Updated: Aug 9
Some people love dice, some hate them. Some insist that the dice hate them. Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, tho’, there’s an undeniable visceral pleasure in rolling dice. And there’s a special delight in rolling customised dice adorned with an assortment of symbols rather than the usual numbers and pips. That’s where Dragon Dice comes in.
Dragon Dice has had a chequered history. Designed by Lester Smith, it was originally published by TSR in 1995. The rights were taken on by SFR in 2000, and it has been SFR who have sustained and developed the game over the years since then. In 2006, the rules of the game were revised, as were the starter sets, making the game more readily playable out of the box. The rules and starters sets were further revised in 2015, and that is the edition that you are most likely to see for sale.
The game represents a head-on clash between two opposing fantasy races. In the Starter Pack, shown here on Board’s Eye View, that’s Treefolk vs Firewalkers but numerous other sets and additional ‘kicker’ packs have been produced allowing players to fight with various breeds of elves, dwarves, goblins, undead and Amazons.
As you might expect, each race has its own special characteristics but the basic play is the same for all. Their units are represented by dice (different sizes of custom six-sided dice represent different strengths of unit; 10-sided dice represent ‘monsters’ in the player’s army). Players each divide their forces into three armies and players' opposing armies’ dice are rolled to determine the effect. Various symbols on the dice determine each army’s manoeuvrability, the effect of its missiles (ranged attack) or melee (attack at the same terrain), and the resolution of the army’s use of magic. Just as you’ve probably come to expect from other games (like Magic the card game), the castable spells comes in a variety of colours (those reflected in the two-toned flecked dice). Die rolls may be modified by terrain (also controlled by special dice) and, as the name of the game suggests, players can summon powerful dragons (special 12-sided dice) to join the fray…
Even just limiting your dice pool to those that come in the starter pack, there’s an initially bewildering array of icons, so you’ll need to refer to the rules to check exactly what the effect is of each of the numerous ‘Special Action Icons’ (SAIs). The basic icons on the six-sided dice, on the other hand, are mostly clear and obvious. The larger six-sided dice have multiples of the icon, representing the fact that each dishes out that number of hits, but, by contrast, the 10-sided dice don’t have anything on them to remind you that each face represents four points or hits rather than one. Since the game involves simultaneous rolling and much on the fly counting, that adds an unfortunate ‘complication’ for new players.
The use of dice means that losing players can always curse their luck but the truth of the matter is that the winner in Dragon Dice is likely to be determined more by strategy than luck. There are a lot of tactical options in this game, including over how best to take advantage of terrain, those mighty dragons, and when and where to resurrect slain units. And expansion packs offer the option not just of extra races but also magical items (represented by elongated four-sided dice). The publishers have announced plans to ‘reprint’ a long out-of-print fantasy race later this year, so expect to see that on Kickstarter in the coming months...