WizKids have got their heads screwed on when it comes to what will make people lunge for their wallets and start spending. Star Trek Attack Wing has gone down very well indeed and has had a lot of support from the organised play scene to back it up. Their massive nuclear strike of the year however is Marvel Dice Masters: Avengers Vs X-Men. Many have touted this as THE big game of the year but is it?
Meanwhile At Stark Industries…
The basics for the game come from the roots that drove quite a novel concept some years back. Quarriors! was a dice building game that looked to turn the deck building mechanic on its head. The game was met with a relatively good smattering of reviews but I don’t think it was ever something to write home about. The format was changed again to fit the Lord of the Rings license and now finally Mike Elliot & Eric M. Lang have tied their dice dueling into the world of Marvel. So how does it work?
At the beginning of the game you’ll be given a bag with eight dice inside it. These are your Sidekicks (think of them as Shield Agents or Underlings if you’re a bad guy) and they form the basis of your line-up. You’ll be using them to spend energy, bringing new heroes into your pool of dice and of course occasionally meeting out some punishment of their own. Energy can be used to either buy characters (having at least one symbol that corresponds to their type), buy neutral cards and powers in the centre of the play area and use innate global abilities spread out around the characters on both sides.
When a dice is bought it gets added to your Used Pile and then eventually makes its way into your bag to be picked out and rolled. Each turn you’ll be drawing four (if you can’t then you simply add more in and pick any extra needed) dice and rolling them to see if you get heroes, powers and energy for repeating the steps above. This essentially forms the basis of the dice building mechanic in the game. Much like with a traditional deck builder you’ll want to be making wise choices that link together well. It’s all well and good buying Storm for example but if her energy and abilities don’t work well with other characters she might not be the best choice. ‘Thinning’ your ‘deck’ is also done by way of adding characters to the field. You’ll get to a point where you don’t particularly need your Sidekicks anymore so you don’t want them in your bag!
As I mentioned above you’ll be adding characters to the field in order to use them in combat and for defence. A character enters your field zone based on the value you rolled him as. In the top left cover of a dice is their field cost. This is the amount of energy you need to pay to put them out there to do some smashing. In the top right is their attack value, and in the bottom right is their defence. Occasionally some dice will have a star which equates to their special abilities too.
Once a dice is in the field zone it can be used as an attacker or a defender To attack you move dice forward into the attack zone and the opposition declares their defenders. As many dice as you like can be used to soak the damage from an enemy attack and deal damage in return. Much like with Magic: The Gathering a unit with pitifully low life can indeed take a massive blow and none of it will spill over to your own life points and you’ll find that sacrificial pawns can be very helpful in that regard. You might think that there’s no reason to block with multiple heroes therefore, but if you want to knock their heroes out too then you’ll have to put more damage in.
If a dice is knocked out by another dice it goes into a KO pile to be rolled on that players next turn. If a dice is damaged but survives the attack then it simply goes back to your field zone. If a dice goes through and hits your opponents life points directly then it does its damage and is then added to the used pile. It will go back into the bag to hopefully be drawn on a later turn.
Here is where the real meat of the game comes out. Attacking and choosing the right moment to do so is key. You might get a lot of damage through but if you send all your dice to the used pile and your opponent elects not to defend then gets lucky he could simply punch through any defence you have left and take you out. The ebb and flow here means you can have moments of stalemate where no-one wants to attack but you’ll soon develop a keen eye for chinks in the opponents armour.
Assembling The Aven…X-Me..errm, Fantastic Avengers?
Having heroes is grand but having the right team of heroes is key to success. Each character in the current line-up has three or four variations ranging from common to super rare. They will have different abilities and card text on each of them which works well in different combinations. There’s nothing to say that you can’t do an entirely themed force of Avengers or X-Men but there is a great amount of diversity in the type of heroes you can bring to the table.
Picking not only a good range of high, moderate and low cost cards, abilities, and indeed energy types is the name of the game and while there are some very broken powers out there the real kicker lies in making a symbiotic team that works well. I’ve seen people pump out the super rare cards with nasty powers (or even the basic Storm cards) and while they’ve been powerful they can be undone with a bit of clever teamwork.
In the middle of the play area you’ll also have an assortment of neutral power cards that give you extra special abilities and energy that can be spent wherever you life. These have no symbol however so the real power comes from their abilities. For example Gearing Up allows you to draw more dice from your bag and roll them. Thrown Car allows you to essentially ‘trample’ through a defending hero doing damage that wasn’t soaked up to the enemy.
Each card can have a maximum of four dice on it and you can only ever have one of each hero. Sorry girls, no team of Chris Hemsworth’s Thor for you. The range of heroes on offer to you changes depending on the level of game you’re playing but it’s usually 6 heroes with 15 dice/life or 8 heroes with 20 dice/life. Don’t worry, it sounds complicated but you’ll pick up the combinations pretty easily.
Got, Got, Got, Need…Got
All these combinations are well and good but you need the dice and cards to make it work. This is a collectable dice game meaning you’ll be buying booster packs (or entire sets in some peoples cases) to make your collection grow. Thankfully it’s relatively cheap at around £1 a booster here in the UK and you always get two cards and the two dice that make them work. It doesn’t take long to build up a basic collection.
Of course some cards are harder to get than others and trading dice and cards becomes a big thing as you go along. You only ever need four dice for each hero so there’s no need to keep the others apart from to swap with people. You only ever need one copy of each hero variation as well so put them aside like I’ve done to just hand to people to flick through.
Now seems as good a time as any to talk about the quality of the components. The cards are pretty good if a little warped from the packaging and the dice can fade quite quickly if you’re not careful. But, it’s £1 for a pack and £10 for a Starter Set (which you REALLY need) so can I complain overly about the quality? Not really. The artwork is superb though and while it would have been nice to see different art for different hero variants I can see how the cost could massively jump up. The dice bag however is pitifully bad so replace that when you can and get yourself a play mat from one of the many different stores – you’ll need it.
A True Believer?
So what do I think of the game? It’s insanely easy for you to get into and play and the Marvel theme will have a lot of people clamoring over this. Correction sorry, they ARE clamoring over this. The Starter Sets and Gravity Feeds (booster boxes) are practically sold out everywhere and getting a hold of the game is like pulling teeth. But, it certainly has a life to it IF they keep up with organised play, can sort out their stocking issues AND bring out new awesome cycles and sets.
Uncanny X-Men for Marvel, Yu-Gi-Oh and Dungeons & Dragons Dice Master sets are on the cards for the future so WizKids aren’t slowing down. Mechanically the game is interesting and does something fun with the traditional deck builder design. It also elevates the Quarriors! mechanics and provides you with a lot more tactical depth going forward. It’s a solidly fun game that while can be tweaked to be brain stompingly over powered in some cases gives you half an hour of fun for very little cost. Just don’t play someone hyper competitive (if you’re not) and you’ll be fine.
The real draw for the game is in the love of Marvel. If you adore this universe then you will get an utter kick out of the “Now Hulk fights Magneto!” thing you end up doing. It gets the formula of hero vs hero and team vs team very right and fulfills a whole lot of childhood fantasties about “who would be the best team versus (insert villain and/or hero)?”.
Overall Dice Masters gets a firm thumbs up from me and if you can eventually get yourself a set and a few boosters I suggest trying it out. It’s not as big and supported as Magic: The Gathering but it could well be if WizKids stick with it.
What do you think of Dice Masters?
"...the Marvel theme will have a lot of people clamoring over this. Correction sorry, they ARE clamoring over this."