Dice Stars is a quick, relatively simple dice game in the same vein as Yahtzee, Qwixx, and Rolling America.
Designer: Bruno Cathala, Ludovic Maublanc
Category: Filler, Dice Game
Player Count: 1-4
BoardGameGeek Rating: 6.7 (59 votes)
It is impossible to discuss Dice Stars without discussing Qwixx, so let me begin there. In 2013, the German award for family-style board game of the year (the Spiel des Jahres) included Qwixx as a nominee. Several board game critics panned this choice, some even saying that Qwixx was not a game. While it’s simplistic, it offers a distilled “push-your-luck” experience and quick, simultaneous play. It’s become a household favorite for my wife and I, especially during the sleep-deprived months shortly after our daughter was born.
Despite the negative reaction from critics, Qwixx became a commercial success and is now widely available in most American department stores. Since then, several games have tried to replicate its success. Among them is Dice Stars, published by WizKids and designed by famous duo Bruno Cathala and Ludovic Maublanc (Cyclades, Mr. Jack, Dice Town, many more). It’s a bit more complex than Qwixx, but does that mean more fun?
You just roll dice with stars and numbers on them, and scratch things off. I can’t think of anything offensive here.
Let’s start with the materials. Dice Stars comes in a bigger box than many other dice games. It’s also slightly more expensive ($19.99), but not unreasonable. There are fourteen custom dice, after all, and they form the center of the game. Like Qwixx, Dice Stars centers around choosing colors of dice, or numbers. The dice are intentionally distributed differently, with black being the rarest and orange the most common. This is neatly encoded on the scoresheet, which is where the game is truly played. I have one minor complaint about the scoresheet: the orange column looks yellow, not orange.
You’ll also notice that the scoresheet looks fairly complex. Let’s start with the white squares on the side. Players can pick a color or a number when they roll dice. If you choose a color, say blue, then you take all blue dice available. If the three blue dice had a 3, 6, and 5, you would mark the topmost empty blue spaces with an X, and then put the sum (14) in the third available space down. Choosing a number works on that row in the same way but horizontally. Since rows are what score, taking three 5s is really no different than taking one 5 three times. (You can also “bleed” to the green squares.) With colors, though, you are sacrificing space on your first two rows for a big payoff down below.
This is balanced by your third choice, which is to choose stars. When you choose stars, you take all of them and make marks on the yellow spaces to the right. If a row has all of its star spaces filled, it scores double. If only a few are filled, it scores nothing. However, the higher rows (which generally have more Xs) are easier to double. The stars provide a nice push-your-luck element, and are probably the most intriguing part of the game. They work somewhat independently of the rest of the mechanisms; this could have been used in any number of other dice games.
This brings to me to my first problem with Dice Stars. The general mechanism for choosing dice has a number of problems. First, compared to other simple dice games, it’s fairly obtuse and difficult to explain. It’s riddled with “tiny” rules as I call them—corner cases that shouldn’t be there. The effort to explain them is not worth what they add to the game. Even more seasoned gamers did not grok it as quickly as I would like.
It does lead to some interesting decisions, but they take some time to think about. It also takes a while to choose how many dice to pull each turn (one, two, or three). This is fine, but Dice Stars subsequently ends up with a relatively high amount of downtime, considering its scale. Qwixx, Rolling America, and Qwinto all have (near) simultaneous play and one quick roll of the dice each turn. I like the back-and-forth strategy that Dice Stars can create, but the downtime was enough to lead to people checking their phones between turns (gasp!).
This game is at its worst with three or four players. One reason is due to the downtime just mentioned, but the game is also more chaotic. The dice can all disappear when stars are chosen or the bag is emptied, meaning you have no real reason to consider what’s happening until it is almost your turn. Then, you take a long turn while no one else pays attention. With two players, it’s much easier to focus on the other player and think about how what you are leaving behind directly affects them. However, it still felt strange and… empty.
Interestingly enough, the game includes a solitaire variant, and this is actually the best version of the game. Since you are the only one manipulating the dice, you can carefully set yourself up for future turns, allowing for a type of play generally impossible with other players. Meanwhile, you are racing against a very difficult clock. I actually played the solitaire variant six times until I won, and that was more fun than the four games I played with other humans. And I do find solitaire gaming plenty valid. I could see this being a great game to throw in a Ziploc bag and take on a long trip to kill hours at a hotel room.
I do think this game is more strategic than its counterparts. It has more to think about, for sure. Strangely, that’s somewhat of a problem. Going from simultaneous play to a noticeable amount of downtime drags the game down considerably. It’s also hard to get started due to the strange X system and the excess of rules for a quick dice game. However, it does make for an excellent solitaire game.
Thank you to WizKids for providing a review copy of Dice Stars.
+ Decent price point, lots of score sheets
+ Fairly strategic compared to its contemporaries
+ Solitaire variant is excellent
- Not that easy to explain or grok, for its scale
- Too slow/chaotic