First Impressions of Marvel Dice Masters: Avengers vs. X-Men
Slinging dice? Awwww, yeaaaaaah!
Michael Eckenfels, 5 September 2015
The Dice Masters phenomenon has been going on for a while now, starting with Quarriors! and blowing up into several different themes, including Dungeons and Dragons, Yu-Gi-Oh, and too many others for me to even want to wrap my head around. It’s bad enough that I already have been collecting two of these damnable things, though I’ve slowed my purchases of them greatly in the last few months (mostly to spend it on X-Wing Miniatures stuff, but more articles on that later).
For those curious, the Avengers vs. X-Men Dice Masters game is one of the more popular iterations of this system (because hey, Marvel), but is relatively easy to find in hobby stores or online. And this isn’t necessarily a good thing. If you’re addicted to something bad, is having it readily available a good thing, necessarily?
Like I said, I cracked my habit, but my collection is rather extensive, and the need to buy more (which plays into WizKids’ hands nicely, as I am NOT the only one this affects) is huge. The base sets themselves are inexpensive and contain a lot of stuff for two players (it is a two player game, so that’s convenient enough) to start playing. But as you will discover, it is not nearly enough; it whets your appetite for more, and thusly, expansion packs sell for about $1 apiece – a brilliant bit of marketing because one buck doesn’t feel expensive when you drop ten of them for ten packs.
Be that as it may, WizKids’ Marvel creation, which I am covering here, is a feast for the eyes if you are a Marvel fan. I grew up in the 80s reading X-Men, Avengers, Iron Man, and many other comics, and having some of my more beloved heroes in this game just makes me want to experience more of it. The dice are cubic pieces of unique art, specifically designed for each hero or villain, giving the game a chaotic identity that is both confusing and beautiful at the same time. I mean, who wouldn’t like having a jumble of dice representing Juggernaut, Wolverine, and Kitty Pride teaming up to take on another jumble of heroes?
If you’re not familiar with Dice Masters, but are familiar with the Marvel universe, that might sound like storyline heresy. The game is unique in that you can build your own team as you see fit – so if you want, say, Mister Sinister and Cyclops on one side, why not? Sabertooth and Wolverine teaming up, too? Go for it. The combinations are only limited to the dice sets you own. Regardless of whom (or what) you field, your goal is to reduce your opponent’s Life level to zero, and thereby win the game.
The core Marvel Dice Masters set contains 44 custom dice. A dozen of those are ‘basic action dice’ and 16 ‘sidekick’ dice which anyone can draw from. That leaves 16 ‘named character’ dice…but it’s actually only eight characters, as each one has two dice representing them. Still, that is more than enough for any two-player battles you wish to field.
The game gives you the option of a starter/newbie game with only certain dice and certain character cards (Kitty Pride and Cyclops on one side versus Angel and Juggernaut on the other). Other rules give instructions on how to build your own teams, as well as team-building for tournament play. It’s easy to get into a game of this, even though it looks pretty daunting or unintuitive at first.
The playmat in the core set is a two-page center section, as seen here:
This is the central area of the larger playmats that are sold separately (I believe they are $20, but I do not own any yet as they aren’t needed to play, but do seem to make your die-rolling life easier).
As mentioned, there are several game modes you can play in, but from my experience the Basic play is pretty much the most common one, and this is the one I will speak to here. However, each type of game is pretty similar in gameplay, just different slightly in overall setup.
In the Basic game, you select two Basic Action cards in secret, keeping in mind that your opponent can get dice off of them, just as you can get dice off of whatever they decide to place.
Next, and still in secret, you select your own character and other actions. In the Basic game, you choose six of these. Each of the character cards has limitations to the number of dice they can hold on their card, and if you select one to play, you must have at least one die on them. This six-dice limit keeps you from fielding an uber-party (which you can do, generally, in the Tournament game, which allows 20 dice).
All of these cards are revealed at the same time, and game etiquette dictates you share what you are fielding with your opponent.
This is important, because some character cards are not made alike.
Take Kitty Pryde, for example. Here, you see three of her cards. At first glance they all look the same, but look more closely – specifically, look at her sub-title, under her name, at the top. Kitty has three unique versions of herself (Shadowcat, Sprite, and Ariel – of course, all code-names she used while with the X-Men). Each version of Kitty is a little more powerful than the last, with her abilities differing between each card. The stronger the card, the higher Cost it has to field.
You pay these costs by rolling up energy. All of the dice, even the character ones, have energy symbols on their faces. The resulting rolls give you Energy, and you expend them to ‘buy’ dice from any of the actions in play, or from your own chosen characters.
There are six types of energy (though the rules say five, technically I am counting the ‘generic’ type as energy). Some characters or actions require certain energy types to buy them. Take Kitty, for example – her lowest-cost card costs two Energy, but the mask icon behind her cost indicates at least one of those Energy must be Wits Energy. You therefore cannot buy her dice unless you roll at least one of these masks on your turn, as well as one other Energy of any type. Any Energy you do not use gets put aside later. However, you CAN re-roll any and all of the dice you’ve thrown that turn, but only one time. That’s kind of a nice safety net.
Any purchased dice are placed into your Used Pile, so they are not immediately useable. Dice in the Used Pile are all later moved back into your bag when your bag is empty of dice. You see, each turn, you randomly draw four dice from your bag in the hopes of gaining Energy to buy dice and deal damage to your opponent’s characters and life level. The bag itself is kind of cheap-looking, almost like it’s a paper bag, but it’s made of neoprene so it does have some staying power. Still, you’ll probably want to get a nicer bag, eventually.
Depending on your die roll results, you can field certain characters, or sidekicks, and put them in the ‘field zone’ to both attack the other player’s characters and even the player’s Life points. Sidekicks are freebies, and are represented by chess pawn icons, which is relevant as they are pretty much cheap attack and defense pieces. The characters, though, are much more intriguing, as they have a wide variety of abilities they can use.
When one attacks, you move the pieces (dice) you want to attack with into the Attack Zone. The opposing player can choose to block, or not. If they do not, the attack’s strength is subtracted immediately from the defender’s Life points.
If the defender blocks, dice are moved to show which defending die is blocking which attacking die, and Attack strength of BOTH dies are compared to the Defense strength of both dies. If Attack is higher than Defense, the die is ‘knocked out’ and moved into the KO/Prep Area, and is added to that player’s next turn when they roll their four dice from the bag. Unblocked dies are moved to the Used pile, to be gathered later.
Characters are more than just sidekicks and have some pretty powerful abilities. For instance, there are some that can bypass defenders or do other really cruel and nasty things. The Ant Man (Pym Particles) character can get an additional two defense when he attacks, or can spend Energy to switch the attack and defense values of another character that his ‘owner’ has fielded. The Wolverine (The Best There Is) card deals double damage to anyone that dares to block his attacks.
Some characters have obnoxious stats when it comes to attacking and defending – their character dice show the values when you roll them, and if you’re lucky enough for the character result to appear, you can field them to wreak havoc on the enemy.
The real meat of the game comes from the character and action special abilities; these are so diverse across the entire set that it’s silly to list them all here. Suffice it to say, the more diverse your collection of dice and cards, the better your team can be.
Besides the core set, you can buy Expansions, and as mentioned these are generally pretty cheap (my hobby shop sells them for a dollar each, and online I believe it costs a bit more depending on the retailer). Each one comes with two dice and two cards, and as I said, at $1 each, it’s very easy to go overboard – not to mention fun. It’s like Christmas when you’re opening these things.
And as you may have seen in the pictures in this article, the dice are very unique to each character, some even being transparent, which I love. Vision’s dice are some of my favorite in the game.
The Dungeons & Dragons Dice Masters set is yet another one of my Dice Masters habits, but something I can write about at a later time if you’re interested in hearing more about it. If you dive into this or any of the other Dice Masters games, you’re in for a treat of collecting, playing, and visually stunning entertainment, wrapped in a nice package of only needing a short time to both learn and play.
Now excuse me…since I’ve written this, I need to go count my quarters to buy some more of these expansion packs.
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