This summer has really proven the staying power of deckbuilding games with the release of supplements for Ascension, Dominion, and Thunderstone, plus some totally new deckbuilding games. Of those, the one that’s the most unique is no doubt Quarriors, WizKids’ dicebuilding game.
In Quarriors you’re given an initial set of dice that contains two main elements. Most of the die faces show quiddity (yeah, the game is full of stupid names), which is your currency for purchasing additional dice. Some instead show creatures.
On your turn you roll six of your dice, spend some of quiddity on summoning creatures (that you also rolled) and the rest on purchasing no more than one new die (which is typically either a spell die, which influences creatures, or a creature die).
Your creatures then attack all existing creatures, after which they sit in wait. If they manage to survive until your next turn, you score points for them. Otherwise, it’s back to the drawing bag.
What Dice Allow
Going from cards to dice is a pretty big change for the deckbuilding genre, and there are a lot of advantages that you can build into a game because of that. Here’s some of them:
No Shuffling. WizKids makes a big deal of this in their advertising. talking about the “tedium of shuffling”.
A Disconnection of Components. Dice are largely insufficient for portraying complex rules. You can show something simple like a quiddity values with little problem, but for additional complexity you need more. Quiddity resolves this problem by introducing a second component: a card explains what the special faces on each die do.
However by having two components, a card and a die, you end up with the ability to vary either of them without having to change both — and that’s exactly what Quarriors does. Each die has several associated power cards, but you only use one each game. The result is that the same die does different things in different games.
This really helps with the cost and the variability of a game like Quarriors because you can create totally new gameplay just by swapping out a single card, without needing a whole new hand of dice.
Simple Powers. Even with additional components, the focus of a game on dice should push its powers toward simplicity. You don’t want to require too much constant referencing of additional components, as it could really kill the fun of a dice game. Surprisingly, Quarriors doesn’t tend to lean in the direction of simplicity. The dice of Quarriors can do complex and varied things — which builds on other strengths of dicebuilding (as we’ll see momentarily), but also works against the medium itself, in my opinion.
Varying Powers. With most deckbuilding games, a card does (about) the same thing every time you play it (though the Penny Arcade deckbuilders offer an example of the opposite, with some of their powers offering the ability to fumble or crit). However, with dice you have the possibility for six different results every time you roll a (six-sided) die. One of my friends says it’s like buying six cards simultaneously in a standard deckbuilding game, which is a pretty neat way to look at it.
Quarriors takes strong advantage of this possibility. For example, a typical creature dice has quiddity on half of its faces and a creature on the other half. However the varying powers go beyond that: the specific cost, attack, and defense values of a monster vary from face to face. Sometimes they pick up special powers on the best faces as well.
Small Releases. The economics of producing and selling dice are totally different than those of producing and selling cards, and it’s thus much easier to sell very small releases — say, one set of six new dice. Of course, I’ve heard some people suggest that WizKids will use this power for evil by going the collectible route; we’ll see.
Odds Calculation. Finally, dice tend to lend themselves to simple calculations of odds in a way that card games don’t. This can add a risk-reward decisions to your gameplay and can offer up some real visceral enjoyment when you get an unlikely result. Sadly, this is another element that Quarriors didn’t focus on.
Where Quarriors Went Wrong
I was enthused by the wide-open possibilities of a dicebuilding game when Quarriors first hit the table. Unfortunately, I think that WizKids made several mistakes in their release of the game. It doesn’t seem to have affected the enthusiasm on the ‘net for the game (much to my surprise), but I think it resulted in the first dicebuilding game being a bit so-so rather than a big Dominion-style hit.
Here’s some of my problems with the game:
Multiple Component Usability Problems. There are multiple painful problem with the game components as produced, the majority of them the result of style being pushed over substance. Broadly, the game is hard to play when it shouldn’t be.
Part of this is because there’s only one power card included for each way that a dice can be used. There should have been one for each player, so that everyone doesn’t have to constantly crane their heads to figure out the possibilities. Similarly, there are no individual references that show the stats of all the dice, meaning that most players end up buying them blindly (or else going very slowly).
This is all made worse by powers that are almost entirely text-based with very little in the way of reusable icons. There’s also little common terminology for when to use powers and there’s no common iconography for it. Finally, hard to read fonts have been chosen that just make it that much harder to read the required text on the power cards from across the table.
Gameplay Doesn’t Ramp Up. In most deckbuilding games, your ability to buy things ramps up over the course of the game. There’s little of that in Quarriors, where you can sometimes buy the best dice on your first roll. As a result, the game loses a lot of its turn-to-turn tactics and has fewer hard decisions than many deckbuilding games (which require you to balance your improvement in the game versus your victory conditions).
A Potential for Never-Ending Games. To earn points in Quarriors, you have to place a monster out and have it survive attacks by all your opponents. This could literally result in games that never end. Practically, it does make the games last really varying amounts of time. I’ve seen some players who swear it’s a 20 minute games, but both of my games ended after about 90 minutes of play, the last 45 or so of them being tearfully excruciating. What astounds me most about the design is that the number of players is very poorly accounted for. Sure, you need less victory points, but having to survive the attacks of 3 monster assaults (for a 4-player game) is exponentially more difficult than surviving just 1 (for a 2-player game).
In a game that’s very “lucky” (because it uses dice), the victory conditions just up the luckiness even more. Games are often won or lost based on whether opponents got good or bad rolls when you had monsters out.
The Rich Get Richer. Whenever you score a monster, you also get to throw out (“filter”) a bad die from your set. This sort of culling is great in deckbuilding games. I wish it were easier to do in games like Dominion because it helps players differentiate their decks more. Here, though, the players that are doing the best are the ones that improve their decks, which just escalates their doing-better-ness.
Poor Development of Game? Generally, the game feels to me like it was poorly developed. Issues like the lack of ramp-up and the poor interaction between increasing player number and static victory conditions should have come out during development and playtesting. I also suspect that other issues such as being able to make only one die purchase during a turn resulted from developmental issues, when a bit of polish might have resulted in considerably improvement of gameplay.
As you might have guessed, I’m not a fan of Quarriors. There was a lot of potential in the first dicebuilding game release, and I’m sorry this was the result. Now, rolling dice is a lot of fun and that seems to be generating excitement over Quarriors despite its problems … but there was the possibility for so much more and I’m now afraid that it’s never going to be realized, as Quarriors has set a pretty low bar for the new “dicebuilding” subsubgenre of games.
Author’s Notes: Despite my personal complaints, Quarriors continues to be a popular game among my local groups almost a year later. I turn down a game at least once a month — not necessarily due to the development or production problems, but simply because of the gross variability of the game length. —SA, 6/17/12