Ahh, Las Vegas. The city of sin, a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. It’ the crown jewel of America’s southwest, where the dazzling neon lights fill the eyes and mind with wonder and anticipation and an animalistic hunger for thrills that can only be satiated by the dark soul beneath the city’s glitzy exterior.
What better backdrop for an abstract area control game!
Enter Vegas Dice Game. Originally published under the title Las Vegas, Vegas Dice Game is a dice rolling area control game for 2-5 players, designed by Rudiger Dorn. Mr. Dorn is probably best known for his game Istanbul, a game I have not had the pleasure of trying yet. My interest in trying Istanbul has definitely gone up since playing Vegas Dice Game, since, guess what, I really like this one.
In Vegas Dice Game, there are six casinos laid out on the table, each one representing a number of pips on a die, one through six. The casinos have a stack of money next to them, of varying total sum and denominations. On your turn, you take your eight dice, roll them, and decide what casino you want to place them at, making sure to match pips on your dice to the casino’s pips. The trick is, when you place at a casino you must place ALL dice rolled corresponding to that die number. So if you want to place dice on the ‘3’ casino, you must take every 3 you rolled and place it on there, whether it’s just one 3 or five 3s. This continues until everybody places all their dice out on the casinos and then the players take their payouts.
Payouts are luckily much simpler here than in the real Vegas, as you don’t need to have an armed escort when receiving the money. When determining who gets what, you look at who has the most dice at the casino and they receive the highest denomination of bill available. Whoever has the second most dice gets the second highest bill and so on. BUT it wouldn’t be a board game without some silly twist to keep things interesting and Mr. Dorn is happy to oblige us here. Because before you take a look at the casinos and determine majorities, you first look and see if there are any players who have equal amounts of dice at a casino and remove them. That means if you tie with anybody at a casino, those dice are about to be taken away by casino security, probably never to be seen again. It doesn’t matter if you have four whole dice placed on that casino and Karen has only one, if Jimmy comes along and places four dice of his own you both get eliminated and Karen smugly receives the top payout from that casino having spent just one measly die.
This tiny little rule transforms a fairly straightforward game of area majorities into a much thinkier affair with a bit of bite to it. Suddenly, you’re overthinking every placement of your dice, somehow believing that you’re wasting too many dice while not committing quite enough at the same time. You always want to be just one die ahead of the next person, desperate to avoid those devastating tie scenarios. But pay too much attention to one casino and suddenly everyone else is snapping up other ones uncontested. This balance is a delicate tight wire act, making you feel like an acrobat in a Cirque du Soleil show in the game’s titular city. Hey, maybe this game is thematic after all!
So the gameplay is great, but Vegas Dice Game holds a place in my heart for another reason; it is a very good gateway game. I do my best to be an evangelist for the hobby, so while I’m out there being a rulebook thumping preacher, I like to have a good selection of easy but fun and crunchy games to show to my victims I mean friends. Vegas Dice Game is one of those games. It’s super simple to teach, it’s got dice that act as a nice touchstone for non gamers and at a crisp 30-40 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome for even the shortest of attention spans.
Let me put it this way: I taught this game to my parents, and they are the type that believe Clue is the cutting edge of board game complexity. They are generally the canaries in the coal mine for my gateway game testing and I’m happy to report that when we played this one, they did NOT choke on toxic gas. Not that that sort of thing happens often at my game nights.
While I don’t have many big complaints about this game, I do have a few caveats. My first is how the game scales. I wanna be clear that the game actually doesn’t scale that badly, but there is a definite jump in quality from the 2-3 player count to the 4-5 player count. Like most area control games, the more the better. If you do wanna play with 2 or 3, the game offers an optional variant that includes a neutral player that helps do some blocking and competing for casinos. Neutral players in area control games rarely work well, so before go clutching your crucifix and hissing at me, the problem with low player counts in this game actually ISN’T the neutral player. The problem with lower player counts is that with less competition for the casinos, it becomes clear that you should place as few dice out per turn as possible and try to milk your dice longer than the other players so that you can get the last few turns and swoop in on casinos without your opponents being able to respond. In higher player counts, this sort of thing is less of an issue because so many people are competiting across the different casinos that it’s tough to win more than two casinos. But I’ve seen plenty of 2 player games where one player has a clean sweep and the other player leaves with nothing because the other player simply didn’t have dice left over to defend this one person sniping everything for themselves.
The other issue that might cause people to bristle is there is a good amount of luck in the game. Though there is very much strategy to consider and enact, some of the rounds can be determined by who simply rolled better. That doesn’t bother me that much, but it may get under some people’s skin. But, I mean, the game does have ‘Vegas’ and ‘Dice’ in its title, so, uhh, dunno what you were expecting. Just be happy that if you get unlucky in this game, you won’t lose your loved ones because your crippling gambling addiction has reached an all new low and your life enters a downward spiral that is only numbed by alcohol and self loathing. At least, I haven’t seen that in any playthroughs yet. Maybe if there’s an expansion.
All in all, if you’re looking for a light, enjoyable game with dice chucking and a hefty dose of push your luck, then Vegas Dice Game fits the bill. It may not have the adventure and dangerous allure of an actual trip to Vegas, but at least there’s no Wayne Newton and you won’t come home with belly button piercings that you have no recollection of ever getting.