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Marvel Dice Masters Review

Jason

What does this rating mean?

Posted by Jason on May 27, 2015


In the first Avengers movie there’s a tense scene on the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier between Steve Rogers and Tony Stark. With both in each other’s face debating the merits or liabilities of their superhero personas, Rogers’ Captain America challenges Stark’s Iron Man to, “put on the suit.” No doubt the collective heart of Geekdom fluttered at that moment. What fan of superheroes, evil villains and comic books hasn’t had a thousand arguments ad nauseum about who could beat who? Marvel Dice Masters lets you create those battles and settle the matter once and for all. Or at least until the next rumble.

WizKids has integrated several intellectual properties with their year-old Dice Masters engine, itself based on the hit game Quarriors. To date, there are three Marvel-based sets in the franchise: Avengers vs. X-Men, Uncanny X-Men and Age of Ultron. Sets contain around 130 cards of about 40 different heroes and villains, each with three or four distinctive versions offering varied abilities. Every character has a unique die which can be used for any version of that individual’s cards.

Each bout you’ll gather six or eight of these larger-than-life icons and go head-to-head against an opponent’s team. Beyond the number of characters and dice, there are no restrictions to constructing your squad. You can create a thematic unit comprising all X-Men. Assemble the dream team you always wanted. Or do something really crazy like have Captain American lead a lineup of villains and watch the universe implode.

That incongruity is one of the stranger aspects to Dice Masters. Besides odd associations, it’s also not uncommon for one or more characters to wind up on both sides and end up fighting each other! At first, you might refuse to manipulate such situations out of principle. However, the possible combinations here are too fascinating to ignore. Besides, Marvel’s had enough alternate universes, resurrections, ret-conned back stories, bad boys turned good and vice versa, that you can explain just about any team you’ve a mind to assemble with a little imagination.

Dice Masters is a collectible game and you will need to invest in booster packs to enjoy it fully. The starter set only provides an introductory experience, but at least it’s inexpensive and the booster packs are ridiculously affordable. For $1 you get two character cards with their accompanying dice. You could buy one, two or three dozen at a time, scooping them up in your arms like some shady addict slinking out of the back alley. I recommend just going straight for one gravity feed display box. You’ll get 90 packs for less than $90. That may sound like a pot load of money, but many board games are comparably priced either as a stand-alone title or a base game along with an expansion.

The good news is that between the starter set and your gravity feed of booster packs, you’ve only spent about a C-note for over 200 cards and dice. With that cornucopia you’ll barely have enough time to explore its depths before the next set releases. No, you won’t have a complete collection. However, you don’t need it to be competitive. Even on the tournament level. That’s because the rarity element which casts a pall over other collectible games is de-emphasized in Dice Masters. Super rare cards are nice, but won’t automatically destroy those of us who can’t afford a steady supply of boosters to acquire them. Instead, even the introductory starter set has some killer cards and you can nab plenty of strong characters with the commons and uncommons. One gravity feed will supply you with all of the commons and uncommons and close to half of the rares.

When playing, you begin with a bag of eight generic sidekick dice and roll at least four dice every turn. Dice provide either energy or characters. Energy is the game’s currency, used to purchase other dice or field them into play. Character faces have three levels with varying stats for offense and defense. After rolling and spending energy you assign characters to attack, or maybe keep them to block your opponent on his turn. You’ve got to strike a balance between hitting hard and holding back. The goal isn’t to take out opposing characters, though. When knocked-out they simply return to your dice bag. Instead, you’re trying to get fighters through unblocked so you can deal damage directly to the player. The first player to lose a set amount of health is defeated.

So gameplay is fairly straightforward and sessions are surprisingly quick. However, the extent to which heroes and villains stir that basic structure is legion. I’m no statistician, so I’ll just go ahead and proclaim the options are infinite. In fact, the amount of info to keep track of can seem overwhelming. It can also be volatile and swingy with plenty of action, suiting its source material well. Despite the randomness inherent to dice games, there’s an enormous sandbox here and dozens of possible strategies to consider. You can go for brute strength, cards that maximize blocking, abilities that draw more dice, traits that let you re-roll, cards that mess with your opponent, powers that spin up your characters’ levels and even abilities that rely on lowly sidekicks. The design is all about mixing and matching characters to explore these innumerable avenues.

Dice Masters is actually quite a bit like the comic books which inspire it. There is a ton of variety, but you don’t need to be a completionist to enjoy them. There’s a simple superficiality, but you can really immerse yourself in the world. It’s quick, colorful and action-packed. Just as comic books often do not pretend to be refined literature, Marvel Dice Masters isn’t about sophisticated strategy. That’s fine. It might appeal more to Marvel fans than serious game players, but there is as much opportunity here to experiment as with any collectible game. At the same time, you don’t have to collect everything to be competitive – which means you can have a great time and still afford to send your kids to college.


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