Designed by Mike Elliott & Eric M. Lang. Published by WizKids. Released 2014. Review copy provided by publisher. This review covers both Marvel Dice Masters: Avengers vs. X-Men and Uncanny X-Men.
Launching last year to a more than positive reception, Marvel Dice Masters is the first and most supported game in WizKids' new line of 'Dice Building Games' based on the game mechanics from Quarriors. That means it's a dice-building game, where players choose from their preselected team of characters to put together a rotating bag of dice that that draw from over the course of play. As they add more dice to their bag, they draw ever more interesting characters to use against their foes. Much like a deck building game such as Dominion, there's some weird random elements and counter-intuitive structure that can befuddle new players if it's their first game of this type. It's also collectible, coming in starter packs of specific dice and character cards alongside random boosters of two cards and two dice. For some, this collectibility will be the breaking point of the game - ever-expanding complexity and variety can be a death knell. For others, the collectible elements will be the variety and spice that make the game worth playing again and again.
MDM's components are about the quality you'd expect from a mass-produced game with custom dice. They're quite pretty, with each character having a specific die alongside a set of cards for that character. Each card is a different incarnation, having specific powers, but uses the same dice as the others - so a character always has the same stats in the field, but will utilize them differently depending on which card you're using. The cards themselves are decent quality, but due to the packaging you buy them in can often be bent if they came from a booster. On the other hand, a booster is $0.99... so the occasional bent card isn't so heartbreaking. The dice are cute little uniques, and while there were misprints in early runs of the Avengers vs. X-Men set, it seems like those production problems have been minimized in later printings. For collectors, they're not the nicest dice in the world. Occasionally the symbols are a bit abstract for my likings, as well - consider Mr. Fantastic's dice which has a simple atomic diagram on it as opposed to Magneto's awesome helmet dice, Captain America's shields, or Apocalypse's face plastered all over his dice. The impetus to collect the various cards is dulled as well, because every version of a character has the same shot of the character on it. Why woudl this be? I can't think of a single reason. You'd think there would be enough cool shots of say, Black Widow, from decades of comics to vary it between cards.
Playing Dice Masters is a familiar experience for most gamers: You and your opponent both have a life total - usually 20 - and gather resources to deploy your various characters and powers to hurt your opponent. If it sounds like Magic: The Gathering that's because it's remarkably like Magic: The Gathering. However, the dice-based mechanics make the experience of building up your forces to deplete your opponent's life a much different one than you'd expect from the basic description. At game start, you've got eight sidekicks in your dice bag and an array of Heroes set out to your side with their respective dice on them. Each turn you draw four dice from your bag and roll them. Some faces of each die are resources like blasts, punches, and masks. Other faces are characters with an attack value, a defense value, and a cost to deploy. You can use your gathered resources to buy new characters from the array that makes up your army or to buy dice from the power cards in the middle of the table (We'll get to those in a second.) As you buy dice, you add them to your bag and eventually draw them, roll them, and use their powers or deploy them to the field. Your characters always provide more resources than your sidekicks, so you can afford more and more expensive characters as you go through the game.