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Some years ago Mike Elliott & Eric M. Lang created a battle dice game that they called 'QUARRIORS' which became a fairly big hit on the dice-games front when it was picked up and published by WizKids and changed its name to DICEMASTERS; this happened somewhere between 2011 and 2015 and has continued successfully ever since. In early 2000's (about 2002) Cheapass Games brought out the collectible Dice Game DICELAND which had multiple cardboard dice that you assembled yourself from flat-pack and collected to make armies with unimagineable powers ready to fight other similar armies created by your opponents. Why does DiceMaster ring a distant bell in my gaming mind? and yet I have never played this game before as far as I remember/can understand.

Then in 1995 TSR Ltd put D&D to one side and came up with the next best thing since 'sliced bread' that was going to blow away all the Collectible Card games (like Magic the Gathering© and TSR's own Spellfire™) but DRAGON DICE never quite made it despite swallowing an awful lot of TSR's hard earned cash. About the same time Kris Brum and H. Jean Vanaise came along with DICEMASTER (aka Cities of Doom) - That's it! I knew that I knew that name "Dicemaster" from somewhere and yet between then and now I hadn't seen, heard of or played this Wizkids' collectible dice game?

 

So for about 5 years there has been this game called DICEMASTER and it has similarities to the genre of Deck-Building with the main difference being that you collect Dice instead of cards, although unlike most Deck-Builders which are only card based DiceMaster also uses cards.

There are several editions of DiceMaster as well as numerous expansions. The JUSTICE CAMPAIGN Box Set is both an expansion and a Stand-Alone game, thus allowing players new to DiceMaster to become acquainted with the basic rules and game objectives before deciding whether to seek out previously available packs.

The overall quality of the game is very good, as you would expect from Wizkids! and the box's blown-plastic insert does an exceptional job of holding all the dice in easy viewable position. As long as you don't throw away the plastic overlay the dice can be left in their tray position when putting the game away and will not fall out however the box is moved and/or stacked, thus making the many zip-loc bags surplus to requirements - even the cards remain neatly in place. I make a point of this because so many players throw out the plastic overlay. Of course this does mean that the box is designed solely for the components that come with it, it isn't a collector's box into which expansions can be as safely stored.

 

In my opinion the only components that let the designers down are the somewhat flimsy dice bags that appear to be made of soft linen-paper of some kind (I'm not a material guy) which is strange because they are so integral to the game you would have thought good old cloth draw-string bags would have been better and certainly more durable considering the amount of use they get in a game. It looks like the designers went for imagery - there are great illustrations on the bags - rather than practicality.

So as I said, DiceMaster is new to me and thus I eagerly approached it like a kid at Christmas knowing that I have enjoyed all the Wizkids games I have played to date and that they wouldn't release a product without it being well tested.

Having opened all the bags and sorted all the dice and cards accordingly my opponent and I - it is a 2-player game - sat down opposite each other and both placing one of the playmats in front of us, these being a reminder of where dice are placed and moved around during play. Experienced players will probably not use these mats but for new players they help you keep your house in order. Speaking of experienced players DiceMaster JUSTICE is billed as a game for new players and for experienced players and I am not too sure that is entirely accurate.

I started to read the rules booklet from the first page: 77 Cards, 2 Dice Bags, 2 Playmats and 76 Custom made dice (all D6 but not one being what you would call a 'regular' six-sided die, ie none are marked 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) in a variety of colours (that match the colours on the cards - cards where dice are used have a breakdown of their dice sides along the base of the them so you can tell at a glance what the possibilities are of rolling a required face).

DC Comics DiceMaster Justice sets two groups of Super-Heroes against each other in a battle of power, brain and brawn. The players select their Super-Heroes from the multiple card and dice sets, each character having their own specific dice which are mixed in the bag with the players own standard Sidekick dice. The rules appear to be a reprint of the main/basic DiceMaster game with 'Justice' / 'specific names' slipped in where necessary. 

Dicemaster components lists 16 Sidekick Dice (white) which I am guessing are found within the original (and probably subsequent) releases of the game. In this, the DC Comics Justice game box those 'white' dice are actually 'black' dice. Now this makes no difference to the gameplay or their use in the game but it does show a slight lapse in proofing/continuity.

 

Although page 2 offers 'Quick Start' rules new players should bypass them right through to page 10 because these are clearly (in fact they are less than clear) designed for experienced DiceMasters players. The 'Getting Ready To Play' section shows an illustrated setup for both players but it is so tiny that although I have very good close-up eyesight I still needed a magnifying glass to see it clearly; it is obvious that players who know the game will just flick through the 2-10 pages and run with it. Pages 10-22 are where the new player can begin to learn how to play and then from page 23 onwards the Tournament Rules (OP) take over.

I read the rules through, reading aloud for both of us. Then I flicked through them again picking out salient points and discussing them with my opponent. After 30-45 minutes, both of us, two experienced games players, decided we weren't getting anywhere, the Rules are definitively written for players who know or who have prior knowledge of the game.

 

 

So we did the thing that works - we went onto YouTube and found several posts where 'How To Play Dice Masters' was shown, from opening the box to how certain dice supply four types of energy - Fist, Bolt, Mask and Shield - which can be found on various dice faces to purchase dice from cards on your team or from the central pool of cards. Dice (energy) spent and Dice bought go together to the 'used' position the same as you would in a card based deck-building game, they are not currently available until the rules come around so that all dice are returned to your Dice Bag and can be drawn accordingly.

Basically this is a dice drawing game (like a card drawing game) where you draw X number of dice from the bag and then roll them and you then get to use what they reveal. Sometimes you may have to roll more dice than you physically have, this is when you need to remember or better still make notes. Most cards can have 4 or 5 dice but in all cases there are only 2 or 3 dice in the box that fit the card - this is one of the complaints that cropped up a few times on the internet. There is an argument for buying two of this edition so that you have all the dice needed, but that is a little extreme.

Under 'Playing the Game' it is explained that each player selects 8 unique characters and/or item cards and must have at least one associated die per card. Each card has a maximum number of dice of its type that you can have, this maximum number being printed on the bottom right of each card. The rules also state that each player can only have a maximum of 20 dice though it doesn't make it clear (if it does I have missed it and I have just read through the rules again) if the mandatory 8 Sidekick dice are part of that 20 or additional to it. With so many cards/dice available we have been playing it with 20 dice plus 8 Sidekick dice.

 

I cannot see how the game would play multi-player, but there is something in the back of my mind that says it would be more fun if you were playing it with more players. As a two-player game it seems rather too long-winded, especially if you, like me, are used to playing card based games that move quicker. There is also the fact that visually the artwork on cards is always more eye-catching than the etchings on dice, even though these etchings are clearer than those usually found on special dice.

I believe that we are playing it correctly from what we have learned on YouTube and squeezed out of the rules afterwards. We have tried one minor alteration, playing 15 lives per player rather than the suggested 10 lives (short game) or 20 lives (main game), but cannot say that it made much difference. My understanding is that JUSTICE is an excellent expansion for DiceMasters and from experience it is a solid stand-alone game. There is a lot of luck involved, obviously with so many dice, but there are also many options and decisions for players that can change the outcome of a strategy. There is a lot in the game, more than enough to keep core fans of building-games happy and entertained. I would play it again if asked but there is something intangible that seems to prevent me being excited enough to endorse it to new players. 

However, with those thoughts of mine instilled in your minds there is the undeniable fun factor of being able to pitch (or Roll) exceptionally well known Super-Hero characters against each other. The movies have given us the (fairly limp) Batman versus Superman but JUSTICE can throw up any number of enticing possibilities:  For examples: The Riddler vs The Joker, Superman vs The Flash or the Riddler & the Joker vs Superman & The Flash and from there on the possibilities aren't endless but they do reach out farther than you may have first thought possible. Solomon Grundy, Toyman, The Atom, Wonder Woman, Clayface, Grodd, Lex Luthor, Brainiac,  Bizarro, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Metallo, Black Manta, Parasite, Martia Manhunter, Scarecrow and Poison Ivy - who couldn't make a dastardly deck from these Modern Romancers? Plus of course you can spice up your Dice Pool with the Hall of Doom, Excessive Force, the Doom Lance, Stretch, Static Field, Ping, Power Almighty, Suffering & Satisfaction, Energy Field, Betrayal, Investigation and Watchtower.

All these Names, Places and Powers, yes admittedly the complexity of controlling these characters and powers is immense, but, how can I explain how I feel? I know, think of a football (soccer) match with two really good top teams going at each other to the best of their abilities and yet the game ends 0-0. All that effort, all those stars, all those tactics and strategies, and yet there is no winner so there is a sinking feeling of deflation. That's about as close as I can get to describing my personal relationship (at the moment) with this game. Perhaps playing it with experienced players will open my eyes, you never know for in the future I might be revisiting it with a totally different aspect viewpoint.

Core DiceMasters gamers should be grabbing it with both hands, new players need someone (or YouTube) to teach them the basics - the strategies and tactics are there for the finding and will follow on.

 

Available from local game stores at various prices. Online I have seen it priced from £28.00 (or €40.00) which is great value considering the number and quality of the components.

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015