Dragon Dice (TSR)

First a story about marketing. Dragon Dice is a collectable game made up if rare, uncommon and common dice which in true card game mode is going to be darn hard to collect the set. TSR have 2 approaches to selling the dice. They are most often seen in small boxes of a size that will just fit into a coat pocket. These boxes contain enough for 1 player so at least 2 packs will have to be bought for play. The dice packs include 1 D12 Dragon and 2 D8 Terrain dice which are also required for each player. The other dice are all D6s in 3 sizes (biggest are rare) and 4 colour combinations for the 4 basic races. Dragon Dice plays best with 1 race or 2 similar races for each player so to get a good selection of dice 4 packs are required which can be pooled to provide 4 races. The 4 races are not equal in number in each pack so a 5th box might be handy to make up the numbers. 5 different types of kicker pack are sold at about half the cost of the starter box, sets 2 to 5 include dice of a single (new) race but only half the points size of dice compared to the starter box. So 2 identical kickers will give an even army which must also have 2 Terrain and 1 Dragon dice so there is no getting out of buying the basic box (which alone has the main rules). The remaining kicker (Amazons) was the 1st released and includes some Amazons plus a selection of dice from the initial 4 armies, 3 packs of Amazons are thus required for a pure Amazon force. There is also Magestorm, even more dice and rules which I have not tried but am told is not worth the extra time and money. No surprises so far but TSR also produce a Battle Box with 2 sets of dice as sold in the basic box plus a not entirely useless board to roll then on, basic rules and a revised edition of the game rules. These revised rules are a lot better than the old set. The Battle Box has a picture of 2 lads of perhaps 13 rolling away on the back, most importantly it sells for less than 2 separate basic boxes. TSR seem to be aiming for the kids in the Games Workshop/MB crowd with their Battle Box and the RPG/Magic bunch with regular boxes.

Clearly to build up large numbers of Dragon Dice at the recommended price is going to cost more than World In Flames Deluxe. TSR seem to have had some problems recently not helped by Dragon Dice being less than a big hit in the UK. There were 3 shops that sold it in Halifax (with not much left after I visited them) all at discounted prices. Virgin in Leeds still have the temerity to charge 10 for a basic box and 5 for a kicker while Travelling Man across town sell kickers at 2 which works out cheaper than buying fancy D6s and D10s with numerals on. Despite seeing all these packs on sale not a lot of playing goes on, I play it with my 2 eldest and we have quite a blast, games taking from 10 to 45 minutes. Travelling man and Comicville in Halifax were ready to take the money but had no idea about the game, the Halifax club sees some Magic and such but again draws blank looks on this game. Sheffield Triples turned up 2 chaps in a corner demonstrating the game, I chatted about it but only saw 1 punter draw up and play like he knew what he was doing. Another sign of its standing was a single trader who had some Dragon Dice for sale 2nd hand. He had a small box behind his stall and asked 30p/20p/10p for the 3 classes of D6 with 50p for terrain and 1 for Dragons. The boys back at the Dice stall thought these prices fair, comparing them to the sort of prices for rare card game cards or even 15p or so for all too common cards we can see that Dragon Dice has no serious market in the UK. Reading between the lines of a GenCon report we learn that the game is played amongst the hard core D&D crowd. I also hear that there are TSR reps in the UK pushing the goods and handing out promo material, they are probably to blame for the comic and role play stores saddled with Dragon Dice.

The sad fact is that Dragon Dice is pretty good, not a scratch on World In Flames but it beats the but off collectable card games. The game is played to a points total, 23 points come in a basic pack, we play to 24 which TSR say is the tournament size, it is as good a number as any. For each 25 points a player must have 1 Dragon (buy 1 basic pack) and provide 2 Terrain dice regardless of the size of the force. Terrain comes in 4 types with races having some bonus in 1 terrain, to get exactly the right terrain mix will require a few packs and a bit of luck, this is a serious gripe. At a pinch ordinary marbled type D8s can be used for terrain. The dice points are made up from 1 point per small D6, 2 per medium, 3 for a large and 4 for a D10 monster (only found in kickers).

All the dice are colour based, Dragons have 1 solid colour others are a marbled effect of 2 colours. In some cases these 2 basic colours merge rather too well leaving dice that are not exactly the right colour. Goblins for instance are yellow and black but many of my Goblin dice are green and black where the colours have run in the mould. Being yellow and black they can cast yellow (TSR call this gold) or black magic. They work better in swamp terrain which happens to be green and yellow. Other races have similar colour combinations and preferred terrain although none of the 4 basic races have any benefit form flat terrain and 2 races do well in mountains, the final terrain is coast.

Dice do not have numbers but little pictures of varying clarity. 1 is always an icon which is supposed to be a picture of the unit's head. The icon result can be used as any other result when rolled and counts as not 1 result but a number of results equal to the points value of the die, from 1 to 4. Also icon results count as double that number if used for magic on a terrain die that matches 1 colour of the icon die. The other sides have up to 5 marks all the same on each face, these represent magic, missile, melee, manoeuvre, saves or some special action. The smallest D6s have 1 face with 2 marks the same, 1 icon and the remaining 4 sides with 1 mark each but always lacking at least 1 mark. There are 5 different dice of each size each of which will be strong in 1 area. The Terrain dice are marked on the 1st 7 faces for magic, then missile, then melee exactly how many of each depends on the type of terrain, the 8th face has a special effect.

Play is best explained for 2 players, they both put their Dragons and terrain to 1 side and divide the remaining dice into 3 armies. Both players use 1 terrain dice as their home and put the other forward as the frontier. 1 of the 3 armies is then designated as the horde and this is rolled by both players, the player with most manoeuvre and icon results goes 1st and gets to choose which dice will be the frontier. If a frontier dice can be placed giving an advantage to your army but not any other then a big initial advantage has been gained. This horde army is then placed next to the opponent's home terrain, the other 2 armies are then placed at the friendly home dice and the frontier. With more players everyone rolls for a frontier but only 1 die gets placed and terrain will end up with up to 3 armies at each die, some armies may have to remain in reserve at the start of the game.

Each player gets 2 identical goes, a terrain die is picked and the player may elect to manoeuvre the die up or down 1 face. The game is won by moving 2 terrain dice to the 8th face so another player may elect to stop this manoeuvre. Both players roll all dice present at that terrain, if the acting player gets more manoeuvre results he may turn the die up or down. Next that same army may act according to what the same terrain die says, magic, missile or melee. Magic can affect units at other terrain dice, missiles are cast at an army at the same terrain with no reply and melee can affect both armies at the same terrain. Dice are rolled and whatever comes up determines the effect, most pictures are pretty easy to pick up such as guns or bows for missile others require a good memory or leafing through the rules. The roll gives a number of results say 8 melee icons in skirmish melee, the opponent counts his saves to cut down this. If 4 saves were rolled, 4 strength points of dice will die and the remainder would fight back. Points of damage can be taken by equal or smaller dice but not larger, a loss of 4 could be taken by 2 medium dice or 1 monster but if 2 larges were attacked 1 would be lost and the other would be safe from losing 1 out of its 3 lives. This makes big dice hard to kill but the most common way to get dead dice back is by magic which is often only enough to bring back small dice. Big dice are thus hard to kill but tend to stay dead. The player's 2nd go is identical to the 1st but must occur at a different terrain die. After this the player may move units from his reserve to any terrain die and then pull units from any terrain die into his reserve.

Dragons are the jokers of the game, all players must bring them but they remain out of play unless summoned by 7 points of their colour of magic. When summoned a Dragon is placed at any terrain, the Dragon attacks any army at that terrain at the start of a player's turn. A player can summon another player's Dragon and is able to send a different coloured Dragon to attack the 1st if 1 is available. The usual routine is to summon a Dragon to a terrain that you have no hope of taking then withdraw all your units from that terrain at the end of your turn. Dragons have 5 automatic save a and take 5 hits to kill, it takes a good size force to take out a Dragon.

The problem with any sort of collectable game is deciding how much winning depends on good play and how much on having enough of the right cards or dice. Certainly it makes sense to have an army of 1 or 2 races with Dragons and terrain to match. 2 of the kicker races Ferals and Swamp People have the ability to recruit new units without using magic making them good choices for clueless players who can run out of dice pretty fast. There is more to play than dividing dice into 3 equal pile and rolling away hoping for the best. Keeping terrain dice on the faces that are best for the army present is more subtle than it appears. Each terrain die is rolled at the start of the game with 8s being rerolled, every player is looking for 2 8s although capturing 1 is an advantage. A terrain die on the 8th face counts as whatever its owner wants, allowing the army to blast away with magic if not opposed, some results also count double to the terrain owner on 8s and the 8th face has 1 of 4 special effects. The best of these brings back 1 new unit each turn for free, the worst makes the owning army immune to black magic. There is no point in 2 players racing a terrain die up its faces then fighting between the 7 and 8 face, once the die gets to 8 it is hard to get down although a Dragon generally does the trick. If 1 player moves the die up to 7 on his turn a weaker opponent could get lucky on his next move and put the die to 8 then pile in from his reserve making a real fortress. Being totally useless at competitive games I cannot give inspired advice although I have seen exactly the same dice win and lose in different hands. Games can be won by blasting the opposition into nothingness before doing much terrain turning and sensible moving between armies and the reserve will create local strengths. Beware the Swamp People who can attack units in reserve and gain new swamp units for the privilege, these could be a sign of TSR trying to buck this sort of play.