Review: Dicey Curves Danger! – Crash and Burn?
Previously, I had the opportunity to review the light, filler-style game Dicey Curves. That game was enjoyable in small groups, but I warned that it could not sustain lengthy play and should only be engaged with fewer players to reduce downtime. The first expansion, Danger!, promises to reduce downtime and increase strategy. Unfortunately, it mostly succeeds in exacerbating some of the base game’s biggest problems and does little to improve the issues of downtime and strategy.
The Basics. First, Danger! (and I admit, I am fond of the name) makes one minor change to the base game. The game is played with four upcoming track cards revealed rather than two. From there, the Danger! expansion is layered on top.
Danger! adds 36 new cards, which have the potential to deal damage to cars or repair that damage. The expansion also comes with player pawns and damage markers. The pawns mark which player is running which car. The damage tokens are given out whenever a player takes damage. They may take up to three damage (more damage is ignored) and for each damage dealt they roll one less die on their turn.
Each player starts the game with two Danger! cards. With a few exceptions, they can be played at any time prior to the current player’s roll of the dice. When played, they are immediately replaced from a draw stack. Newly drawn cards are immediately playable.
The cards roughly break down into two categories: one-shot cards that provide a harm or benefit, and track modifiers. One-shots include instant damage and instant repair, combo enhancers, and cards that reduce the dice rolled by the active player. Track modifiers include Debris (damage cars moving between track cards), Dangerous curves (make curves require greater combos), Lane Closures, and Repair Stations (repair cars).
Play proceeds as usual with the first car to cross the finish line winning the game.
The Feel. Danger! promised to add “tactics and strategy” to the base game while increasing player interaction. Unfortunately, it adds very little in the way of strategy and tactics and instead mostly increases the game’s play time. Plus, nearly every Danger! card is more beneficial for the lead car than for anyone else. So Danger! makes it easier to have a runaway leader.
The biggest offenders are the track modifier cards. Of the thirty-six cards, thirteen of them are track modifiers. Two are repair stations and the other eleven make the road tougher to navigate and increase the potential for damage. For example, Debris cards make the transition between track cards deal damage unless the player uses extra dice to get across. Similarly, the Dangerous Curves make it harder to get through a gate without taking damage. Clearly, you don’t want a card like this played in front of you, so you simply play it behind you to make it more difficult for your competition.
Doing so means that you can get through a track card before it becomes dangerous, and then every player behind you has to expend more dice (and therefore go slower) or take damage (and therefore lose dice), which gives you a chance to accentuate your lead. Playing it on a car ahead of you provides no real advantage. The Danger card is not removed until all players have gone through it. So, while it might slow down a leading car, it will slow you down just as much when you get there. It would have been much better if the card was removed after one or two cars got across (the danger was “swept out of the way”). As it is, every one of these cards benefits a leader and hurts those cars further behind.
The one possible exception is the Repair Station. It only repairs if you end your turn there, so it means you will still go slower than someone ahead of you. However, it has an interesting trick that allows you to pull off the road and then get back on. If there was a difficult gate or curve in the way, then you can fully avoid it by using the repair station. While an interesting idea, the fact that there are only two stations in a deck of thirty-six really limits their impact on the game.
The remaining twenty-three one-shot cards are fairly typical slaps and benefits. Several of the cards are instant damage or make a player roll one less die. Others grant instant repair, bonus dice, or add to combos. Because of the random distribution, the player in first place is just as likely to get a Nitro Boost as the player in dead last, so this does little to even things out. As for the attack cards (like Instant Damage), those would ideally be used to slow the leader down. With more players, the leader may be getting attacked by more players than he can repair and it will slow him down. But more players also means more downtime. Plus, the Nitro Boosts and Combo enhancers can be played on anyone, so there is the real potential for kingmaking as other players get together to help one player succeed.
Strategy and tactics are not increased much in this expansion. There is almost always an easily identifiable optimal move for your Danger! card. You put track modifiers behind you. You damage the people in front of you. And you repair your own car. Easy. While a few little tricky moves might be available here or there, they are certainly not in such abundance as to turn Dicey Curves into a strategy game. Plus, with so many cards slowing the cars down, costing them dice and making them move more slowly, the game can take a little longer – not a good thing. When I reviewed Dicey Curves, I noted that the game needed to be played quickly to remain fun. Though boosts and Combo Enhancers help, the expansion brings the game in real danger of exceeding its fun time limit.
Components: 3 of 5. The pawns and chips are very generic. Serviceable, yes, but they give the impression that they were cobbled together from other games. The Danger! cards, however, are definitely a step up. They are the same thickness and quality as the track cards. They shuffle well and are a good size. And the language is clear and easy to understand.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 1.5 of 5. Danger! adds far more luck to the base game than strategy. If you luck out and draw Instant Repair cards, it means you can rush over dangerous tracks and ignore the penalty. If you are in last place and only draw track modifiers, you can be in a world of hurt (though the game does allow you to discard both cards on your turn and hope for a better draw).
Mechanics: 2 of 5. Danger! successfully adds a light-hearted “take that” element to the game. For many groups, that will add to the enjoyment. However, it has the mechanical byproduct of creating a runaway leader or leaders problem. Because a track modifier remains in place until all cars have passed it, players simply place it behind them to hinder those who aren’t doing as well. If the rules were changed so that a track modifier was “cleared” after a car or two went by, it might lead to more interesting choices – and eliminate the runaway leader effect. Then, it could slow down a lead car and give those in the back a chance to catch up. As it is, a good portion of the cards – nearly a third – only hurt players who are behind in the game.
Replayability: 2.5 of 5. Danger! doesn’t add much in the way of replayability to the game. No variable powers or positions. The main game has some good replay value in the way that the tracks come out. But Danger! adds in the same powers each play. The only variability is in when they are drawn and by whom.
Spite: 4.5 of 5. Danger! definitely ups the spite content. There are lots of ways to make it a pain for your opponents. Everything from direct attacks to making their route tougher and more dangerous. If you like some “take that” in your games, then Danger! is an excellent way to add it.
Overall: 1.5 of 5. Most of the time, I think expansions enhance a base game, or maybe make it “different” if not better. Danger! definitely makes the game worse. Runaway leaders are a bigger issue, it increases play time, and it doesn’t substantially increase downtime. Since you generally can’t play cards after a player rolls, you are left in the same position as the base game. There is no way to prepare and, after the roll, you sit there while that player figures out their best combos and moves. A few fixes might go a long way. But, as is, this expansion can be skipped.
(A special thanks to Matt Worden for providing a review copy of Danger!)