Quarriors! (Game Review)

Quarriors! Box

Quarriors!

The more games fail to live up to expectations as “the next Dominion“, the more people seem to want to make one. It’s not necessarily a fair way to judge a game, though; Can’t it succeed or fail by its own merits? Quarriors! owes a very obvious debt to Dominion, but its most notable strengths and flaws are unique to this game.

In short, Quarriors! takes the idea of a deck-building game and turns it into “dice-building”. Many elements translate from cards to dice pretty naturally: Players draw their “hand” of dice from a bag rather than a deck (making shuffling much faster!) and discard them on the table. Each turn, the player can buy one more die from the common pool and add it to their discard pile, and when the bag runs empty, all the discarded dice are mixed back in.

Quarriors! Setup with dice and cards in the middle of the table.

The game mechanics are elegantly built around the strengths and weaknesses of dice. For example, powers that let players manipulate the draw pile won’t work, but the discard pile is available for interaction. Also, since dice can’t hold as much information as cards, so each type has a reference card sitting in the middle of the table with a full description. The dice that go along with each card have a distinct color, making them easy to identify quickly. Cleverly, each color of dice has three corresponding cards (only one of which will be available per game) with different costs or special powers, meaning that the game can provide a good deal of variety without needing thousands of costly dice. In fact, publisher WizKids has done a great job of providing quality components (including a cool die-shaped tin for a box) at the price of a normal game. My only complaint, and it is a serious one, is that all three cards for a given die have exactly the same art, making it difficult to identify a given game’s setup quickly.

Being a dice game, Quarriors! obviously has a lot more randomness in it than Dominion. The game is designed around this, with a shorter play time and a theme of summoning creatures to do battle. Surprisingly, the rules for working with these creatures feel to be in the spirit of Dominion. After being played, they immediately attack the other creatures in front of all opponents equally. Any creatures that survive for one round around the table are scored and then discarded, eventually being shuffled back in to the bag. It’s the first balanced fighting system I’ve seen in a deck-building game, and I really appreciate the fact that creatures automatically attack all opponents equally, since deck-builders seem to do better without directed attacks. I also like the way that this game’s resource (“quiddity”, which is basically a quantity of magic) is used both for the “action” and “buy” phases of a turn. It requires quiddity to deploy monsters for battle, but that reduces the amount of buying power left afterwards. It’s as elegant, and potentially as tense, as Dominion’s “one action then one buy” rule.

Some of the dice in Quarriors!For all the clever ideas though, it feels like a lot of the gameplay was not fully thought through. There is potential interaction between the different types of dice, but the powers have a lot less subtlety than Dominion. Most abilities just increase the stats of a creature, which means that the exact combination of dice a player acquires isn’t as important as it should be. There is some strategy in deciding which and how many spells to mix with the creatures, but for the most part, a player won’t go wrong in simply buying the strongest creature possible. Since the more expensive creatures are generally higher on all stats and score more points, if one player gets an early chance to buy something like a Quake Dragon, the rest of the game feels more like a formality than a real competition. And since the rolls determine the strength of the dice, there is no card that can’t potentially be bought on the first turn, even though the average player won’t get it until past the halfway point. Quarriors! officially ends at a very low point score, apparently so that games won’t last long enough for the randomness to become frustrating, but the result of that is that players have almost no chance to catch up to the person who got a lucky start. There is an endgame mentality almost from the first roll. I generally play to a slightly higher point total. It’s still a fast game with a lot of luck, but at least then there is some chance that a player who spends time building a strategic set of dice will be rewarded. Even so, Quarriors! would require major revisions to change the fact that the first player to buy a Dragon usually wins.

All in all, Quarriors! offers a strange mix of strategy and randomness that is a little unsatisfying. Clever play is possible, but rarely matters more than luck. The game is light and fast, but it can take some focus to evaluate the multiple powers of each card and refer back to the middle of the table for information not on the dice themselves. Basically, to truly appreciate it you need to be able to follow somewhat complex timing rules, but prefer theme and randomness over heavy games. It is a very clever design, and everyone should enjoy playing it a few times. Long-term, though, the variety of setup options don’t keep the game from feeling somewhat repetitive and arbitrary.

Grade: B-

(Note: The images in this article come from Board Game Geek. For more information about each one, including the photographer, they all link back to the original.)

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