Another One Gets The Hacksaw Treatment – Nations: The Dice Game Review



Nations was a big, lengthy Euro civilization game that played very much like Through The Ages in that you purchased additional upgrades for your nation that eventually were discarded and replaced by new offerings. As you collected resources and used them to keep your civilization prosperous and happy, you had to contend with the military strength of other players and ensure you didn’t starve your people. Like Through the Ages it was a solid game but by removing some complicated rules it could be kept to a shorter time span . . . . well sort of, it was still a bit of a beast at 3+ hours on occasions. I like it and it’s still in my collection though it has been a while since I brought it out, I’d best rectify that.
Dice games are becoming a bit of a trend lately with more and more titles being “converted” into smaller versions utilizing lots of custom dice to give a similar feel, but in a shorter space of time. Roll for the GalaxyRoll Through The AgesBiblios Dice (did Biblios really need a dice conversion?), Bang: The Dice Game, the list goes on. Most of these do a fairly good job, but can sometimes remove a little too much of the essence that the parent game once had and cross the boundaries of abstraction.
Now it’s Nation’s turn to claim a 30 minute game length with chucking dice as the focal point. Can it set itself apart from the rest of the pack or will it quickly be lost and forgotten as “yet another dice game”?
Nations-Dice-Cover
Designer:  Rustan Hakansson
Publisher: Lautapelit.fi
# of Players: 1-4
Ages: 10+
Time: 30-60 Minutes

Painted VP’s

As with regular Nations, victory points’s are the name of the game. You start off with a pre-set board and 5 white dice with various resource symbols on them (stone, books, swords, food and gold). Throughout four rounds you will roll the dice and use the resources gained to purchase tiles that give you renewable resources, re-rolls, victory points and upgraded dice. Depending on your needs you will opt for one of three different dice upgrades be it yellow (food/gold), blue (stone/books) or red (swords/stone).
You can choose to concentrate on building wonder tiles for points, collecting books for culture points or meeting the yearly requirement for famine and war (of course other ad-hoc points are available), but it’s entirely up to you giving you several ways to play the game. At the end of four rounds you simply total up the points and see who the winner is, which on many occasions tends to be quite close.
The tiles are solid enough although I think the dice could have been better. They’re fairly basic in their design, but custom dice are custom dice which is always better than regular. The boards are also just basic card rather than solid and as a whole the price tag seems a little high for what you get. But dice are inherently an expensive component to make and at least it’s not as bad as Roll for the Galaxy’s price tag. The artwork is the same as in the parent game in that it’s like “painted or hand-drawn” art if that makes sense. Many found this style to be rather ugly in Nations so if you had a problem with that game you’re going to have the same if not worse issues with this one as it looks a little downgraded. I don’t mind it myself, but it’s not going to win any awards, that’s for sure.
Nations-Dice-Tiles

Looping Through The Ages

The tile board has enough spaces on it for all but 3 tiles in each of the 4 rounds. Therefore you won’t use all the tiles each time, but it’s nothing special in variety especially when most of the tiles do similar things, be it gaining a dice or token or purchasing a wonder. It’s even worse in the final round when some of the tiles are literally just a victory point and nothing else. Such choices aren’t as interesting as they could have been. Each year also plays out the same with the only variation being a slight increase in famine/war requirements and some increased benefits on tiles. Literally in each year you will use 1 out of 3 tiles to show the famine/war requirements and they basically fluctuate by +1 / -1 and that’s it!
But the biggest part that they missed a trick with however is the player boards. You have four Nations to choose from, OK that’s fine for a filler game, so what does each one do?……………Nothing. Yeah really, you can choose between Greece, Rome, Persia or China, but they might as well be Portsmouth, Glasgow, Bridgwater or Hull for all it really matters. No unique player powers or alterations exist and I’m baffled as to why. Even the Nations parent game had some differences between the boards to make it a little asymmetrical, but here it’s literally boiled down to which colour you want to be. Given that they already had Nations: Dynasties in mind for Essen 2015 to introduce a ton of new boards and ways to differentiate yourself, why not do the same here?
With all this in mind you won’t really feel like the next game is different from the last and very quickly the repitition sets in. Roll Through The Ages has a similar issue and this one really should have tried to branch away from that. However it’s not all bad, because even if the variety isn’t as widespread, you do usually have a fair amount of options at the start of your turn after you’ve rolled. Bad luck can screw you over but everyone gets a free re-roll each turn and you can acquire more re-rolls and renewable resources as the game goes on so it’s mitigated to a point. Also when you buy upgraded dice, you can exchange used dice and then immediately roll the new ones potentially giving you further options. Some quick thinking can allow you to pull off some fairly powerful turns and when you remember that there are only 4 rounds in the game, there is everything to play for.
Games tend to finish fairly close as well which does show that in general Nations: The Dice Game is a fairly balanced affair. So far no particular path to victory has revealed itself to be dominating over the other. Grab all the books and get points every round, but realise that there’s stiff competition and you will be lacking on tiles. Aim for building lots of wonders for lots of points, but know that it’s a resource intensive affair to get all the stone you need. It may seem that beating the famine is inferior to surviving the wars (more benefits inherently arise for swords over food on the dice), but the yellow dice that provide food in quantity also provide a significant amount of gold for purchasing tiles, which the red dice for swords don’t. So there’s no bad strategy to go for, it all comes down to what you roll and how you use it.
Nations-Dice-Setup

Crossing the Boundaries

Dice game conversions are typically regarded as fillers, though not always. Nations: The Dice Game is a filler and yet it’s not. With 2 or 3 players the game can be wrapped up 30-45 minutes without too much trouble, maybe just a little more. With 4 however it crosses a threshold where I can’t really call it a filler. With any amount of AP (which is possible given that every time you acquire new dice or re-roll you suddenly have more options appear) the game length extends to a bare minimum of 45 minutes and that’s not including teaching the rules. More often than not these games will tend to extend to a full hour and for a simple dice game, that’s overstaying its welcome a little. Fillers are meant to fill a gap, hence the name and for the majority of us that play on weekday evenings when you have 4 hours maximum to play games, anything that takes an hour isn’t a filler, it’s a quarter of your game night!
There’s also the inherent abstraction that always occurs when you replace mechanics with dice in a game. Nations was a very good game, but it wasn’t that thematic when compared to some civilization titles. This dice version goes the extra mile in being abstract, but at least it makes sense what coloured die you receive for building a specific tile (e.g. war elephants grant red military dice). Colonies that you can acquire give a bonus that’s got nothing to do with the country in question and even the Wonders aren’t especially varied, nor give bonuses that represent the wonder being built. But it’s a dice game at the end of the day so this concept is nothing new and it would be harsh to fault it for being abstract – I mean do you ever feel like you’re conquering planets when you roll red dice in Roll for the Galaxy?
Nations-Dice-Play

Verdict

The term “Nations” in this game is loosely applied and it almost feels like a civilization filler game in its own universe. Despite this the game in mechanical terms plays fairly well and it’s very balanced, but don’t expect very much in the way of theme as it’s even more abstracted than its parent. This in itself makes it difficult to really get into the game as there’s little immersion and no direct player interaction.
With 2 or 3 players, the game can be done and dusted fairly quickly, but with 4 it starts to overstay its welcome especially with AP-prone players. The rules are simple to teach and you usually have a fair amount of options on your turn, but variety is lacking with no unique player powers and most of the tiles are very similar to each other in terms of what they do so you’ll quickly see all of them after a couple of games.
Nations: The Dice Game fits very much in the “meh” category for me, where I house other games such as Splendor – it’s a good design and is fine to bring to the table every now and again, but it doesn’t really have the staying power to stand the test of time and as a result, might be quickly forgotten if it doesn’t get an expansion to fix some of the replay issues.

YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:
  • You want a quick dice filler in the civilization genre that’s more visually appealing than Roll Through The Ages.
  • You enjoy the mechanic of “buying” upgraded dice, much like in Roll For The Galaxy.
  • You want a game that can be taught in no time at all – there are very few rules in this game, and most are self explanatory.
YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:
  • You don’t like luck – for obvious reasons it’s a major factor in this game.
  • You were hoping for a condensed version of Nations – it’s almost a separate game with little reference to its parent.
  • You want a large variety of tile options – a lot of tiles are essentially the same thing and it could use an expansion.

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