Review: Dice Hospital
Dice Hospital puts players in the shoes of a hospital administrator, hoping to have the best, most efficient hospital in town. Each round, players will get new patients, upgrade their staff or hospital, and try to treat as many patients as they can—hopefully without any slipping below “1”. The higher the number, the healthier the patient. After eight rounds, players tally their scores and see who’s the winner.
If a patient’s health drops below “1”, he dies and that dice is removed from the board. The player then receives a Fatality token with a skull and crossbones on it, which is worth negative points at the end of the game.
Each game of Dice Hospital is played out over 8 rounds, each consisting of 6 different phases. Those phases are listed below:
- Patient Intake
- Hospital Improvement
- Hospital Activation
- Neglected Patients
- Discharged Patients
- Shift Change
In Patient Intake, the first player rolls 3 dice for each ambulance (number of ambulances is player count plus one) and then arranges all the dice from lowest in ambulance number one, to the highest in ambulance five (in a 4-player game). Any dice showing 1 or 6 are rerolled. Then, starting with the first player, ambulances are chosen (the current first player cannot choose ambulance number one). The number of ambulance a player chooses determines the order for choosing upgrades in the next phase, and the player who chose the lowest-numbered ambulance becomes the new first player, and also gets a blood bag (used for a one-time healing for patients). It’s an interesting mechanic for getting new patients and determining first player—but this is also the only time players roll dice in the game. I would argue that this is a worker placement, not a dice rolling game, because of this.
Hospital Improvement lets players pick either a new department tile or specialist card, depending on what’s left. Tiles represent new rooms in the hospital and give players new and better ways to heal patients. Specialist cards give players a new staff member that can help—after all, they can’t heal all their patients if there isn’t enough staff to go around. Each tile or room can only be activated once per round during the Hospital Activation phase. This phase will take the longest as it involves a bit of strategy for players to decide which order to activate their rooms. Activating in the right order could mean the difference between a lot of empty beds or a lot of neglected patients. Patients who receive care this round have their number moved up, and the die slides down so as to differentiate them from ones who have yet to get any attention. Any patient who is healed to 7 or more will be placed in the discharge lounge, while any patient who drops below 1 is a fatality.
The Neglected Patients phase sees players lowering the health of each die that didn’t receive any care this round. Any fatalities are removed from the play area, and a fatality token goes in the morgue. Players then move on to the Discharged Patients phase, where they get points for the number of patients that they discharged. The last Phase, Shift Change, sees players resetting their hospital for the next round. Nurses and specialists are returned to their starting tile and cards, ambulances go back to the middle, and treated patients slide back up to the top half of the ward.
At first glance, there might seem to be a lot going on in Dice Hospital, but after a round or two, it’s fairly easy to grasp. The part that was much harder for me to get down was all the different improvements you could get for your hospital. The entire back page is devoted to the 6 different starting departments, 8 different Hospital Administrator cards, and 24 different department and specialist improvements. They did a good job with the symbology, but when there’s that many different symbols, players may have to revisit the rule book often.
A major frustration for me with this game was the lack of actual dice rolling. Skill versus luck arguments aside, when a game comes with 63 dice, you kinda figure you’ll be rolling a few of them. But unless someone gets the first player token, which is a big gamble to take since it comes with the least-healthy patients, players might never roll a die the whole game. This fact struck me as odd, and had me workshopping with other players to house-rule some way to let everyone roll some.
The theme seemed light with Dice Hospital—it even comes with optional event cards, but they have no flavor whatsoever. All they do is tell players that green patients discharged this round are worth an additional point, or everyone has to set aside one nurse meeple this round. They’ll add a small layer of strategy to each round, but I would have loved to have had a line or two about why each event was happening. But the event cards are pretty indicative of how I felt playing the game overall—moving meeples and dice never really felt like I was running a hospital, just that I was going through the mechanics of the game.
Dice Hospital has some great artwork and components, all of them top notch. Instead of bland meeples or plain disks, the nurses and specialists look like little people holding syringes. The player score markers are also shaped like syringes, each in their own color. And the drawings of the people look like a Pixar movie about a hospital, come to life.
Making a game about life-or-death situations isn’t easy, but Dice Hospital puts players more in the shoes of the administration staff than the doctors themselves. It has a lot of great art and components, and I like that they make players choose between easier to heal patients or being first player. I just wish there was more chances for everyone to roll dice, and a bit more theme to hold it all together.
A review copy was provided by Alley Cat Games.
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