Dice Forge Review

So much of the pleasure of board gaming comes from moments of frisson, those exciting moments of suspense and anticipation before pulling a key card, seeing if an opponent has noticed your ploy, or, most commonly, rolling dice. There’s something just a bit more special about dice. They feel nice in your hand–their geometric symmetry and (I can’t believe I’m writing this) hand-feel are undeniably a tactile pleasure. Dice have always generated excitement, from Craps to D&D to [insert reasonably successful board game title here]: The Dice Game. I’ve heard of people disliking dice, but that seems to be a very selective, reasonable preference–”I just don’t want dice invading every eurogame”. Can’t argue with that. I don’t want chocolate cake for dinner and dessert. Usually.

Dice are great, and popular enough that there’s a market for truly absurd products like multi-hundred dollar d20’s made out of extinct animal remains, but there’s an inherent contradiction in their use. Dice are particularly brutal randomizers. Unlike a deck of cards, there’s nothing stopping a string of bad or good luck where you roll the same thing over and over again. Dice are concrete and sudden, and the more they matter, the more exciting they can be. But the more they matter they more frustrating they can be. Variability is exciting, but also…variable.

Rolling In

So when a game comes out, like Dice Forge, centered around the excitement of rolling dice, you expect that part of the game to be exciting. The trick that it pulls is quickly shifting those displays of excitement into long-term strategy. Is that a good trick? I’m not sure, but I think it’s necessary.

The entire conceit of Dice Forge is that you’ll be modifying your dice by replacing the faces on them. It’s a neat component innovation, and I’m actually quite surprised there haven’t been more games that use it, but it highlights that variability contradiction well: because Dice Forge wants you to actually gain the benefits of your newly acquired die faces, it makes you roll a lot. In a 4 player game you’ll be rolling a die a minimum of 72 times, and certainly more than that. It flattens out the expected results of those die rolls, which flattens out the excitement. Rolling a particularly good result doesn’t feel like a stroke of luck, it feels inevitable.

I don’t think designer Régis Bonnessée had any other choice, though, and I’m certainly not going to fault someone for choosing strategy over excitement. But I think there’s a disconnect between how special acquiring cool new die faces feels and how un-special it feels to roll them. There are a couple exceptions to this, usually supplied through the card system, that will do something big like triple the result of your other die, but most of the time you’re hoping for a relatively marginal improvement over your previous turn’s roll.

But is that really the game’s fault? If the die face acquisitions weren’t as exciting to acquire, I probably would have a lesser view of the game. Is it better to have a game that’s more cohesive, yet more bland? Probably not.

All of that to say that Dice Forge does a great job of making me think long and hard about dice.


It also makes me think about deckbuilding, as it exposes the nuts and bolts of the flow of most deckbuilding games shockingly well. Early good decisions snowball into better resource generation in the mid game, which turns into tough decisions of how to most successfully pivot into generating victory points for the late game. Making the resources so distinct (gold to buy die faces, and two separate resources for cards) really highlights what your dice do well and what they do poorly quickly in the game. All of the little nuances and tricky decision points that you’ll find in a standard game of Dominion are present here, just with a bit less control over your outputs.

It’s not a perfect game to introduce someone to the genre, however. The setup and teaching are more involved than they should be due to sometimes-confusing iconography on the cards and no easy way to randomize the card selection. There’s not a whole lot you can intuitively figure out through the card iconography without consulting the rulebook, which makes explaining all of the cards slow and tedious.

That’s not to say the game is long, as it finishes in around 45 minutes, but it feels like it should be shorter. In fact, this is one of the few games where I think a digital implementation would greatly improve it, as you’d be able to get a game done in about 5 minutes.

Not only does the setup and tear down feel longer than it should, but a good chunk of the game is spent waiting for people to modify their dice. Since everyone always rolls on each player’s turn, you can’t simply move on to the next turn as soon as someone has made a decision of what to buy. I’ve found that the game slows down precisely when it’s least interesting (the first couple of rounds) because that’s when people are buying the most die faces, which take a bit of time to get used to replacing.


In fact, that feels like the most significant bit of interaction in the game–simply making sure that you haven’t left someone behind. You want to race forward and execute quick turns, but the logistics of the game’s core system make that difficult. All other bits of player interaction intended by the game feel like a last-minute correction to an oversight. Sure, there are limited quantities of each card and die face, but that’s nothing special. The cards that make your opponents roll feel like an annoyance rather than a strategic attack, and the mechanism by which you can give an opponent a free roll by going to the card selection area of the board they’re currently located feels like interaction for its own sake rather than something that shapes much decision making.

I have so many little quibbles and nagging annoyances with Dice Forge’s design, but I can’t help but have fun every single time I play. It has that addictive quality where you want to play again immediately after finishing just so you can try a different strategy you noticed. It has that tactile pleasure of rolling dice over and over again, which make you move cubes up on your player board to higher spaces. Just look at that wealth grow! It gives you that sense of anticipation as you build towards the more expensive, more powerful cards. The parts where you’re actually playing Dice Forge and not waiting for people are great. It’s short enough where even relatively inexperienced gamers can plot their potential end game before the first die has even been cast.

Tough Love

There’s so much good in Dice Forge that my squabbles are extra frustrating because of how good I think the game could be. Or, at least, how good this system could be. Matt had an astute observation after one of our games when he said that, more than anything, Dice Forge feels like a proof of concept. Modifying dice is awesome! Can we see more of it? Can we see more designers playing with this concept? Perhaps something more strategically complex?

I’d love to see even more Dice Forge, actually, because the base game is desperately slim with variety. Every game you’ll have roughly ⅔ of the entire card selection in the box out for play. Where’s my deckbuilding variety? Where are the cool combinations and emergent strategies from mixing a bunch of abilities together and seeing what pops out? I mean, there’s certainly plenty of room in the too-big box for something. BGG says there’s an expansion scheduled for 2019. We’ll see.

Look at all of that empty space

I can’t hate Dice Forge. I’m like a parent giving that child-devastating reprimand, “I love you and I’m not mad at you, just disappointed”. I’m harsh because it’s a blast. A sometimes shallow blast, befitting its bright, colorful, unmemorable art, but a blast regardless. It digs in and scratches that deckbuilding itch–scratch that–the building itch, so well. Everything I don’t like about Dice Forge is only frustrating because it’s contrasted with such a simple, fun, core.

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Score: 7/10


+Quick with good long term strategy

+Modifying dice is fun

+Exposes interesting deckbuilding elements

-Replacing die faces can slow the game down

-Not enough variability

-Iconography and rulebook aren’t great

More Info

2-4 Players

Length: 45 Minutes

Learning Curve: 2/5

Brain Burn: 2/5

More Info At BoardGameGeek

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4 thoughts on “Dice Forge Review”

  1. Loved the game the first few times, but realized quickly that the cards themselves aren’t really balanced and the variety makes replayability pretty low. It seems like certain cards are even necessary to win (Hammer) and certain strategies win 95% of the time. The different dice faces are great, but the game is too short to really build a strategy with die combinations that are unique, and the game spirals to a game of buy the two cards that cost one and build victory points, while saving up for the big victory point cards on the other end.

    The game needs more variety in die face combinations that are accomplished early on, rather than the above-mentioned strategy that’s won in 8/8 games that we’ve played.

    Bottom-line: The game is fun a few times, then rapidly spirals down into a predictable bowl of meh, destined to stay on the unplayed game closet shelf for a long, long time.

    1. I agree. It’s quite fun at first but doesn’t have a lot to keep you invested over time. It might slip into my “games to get rid of” shelf soon.

  2. I agree with review completely. I’ve played a few times but wont be buying. First time it’s captivating the dice, score boards, and play area. 2nd time use the other cards oky still good. 3rd time asking ok what else do you have to offer and being told that’s actually all there is. Dont buy base game but barrow. Now with expansions that exist maybe its s totally different story BUT if a base game cant stand on it’s own to me it’s a fail unless they do a bundle deal for base + expansion. Yes it needs as way more of each card number and type and even alternate faces per cost to keep replay value.

    Yes it feels like a dice deck builder making my engine. I love that unlike most such games there is 0 wasted starter assets you want to trash and eventually replace all. Since you dont start with many dice faces any are better than none because you can get blank results particularly early on. Yes build your awesome dice. Sad there is an entire after market of dice forks like there was for the Ng64 to pull the base RAM out to get the new in. I have mixed feeling on like Valaria force everyone to participate every turn. Yes keeps attentions BUT… I cant even go to the bathroom or get a snack without halting the game for 2 minutes. I’d be more ok if you actually got on with it a just as the inactive player could make all your rolls and per round. Then you know exactly what you will have for next turn to work with.

    The game is short with what 9-10 rounds. The predefined length of game is very short. Just about the time your engine starts moving the game ends. I’d prefer another win condition that isnt fixed like 1st to a VP number or once x number of cards or market items are gone. It becomes a few strategies and if you make a less optimal choice possible by not affording a thing a few times you lose. I’ve seen people do well without hammer or chest. Just plan to say only buy maybe 1-2 gold faces and immediately start buying cards from the rest of faces becoming moon/fire or combo. End of game only barely over flowed gold but did avoid the 12 costs.

    Sadly fire and moon have issues also. Fire has perk you can spend fir extra card buying actions and costs more than moon. And moon gets slightly different return on cards but otherwise is not special. If you only have 2 resources to buy cards with both need to have special features. Moon could have been spend for extra market buys or allow you to convert any gold, fire or moon into each other ect. You basically have 2 resource types that dont mix. Gold for dice faces and fire and moon for cards.
    I love love the score boards and extensions and die cut holes for token cubes. I’m totally borrowing that idea for my own. Love how like the dice it’s very tactile and locks together so if the table is bumbed everything stays where it should and doesn’t all roll away. There are sadly several totally unneeded spots. It has 2 spots to set your dice just because but since you roll every turn they wont gather any dust. Also it has 0 point cut outs which is silly since you could just set it somewhere like on the symbol.

    They over euro-fied the game. In the quest to make 0 text to be translated which works for the market and dice there are not even card names. “Ya my favorite card is the ox guy” “you mean minotaur?” “Ya that thing”. The symbols are so horrible and make little sense unless you played a few times but by then you have uses but all the replay value. Look even 7 wonders has many annoying symbols but has card names. Or look to the big 3. MtG, pokemon and yugioh. They all know you need card names and CAN NOT symbolize every thing. They usually have resources and a handful of core elements as icons only and yes use the evil text for names of abilities or descriptions. You can over simplify a thing and lose value and dice forge did that. I want to love it more but have issues at almost every part.

  3. I’ve played a few times but replay value is low. I really want to love but falls short on potential.

    Dice as deck engine but 0 waste is great. Love score boards. As dice the tactile and modular aspect is great. That’s the end of my positive reviews.

    Few alternate cards or strategies for engine building. Fixed and short game length. Need alternate faces. Suffers from as euro style over simplification to try to widen user base. Not even card names and the everything as symbol is horrible. It works for dice and market but bit cards. Even 7 wonders knows that.

    Can win without hammer if you play a low gold dice strategy and want to not buy expensive faces and get right into buying fire and moon faces.

    Score boards awesome with due cuts and extensions that lock together and if you bump table cubes wont move. But unneeded stuff. Spot for dice when you roll every turn is silly and holes for 0s is silly. It wont be 0 forever.

    I really want to love dice forge but have issues almost everywhere.

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