A while ago I fell in love with the real time board game Space Alert. This innovative game from designer Vlaada Chvatil was really something special and I felt like it took tabletop gaming into a unique new direction. Since then, I always have my eye out for new real time board games.
When I heard Stronghold Games was coming out with a new real time game at Gen Con 2013, my interest was immediately piqued. My expectations were somewhat tempted because this was the second game in their “Space Cadets” Universe and the first game had, unfortunately, fallen somewhat flat for me. Regardless, I still wanted to check it out. At the risk of a spoiler, I can say that I’m really happy I did. Space Cadets: Dice Duel stands on its own as a unique board game that’s a whole mess of fun. What players get is a frantic, team based board game that promises to keep you on the edge of your seat. Do they deliver? Read On!
Space Cadets: Dice Duel is a real time, sci-fi fighting game for 4-8 players that plays in about 20-30 minutes. Space Cadets: Dice Duel plays best with 6 or 8 players.
In Space Cadets: Dice Duel, players divide into two teams and square off against each other in some real time, ship based combat. Each player will be in charge of one or more stations on their ship (6 stations in total) as they attempt to obliterate their opponent’s vessel.
The majority of the game is handled through constant dice rolling. Players will be rolling and re-rolling dice to move, arm, and defend their space ship. Once they get into firing position, they can launch missiles in the hopes of sending their opponents to join the other red shirted men floating around space. Be the first to score four hits on your opponent’s ship and you’ll carry the day to victory.
The first thing you’ll probably notice with Space Cadets: Dice Duel is the large number of custom dice the game comes with. Each station has its own unique dice and also a playmat. The mat is well illustrated and features guides and icons to make learning and remembering what to do a breeze.
The game also comes with a large game board for the players to zip around in their plastic mini space ships. Finally, the game comes with a number of cardboard tokens and plastic crystals that are used for a variety of effects in the game. All-in-all the components are solid and we had no issues with any of them.
I should point out that Stronghold Games decided to do a little bit of future proofing with Dice Duel. A number of dice contain symbols that are not used in the game, but the manual says they will be used in future expansions.
How to Play:
In Space Cadets: Dice Duel, your approach to the game will change depending on the number of players you have on hand. The first thing players must do is split into 2 even (if possible) teams. Each member of a team is the assigned to one or more stations to control during the game. One player will control the Helm, Shields, and Tractor Beam while the other player controls the Weapons and Sensors. If there is a 3rd player on the team, they take on Engineering, if not; Engineering is shared between the 2 players on the team. If the team is lucky enough to have a 4th member, he is the Captain. He has no station, but just helps run the ship (more helpful then it sounds) and keeps an eye on what your opponents are doing.
Once the board is setup, roles assigned, and players have all their dice, it’s time to begin. The first thing that will happen when the game starts is the player in charge of Engineering will start frantically rolling his dice. The engineer has 6 standard 6-sided dice they he will use to distribute energy to the other players on his team. When he rolls a number that matches one of the other 5 stations, he can pass that white die to the appropriate player. This allows that player to begin rolling one of their unique dice from that station.
A player can roll and reroll their dice as much or as often as they want. Once a player is happy with the result of their die, they place it on their station mat and give the white die back to the engineer. This allows the engineer to begin rolling it again to redistribute it. Simple enough, right?
Now, this happens all at the same time, and with multiple dice. So the engineer will be passing all of his dice around as quickly as he can and as players obtain more of those white dice, they can continue to roll more and more dice for their stations.
The interesting thing about all of this is that as you are loading torpedoes, moving your ship into position and building up your shields, the opposing team is doing the same thing. The only time the action stops is when someone yells “Fire!”
At this point, all dice rolling is stopped and you check to see if the torpedo hits. This is based on distance, shields, jammers, and target locks (overall, not very complicated, it only takes a few seconds to check). If the torpedo hits, the ship loses one of its white engineer dice. When a ship takes a 4th hit, its game over.
That’s the basics of how to play. I won’t go into the power crystals, nebulas, asteroids, or tractor beams here. If you want the full rules, Stronghold Games was happy to provide a training video on how to play.
Honestly, the how to play section doesn’t accurately portray just how much fun Space Cadets: Dice Duel is. I’m going to go with an industry term here and tell you that this game is a stupid amount of fun.
Space Cadets: Dice Duel begins as a leisurely build up as you emerge from your corner of the board. Your teammates are all trying to get their respective systems online, your team is slowly collecting power crystals (let you do rule breaking actions) and no one is really paying attention to the other ship. But once it’s all systems go, the game explodes into a flurry of excitement. Helm moves your ship into position, weapons yells that they are in range and you glace at your opponents, only to see them doing the same thing. If this were an old west movie, the “high noon” standoff music would be playing. But it’s not. There is no delay in the action for dramatics in Space Cadets: Dice Duel. There is only anticipation and tension.
Players will be quickly counting squares in their head, comparing their target locks to jammers, and trying to figure out if that torpedo will hit…or someone will just scream FIRE and hope for the best. That’s one of the things I love about Dice Duel. There are so many ways to play. Some people will be calculating and try and come up with awesome plans of attack and others will just fire from the hip and hope for the best. The best part is that since this is all happening in real time, even the best laid plans can get destroyed by your opponents.
It’s in that regard that Dice Duels forces you to be flexible…to adapt. And it’s the team that adapts the best that wins. We had a killer strategy in one game of placing all our shields in the front and always facing our opponents. That worked great for a while, not a single torpedo got through our shields. Then our opponent wised up and starting using his tractor beam to fling us around to our undefended side. They adapted before us and we ended up eating cosmic space dust.
One of the issues I had with the original Space Cadets game was that our group never really felt in sync. We were all playing our own mini games, and since they were all different, it made learning the game really hard. Since the game is played in real time, I couldn’t stop and help the weapons officer understand what he needed to do. This resulted in a lot of frustration and a disjointed experience. In my opinion, Game Designer Geoff Engelstein has fixed that issue in dice duel. Here, everyone is doing a similar thing, rolling dice. While some peoples dice look and work different, the icons are intuitive enough that a simple explanation will get people up to speed. Everything in Dice Duel just makes sense. Torpedoes need 3 parts, a front, middle, and back (and the icons match up). Moving the ship requires 3 arrows. The ship goes where the arrows point. Everything is simple and easy to understand.
That being said, I think an experienced team in Dice Duel can have a definitely advantage over a group of newbies. As you learn more about how your ship moves and fires, you’ll develop strategies and make decisions quicker. But even if you get pummeled to pieces, a game only takes about 20 minutes to play. We’ve yet to play a single game of Dice Duel and not immediately set it up to play again. If that’s not the hallmark of a great game, I don’t know what is.
If there is one drawback about Space Cadets: Dice Duel, it’s the player count. The game requires a minimum of 4 people to play (although diehard fans who are gluttons for punishment could play it with just 2 people). Even then, you still want at least 6 people. Trying to control all of your stations, roll engineering dice and keep an eye on what your opponents are doing is a daunting task. When you have a dedicated engineer, he will have a breather once all his dice are passed out and he can survey the landscape and help his teammates keep abreast of the state of the battlefield. Once you have a 4th player, the captain takes on that job which can be incredibly helpful.
Designers Geoff Engelstein hit an absolutely home run with Space Cadets: Dice Duel. The game is incredibly fun and very competitive. Players also get a great sense of camaraderie as they work together to pull off a win. I think making this a team game was a great idea. In fact, a while ago, we posted our Top 10 Team Based Board Games and it should be no surprise that Space Cadets: Dice Duel brought home the honors of the #1 position.
Space Cadets: Dice Duel is quick to play, really easy to learn, and great for groups that are highly competitive with each other. It can be a little hard to get to the table without a larger group (you really want at least 6 people), but for those times when you have 6-8 people, Space Cadets: Dice Duel should be an absolute must play. There is also an expansion due out at Gen Con this year that I’m really looking forward to trying. In the meantime, I’ll have to settle for mercilessly mocking my opponents when they fire a missile from out of range for the 3rd time in the game. Some people just never learn.
If you are interested in getting a copy for yourself, it’s about $35
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – A really fun and competitive game that also gives players a sense of camaraderie. Plays quickly and is also easy to learn.
• Player count minimum can make it harder to get to the table.