Marvel Dice Throne is a head-to-head dice and card battling game that can be aptly described as battle Yahtzee. After all, its core mechanism is rolling five dice up to three times and choosing which ones to keep with each roll. Accurate as the comparison may be, simply calling the game battle Yahtzee doesn’t truly do it justice. There is much more to the game than just that.
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Players take the role of characters such as Scarlet Witch, and Thor. While every character follows the same basic principle of rolling dice, they are exceptionally asymmetric in how they use those dice. Card play is also at hand, as you’re able to spend combat points to play cards that alter die rolls, upgrade abilities, and gain various other effects.
Marvel Dice Throne is my first introduction to the series. But I should note that they are all cross-compatible, and characters from any set can be pitted against one another. In the case of this review, I’m digging into the overall Dice Throne game system and the four hero box, which includes Thor, Loki, Scarlet Witch, and Spider-Man. Two other Marvel sets currently exist, but I’ll be reviewing those separately.
|Gideon’s Bias||Marvel Dice Throne|
|Review Copy Used: Yes||Publisher: The Op, Roxley|
|Number of Plays: 10+||Designer: Gavan Brown, Nate Chatellier, and Manny Trembley|
|Player Counts Played: 2 & 4||Player Count: 2-4. 2-6 with additional characters|
|Fan of Genre: Partially||Genre: Dice Roller, Hand Management, Combat|
|Fan of Weight: No||Weight: Light|
|Gaming Groups Thoughts: Enjoyed It||Price: $49.99|
Marvel Dice Throne or even Dice Throne in general is one of the best-looking games around, with a seriously cool set of components. Every character has its own tray that makes set up last just a few seconds, and it all fits neatly into the box effortlessly. The convenience of the individual character trays makes it easy to plop down and start playing, even on the go.
Each character features these really nifty fold-out boards that look fantastic with great artwork and colors that pop. They aren’t just for show either. The boards list all of a character’s various abilities with room to place upgrade cards on them. It’s one of the cleanest implementations of a character board I’ve ever seen, and it really makes the game stand out.
Every character also comes with a deck of cards, a set of dice with symbols entirely unique to that character, and status tokens that are, you guessed it, unique to them.
Everything about the components is high quality, not just from a material standpoint, but from a gameplay perspective as well. Every character is vastly different from one another. But each one has a similar board layout, which makes transitioning from one to another easy to understand. They also come with a side page that details a character’s complexity, what the unique status tokens do, and some common rule interactions. It’s a graceful mastercraft of graphic design and playability that works exceptionally well.
The game itself is incredibly simple to learn but does have a few obtuse rules. Mainly the damage types. You have normal damage, undefendable damage, pure damage, collateral damage, and ultimate damage. Each type differs only slightly, but the difference is important, and it’s really difficult to remember which is which. There is a nifty chart in the rule book, and I really wish it had been printed on some player help aids alongside the existing turn order cards.
It’s bothersome, but not a deal-breaker by any means. The rest of the game is exceptionally straightforward, which makes the damage-type confusion stand out by comparison.
Marvel Dice Throne is all about probability manipulation. Every turn, you get a chance to roll dice up to three times, choosing which ones to keep. Your character board is littered with a variety of attacks and powers, and you can use any power that you have a matching set of die faces for. The faces required differ from character to character and power to power with one exception. The die faces are also numbered, and every character has some type of power that can be used with small or large straights.
If a roll results in a defendable attack, your target may make a defense roll with a defense power they have. Most characters have one, but some characters such as Spider-Man get to choose between two. I do want to point out that the concept of defending is somewhat ambiguous in Dice Throne. It doesn’t always mean that you’re trying to block damage. Some defensive powers can, but many don’t. Scarlet Witch’s Double Trouble allows her to gain or inflict various status effects, or deal damage in return for example.
On one hand, it allows characters to further differentiate themselves as opposed to every defensive power simply blocking damage. On the other hand, it does add some initial confusion to the damage types. Any damage type that is undefendable simply means that you can’t use a defense roll power. It’s nothing to do with preventing damage, unless it also specifies that the damage can’t be avoided, like in the case of Ultimate Damage.
The handy character aid lists the various die faces a character has so you can better predict the outcomes. A less complex character such as Thor has three hammers, two worthy, and one thunder face, for example. A more complex character such as Loki has two Scepters, two Illusion, one lies, and one mischievous face. Character complexity isn’t indicative of their power though, and the characters feel relatively balanced against one another, and that’s great.
An important aspect of Marvel Dice Throne is that randomly chucking dice and leaving the results purely in the hands of lady luck is a pretty ineffective way to play. Unlike Yahtzee, your rolls aren’t simply tallying points. They are invoking different powers with very different effects. You really want to try and aim for powers that will help you the most in any given situation and balance that with what you actually rolled.
This is where card play comes in, the game may be called Dice Throne, but cards are every bit as important. Every turn you draw a card and gain a combat point, combat points can be spent to play cards. The card system in Dice Throne is very flexible, and it’s one of my favorite design elements behind the game.
Cards are divided into main phase, roll phase, and instant action, which dictates when they can be played. The roll phase encompasses offensive and defensive rolls. There’s a main phase before and after the roll phase, and of course, instant action cards can be played at any time.
Many cards actually go onto your board, upgrading the specified power and sometimes, even adding new ones. Others can be used to remove or transfer status effects and even block damage. Then, of course, there are the cards that alter dice rolls. Some affect yours, others can affect other players.
The brilliance is really in the details of how all these factors come together. During either main phase, you can also discard cards for extra Combat Points. Since there are two main phases, you have important decisions to make. The simplest example would be holding back that really cool upgrade in main phase one to see how your roll goes and if you need to use your combat points for a dice-altering card instead. You can always play the upgrade in main phase two if it all goes to plan.
The two main phases combined with the ability to trade unneeded cards for combat points really amplifies the game’s tactical aspects. Well-timed card plays will win you the game. Altering the dice in a key moment can allow you to land a clinching blow or negate an enemy’s attack.
Choosing when to use combat points and for what is very important. The nature of the system means that all cards are useful. But you will never want to hold on to every one of them because you will never have the combat points to use them all. Trading in cards that don’t fit your current situation or strategy is vital, and the flexibility of different card types and two main phases flow together exceptionally well.
Some cards are shared between characters, but many are also unique to them, so it also extends the strong asymmetrical nature of the game even further
I’ve mentioned a few times that the characters are asymmetric, but that’s honestly an understatement. One of the things that impressed me the most is not only how different every character feels. But how they capture the spirit of each hero. I’m a huge Marvel fan, and it’s important to me that a game’s theme isn’t simple window dressing, and that it relates to the gameplay. Marvel Dice Throne captures this really well.
Thor constantly throws and recalls his hammer and utilizes his mastery of thunder for extra damage or card draw. He can use a guard break to make his attacks undefendable, and it totally fits his “everything’s a nail” personality. Spider-Man can web you up, combo attacks, and avoid danger thanks to his spider-sense and invisibility. Scarlet Witch toys with probability and hexes you so that can’t use one of your own dice. And then there’s Loki. I’m not sure he will ever have a more accurate representation in a board game than he does in Dice Throne.
Loki is a sneaky and mischievous master of illusions, and it’s reflected beautifully in his character. One of his status effects is called Illusion, and he can trigger it when he takes damage. He has a special set of three illusion cards. One negates all the damage, one negates half of it, and one doesn’t block any.
The Loki player presents them to you face down in the order of their choice, and you have to pick the card. The Loki player is allowed to play mind games by suggesting which one you take. I battled a player that played those mind games, and one that left the choice entirely up to me. Both times resulted in a kind of frustration that made me relate to the many times Loki pulled a fast one on his brother Thor, and it was perfect.
Every time I pulled the wrong one, it felt as though the God of Mischief was laughing at me through his cards. The way that every character is a unique flavor of mechanisms really sparks my interest in other Dice Throne characters, just to see how a Gunslinger compares to a Moon Elf. Plus, the fact that I could also pit Loki, or Thor against them is really neat.
The Less Than Marvelous
The obtuse damage rules aren’t the only chip on my shoulder. Dice games are inherently random. One of the reasons Dice Throne works so well is just how much it emphasizes a strong understanding of probability so you can use it to your advantage, and the ability to alter it with cards. For the most part, it makes for a strong tactical game of wielding randomness like a sword and shield. Ultimate abilities, however, screw this up.
An ultimate ability requires a full set of one symbol, a Yahtzee, so to speak, and they are rare. Even with the ability to alter dice, they don’t happen often, you can play several games and never see one. That makes it feel so much worse when you’re on the receiving end of one. Ultimates are incredibly strong, and if you can’t alter your opponents’ dice roll, there’s nothing you can do to stop them once they go off.
Ultimates 100% feel like getting gut-punched by luck. Sometimes someone gets a really lucky roll that allows them to change one dice to set it off and boom. It doesn’t feel like you got outplayed, it feels cheap, and the rareness of their appearance really adds to that feeling. It also has the side effect of encouraging you to hoard a card that allows you to alter an opponent’s dice roll because that’s the only thing that can stop an ultimate.
You end up hoarding a card for an effect that only comes up once every few games. It’s just a really sore spot considering the cohesive nature of the rest of Marvel Dice Throne’s design. The fact that it doesn’t happen every game means it will rarely spoil the experience, but it sure stinks when it does.
I’m a bit mixed on how Marvel Dice Throne works at separate player counts. The bulk of the game works great in a duel of 1 vs 1. However, in a 2 player game, doing damage every single turn is paramount to winning. It’s hard to justify intentionally triggering a power like Scarlet Witch’s Darkhold. Sure it has nice benefits, but every character has 50 health if you miss doing damage on a turn, you can get outraced.
In a team game, it’s still technically a race, but you do have slightly more wiggle room. However, there are aspects that I dislike in a team setting. You share a health pool of 50, and I’m really not a fan of that. But what really rubs me wrong is the targeting system.
When you use a power that needs a target, you have to make an extra targeting roll by rolling one die. On a 1 or 2, it hits the opponent on your left, on a 3-4 it’s the one on your right. On a 5, the other team chooses and on a 6 you choose. Team games are already slower-paced, and this feels like an unneeded fiddly step that introduces even more randomness to the game.
The player being targeted is the one who can activate their defense powers, so I think the targeting roll is an effort to stop you from avoiding a specific player’s power. But tying it to a dice roll just makes it inconsistent. You may not get targeted all game anyway, it’s at the whims of the dice.
Free for all, aka King of the Hill is interesting. You simply pick your targets instead. This could lead to ganging up on a player, but if you attack the leader you get to draw a card. A leader is defined by having the most remaining health, so it shifts around. An extra card draw is enticing enough to warrant it, and it’s a clever little mechanism to help redirect dogpiling.
Regardless, I think Marvel Dice Throne is best played with two players. The turns are faster, and the action is a constant back and forth which makes it more enjoyable.
Marvel Dice Throne is an easy-to-learn game that offers a combination of pleasant mechanisms. You get the joy of rolling dice, taking the role of characters that reflect the source material nicely, and a tactical dueling game despite its simplicity.
It is, however, a lifestyle game. If you read my review of Unmatched. You know where I’m going with this. By design, the game encourages you to purchase more characters, as each one adds additional replay value and variety. The larger your roster, the better. Unlike Unmatched, I do feel like the characters in Marvel Dice Throne offer more individual longevity, especially if you stick to playing 1v1.
Both games are simple and lightweight, but the repetition of playing any one character sets in a lot slower with Dice Throne. It could be due to the random nature of the dice, but I think it’s more to do with how unique every character is. Playing Thor doesn’t feel just a little different from playing Loki, it feels entirely different. I may want more characters, but I don’t feel like I NEED them. An important distinction.
The core system that makes up the Dice Throne series has some flaws but is strong overall. It could have easily felt like a random mess, but the flexibility it offers with card play, and the decision points around combining them with the dice make the randomness a feature instead of a bug. Mix in the exceptional asymmetry and super cool components, and you have a pretty awesome dice dueling game.
Interested in the card holders I use in my photos? They are from InfinitionsTabletop on Etsy
Other reviews you might enjoy
- Fantastic components that look great and contribute to the game with clear information
- Awesome character trays for quick set up and take down
- Four characters that are highly asymmetric
- An excellent battle system of probability manipulation and tactics
- The game captures the spirit of Marvel Characters quite well
- The flexible card system really elevates the gameplay
- An attack the leader incentive helps the flow of free for all games
- The ultimate abilities feel unbalanced and too luck reliant
- The targeting system in team games is clunky
- The damage rules are obtuse
- The lightweight nature with four characters may make you yearn for additional sets