Monday, June 30, 2014

The thrill of the chase

Over the years, collectible games like Magic: the Gathering have gotten a bit of a bad rap for what is perceived as the "scam" of selling cards or miniatures in randomized booster packs, thus "forcing" players to spend a ton of money in order to get the cards or miniatures they need to play. I take issue with that idea for two reasons. First of all, no one can force you to buy something you don't want. But more importantly, building up a collection of game pieces with which to customize your deck of cards or army of miniatures is a huge part of the experience of these games.

I think the thing that has soured a lot of players on the idea of chasing cards by buying booster packs is simply the rising cost of those packs. The cost of a pack of 15 Magic: the Gathering cards has risen from $2.25 in 1993 to $4.00 today, and a Heroclix booster pack, $8 for four figures in 2002, is now $15 for five figures. In fairness, the average cost of a movie ticket or a comic book has more than doubled since 1993, but I can see where the thrill of collecting might diminish a bit when players are shelling out $100 or more every few months to maintain their collections.

All of which brings us to Marvel Dice Masters, a collectible dice game that combines elements of card games like Magic with colorful, custom-printed dice featuring characters from Marvel Comics. The game is sold in a starter set that includes all the basic dice needed for two players, plus dice representing Marvel characters such as Iron Man, Captain America and the X-Men, and booster packs containing two random dice with their accompanying cards that explain their abilities in the game. The booster packs retail for a mere 99 cents, substantially cheaper than a pack of Magic or Pokemon cards.

Since its release in April the game has been incredibly popular, so much so that the publisher is struggling to keep up with demand. The game's success seems to prove my point that maybe it's not the collectible format that players have grown weary of, but the amount of money they're talking themselves into spending on it.

The game itself is very similar to Wizkids' earlier Quarriors. Players begin with a bag full of basic dice that represent energy, which is spent acquiring more and better dice that represent characters who do battle with the opponent's dice. But Quarriors takes its game structure from deck building games like Dominion, with players all choosing from a common pool of dice, and their characters never staying in play for more than one round. Dice Masters uses the the collectible game model, with each player bringing their own "team" of dice, using combinations and strategies that have been thought out before coming to the table.

Each player begins with 8 "sidekick" dice in their bag, and an assortment of dice with corresponding cards representing Marvel characters (as well as iconic items such as Captain America's shield and Thor's hammer) on the table in front of him. There are also an assortment of action dice in the center of the table, that both players have access to. On his turn, a player draws and rolls 4 dice from his bag. These dice can come up as either one of four types of energy, or a generic sidekick character. The energy is used to add character dice to the player's bag from among those he's brought to the game. When the character dice are eventually drawn and rolled, they can come up as energy to spend, but also as characters that are used to attack the opponent's dice, or the opponent directly if he has no defenders available. The goal is to reduce your opponent's life total to zero from a starting value of 10-20, depending on the scale of the game.

Marvel Dice Masters is a lot of fun, with entertaining game play to back up the great looking dice. I find myself less interested in the more competitive team building aspect of the game; when we play, we always just take turns choosing the dice we're going to use. I must admit that I wouldn't mind at all if it were sold in a boxed set like Quarriors, but I really don't mind the collectible aspect of the game. I still enjoy the thrill of the chase.

Rating: 4 (out of 5) There's not quite enough depth to this game to warrant a 5, but it is a lot of fun, and definitely offers more strategy than the more random Quarriors.

Date played: May 3, 2014

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