There are games -with- dice, and then there are games -of- dice. Games centered on the magical math rocks, the clickity clack cubes, the bouncin’ bones. Dice are wonderful. The thrill of a gamble, the study of statistics, and everything that entails. So when I found out Board Game Tables, a publisher I’ve enjoyed quite a bit prior, was localizing a dice game I’d heard nothing but good things about you know I had to give it a go. And…well, at least it’s pretty?
Dandelions is a reprint of a Japanese cult hit originally titled Birth. That game was ostensibly about the big bang? The dice pips were…stars? In the sky? Look I don’t know, it’s about seeds in the wind now ok? And it’s not even really -about- that. It’s about dice. You roll dice, you pick dice, you move that many. Then points happen. So many points. Then it’s over, possibly in under 10 minutes. You’re dazed. Confused, too. Did you play something? You think so.
I’ll quickly elaborate. Dandelions starts with each player rolling 11 dice. Lest you dislike randomizing the math rocks don’t worry, there is a very real chance that this is the only time they will ever be rolled in play. Each turn you choose a die from your pool, move your pawn that many spaces, and place your die on the tile you landed on. There’s some rules for bouncing matching dice your opponent previously put there and “floating” for extra distance, but that’s the basic gist. The only way to reroll your remaining dice is to land on the space at the start of the track, otherwise you’re stuck with the results you’ve got forever.
So you take your turns, scooting and placing, until all 2-3 of you are out of dice. Then you get to break out the admittedly rather nice dry erase scoreboard, giving out points for where your dice are and who placed the most on each tile. Bizarrely the game ends at its lowest point as your options dwindle more and more. About halfway through the game it gets to the point where you scrabble for whatever points you can with what you’ve got where you are. As a result scoring feels more procedural than exciting. No surprises. No delight. Just math.
Dandelions plays like it’s ashamed of being a dice game. Yes you roll them, but as little as possible. Yes it’s technically roll and move, but it barely leverages the thrilling potential of the mechanism. Yes its movement rules and scoring are clever, but to what end? Playing it enough times pre-review felt like work, albeit not much, because each play left us feeling nothing. Not joy, not anger, just void. Dandelions plays like it sold its soul for impactful decisions, and the worst part is we have heaps other games that prove it didn’t have to make that deal. I’ll even use the rest of this piece to prove it!
Let’s take a moment to highlight some dice games that feel sort of like Dandelions, but better. Las Vegas is just as if not more clever, features dice allocation onto cardboard tiles, and offers 10 times the excitement. It rules. It’s also not a roll & move game, but don’t worry, we’ve got those too! Hollandspiele’s Eyelet offers an interesting spatial alternative to classic Backgammon, with a grid to move on via lengthy shoelaces. Run out of rope and you’ll find your options tied up, then likely lose as your opponent cuts that lace off. Your rolls matter, but everything is done in the service of the strategic long-term, inevitably ending in a triumphant climax all over the board. Not like that. Maybe like that? I dunno, I’m really into roll & move. Speaking of, here’s a list of better games that do a lot with dice and movement: Can’t Stop, Winner’s Circle, That’s Life, Formula D, Marrakech, Rattlebones, of course my beloved Magical Athlete, and I could go on but you get the gist.
I could play dice games all day every day, but not Dandelions. The game’s mechanisms absolutely have potential but it’ll take another game to realize it. Hopefully that game will look at least half as nice.
A copy of this game was independently purchased for review.