I used to spend much of my time racing like a nutter, in front of a sea of black hats and brollies, in archaic vehicles of an almost post-apocalyptic steam-punk nature until I landed up, for the sake of humerus narrative, in some dank dungeon on a rather disgusting bed of matted straw…with something left in the corner of the cell by goodness only knows who…or what.
Since then, since this extreme low point in my fantasy life, I have decided to dedicate myself to diligently building up a new civilisation for future generations to carry on my line…
…it was a rather curvy line, I must point out, as, at the time, I had no use of a ruler or straight edged tool to guide me…
(Press play for a mechanised Grand Canyon race ambience)
(Press play for a Goblin-esque dungeon experience)
(Press play for an empire building ambience)
What’s All The Fuss About?
I was completely in the dark until a few months ago… I knew where the light switch was but this did not throw light on Daium. This Dicium lark is actually a title which was kindly offered to me at Essen Spiel 2018, to review, after I had inquired about its mechanics and wondered how the solo variants worked within the game. After an interesting chat on the Geek Attitude stand, I was then the proud owner of a copy to take back to the UK and give it the once over…or twice over or more…
Firstly, and as I mentioned before, I had never previously come across this title. I was surprised to discover this is box actually contained four completely separate game themes that all draw upon a communal dice mechanic. Now at first glance one might be misguided and become drawn in to thinking ‘Ok four thin veneers pasted over a basic game’. I can confidently state that this is definitely not the case. Each of the games has a distinct look and style of play, each differentiating itself from the next with interesting and unique ways whilst still using the same dice mechanic as the driving force. Sadly not all four are solo-compatible, as the Shogun title is only suitable for 2-4 players but I admire the designers for acknowledging a game could not be made soloable. By simply leaving a game in its truest form is a wise choice rather than shoe-horning a useless solo variant in that does the game no credit.
The other three, however, are all soloable and will be the focus of my meandering ramble.
Dicium also throws up a difficulty for my review in that there are three games and one mechanic… It is superfluous writing three separate game reviews, but equally simply talking about the dice within the game provide little informative details about game play. This may turn out to be a back and forth piece as I ham-fistedly jump from one game to another… hold on chaps and chapesses…we are going in…
Immersion or Subversion?
Each of the three games has its own distinct theme and very separate ways to play. They all draw on the central dice mechanic and have a vibrant, consistent art form. Aesthetically, all three look beautiful but looks alone do not maketh a game, as I have said many a time. Even though we are playing with the same dice, trying to get the same dice combinations, these all equate to very different ways to improve a character’s ability or stats. Each game utilises these dice combinations in interesting and divers ways when we come to choose our actions. The goals are unique to each game so holistically we should be able to immerse ourselves into three very different worlds. The way each plays and the way each look actually meld together to bring a rather pleasant gaming experience. They do engage us partly through theme but more so with the devilishly cunning puzzle like nature. This is more applicable to Dungeon ans Civilisation, as Crazy cup is more a head to head race format…but even then we have an element of puzzle solving…choosing the right combinations to develop skills or acquire certain resources to take on the fiendish AI racer. There are games with greater depth, I will agree, but this is a series of three fast playing games all in a box and for what is available, I will say we become immersed in each game. From a more personal not i would have liked to see a little more flavour text/background test to embellish each game, but the information that comes with each is sufficient to give a taste. We solo players must then take that and in a roleplaying way, tell our own story as our game progresses… which with these games is remarkably simple to do as we are not overly pre-occupied with vast amounts of book keeping or stat recording.
At its heart, Dicium has a set of custom dice used by all protagonists…or in our case, by us, the soloist. The dice themselves are nice, large embossed…engraved? ( I have no idea the term for an engraved face) with each face displaying number pips and a background circle of colour ranging from one pip to five pips and red, yellow, blue and green backrounds. The sixth face is a green swirling symbol (called the Dicium Symbol)
So here we have the basis for our games. we roll certain numbers of dice (dictated by game situation or abilities found on special cards or player dashboards). In essence, after we have chucked a fistful of these custom jobbies, we have to start making some rather difficult decision. Sets or combinations of pips, a little like poker hands, equate to abilities or actions that we may draw upon so, for example, a pair of 2’s will allow a certain action… three of a kind allows another, a double pair and so on. Similarly combinations of colour also open up opportunity for us, enabling us to indulge in combat, move about the gameboard, upgrade our special abilities/player board and so on.
Once our dice fest is further enhanced by our player board which, once certain aspects have been upgraded, allow us the occasional tasty bonus. An example could be that we throw two blue faces, a Dicium symbol and have a blue spot upgrade on the player dashboard. Two blue dice might, for example, allow us to move two spaces on the board. The blue bonus spot we have can be added as an additional blue face and the Dicium symbol, acting as a wild in this case, could be assigned as a fourth blue. In this way we have manipulated a mediocre roll into something much more useful… being able to run round the shop at an alarming rate…well, 4 spaces, any way.
So we throw dice and try and manipulate the results to assist our master plans. Each game employs the results/assigns the results to different skills, so you can see that a base mechanic is actually rather versatile when employed in the various game styles, without compromising theme, replay-ability or the game’s original essence.
The way each game plays with the dice and the variety of win objectives each has to offer us, enhances the entertainment for us soloist, in an interesting collection of game-styles.
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
Probably the most noticeable aspect of the game are the four separate gameboards (double sided) and the player dashboards, the latter being unique to each of the four games. by that i mean that each player colour has a different illustration and statistics to fit with each of the four games…further ensuring there is a distinct and unique play experience when we set up each of the four gameboards.
There is a multitude of tokens, pawns and various elements to facilitate play with each game using its own unique set of tokens. There are many squarer cards to accompany the game and, as with the gameboared, player board and tokens, are lavishly illustrated. The game feels well produced and certainly looks the part on the gaming table. As an aside, I very much like the player board cut outs which make it so much easier to locate die and cubes…especially if you are like me and forever knocking the table, the board or, in more sever cases, the entire room?!
Meeples and Standees:
- Game Design: Joachim Thome
- Art: Pascal Quidault
- Graphic Design: Matthieu Papy, Fabrice Beghin
- Publisher: Geek Attitude Games
- Playtime (recess for those of the American persuasion):
- Gang of One: 1-4 (Crazy Cup, Dungeon, Civilisation)
- Age of Consent: 8+/10+/12+
- DOB: 2018
Three out of four are fully designed to play solo. Small amendments to gameplay or setup are listed but as far as I can see, we are getting something close to the multiplayer game experience…with a few minor observations to the contrary.
- Dicium Crazy Cup:
The crazy cup is an all-out racing game pitting a player against an AI opponent, racing through all measure of canyon passages. I will admit is the weaker of the three titles with regard to the solo game. It is pretty straight forward in that the AI follows the course on a predetermined path, moving spaces equal to our active hand ( the pool of dice we are currently using). The AI will move faster as we level up and acquire more dice, so there is still a challenge facing us. We can interact with the AI as we would a live player, forcing them to take driving tests
(seeing if they crash, drive wildly or whatever) but on a personal level I would have liked to see something added to make the AI more aware of us…more reactive…just a little more like a real player. But with all that said, it is still a challenging race. We still have a huge task ahead of us to improve our stats, level up, acquire the correct tokens to allow our lunatic machines to take certain cunning short cuts not available to the AI, whilst all the time it is leaving us in its dust cloud. Perhaps it is better looking at this as more of a puzzle solving exercise with a competitive race element. It is an enjoyable experience, don’t get me wrong…and looks wonderful with its rendering. I think it is just me being a little more demanding from my AI’s… I like to think of them as actually having a modicum of intelligence.
- Dicium Dungeon:
Dungeon, as the label says, plonks us right in the heart of a Goblin Dungeon. This solo variant pits us against the game its self. we have a pre-constructed dungeon with randomly placed treasure chess and monsters but the key feature is us exploring as we choose. The encounters are controlled by the game (and the occasional roll of the dice on the Game’s behalf) so we are free to roam and enjoy. there is a timer built and at a predetermined point, the Goblin King enters the Royal Hallway, once this happens, his progress towards his throne relies on a die roll which gives us an unpredictable last few turns of the game, upping the pressure for us to achieve our win objective… or fail abysmally as the Gobbo king takes to his throne and no doubt have us rounded up and discarded unceremoniously into a rancid boiling pot. When he invites us for tea, he really means it…we are, after all, the main course.
I found during my games that it actually does offer a good solo experience although it is a little static compared to … say a large scale roleplay game or one of these gigantic dungeon crawl games with a gazillion plastic miniatures in and a rule book as thick as …well, something very thick indeed… a simile escapes me, but I feel this is designed to be light, airy, easily accessible whilst chucking a strong puzzle solving resource management style of game feel.
- Dicium Civilization:
I was surprised by this Civ game. It pits us against the game, not as an AI opponent, but as a hindrance to our day to day society spreading activities. There are some similarities to the Dungeon title in how we face hidden enemies and move around but beyond that, we find ourselves in a particularly tricky puzzle solving game with a completely different overall feel to dungeon.
There are a host of cards that add additional victory points for us, if we successfully meet their criterion which help to vary replay-ability and add ways for us to alter our strategies. It will never challenge some of the great civ games on the market, but as a light, easily accessible game, drawing on the main dice mechanic, it works very well and solo play is a rewarding experience. I think that the use of the dice system makes this something a little different… it sets itself apart from other titles because of the way we manage our resources and apply our action opportunities and strive for victory… it is all down to the dice.
Bots and Wotnots:
I have already touched upon my feelings for Crazy Cup, A competitive Bot would have been a nice touch, but I am sure either Geek Attitude Games or even a fan on BGG will address this as a variant or expansion.
Dungeon is not such a Bot as a Whatnot. In the early stages of this adventure we find that it is us pipped against the game its self. Although random encounters are added to the board, we have a fairly set location to explore, gather riches, power up and defeat beasties lurking in the shadows. so the game takes control here but as the game is time sensitive, after a finite number of turns, the Goblin King enters a pre-determined Royal pathway. He doesn’t interact with us directly (unless our paths cross…we are then pushed back to one of the dungeon portals…sneakily putting us out of position) but his movement towards the Throne is influenced by a roll of the combat die. This is basically the last part of the game timer, indicating that we have nearly run out of time to find the Goblin Kings crown. So we have our agenda and an varied timer built into the game for us to work against.
Civilisation is again more of a Whatnot. The colonisation of this new world is all we are tasked with, but there is en even more strict timer to reach all our goals. there are encounters and enemies to take on, all operated by the game. At the end of the day it is a form of ‘beat your own score’… usually a pet hate of mine, but as the task of actually completing everything in the allotted time is such a challenge, just completing the game is a challenge and coupled with that there is an ascending achievement score chart as an additional personal goal. So this is a challenging solo game with something more than the beat your own score to it.
The Real Nitty Gritty
- Winners and Losers: I have touched lightly upon this very topic already but I will expand a touch here. All three solo games offer a significant challenge in being able to complete the win objectives within the allotted time (Crazy Cup obviously excuses its self from this line up as it is the only one that involves a simple head to head race) We roll dice and look for the optimum use of the results. This is the game in a nutshell but a rather tougher shell to crack than that, if I may draw upon such a simile. We are always woefully under prepared for our adventures and so building up our player abilities is vital. As we only have a small pool of dice to draw from, there are many other tasks beckoning for us to engage, and we just do not have enough to address everything. Here lies the snappy part of the game. We have a large number of difficult choices and many more sacrifices to make every turn. Finding that sweat spot is so tricky and with the random die roll, cards and player abilities, every game is different. The rules booklet has an Advice & Clarification section and, as a particularly nice touch, a rules adaptation to train younger adventurers and drivers for Crazy Cup and Dungeon although not necessary for solo gamers with basic gaming experience. Each game poses a challenge for the soloist but it is not such a mountain to climb that we give up at base camp.
- Rules is Rules is Rules: The actual document is a square twenty four page booklet divided nicely into a description of the core dice mechanics then subsequent sections detailing how the core mechanics are applied to the different game play. These sections also contain illustrative examples and a small amount of setting flavor text (I think it might have been nice to have a little more background flavor to each game…just to help us picture why we are partaking in there particular adventure/race/world builder). The structure and language works for me and does a rather good job at explaining what is required of us. Additionally, the eagle eyed among us can spot the solo adaptations which, in most cases, is comprised of a single text box so we are obviously experiencing something close to the multiplayer game if so few adaptations or changes are necessary,
- Lucky Beggars: What can I say. Dice chucking forms the backbone of all the games but all is not lost to chance. There are so many ways to use dice combinations; a wild die face and player colour bonuses can all be pulled together to help mitigate that devastatingly bad roll. We may not get the perfect result to facilitate that perfect strategy
- Highs and Lows: This selection of games, and its system are never meant to be deep thinking games with anything remotely ethical or moral in its decision making. They are light, fun adventures, races and land exploration aimed, I would guess, at family groups with younger gamers. So it is a light, fun experience we take away with us…and just because it is accessible to younger player, we must not dismiss its positive gaming value for older soloists.
- Footprints All Over Both Sides of My Table: Each game plays on one side of the two double sided boards, accompanied by its partner in crime, the player dashboard. these will probably occupy 28cm x 28cm and 17cm x 12cm respectively. leaving space for the draw decks and any cards we may need to take into our hand, the footprint is unlikely to be more than 50cm x 40cm for a comfortably accommodated play area.
- Set It Up Just to tear it All Down Again: The different games within the box require their own sets of counters, player board, map board and cards. If we are diligent with our storage method, set up should be a pretty snappy affair. There are varying numbers of tokens that the playing surface requires populating with and some decks require some simple customisation, but I doubt any of the games would demand more than five or six minutes of our time before we can get stuck in. The pack up (not needing to sort counters for distribution) should be mere moments so we have a very quick, easily accessible set of games. The rule book estimates between 30 and 60 minutes each, but from my plays, I would say it is possible to play all three from out of the box to pack up in 120 minutes
Me, Myself and I:
I will start off by saying that Dicium will not fulfil a some hardcore soloists’ desire for deep, heavy euro challenge. Nor will it completely wow us with Ameritrash theme. It will, however, offer us three lovely looking games that are all, in quite different ways, accessible to the soloist and a very clever challenge within a 30-40 minute time frame. Each playing differently but cleverly using that same core mechanic is a rather nice touch. There is much more than a filler here, as each game offers us some difficult decision making, even with the simple nature of its gameplay. There are so many choices, even when chucking bad dice rolls, we can manipulate and get some value from the dice. There is definitely opportunity during gameplay where we get that RPG feel of levelling up our characters as we use dice combinations to fulfil dashboard requirements to improve the player’s statistics. I surprised myself by actually liking the civilisation game most of the three… even though it was a sort of ‘beat your own score’ game. There is, fortunately. more to it than that.
There must be some credit to the design team for making this challenging enough to overlook the endgame scoring.
Yay or Nay?
So, calling upon Bonus Markers and using the occasional Dicium Symbol, Crazy Cup, Dungeon and Civilisation rattle the old BSoMT 1d8 die for a very creditable (6)
I believe that Dicium offers very good value for our hard earned cash with its four games for the price of one… and three of those well suited to the soloist. I would say this might not appeal to everyone as merely a solo gamer’s purchase, but if you have, as I do, a family at hand (especially younger players), then this would be an excellent buy. Family gaming in four game formats, but always that option to pull it off the shelf for a nice solo experience when the family are not available. I definitely encourage soloists to take a look.
These bricksd are heavy and this canoe is siting worryingly low in the water… at this rate it’ll take me an age to build just a simple house, let alone a giant temple. I don’t know why anyone would want to colonise this god forsaken rock. The weather is dire. The natives are revolting…
…oh, poop! Look! A sign post…’Clethorps 5 miles’… I am in England… Definitely game over…who’d want to colonise this dump?
Something For The Weekend, Sir?
Dicium onn BGG
Dicium at Spiel 2018
LUDOCHRONO- Dicium review in French