards, 100 cards, ten dice in two colors, a score pad, pencil, card mat, and rulebook all come with Dice Derbi.  You can also buy more sets of dice in other colors and there's plenty of room in the box for multiple sets.
All the components have a special place in the insert, with plenty of room for more dice.  The boards and rules sit on top.
The quality of the components is mediocre.  They're decent enough, but not premium.  The boards are traditional valley fold boards, but there are two of them.  Technically the game can be played with just a single board, but that would require retrieving the dice after every turn.  The cards are thick and have decent snap, but they don't have linen finish or a fancy core.  For what they're used for in Dice Derbi though, they're sufficient.  The standard dice that come with Dice Derbi are typical single color plastic dice, but the extra dice you can purchase are pretty nice, dual color swirled dice.  The dice represent different lures you can use in the game, so each one has different "characters" on the one side of the die.  On the standard dice these are screen printed but the premium lures have the characters engraved.  The card mat is a thick card stock and there are a ton of score sheets, complete with a quick reference on them.
Everything is good quality, but not premium.  Its pretty good for the style of game though.
Overall, the components are nice, but not super high quality.  The art is pretty much the same.  It's acceptable for the casual style of the game, but it won't impress you.  However, there is a lot of artwork.  Almost every card has a unique piece of art on it.  Everything here is good enough, and you won't feel like any of the components detract from the gameplay experience, but if Dice Derbi ever goes to Kickstarter for a reprint, there's definitely plenty of room for premium components.
On cards with similar effects the art is similar.  Usually the same with just minor changes,
like the sky and the guy's belly on the meal cards..
Score: 6/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
Overall, Dice Derbi is a very simple game.  Essentially you are trying to cast (toss) lures (dice) at the lake (game board) in an attempt to snag fish (land on different scoring areas) weighing different pounds (points).
Fun art, thematic terms, horrible font..
To set up the game, first divide into two teams.  Each team takes a set of lures.  Practically speaking, there is no difference in the lures, although there are certain cards that will affect one set and not another.  Then set the two game boards on opposite ends of a table, about four feet apart.  Place the card mat near the center of the table, but out of the way of the casting area.  There are four different decks of cards that need to be shuffled and placed on the appropriate spots on the card mat, and you're good to go!  Setup is a breeze.
A 2 player game goes pretty fast!
Playing Dice Derbi is also pretty simple.  There are two main ways to play, but its simplicity means it's also easy to add in your own house rules.  Dice Derbi is in the same category of games as darts, bags, or shuffleboard where there are rules, but just as much can be had by making up your own.  The two official ways to play, though, are Traditional and Derbi modes.  Traditional mode is to just play for a set number of rounds and without the cards.  I'll go over the Derbi mode though, since it includes all the rules for Traditional mode, plus a bit more.
Play head to head, or in teams.  You can also play a quick, Traditional mode game or in Derbi mode with the cards.
First, the teams must determine which team is the Anchor.  At the beginning of the game the Anchor team is the team with the player that has most recently gone fishing.  At the beginning of each new round this is the team with the lower total score.  In the event of a tie it is the team with the player who has had their birthday most recently.  The Anchor team has the privilege of the last cast of the round.  This means the non-Anchor team will cast first, and teams will take turns casting until all five lures have been cast.
Dice Derbi is as much a test of skill as it is luck, kind of like actual fishing.
To cast a lure you simply toss one of your dice toward the board at the far end of the table.  Each board is laid out kind of like a target, with the Honey Hole as the bulls eye.  There are three scoring areas (Sandbar, Drop Off, and Honey Hole), plus the surrounding Weedbed.  Any dice that land with the Dice Derbi logo up will earn that team a card from the area the die lands in (in Traditional mode these are simply ones since cards aren't used).  Then any die in a scoring area earns points (pounds) equal to the die value times the area's multiplier.  The Sandbar is x1, Drop Off is x3, and the Honey Hole is x5!  Cards played at the end of a previous round may affect scoring though.
Some casts will catch you a big fish, others will get stuck in the weeds.
Once the scores for the round are tallied each team has the opportunity to play a card that they've earned.  Generally the cards from the scoring areas are beneficial (like earning bonus points for dice in specific areas, getting bonus casts, or casting until all of your dice are in a specific scoring area), so you'll play them to your own area of the card mat.  If a team does not play a card then the opposing team can play a card to their area instead.  Generally the Weedbed cards are penalties (like losing lures, losing points, missing rounds, or restrictions on how you can cast), so they get played to opponent areas.
Weedbed cards are pretty punishing, but they get better as they approach the Honey Hole.
There are also Bonus cards, that get played immediately when drawn.  These will remain in play until they are earned or replaced.  They'll give a bonus to the first team to land a die in the bonus area (Life Preserver, Lunker Log, or Treasure Chest).  The Lunker Log and Treasure Chest give bonus points and the Life Preserver gives you back lures that you may have lost.
Bonus cards are tricky to earn, but can really help out.
The game ends at the end of the round when one team has at least 200 points.  Traditional mode just goes for a set number of rounds (10 rounds is recommended) and there are no cards used (Dice Derbi logos just count as ones).
Games are usually pretty quick, with about 15 points scored per round, on average, but some rounds score 50 or more!
That's a pretty good overview of the rules, and probably clearer than they're written in the rulebook.  There are a few areas that are a bit ambiguous in the rulebook, particularly around how the cards should be handled.  The formatting of the rulebook is pretty poor, too, with some text even partially cut off by the printer margin.  However, the game is simple enough that you can figure out most of what should happen in certain circumstances.  An updated rulebook would be very welcome in any future editions, though.
The font throughout the rulebook is pretty hard on the eyes and there are a number of formatting issues, as well as a few
ambiguous areas.  But the game is simple enough that these rule book issues don't hinder you too much.
Score: 6/10 x2

Dice Derbi is a whole ton of fun to play, but there are several items to take note of and areas where it can be improved.  In our plays we noted that the game play experience is affected drastically by the playing surface.  A good, solid wood table is ideal.  The first game I played was on a plastic folding table with a playmat  covering it and the dice were way too bouncy.  A game to 200 points took well over an hour.  It was still fun, but no one had any accuracy tossing the dice.  Later games were played on a wooden table that even had a small lip, and those games were very fast, usually 20 to 30 minutes.  This isn't really the fault of the game, but it is a big concern. If you don't have a suitable surface it can drastically affect the gameplay.  One thing that might be pretty easy to add that would help this a bit would be to add some folding barriers that can be put around the back and sides of the game boards to help keep the dice in play a bit more.  It would add a bit of cardboard to the game, but would help speed things along, even on bouncier surfaces.
Playing on a table with a mat is very, very bouncy.  Still fun, but I recommend a hard surface.

It would also be great to see different types of lures.  In the main game there are two sets of lures, but the only thing different about them is the colors of the dice.  The limited edition lures that you can purchase separately are also exactly the same except for the colors.  All the lures are D6 dice with a Dice Derbi logo and picture of a lure on the One side.  The characters have names though, and there are some cards in the decks that specifically target one set of lures or another.  The problem with that is if the targeted lure character isn't being used the card is worthless.  What I would prefer to see is custom lure sets that have different abilities.  Maybe a set that has two sixes on a side, but also has two ones (in addition to the side with the logo).  Or something that had an eight, but also a zero.  Or maybe a set that only had threes and fours.  You could even have sets that had different types of dice.  A set with D4 dice that were more accurate to aim because they don't roll as much, but have lower values.  Or a set with D8 or D10 dice, or even a set that had a mix of dice types.  If each set of lures had pros and cons, benefits and risks, and specific techniques and strategies to use it would make choosing your lures each round a strategic decision and give people a reason to actually purchase more sets of lures.  Again, this doesn't have a whole lot of bearing on the base game, but it would add a ton more replayability and interest to the game, as well as give people a reason to purchase the limited edition dice.  They could be like mini expansions!
The 'expansion' dice are only for looks, but they do look sharp!
I think my only real issue with Dice Derbi though is the cards.  The other things I mentioned are ways that they game could be enhanced to make it even better, but the cards are the only part of the game that I felt had some big issues as they were.

First thing is that the rules don't state if a card remains in play once it's played, or if it's only in play for a single round.  The rulebook says you can play a card at the beginning of a round, but it doesn't state anywhere that cards are discarded at the end of the round.  We assumed for a single round and then it's discarded, but there was some question on if it remained in play until it was replaced.  The designer confirmed that clearing the cards at the end of the round was the correct way to play, but it still gets confusing because most of the cards have an effect that last multiple rounds.  It would be much clearer if each card's effects lasted only a single round and then the card would be cleared out.
Having card effects that span multiple rounds gets confusing, and when they essentially eliminate a team completely for
multiple rounds it sucks the fun out.  I recommend removing these cards before you play.
Second, some of the cards are great, but some cards are pointless, too punishing, or just not any fun.  There are some cool bonuses, and some really silly penalties that make the game fun and funny to play.  We really liked the fishing in the dark card that makes you cast with your eyes closed, and free-for-all that had you toss all your dice at one time.  We'd love to see more cards like that, things that challenge your casting skill and make you do some silly things, too.  Cast with your opposite hand, cast behind the back, move closer or further away, gain bonuses for getting your lure in a certain location or with a certain value, etc.  These are the types of things that make the game fun.
These are the best cards in the game.  It needs more cards like these!
Some of the cards can potentially be pointless, and those aren't any fun.  As I mentioned earlier, a few of the cards target specific lure sets, but if that lure set isn't in the game then the card is pointless.  These cards are just too situation specific to have any place in the game.  They don't hurt anything, but they don't make the game any more fun either.
These cards are pointless i you use the limited edition lures...
Then there are the cards that are just mean.  Some cards just take away points, or make teams miss multiple rounds.  There are even cards that don't let a team score any points for multiple rounds, but requires them to cast anyway (I guess so they might have the opportunity to earn cards).  In a game that relies so much on luck, and your skill at casting the dice is your only real strategy, getting a card that steals points or makes you miss turns for no real reason is unnecessarily vicious.
It's bad enough to lose 50 points due to a card, but losing all your points is probably the harshest card in the game.
Less mean, but still detracting from the fun, are cards like Fish Finder Frenzy that let one team cast until all their lures are in specific scoring areas (in the Honey Hole for Fish Finder Frenzy).  It might sound good in theory, but in actual play it just makes a team's turn drag on too long.  Even on the better table, when this card came up it could a team's turn take forever, leaving the other team twiddling their thumbs for too long.  Some cards even make you lose lures (dice) permanently, or at least until they're recovered with a Life Preserver bonus or another card's effects.  So my advice would be to take out the vicious, potentially pointless, and un-fun cards and add a whole bunch more cards that make players laugh, drive excitement, and change the game up without detracting from the fun.
These cards are supposed to be helpful,  and they generally are, but at the expense of slowing the game down.  Some are ok, like getting bonus casts, but others can really make the game drag.
Overall though, the gameplay in Dice Derbi is solid and a ton of fun.  We just decided to skip cards we didn't like and draw again, and that made the game move a whole lot faster and be a whole lot more fun.  Hopefully if there's a second edition it'll fix these small gameplay issues because the game is great as it is and could be even better.
Despite some cards that really need work, Dice Derbi is a blast to play!
Score: 8/10 x3

In the right group Dice Derbi is a game that could get a ton of gameplay.  This is a perfect game for bringing out to picnics, camping trips, casual parties, etc.  You won't be able to make a game night out of Dice Derbi with your hardcore gamers group, but for that evening hanging out in the garage with your buddies, that family party where you can't get Uncle Fred to sit down and play any games, or during that bar-b-que down by the lake, Dice Derbi will be a hit.  It's great for those groups that like games like cornhole, ladderball toss, molkky, horseshoes, (giant) jenga, washer toss, or any other game where you test your skill and dexterity.  The addition of the dice and the cards can make this a great party hit.
When Dice Derbi comes out everyone wants to pay several games.
The teenage boys at game nights love it!
Score: 7/10 x1

General Fun:
Dice Derbi is a ton of fun to play, as long as you don't take it too seriously.  It's become a hit among the teenagers at the family game night I host at my FLGS.  Whenever I bring it someone ends up pulling it out, clearing off the MTG card sorting table, and playing a few games.  They always have a group around watching.  Unlike similar games, like the aforementioned cornhole, molkky, horseshoes, etc., Dice Derbi can easily be played indoors.  It's fast, exciting, silly, and effectively tests players' skill.  Even when we played our super long game on the bouncy play mat, no one wanted to quit because we were having too much fun.  You'll want to be choosy about who you pull this out with though, since it probably won't go over very well if your gaming group was expecting Terra Mystica, but with the right group of people Dice Derbi is quite a blast to play.  You definitely won't be bored!
Dice Derbi is filled with excitement!
Score: 9/10 x2

Overall Value:
Dice Derbi sells for $39.99 CAD (about $31.50 USD) and it's only available from the Dice Derbi website and at a few locations throughout Canada.  So if you want a copy in the US or anywhere else in the world you'll need to pay shipping, which is another $20 CAD ($16 USD).  Add it all up and you've got a pretty expensive game.  UPDATE: Dice Derbi now ships to the US for only $10 CAD ($8 USD).  If you happen to be somewhere you can buy a copy directly, without shipping, $31.50 US isn't too bad for what you get.  It's still on the high end, but, considering that there are two game boards and ten dice, it's not too bad.  You'll spend that much on a night at the movies for two, and you'll probably get a lot more than two hours of entertainment from Dice Derbi if you like casual dexterity games.  With the updated shipping charges this isn't a great deal, but isn't a horrible value either, even if you have to ship it.  If you can find it without shipping that's even better, but for about $40 USD you'll get a really fun game that you can play with almost anyone!
For what you get, Dice Derbi isn't a bad value, but accessibility is a problem.  Adding in shipping makes this tough to swallow.
Score: 7/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
I really liked Dice Derbi more than I thought I would.  Once we got past the bouncy surface issue and decided to ignore some of the cards we had an absolute blast playing.  I recommend removing quite a few of the cards before you play and ignoring the multiple round stipulations (each card applies for only one round), or just play in Traditional mode and forgo the cards completely.
It's a dice chucking good time!
The designer, Bryce McNalley, comes from a non-board gaming background; at least not the types of modern and designer games that I usually cover here.  He's more familiar with the classics, like Monopoly, Scrabble, Chess, etc., but in the past nine months or so that I've been communicating with him via Facebook, he's really jumped into the modern board game community.  (You can read my interview with Bryce here.)  Anyway, it's obvious from some of the design choices, particularly with the card effects, that there are some more traditional, and dated, gameplay notions.  Also, the fact that Dice Derbi was self-published without using Kickstarter is a flash back to the older days of game publishing.  However, at its core, Dice Derbi is a great, casual, fun dexterity game that has the potential to compete with some of the best modern casual dexterity games out there.  Despite some rough edges, it's a genuine pleasure to play.
Padded table or not, it's a lot of fun.  Skip the padding though...
I've talked with Bryce quite a bit about some of these rough spots, and I think he's learning more about modern games and what makes them so enticing.  I helped introduce him to Board Game Geek (and have been working with him to get Dice Derbi listed there) and got him involved in some of the board game design forums on Facebook.  He has some really great ideas, and I'm super excited to see what he comes up with next.  Hopefully it'll be a success and maybe Dice Derbi will even get a second edition with some refinements.  I hope Bryce uses Kickstarter for his next creation (or a Dice Derbi 2E) because his games definitely deserve to have a much wider audience.  Canada is great, but Dice Derbi should be available worldwide!
Side arm casting is a valid technique.
So, next time you're on a fishing trip in Alberta, stop in at some of the local game stores or outfitters and see if you can grab yourself a copy of Dice Derbi.  You might also be able to find Dice Derbi at some of the fishing, hunting, and camping conventions in Canada, and hopefully here in the US someday, too.  Dice Derbi is definitely a lunker and not a fish tale!

Overall Score: 72/100

Want another opinion?  Dice Derbi was also reviewed by Dane on the Everything Board Games Network!  Check out his review here!

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

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