It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged about Dice Masters! Though I’m sure today’s blog title makes me sound like not much of a proponent for Dice Masters, I really am! To be honest, I’ve just rediscovered the joys of the game over the last few weeks after playing in some of the store’s events! So why such a back-handed compliment for this game that I supposedly like so much? Well, that will require some context…
If you don’t care to read about some of the nitty gritty details and history of the gaming industry, feel free to skip to sub-heading 4!
1: Dice Masters in a Nutshell
Dice Masters is a collectible Dice-Building game made by WizKids, based off the core mechanics of the Quarriors game designed by Mike Elliot and Eric M. Lange. Where Quarriors was a pretty solid game that dealt with battles between pretty generic-y monsters (etc) that you, as a “Quarrior” would summon and control, Dice Masters brought superheroes (and later on, Dungeons and Dragons) into the award-winning game mechanics of Quarriors.
2: Wizkids – A Quick-ish Primer
If you’re a regular frequenter of game stores, there’s a good chance you recognize the Wizkids name–and certainly recognize their products. But if you’re not a gamer, chances are neither Wizkids nor their products will ring any bells for you—even though the company has been part of the games industry for seventeen years now.
From the ashes of FASA Corporation, Wizkids entered the market with a bang in 2000: seven years after Wizards of the Coast introduced the gaming world to the idea of a card game that was not only collectable but was also sold like hockey cards (Magic the Gathering). Wizkids entered the gaming world by introducing the gaming world to the idea of a miniatures game that came with pre-painted models and were sold like Magic the Gathering cards. The game was called Mage Knight.
Wizkids soon followed up Mage Knight with hit after hit. The Mage Knight model was applied to licensed properties: battles between Marvel and DC heroes became Heroclix; the old FASA property, Battletech became Mechwarrior. It was with licensed properties that Wizkids really found their secret to success (even though their Pirates of the Spanish Main at its most popular point wasn’t part of a license, it eventually was re-skinned as a Pirates of the Caribbean 2 game).
Those aren’t the only games that Wizkids has made; while they had created their own properties, their real successes have always been attached to franchises…essentially that’s what Wizkids does: take a pretty fun gaming engine and re-skin it with the trappings of a topical / popular franchise. They’ve even bought the license to another company’s game mechanics and attached those to a franchise the already had the license to! This game-development / business model isn’t a bad thing; it lets fans get deeper enjoyment from the movies and genres that they’re already fans of. However, licensed games do come with an occupational hazard: licenses aren’t bought; they’re more like a lease: they’re purchased and renewed with finite time limits in place.
What this means to players is that it can feel like a switch just gets turned off: one day the game exists and is supported, the next it isn’t–probably because the current licensing agreement expired and the line was no longer excelling. Luckily, Wizkids isn’t notorious for capriciously abandoning their products, but they’re also not renowned for doubling down and ‘relaunching’ products once a line starts falling off the public’s radar. Furthermore, if a licensed game begins to flag there’s the reality that retailers, protecting their bottom line by ceasing to restock the line, might send the game into a real tail spin. (Because it rarely pays for a store to have abundant quantities of discontinued games on hand–especially collectable games.)
3: Enter Dice Masters
Dice Masters was released around the spring on 2014, taking the strong game play of Quarriors and combining it with Wizkids’ considerable experience with comic-based gaming via Heroclix. The game was an instant hit and sold extremely well for its first two years. The game’s growth began to lag a little during 2016, and by the early months of 2017 it felt as though the game was definitely in the early stages of a decline–even though the War of Light expansion received the “2016 Best Collectable Game” award and “Fan Favourite” award at that year’s Origins Game Convention.
It felt doubly odd to consider that Dice Masters was in decline considering how robust the upcoming 2017 release schedule was. While the schedule was aggressive with how much was being released, the releases themselves were somewhat lacking: unlike most of the sets that came out in the game’s first couple years, its newer sets were no longer released in multiple formats (starter boxes, booster packs & collector sets) like at first. Through 2016 and 2017, a release might be a stand-alone starter box and nothing else; or it might be a larger set sold via booster packs and nothing else; and it was at this time that the “team” sets were introduced.
Team sets were a mini-release of thematically-linked cards that could make an eight-hero team; they were great for giving fan service to characters too specific or esoteric to have been included in sets as of yet, but they weren’t designed to be playable from scratch right out of the pack and thus weren’t an appropriate way to get started in the game.
Though these releases weren’t as strong as the ones from the game’s first couple years, Wizkids wasn’t giving any of the telltale signals that the Dice Masters licenses with the comic companies was drawing to an end. But these less-impressive releases combined with the decreasing online chatter about the game and the fact that most retailers were no longer supporting individual card sales and that event attendance (in Alberta at least) was decreasing all seemed to point towards the game going into decline. We at Imaginary Wars were certainly wondering if Dice Masters had crested in 2016.
But in the true vein of “it’s darkest before dawn” and all that, things looked to be turning around this fall. First, Wizkids released two sets back to back. Guardians of the Galaxy was released in early September, and X-Men: First Class came out just six weeks later. Not only that, they were good, fun sets. Unfortunately, there weren’t any starter boxes released as part of either set (which would have been really nice to help lasso new people into the game), but the sudden influx of a real variety of cards was enough to get everyone’s attention. I suspect it had been a bit of a “Hail Mary” play on Wizkids’ part. But considering the quality of the sets, it was the right decision. Guardians of the Galaxy caught everyone’s attention and X-Men: First Class cemented established players into committing once more to the game!
And then, Wizkids surprised us all with this announcement:
This is basically Wizkids doubling down with Dice Masters! When you combine the wording of the announcement with GW’s business being that they make all their own models and anything they license out cannot make GW-based miniatures, what you get is Wizkids all but revealing that we can expect a Warhammer 40,000 contingent coming to Dice Masters in the semi-foreseeable future! (There *is* a chance that Wizkids will make a Warhammer 40k dice game that’s completely independent of Dice Masters, but that feels highly unlikely to me when you consider that Dice Masters has sets for not just Marvel and DC comics, but also Dungeons & Dragons, Yu-Gi-Oh and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.)
4: Dice Masters – Circa Now!
With people curious about Dice Masters once more, we decided to follow the example set by Wizkids and do a quick succession of events: a basic draft for the X-Men: First Class set would be followed up by a second draft—but this one would be a bit weirder (and a bit riskier to run) and then finish up with a themed event to allow people to get more use from the cards they had already bought (or had gotten from the drafts).
October 22: X-Men First Class Draft
This was a bit of an impromptu event: it was announced fairly spontaneously and had very little lead time to garner attention before the day of the event. Luckily the sheer newness of the set generated excitement, and the event had decent attendance–it was also pretty great to have Dice Masters gaming going on in the store again!
(And if you’re unfamiliar with what a draft is, or how a draft in Dice Masters differs from other games, click here.)
November 5: DC versus Marvel Double Draft
At some point earlier in the year, we had dreamed up running two simultaneous drafts and having the players from each draft face off against each other. However, earlier in the year us running a double draft felt unrealistic and doomed to fail (what, with it needing considerably more players than a regular Dice Masters event). But with the game once again on everyone’s minds, we decided to throw caution to the wind! We chose to have the Batman set (released in spring this year) go toe to toe against this fall’s Guardians of the Galaxy set. It would be a classic confrontation: Marvel Comics versus DC Comics! Spring versus fall! Standard Time versus Daylight Savings Time!
For this to be a success, we needed the event to be attended by more people than had been showing up for any single Dice Masters event all year! Luckily, sometimes all it takes is an exciting idea to get people revved up: we ended up having plenty of long-absent players showing to draft a superhero team from their favourite comic-book universe.
To help ensure we had enough people for this format, all the store’s staff participated in the event; I chose to draft from Batman—as did Jim and Justin; Braden, who is a huge Marvel fan, naturally went with Guardians of the Galaxy, as did Aric (who was ambivalent and chose after everyone else decided which comic universe they’d draft from). What we hadn’t anticipated with this draft was how separating the DC and Marvel-based sets would make each group of players feel more like they were on a team. Drafting Batman, we were surprisingly cooperative with allowing other players to “claim” a hero so as to be able to get enough duplicate cards for extra dice in the game—which makes sense: the players drafting together would only play against players from the other draft pod.
The games were fairly evenly matched: by the end of Round Two, Team Batman was tied with Team Guardians of the Galaxy for games won. But by the end of the day, Team Batman edged ahead and got eight wins to Team Galaxy’s seven wins! Had I been more on the ball, I would have taken a few more pictures that day: photos of things like the makeup of each player’s hero team and the like. Alas, I did not.
This was an exceptionally fun format to play in, and we’d love to run another one. However, the attendance requirements mean that careful planning and promoting are paramount if we want to do this again: low turnout would not be merely less fun; it would be disastrous.
November 25: Girl Power! Constructed Event
This event let players construct their own team / deck from their entire collection of cards and dice. The risk with running constructed event is that they inherently favour the player who has a better collection of the highest-power cards (usually because they’ve spent more money). For this reason, we like restrict what players can bring to the event by dedicating the event to a specific theme. The theme we chose for this day was “Girl Power” –that is, players had to make teams consisting of only female superheroes or villains (with non-gender-specific characters counting specifically as being NON-girl, and thereby not allowed either).
The other parameter we introduced to mitigate optimized decks was a new house rule that we’ve been testing out for the last year: Random Actions. With Random Actions, we make it so that players can’t include their own Basic Action cards into their deck / team build (because they can often be the catalyst to particularly savage builds); instead, each round, players draw two Basic Action cards from one master deck. This helps push players out of their comfort zones and encourages them to not rely on one or two cards for every team they build. It exposes often overlooked cards to players—again, to make it so that players don’t always see the same few Basic Action cards in every single game they play.
The “Girl Power!” event was another event I was able to play in. Again, I didn’t remember to take pictures, but at least I remember what my team composition was for this event! In a nutshell, I took a blend of old and new: many Lantern characters from the Green-Lantern-Based DC set, War of Light that I’ve had since first getting into Dice Masters; and I combined those with a variety of characters from the Deadpool set. Here’s what my team looked like (and the quantity of dice each character had):
Overview of the Deck:
The deck worked surprisingly well, despite the boneheaded mistake I made constructing it (which I’ll get to). My over-riding strategy for this team was rooted in the fact that I’m not especially good at being clever with deck building (or army-list building in miniatures games!), so I decided to at least give myself some freedom of movement with this team: in Dice Masters, “Power” is the currency one uses to “buy” heroes’ character dice, and you always get to roll four dice (meaning maximum four Power) in any turn. With that in mind, I chose to keep my heroes with a Purchase Cost over 4 to a bare minimum (my X-23 card, at Purchase Cost 5, is the only character I have whose Cost is over 4). With the right heroes or Basic Action cards, one can somewhat reliably get more than four Power in a turn–which is what my Jade: Jennifer-Lynn Hayden card is there to do…but only if she got KO’d, so I focused on having characters that would cost four or less Power. Here’s a rundown of my team members:
X-23: Created to be a Weapon and Lady Bullseye: Attack on Two Fronts – they were chosen specifically to be my heavy hitters: no one but these two were able to deal out more than 4 damage; plus, X-23 had the potential to help me roll more power dice after battles where she Regenerated. (These two barely participated throughout the day’s rounds.)
Fatality: Yrra Cynril and Angela: Asgardian Assassin – I liked the idea of automatically damaging opposing character dice when I was fielding the characters without actually having to attack them. (Their abilities just didn’t come in to play as much as I had hoped they would.)
Jade: Jennifer-Lynn Hayden – as mentioned above, she enabled me to have more than four Power Dice to roll, which would allow me to buy more things on the turns following her getting KO’d (this ended up helping me out often!).
Oracle: Hacker – after misreading her rules and thinking she made it so that the opposing characters had their Purchase Cost increase by one (thereby making harder for my opponents to get their dice into the game’s dice-rotating cycle), I realised in-game that she instead makes it so that it’s more expensive for my opponents to field their hero dice—which isn’t as devastating (but it played out huge in Round Three and earned me my victory).
Carol Ferris: True Love and Miri Riam: Beacon in the Dark – these two, along with Jade, were my MVPs! I included them on the team because of their low (2!) Purchase Cost, but their abilities came into play far more than I thought they would. Miri Riam proved the handier of the two by helping me out in much the same way as Jade did, but instead of drawing a random die from my bag, I could take any character die that was in my used pile (thereby cycling my dice faster).
So How Did I Do?
Like I said above, I did considerably better than I thought I would. I won Rounds One and Three! I *might* have done well in Round Two, but I had to skip that round and give my opponent an auto-win when a throng of customers came into the store and I had to make like I was working. That said, my Round Two opponent was one of the long-time players here and a total veteran, so even though he got an automatic win against me, I’m certain he would have destroyed me.
My Bone-Headed Mistake:
My only real disappointment with my team was in how was with Miri Riam and Fatality: each character’s special ability gets better with every different Lantern colour I have fielded on the board. That’s why I included four Lantern characters from the War of Light. Had I decided to properly exercise my literacy skills, I would have noted that Miri Riam, Carol Ferris and Fatality were all the same Lantern colour: Star Sapphire. Ugh. Oh well, at least having a Green Lantern (Jade) on the team helped—and made it so that Carol Ferris would be automatically placed back in the field after being KO’d. I wasn’t too impressed with how Fatality did for me, so I think I’ll go through my things and bring in a NON-Star Sapphire Lantern to help round out this team.
5: More Dice Masters Events to Come!
At the start of this post, I meant merely to talk about how I had a great experience with Dice Masters and had forgotten how much fun I’ve had with the game. And here we are three thousand words later! The store got a good response and turn out to our recent Dice Masters events, so we plan on continuing with more! Our Next event will be holiday-themed and held on December 17; like our last two events, this will encourage very casual play from the attendees: to conform with the traditional Christmas colours, this event will only allow teams that have characters with red or green (or both!) character dice!
So, if you’ve been out of the loop with Dice Masters, there’s no better time than now to come back into the fold! And if you’re new(er) to the game, it’s still a great to to join in the fun! Our casual formats–and casual players–will ensure that the learning curve is gentle enough that you won’t risk feeling like you’ve been sharked! And because many of the store staff love the game, they’ll actively mentor newer players so that we can help the community grow!
Hopefully we’ll see you for Dice Wars on the seventeenth!