Board Game Review: Dicey Curves—Making Dice Enjoyable
This week, I had the pleasure to try out Dicey Curves, the newest game from Matt Worden Games and available for puchase now at the Game Crafter. Dicey Curves is a racing game where you skillfully navigate the course and try to cross the finish line first. Although dice are involved, it isn’t a standard “roll and move” affair at all. Instead, dice are combined into “combos” to propel your car—and that’s where the real meat of Dicey Curves lies.
The Basics. The race track of Dicey Curves is a series of cards. The Start card is laid out, then the rest of the deck is shuffled. The Finish line card is then inserted into the deck wherever you like. Higher leads to a shorter game, lower to a longer one. From there, cards are flipped over as needed to randomly create the track. When the Finish line comes up, the first car there wins. You can keep playing until all cars eventually get there, but really, there is only one winner.
The innovation of Dicey Curves is in the way you move the car. Rather than just hoping to roll high, any number rolled is potentially a good one. With the dice you rolled, you create “combos.” A combo is either sets of the same number, or sequences. The bigger the combo, the farther you move.
But it isn’t just a straight race to the end. No, instead the players must navigate the titular Curves. Each curve is represented by a gate where the players must play a combo of sufficient length to make it through. This chops up the action and leads to some decisions about how to break out a roll into various combos.
And, to mitigate the poor luck that will inevitably pop up from time to time, the players can acquire green chips. Green chips can be spent to add dice, reroll dice, or even to just move other players out of the way.
The Feel. With fewer players, this game is exciting, jovial, and does not impede communication or social frivolity. Along with the epic rolls (“Eat my dust!”), you also get a few terrible ones (“Aww burnout!”) and can, as I frequently did, claim my car spun out or was equipped with shoddy parts.
After you roll the dice, that’s when real decision making comes in. Say you roll a 1,1,2,3,4. I could separate that out as a quad combo (1,2,3,4) and a single (1). Or I could have a double (1,1) and a triple (2,3,4). So, depending on my needs at the time, I could rearrange the dice or use chips to my advantage. This makes each turn a little different and creates a fun puzzle aspect where you try to make the most of your rolls.
But this fun element also becomes a drawback when playing with more than a few players. While the game supports up to eight, even my five-player game tended to really drag. The reason is that there is literally nothing to do on other players’ turns. And those other players cannot plan things out in advance. They have to wait until they roll the dice and figure out their best combos from there. More players means significantly more down time.
The length of the game similarly impacts the fun element. A 15-20 minute dice-fest is pretty fun. Cars move, there are swings in luck, and then it’s time to move on. But there really is not much to differentiate things from turn to turn. You may have to get through different Curves, but the process is always the same. So if the game lasts longer than 30 minutes or so, it starts to feel repetitive.
The stats list the game as being 30-60 minutes. This is not a game that will sustain a 60- minute play. However, the game is awesome for a quarter of that time. This is easily accomplished by merely putting the Finish Line card higher towards the top of the draw pile, so it’s not a big issue. Or, you can construct your own course ahead of time, which keeps the end in sight rather than hidden.
Components: 3 of 5. The gamecrafter components are serviceable and will stand up to repeated plays. The cards for the track are oversized, easily shuffleable, and very sturdy. Those cards are appropriately the best part of the game. The dice are solid and standard. The plastic cars serve their purpose, as do the green chips.
Luck/Strategy Balance: 3 of 5. Dice games have dice. Having dice means having luck. If you are luck averse, then this is not the game for you. However, Dicey Curves does a terrific job of making this heavy dice game not luck determinative. The use of combos means that rolling low doesn’t hurt you. Between sets and straights, most rolls will be useful.
Beyond that, players can accumulate the green chips of awesome. Using those chips can simply put an extra die into the mix. Need a quad combo but you rolled a 1, 3, and 4? Simply spend a chip, take a new die, and set it to a two. Bam! Instant quad combo. Knowing when to use the chips, how to use them effectively, and when to hold on to them, is a key aspect of the game.
Mechanics: 4 of 5. The game works really well and the basics are easy to grasp. The first few turns may have a learning curve as the players see the different ways they can combine dice. But after that, it’s off to the races. The instruction manual was a little vague about going through gates, but it strongly implied (and a very helpful Mr. Worden confirmed) that we were playing correctly. The only negative is that the game, as is, cannot really support the suggested 30- to 60-minute play time.
Replayability: 3.5 of 5. Dicey Curves isn’t the kind of game you want to play multiple times in a night. However, it is the kind of game that you could play multiple times in a month. It is simple to learn, quick to play (assuming you put the Finish line high in the deck), and allows for some interesting choices in the way you put dice together. Dicey Curves can fit nicely between other games or as you wait for the rest of the group to arrive.
Spite: 1.5 of 5. There’s no way to take away other players’ dice or otherwise hurt their fuel. But there are lots of sneaky things you can do. You can get to the spot right before a gate and sit there—which makes it much more difficult for other players to get by. You can also trade spots with a car right next to you if that would be advantageous. Still, neither of these options is especially detrimental, and there’s no reason you would sit in front of a gate rather than pass through it if you could.
Overall: 3.5 of 5. If played with few players and kept under 20 minutes, this game is great. It is a nice diversion, it keeps you focused on your turn, but also allows for a lot of discussion and extra-game activities when it’s not your turn. So it doesn’t stifle camaraderie as some heavy euros can. That said, play with more players or a longer game at your own risk. You have been warned.
A special thanks to Matt Worden Games for providing a review copy of Dicey Curves.