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Dice Wars: Heroes of Polyhedra Review


Quick Look: Dice Wars: Heroes of Polyhedra

Designer: Zach Roth
Artists: Aris Kolehmainen, Zachary Scott, and Brandon R. Smith
Publisher: Brybelly
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 14+
Playing Time: 45-90 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

Dice Wars Heroes of Polyhedra board game review;  image by Benjamin Kocher

Review:
Dice Wars: Heroes of Polyhedra is a dice-driven, fantasy war game in which players roll their unit dice to determine their troops, and then take to the field of battle. The concept of using dice as player units, as well as to determine which units are to be used for each player, makes it easy to get the game going, rather than trying to figure out the best combo of units.

As this is a dice-driven war game, there is quite a bit of luck involved. However, there are abilities and other ways of mitigating that luck, as well as using it to your advantage. Surprisingly deep, Dice Wars: Heroes of Polyhedra takes war gaming to a different level. Whether or not that level is what you prefer is, of course, entirely up to you.

My Experience
From the get-go, the concept behind Dice Wars: Heroes of Polyhedra was more than intriguing. Using the dice as units gave the game board a spiffy look as games played out, and we all agree that the dice look amazing. They’re large, which is fine because they only get rolled once before the game even begins (this determines which units you will use in battle). Still, I can’t deny the pleasure I took in even just looking at the dice. 

Dice Wars Heroes of Polyhedra board game review; Image by Benjamin Kocher

When the brown parcel arrived at my doorstep with Dice Wars inevitably inside, excitement flooded my entire being. Eager to get learning the game, I carefully opened the pristine shipping box. I pulled out the game and, with a good portion of excitement leaving my system, noticed a the damaged game box. For a lot of people (including you, perhaps?), a damaged box is no big deal. And let’s be honest—it’s not. But there is something to be said about first impressions and shelf presence. C’est la vie.

But I won’t bore you with the description of a damaged box. What you’re interested in is how the game plays out! I dove into the rule book as soon as I finished punching out all the tokens. I enjoyed the little backstory on the first page / inside cover of the rule book, and it got me excited to learn more. The rules are pretty simple and straightforward, but there were certain bits of information that weren’t described. A quick trip to BoardGameGeek answered a number of those questions (praise be to BGG!).

My first play of the game came, and I was ready to see how things would go down. As the game progressed, we started seeing the other players make more and more meaningful and tactical decisions. There are a number of abilities to keep track of, so turns weren’t as quick as they could have been. This, of course, won’t be an issue when everyone at the table has played Dice Wars a number of times, and get accustomed to the various abilities, actions, rough terrain abilities, and the like.

And yet, despite making more and more meaningful decisions as the game progressed, it still felt like we weren’t making the most of our turns each round. I’ll discuss this further on in the Mechanics section further on, but having each player control seven dice, and only activating two, doesn’t allow for a lot to happen on any given turn. After the game, we all discussed this mutual feeling, but came to the conclusion that activating more probably wouldn’t work either. It felt a little underwhelming throughout.

That’s not to say Dice Wars isn’t a good game—it is. There’s plenty of depth, and serious gamers will no doubt find unique and exciting ways to use that depth to their advantage. At the same time, it’s accessible to new gamers, or gamers unfamiliar with war-game-style games. There are advanced rules that include upgraded (“veteran”) unit cards with different abilities (among other advanced rules), and various game modes—including teams—that provides countless combinations for gameplay. It’s certainly packed with potential, and although my game group and I have mixed feelings about the gameplay, there is a high chance that most of you reading this review will end up loving Dice Wars.

Let’s jump into the more technical side of things, where I’ll explain more of what goes on, and how I feel about each section specifically.

Setup:



Setup is a breeze. First, roll your massive dice. Whatever the results are, find the unit cards (in your colored deck) that match the symbol on each die face, and put them in front of you. These are the units you will play with for the duration of thee game (unless some other effect or ability has you re-roll mid-game, which is a thing).

Then, starting with the first player, each player places their large dice in any legal hex on the corner tile closest to them. Dice cannot be placed on mountains or water. Once everyone is happy with their dice placement, the game commences with the first players.

Considering the war-game style of Dice Wars, setup is quick and painless. The only thing that takes a bit of time is gathering the unit cards that match your dice, and even then, that doesn’t take long at all. The quick and easy setup also makes it far less intimidating for newcomers to the game.

Gameplay:
Before saying anything else, here are the win conditions for Dice Wars:
  1. Defeat any player’s Hero die
  2. Defeat all dice of a single player except for its Hero die
  3. Control three cities for three consecutive rounds. 
Once one player has done any of the above conditions, the game ends and that player is the winner.

Now, every round (or “phase”), each player activates two of their seven dice. Activating dice includes using the movement on each die as well as one action per die. Most units/dice have a movement of five, meaning that unit can move up to five hexes away. Some areas on the map hinder movement, such as plateaus and badlands, and require two movements to enter that area. Some areas, like forests, negate attacks (i.e. arc and shot) that target specific units. Plateaus grant a range advantage for arc attacks. Ley lines grant a +3 bonus to magic attacks. These “rough” terrain spaces, while more difficult to get onto, can be very good strategically. 

Actions:
  • Attack
  • Use Ability
  • Capture City
  • Guard

Attack
Attacking is straightforward, with some minor adding/subtracting of buffs or debuffs. For physical attacks (melee, shot, and arc), each player rolls 2D6, and the attacker adds the attack value (and any other buffs or debuffs) from the attacking unit’s card, and the defender adds/subtracts any defense values and other buffs and debuffs. Highest value wins, reroll on ties. Magic attacks (indicated by an M in the red attack symbol on the unit card) have both players each rolling a D20. Defense values are ignored, and all buffs and debuffs are tallied. Highest number wins, reroll on ties. Each successful hit deals one damage. Basic units (D6) have 1 HP, advanced units (D8) have 2 HP, and your hero die (D12) has 3 HP.

Another interesting aspect of the game is the way the dice/units face following their turn. Each unit has an arrow on one corner of its die face, and the three hexes immediately in front of the die (in the direction of the arrow) is considered to be in “front” of that unit. The hex immediately behind the unit is considered to be “behind,” and the other two spaces are its “side.” If attacking a unit from the hex directly behind the target, you gain +1 to your attack. Positioning is a big part of the game, and if you’re not paying attention, it can be your downfall.

Abilities
There are a lot of abilities. Your units will have abilities, as do captured cities which you can use to your advantage. They can grant buffs to other units’ attacks and defenses, increase unit movement, deal area damage, and more. These abilities are key to winning, so don’t forget about them!

Capture City


With this unit on the city center/token, the player can now spend an action to capture the city, thus acquiring the city's perks.
When you have a unit on the central hex of a city, you may take an action to capture that city. If the city had not previously been captured by another player, draw a random city tile from the brown bag and place it on that hex. Then, take the corresponding city’s card and place it in front of you. You now gain this ability for all your units and cities you control.These abilities are likewise super useful, so don’t forget to use them, and don’t forget to defend them, as well!

Guard
When a unit is finished moving, a guard action will make it much more difficult for other players to attack from behind. When defending, that unit’s front three hexes are essentially being watched, so if an enemy unit were to enter one of those hexes, it would need to perform an attack. If it doesn’t attack, it receives a swift counterattack from the guarding unit. It’s a great way to defend positions and control routes.

And that’s essentially the game, with one player activating two units (movement and an action for each), followed by the next player doing the same, and so on and so forth. When play returns to you, any buffs, debuffs, guard actions, or any other special abilities you enacted on your previous turn go away.

Gameplay really is quite deep once you know what’s going on. Count on your first game taking an hour and a half to two hours. After that, things will speed up. There are lots of strategic options players can indulge in on their turn, which makes Dice Wars an appealing game for fans of both dice and strategy. It’s deeper than I expected, as far as mechanics go, and they can certainly pay off if done right.

However, there does seem to be a sense of non-progression throughout the game. During some games, very few units may die before the game ends (our first game saw two units die—a basic unit and my Hero unit). For a couple hours of playing, not a lot happened. This can happen in more than just your first game, too, mostly due to the fact that we’re rolling dice to deal damage, and more often than not, our attacks would miss. (I was unfortunate that my Hero got backed into a corner with no help nearby, and was shortly thereafter defeated.)

We also felt that there may be a few too many units per player out on the field of battle. We’ve been discussing house rules that might help the flow a bit, such as removing a basic unit, or a basic and an advanced, to see how that helps open up the playing field. We’re also experimenting with the number of units activated combined with the number of actions to take each turn. It doesn’t feel like it’s enough, as it stands in the official rules. Activating three units while still taking only two actions feels good, as does three actions with two activated dice, only each activated die can only attack once. Those open the game up a bit more, and while I don’t particularly care for house rules, I think Dice Wars: Heroes of Polyhedra might benefit from some minor adjustments.

Theme and Mechanics:
The theme is a fantasy war-game. I love this type of theme and game, and it’s one of the things about Dice Wars that first caught my attention. As far as theme goes, it’s done well. The mechanics do fit with the theme, with appropriate actions and abilities. As mentioned above, however, there feels to be something…lacking with the way the game plays out, and I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Artwork and Components:


The artwork on the cards is reminiscent of your early-morning cartoons back when children’s television was awesome. It’s certainly nothing fancy, but it gets the job done just fine.

The components…Well, as I mentioned above, my box was damaged. I’m not holding that against them, because these things happen. However, one of the map tiles is missing a bit of paper on it, as seen in the image below. All the map tiles are thick, and while that is good, they still feel like they’re going to come apart sooner or later. Also, the map tiles fit together like a puzzle, but that doesn’t keep it all from sliding around (minor detail, though). One of the smaller tiles for advanced rules was folded up on two ends. The glue at the bottom of the tuck box (that holds all the cards) came apart, so now instead of opening it from the top, it always opens from the bottom. Nothing a bit of super glue won’t fix, but I did expect it to last longer than the first game.

Strangely enough, the massive hex-shaped reference card is laminated and is of great quality. The dice, too, are superb—no complaints there. And really, the dice are a major factor of the game, so that’s good. The cards are also a step above average, which is a nice touch as well. If it had just been the box that was damaged, I wouldn’t have any problems with the components in Dice Wars. However, because quite a few things were damaged upon opening the box (before even punching and using things), I am wary as to the quality of the other batches. Hopefully this was an isolated case; feel free to comment on this review as to the condition of your game and components.

Damaged components. Not shown: Insert (damaged like the box, most likely from the same damaging event) and modifier token (it somehow lost one of its printed sides)

The Good:
  • Deep strategy—especially for a dice game
  • Modular, double-sided board creates endless map possibilities
  • The dice are gorgeous
  • Lots of varying powers for each unit; even the same-named unit on different colored teams have slightly different abilities
  • Lots of different game modes/variants
The Bad:
  • Rule book wasn’t very clear on a few things (minor inconvenience only)
  • Damaged box and components
  • Despite the depth, gameplay can feel like players aren’t progressing
  • Unsure if it’s worth investing a lot of time to master the game versus just playing something else/similar
  • Not so balanced as a three-player game, and controlling two armies with two players can be a bit much (best with four players)
  • Teeny tiny modifier tokens are begging to get lost (super minor issue)
Final Thoughts:


As a preface, these, again, are my personal thoughts and opinions, so take that into consideration upon reading this review.

There is a lot of strategy that can be built up as players play Dice Wars multiple times, thus learning what units and abilities do. At the same time (and I’ll quote one of the guys in my game group), some people might not think “the juice is worth the squeeze.” Essentially, there’s a good game here, but the effort to learn it enough that you can start playing as deep as you’d like might not be worth it. But again, you be the judge of that. Personally, I’m looking forward to my next play, as each play certainly does get better. That said, there are other games out there that scratch the same sort of itch, and also do things a touch better.

In the end, I like Dice Wars: Heroes of Polyhedra, but I don’t think it’s enough to keep me hooked game after game after game. To sum things up, after our most recent play of Dice Wars, one of the fellows in our group, upon looking at the game’s box, mentioned that looking at Dice Wars makes him want to play War Chest. If looking at a game makes you want to play another game, then there’s a good chance the game you’re looking at won’t make it to the table too frequently. Another said he would love to play again. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle.

Players Who Like:
Do give this game a serious look if you’re into war games, dice-based combat, and really pretty dice. It’s also good if you like modular boards and lots of different ways to play (i.e. game modes/variants).

Check out Dice Wars: Heroes of Polyhedra on:


          



Benjamin Kocher - Editor and Reviewer

Benjamin hails from Canada but now lives in Kentucky with his wife and kids. He's a certified copyeditor through UC San Diego's Copyediting Extension program. He's a freelance writer and editor, and covers everything from board game rule books to novels. An avid writer of science fiction and fantasy, it comes as no surprise that his favorite board games are those with rich, engaging themes. When he’s not writing or playing games, Benjamin loves to play ultimate Frisbee, watch and play rugby, and read the most epic fantasy books available. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminKocher and Instagram @Kocherb, and read his board game-inspired fiction at BenjaminKocher.com.

See Benjamin's reviews HERE.
Dice Wars: Heroes of Polyhedra Review Dice Wars: Heroes of Polyhedra Review Reviewed by Benjamin Kocher on March 11, 2019 Rating: 5

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