Thursday, April 10, 2014

Yelling at People: the Boardgame

Last night, at the Silver Diner in Arlington, I met up with some fellow boardgamers and had me some fun. For me, the highlight of the evening was Space Cadets: Dice Duels. I bought it almost immediately after seeing it featured on Shut Up & Sit Down's "Yelling Games Special." I figured, my collection was missing a good game where we can yell at each other and pressure each other into making mistakes, so I thought it was a good purchase. I was right!

In Space Cadets: Dice Duels, up to eight players form two teams. We had nine people for the game, so I sat out to referee. That actually turned out to be a very good thing, as it helped to have someone to answer questions and control the chaos (as you'll see). Each team runs a space ship, each player in charge of a couple of systems, such as weapons control, sensors, or engineering. The goal is to blow up the other team's ship, either by hitting them with torpedoes or planting mines that they fly over. For your ship to function, engineering rolls its power dice, then assigns the dice to the various sections of the ship. Those sections use the power dice to roll their own section dice, locking in the dice they need to function, then give the power dice back to engineering.

The catch? This all happens in real time. No turns. No timers. Both teams roll and pass dice as fast as they can. That's where the yelling comes in. The engineer is frantically rolling dice, trying to get a few dice to sensors so they can lock onto the enemy ship...meanwhile, the other ship is trying to get the helm dice together so they can get out of the way of the other ship's firing arc...

It's a chaotic mess, and it's absolutely glorious. The game is actually quite simple...firing a torpedo, for example, is a simple calculation: if you have a loaded torpedo and a number of sensor locks equal to the distance between the two ships, plus any sensor jammer dice they have, you hit. But it's not so simple when everyone is doing stuff at once and multiple people are yelling warnings and "suggesting" actions to each other. In the rules, if you miscalculate the shot, you lose the torpedo dice and sensor dice, so you'll have to roll them and re-lock them in all over again, which means going back to the engineer and getting the power's crazy, and it's brilliant.

In pitching this game to the other players, I billed Dice Duels as a party game. In play, however, I unfortunately learned that a "yelling game" is not necessarily the same thing as a "party game." The pressure of real-time decision-making and frantic planning left a lot of hands trembling and tensions raised over who the made the mistakes, who didn't listen to the rules (or who didn't explain them properly), and the defensiveness that goes with all of that. Gamers looking at the cartoony box and dozens of colorful dice expecting relaxed, silly fun may be in for an unpleasant surprise. More than one player wryly observed "if this was a party game, that party could go south really fast!" So in retrospect, Dice Duels is best with a group of friends you know and trust, who won't crack under pressure and can laugh at themselves when everything goes to shit.

But despite that, I am extremely motivated to get Space Cadets: Dice Duels to the table again. I, personally, had a blast, and though there were one or two players who will probably never want to see this game again, there were plenty who felt the same way as I did!

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