In the beginning, there was Quarriors!, a game similar to deck-builders like Dominion or Ascension but built around the concept of dice rather than cards. Quarriors! enjoyed some success and popularity for being a fairly unique creature, and it was a decent enough game as well. Now, designers Mike Elliott and Eric M. Lang with the publishing power of WizKids have returned to the dice-building realm to refine their original vision while tapping into that lucrative collectible market with Marvel Dice Masters: Avengers vs X-Men.
If you’ve played the aforementioned Quarriors!, you’ll feel right at home with Dice Masters. It uses some of the basic concepts from Quarriors! (or other dice building games) where you have a bag full of your dice and you draw some, roll them, use them to attack your opponent, or buy more dice with any energy rolled; then you do the whole process all over again just like a deck-builder, but with dice. It’s fairly straightforward on the surface, but there’s a great deal of complexity lurking just under the game’s surface.
Each player has their own personal dice that they can buy that are represented by characters from all across the Marvel Universe. Easily recognizable heroes and villains such as Spider-Man, Captain America, Wolverine, Loki, and Venom are all present, while also featuring a roster of lesser known characters like Nova and Mystique. Each player will construct their team of superheroes and villains using special custom dice that are unique to each character. Yes, every single character in the game has their own custom dice with their corresponding logo or other identifying feature. Chosen characters are then placed off to the side and are available to purchase throughout the game; you do not actually start off with any hero or villain dice, they must be acquired.
Characters are only available to the player that chose them and are not shared in a common area, but there are common Basic Actions that both players can purchase with their accumulated energy. These action dice grant special one-time bonuses when rolled, such as drawing and rolling additional dice immediately or inflicting damage on your opponent. Each player selects two Basic Actions that they wish to have in play during setup, creating the common purchasing area for the table.
In a similar fashion to Quarriors! or other deck-building games, anything purchased on your turn goes to your used (discard) pile while you wait for your bag to empty. Once you run out of dice in your bag, everything in the used area jumps back in, including your newly purchased characters and actions. And once a character is out of the bag and rolled, you can pay his/her corresponding “field cost” to bring them into play.
When you field a character in Dice Masters, they enter the Active Area and you have the choice to attack with them or not. Characters persist each round, meaning as long as they are still alive, you don’t have to pay their field cost every turn. And is also means that you can maintain a steady line of defenders should your opponent try to attack you on their turn. Each player starts with the same amount of Life and if you don’t have any characters in your field or your opponent has more forces, you are vulnerable to being attacked. The first player to completely run out of Life loses, so blocking your opponent’s attacks becomes a very crucial element of the game’s strategy. It’s shockingly easy to knock the other player’s Life down by half or more in a single turn if they’re unprepared.
I love the strategic choices to be made every single turn. Do I attack with this one character, with two of them, or should I use that Global Action to spin one of my characters up a level? I love it. It plays really quickly and it is very light while still giving an edge to the more experienced gamer over the beginner. It starts out slowly, buying dice most of the early turns and trying to field some quality characters. But once they hit the field, the game ramps up very quickly, typically culminating in a dramatic finish with multiple characters swinging to KO their opponent.
The collectible nature of Marvel Dice Masters initially made me very wary to sit and play. Many collectible games kind of suck at the beginning when you only have some starting pieces that are incredibly simple and basic, and then only gets becomes engaging once you purchase $100+ of booster packs. Trying to play against friends that have invested more money into the game can be discouraging in these types of games, creating a “pay to win” mentality for casual gamers.
I’m glad to discover that I was very wrong. Yes, the cards and dice that come in the starter box are pretty standard and there isn’t a ton of variety immediately. However, the design of each character’s rarity is incredibly intuitive. Nearly every character has a common, uncommon, and rare version of their character card, each having a similar power that gets stronger as their rarity increases. However, the cost to purchase a more rare dice in the middle of the game is typically more expensive than their common counterpart, creating value for each version of the card. For example, Phoenix’s rare power is certainly powerful, but gathering 7 energy to purchase her on a given turn can be very difficult to pull off. Selecting her more common version costs less and features a similar though weaker version of the same ability. This opens up a great deal of versatility between not only choosing your characters, but deciding which version of each you want to utilize as well.
So what’s so unique and special about this collectible game that makes it stand out among the rest?
Without a doubt, it’s the price. The Marvel Dice Masters Starter Set comes with enough characters, dice, and even two (very cheaply made) dice bags, everything that two players would need to play out of the box, and all for $14.99. Even more incredible is that sealed booster packs retail for only $.99. Ninety-nine cents! Each pack contains two random character cards and a corresponding die for each. For the price of one standard board game, two people could buy a Starter Set and split a box of 60 booster packs, giving them plenty of dice and variety to play for a long, long time.
Don’t be surprised by the very cheap quality of all of the components though. It’s fairly obvious how they were able to get the game down to such an enticing price point.
If you’re looking for a fast-paced and fun two player game with a solid theme, you should check out Marvel Dice Masters. There’s enough content available at a very reasonable price that makes it easy to jump in without breaking your wallet.
(As a side note, I can’t wait for the next expansions. A pure X-Men expansion has been announced, and DC and Yu-gi-oh sets have been announced as well. I hope the future might include properties like Street Fighter or Star Wars, as it seems WizKids is investing heavily into Dice Masters as their new mega franchise. As long as the quality remains, I’m on board.)