Dice Placement is a Thing, and Here are Five Games that Do it Right

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In the past several years, a new mechanism has really come into its own: dice placement. In the standard worker placement game, you take one of your dudes and place it on a spot to reap the rewards of that location. Think Agricola or Lords of Waterdeep. But with dice placement, your dudes are actually dice. And they tend to do different things depending on their value. It adds another layer of luck and strategy to the game. Here are five great examples of having to roll your workers or putting your dice to task, depending on how to you look at it.

5. Alien Frontiers

In this retro-future title, the players are building colonies on an unamed planet (but probably Mars). Around the planet are various actions.  Players start with three ships (dice) and can build more. At the beginning of their turn, they roll their dice and then place them on the board. The interesting thing is that sometimes higher rolls are better – like grabbing alien technology. Sometimes lower is better – like exchanging Fuel for Ore.  And sometimes you want doubles or even a run.

Alien Frontiers was among the first to use dice placement, and perhaps the first big board game success on Kickstarter. The experience is really interesting as each turn presents a little puzzle. How do you use your roll to get what you want? Not only can you get items you’re hoping for, but maybe you can block an opponent. If you have the right technology, you can even manipulate your dice and change their numbers to something more favorable.

Those little puzzle elements are great, but because you roll your dice only at the start of your turn, it can mean significant downtime as each player studies it out. This game is fantastic with 2, pretty good with 3, and I wouldn’t recommend it with 4. Or, God forbid, 5 with the expansion.

Image Credit: Game Salute

4. Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia

In Euphoria, players find themselves in a dystopian future populated by four independent factions: Euphorans, Subterrans, Wastelanders, and Icarites. Players have to keep track of their knowledge. If your workers learn too much, they’ll escape your tyranny.

Each turn, the players roll their dice and can then place them in various spots around the board. They can be used to gather resources, move up on various tracks, and give aide to the four factions. All the while, you use them to build Markets that layer new considerations into the game. And the best part is that if you don’t help to build a market, then that market bestows a penalty that is applicable only to those who didn’t help craft it. You are punished for your disloyalty.

Image Credit: Stonemaier Games

3. Bora Bora

I’m not sure who the players are supposed to be in Bora Bora, but they are adept at meeting the needs of the islanders. You’ll craft necklaces, build out your island, and fight for territory. But you’ll do it all with dice.

Each round, everyone rolls their dice. Then the first player can choose one of the available actions, place a die there, and do it. In turn order, the players each pick. Higher dice tend to provide better benefits. But the hitch is that you can only play a die somewhere if you are placing the lowest number. So if someone places a three on a spot, you can only take that action with a two or one – and get the reduced value there.

So the question becomes, what do you play? If you use your lower dice first, you won’t get as good a return but may block other players. But if you use your higher dice, then others can swoop in, but you’ll get better actions. Each round, the players have to carefully observe what their opponents are capable of, and then act accordingly.

Image Credit: Ravensburger

2. Troyes

Perhaps Troyes isn’t dice placement in the strictest sense, but you absolutely roll dice (which the game calls the “workforce”) and then use them to accomplish your tasks. Rather than having your own personal subset, though, you have to get your dice by placing your people in various buildings. If they get knocked out, you get one less die to roll next turn.

Once rolled, those dice can be used in clumps of 1 to 3 to activate various actions. The actions aren’t static – they come on cards that are randomly placed each game. The result is that players try to find the right strategies and synergies, all while fighting off invaders outside the city walls, and the other players within.

Image Credit: Pearl Games

1. Voyages of Marco Polo

Absolutely, though, the current champion of dice placement is Marco Polo. Here, players roll and then use their dice to gather goods, secure contracts, and travel to new cities. But rather than place one at a time, some actions require you to play two or more – meaning you’ll spend them faster and get fewer turns in a round.

The reason this game is so amazing is because it not only does dice placement well, but it does everything else well, too. The dice force you into tough decisions. High dice provide better rewards. But if someone is already on that spot, using high dice costs more coins. So players tend to rush their high dice and use lower dice later. The resources and contracts are also well integrated. The traveling feels organic, not forced. And it even gives every player a near game-breaking unique personal power. Things like not having to roll the dice (you can just pick the number) or getting resources whenever anyone else does.

The fact that the game can not only accommodate everyone having a huge and unique power, but actually thrives with it, is a testament to the design. Until the next champion is crowned, the Voyages of Marco Polo is the best dice placement game out there.


Do you have a favorite dice placement game? Tell us about it in the comments.

Image Credit: Z-Man Games

Featured Image Credit: Stonemaier Games

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