[Alternate review titles were “Dice, Dice Baby”, “Quarriors, Come out and Plaaaaay”, “Eat a Bag of Dice”, and “Shooting at the Walls of Deckbuilding, Bang Bang, I am the Quarrior”.]
In my opinion, games with dice get kind of a bad rap. While I do enjoy Euros that mostly eliminate chance (Caverna, Food Chain Magnate), plenty of great Euros still involve some luck of the draw. What often makes games with some element of luck interesting is how the game’s mechanics allow you to mitigate it. Although completely random games are no fun, at times it’s still an interesting challenge to see how well you can plan around and minimize the role of luck a game presents you with, whether that randomness is due to card draws or dice rolls.
This brings us to Quarriors. Consisting entirely of cards and a whopping 130 custom dice, this game appears to drip enough randomness to send a card-carrying Euro gamer heading for the hills. But amid that randomness, are there enough strategic choices to separate good players from poor players, and to make the time you spend playing it fun?
Quarriors can be thought of as a deckbuilder with dice. The object of the game is to earn victory points (glory) by casting spells and summoning creatures. Each turn, you randomly draw and roll six dice from your dice pool. Most dice have at least three faces that generate ‘quiddity,’ the game’s resource used to summon creatures and buy more dice, and up to three faces with a creature or a spell on it. If you roll a face with a creature, it can be summoned into play to wreak havoc on your opponents and (hopefully) score victory points; if you roll a face with a spell, you can put that spell into play; and if you roll a face with a quiddity value, you can use those quiddity points to summon any creatures or cast any spells you may have rolled, or save it to purchase more dice later in your turn.Creatures have three key stats on their die face. The first, the creature’s level, is the quiddity cost to summon it. The second number is the creature’s attack value – how much punishment it dishes out when it attacks (and hopefully destroys) your opponents’ creatures. The third value is defense, used to determine if your creatures survive when your opponent attacks them. Dice can also feature asterisks indicating that creature has a special power, described on their creature cards. Most creature dice feature three different creature faces of progressively increasing strength – lower level creatures are cheaper to summon, but have weaker attack and defense values than higher-level versions of that creature.
After summoning creatures, they all attack your opponent en masse, summing up their total attack value. Your opponent must then choose one of their creatures to block the attack. If the attacker’s attack value equals or exceeds that defender’s defense value, the defender is destroyed, but reduces the total attack value by the amount of their defense. The process is repeated until all of the defender’s creatures have been destroyed, or all of the attacker’s attack value has been ‘absorbed.’ Of course, your creatures will eventually take their turn as defender when your opponent summons and attacks with creatures of their own. If your creatures survive your opponent’s onslaught and are still standing when your turn comes around, they return to your dice pool and score precious victory points. In other words, the game revolves around being able to keep your creatures safe from one turn to the next.
Unlike creatures, spells aren’t used to attack your opponents, and usually can’t score victory points. Instead, they generate more quiddity, let you roll (or reroll) more dice on a turn, or ‘buff’ your existing creatures, making them stronger or protecting them from opponents’ attacks. But while creatures always return to your dice pool at the beginning of a turn when scored, spells can be ‘banked,’ cast into play to stay there until you want to use them.
As your last action on a turn, you can buy one new die from the market (the ‘wilds’) to add to your die pool. You want to buy more dice early and often, as the dice you start with either generate very low amounts of quiddity, or are extremely basic (and weak) creatures. Advanced dice available in the wilds offer more powerful creatures, spells with interesting effects, or more efficient quiddity generation. Each game presents you with a selection of seven creature types and three spell types, usually at different price points, with five dice of each type available for purchase. The first player to 20 points (in a 2-player game), or the player with the most points when all the dice have been purchased from four of the available creature types in the wilds, wins.
Beyond Just a ‘Dice-Chucker’
There are a few interesting strategic decisions available to players that make Quarriors more than a simple ‘dice chucker,’ including methods of managing the degree of randomness you have to face. The first is the ability to purchase new dice to add to your dice pool, an aspect that echoes traditional card-based deckbuilders. Players can focus on using specific types of creatures (taking advantage of synergies across creatures, or of special abilities that benefit from having multiple creatures of the same type in play), concentrate on dice that are more efficient at producing quiddity to eventually afford fielding multiple creatures or buying the most expensive dice from the wilds, include spells alongside their creatures, or simply go for a balanced sampling of all these strategies. Another resemblance to deckbuilders is your ability to ‘cull’ dice – each time you score with a creature, you can remove a die from your dice pool. This allows you to jettison your less efficient starter dice (although some creatures actually benefit from having those dice in your pool) and increase the odds you’ll pull remaining dice that are more efficient resource producers, or that can roll powerful creatures you really want to get in play.
Quarriors also boasts a high degree of replayability. While each game includes three non-basic spell types and seven creature types, those are randomly drawn from an available pool of ten creatures and six spells. Additionally, each creature and spell comes in three versions, represented by cards – while each uses the same basic dice, and will thus have the same faces, attack, and defense, the cards allow those dice to vary in terms of purchase price, spell effect, special powers, and victory points. While only one creature version can appear in play in a given game (e.g. you can’t have both a Strong Quake Dragon and a Mighty Quake Dragon out in the wilds in the same game), this still increases the different mix of creature and spell powers which could find their way into any given game, and makes the choices players are faced with a bit different every time you play.
There are three other aspects of Quarriors that make it stand out. First, it’s quick and light – two players can fit three to four plays in an hour, even counting setup time. This lightness makes it a great ‘warmup’ game for ramping up to a full afternoon of intense gaming, or ‘cooldown’ game for the end of an evening where you only have an hour left to play or where you’re looking for something you can play while chatting about non-game related stuff (Food Chain Magnate is not exactly the best choice to play when you want to have a cup of coffee and shoot the breeze).
Two, it’s a great alternative to its cousin, WizKids’ Dice Masters series, which uses a very similar ruleset. If you’ve been eyeing Dice Masters but don’t know if you like the collectible and blind-buy aspects of the game, Quarriors offers the same type of game but with a single purchase that lets you get all the dice in one box.
Finally, no review of Quarriors would be complete without mentioning the dice themselves. While I’m not sure that they’d qualify as ‘Made for a Museum’ (a shameless plug for Austin’s semi-regular feature of the same name, which can be found on this very site), the Quarriors dice offer a kaleidoscope range of bright colors, and include dice that are translucent, marbled, or have flecks of glitter embedded in them. These are some very pretty dice.
…and Some Cons
Still, Quarriors isn’t for everyone, and has some features that may turn players off. The biggest one is that, despite the strategic decisions present in the game, there’s still a lot of randomness. While this tends to balance out if you play multiple times in a single sitting, for any given game, you can still find yourself at the mercy of bad rolls as much as at the mercy of your own bad choices. Second, despite having three versions of each creature and spell, all versions of a creature (or spell) use the same dice, and thus have the same power, defense, and distribution of faces. Considering not all creatures differ that much between their three available versions, the game’s replayability, while still high, is thus not quite as high as it initially seems. Likewise, not all creatures and spells as equally useful, creating a slight balance issue. Especially for beginners, the utility of some dice (especially the spells) is not immediately evident, and some creatures seem more efficient than others. The worst offender is the mighty Quake Dragon, the most powerful and costly creature available in the game. If you can get a Quake Dragon in your dice pool, and then into play, you’re at a considerable advantage. However, its prohibitive cost means buying one requires a very lucky roll producing multiple quiddity on several dice, and games where it is in the wilds can devolve to a situation where the first player to buy and field a Quake Dragon is likely to win. Although this is mitigated by Quarriors’ expansions, which offer a broader range of big creatures at more varied quiddity costs, if you’re only playing with the base game, this can be a problem.
In the end, Quarriors is a fine game for what it is – something quick, light, and that does a good job interjecting some meaningful decisions into the randomness of drawing and rolling a fistful of dice every turn. It’s not going to usurp Caverna on the top of a Euro gamer’s ‘best game’ list, but it offers some strategic and design elements that can be appreciated by gamers who might not otherwise give a ‘dice chucker’ a second look.
Up With Meeple Rating:
Bronze medal games are games that are enjoyable and fun, and that you’d like to play again. They might have a minor flaw or two, or there might be a similar game you like to play better, but they’re still games you make a point to play periodically, especially if they haven’t hit the table in awhile.
by Mike Elliott, Eric Lang