Sunday, May 19, 2013

Quarriors Review

Quarriors was released in 2011 by Wizkids, and was designed by Eric M Lang and Mike Elliot.  Mike Elliot may be chiefly known because of Thunderstone, and Eric M Lang has designed numerous of my favorite games.  Namely Chaos in the Old World, Warhammer Invasion and Star Wars: The Card Game.

I discovered Quarriors at Gencon in 2011.  It was absolutely dominating the show.  Everywhere you looked there was Quarriors.  A friend I traveled with who is an aspiring game designer silently cursed when I told him someone had done a deck building game but with dice.  He'd been slowly cooking up a similar idea and didn't appreciate that someone beat him to the punch.

Whatever resentment he may have harbored didn't stick around long as I, and nearly every person I met, played complete games of Quarriors at the demo booth, and then quickly purchased our own copies.  For the rest of the show, it was a constant question of "Your copy or mine?" whenever there was downtime to play a game.

Rule Summary

In Quarriors, each player starts with a bag full of dice.  They'll have 8 basic quiddity and 4 assistants.  Then in the "wilds" there will be more dice set out that players can purchase.  3 basics, 3 spells and 7 creatures will have cards laid out, with 5 of their accompanied dice.  On their turn, a player will draw 6 dice from their bag, roll them, and then perform actions.

The Wilds

Some dice provide quiddity, the currency of Quarriors.  Quiddity can be spent to "capture" new dice from the wilds.  Once captured, the quiddity used goes to a spent pile, and the new die goes to the used pile.

Other dice are creatures, and cost quiddity to summon.  Once summoned, a creature goes to a players ready area.  A newly summoned creature attacks all the other creatures in foreign ready areas.  Creatures that are killed go to their owner's used pile.

From left to right: Quiddity, Creatures and Spells

The third type of die is spells.  Spells cost nothing to ready, stay ready until you use them, and can be used to augment certain actions.  Some spells buff a creature, or kill a creature.  Other spells just provide extra quiddity on your turn, or capture extra dice.  One very rare and very expensive spell just straight up awards you glory.

From here there are two different ways to play.  In the basic game, players may capture one new die per turn.  Then, when they summon a creature, and if it survives until the beginning of their next turn, they may score it.  They simply move it to their used pile, and may "cull" any die in their used pile back to the wilds.  They then earn "glory" for that creature as printed on it's card.

In the advanced game, players may purchase two dice on their turn.  Plus, when they summon a creature, and it survives until their next turn, in order to score that creature, they must cull it to the wilds.  No other die may be culled to the wilds.  However players may choose to keep that creature, and score no glory.

Aside from those two variants, everything else proceeds the same.  The first player to earn 12, 15 or 20 glory, which depends on the number of players, wins!

Timelapse of play

How accessible is the game to new players?

Quarriors will be immediately accessible to anyone who has played a deck builder before.  But even if they haven't, the concepts of building a dice pool, and cycling through it, are in some ways more intuitive than a card pool.  After all, in Dominion, inevitably someone will purchase a card and try to place it in their hand.  In Quarriors nothing else makes sense but putting it in your used pile.  Perhaps tossing it in the bag immediately might occur to some people.  But since you don't have a "hand" of dice, the next most intuitive place for new dice is the used pile.  The other minor stumbling point for Dominion is that people always start off thinking that when you use your treasure cards, you spend them forever.  Because people are generally trained to discard used cards forever.  That doesn't make any sense when you are presented with a pouch full of dice.

The dice are also a fantastic hook for casual players.  They are easy on the eyes, colorful, and it's just fun to roll a fist full of dice.  The basic game also has very simple decision making, allowing casual players to grasp the valuation of their options very quickly.

What could have been done better?

Each die has numerous cards for it.  Only one will come out in any session, and it will imbue the die with a variety of special abilities.  For example, the goblin might allow you to roll more dice the turn after it gets killed in one game.  Then in another game, it has extra defense for each other creature that is out.

The three different types of goblins.
Don't forget which one is out this time!
However, the system of having the die's abilities separate from the die itself causes casual players to forget what they do.  It can take a long time to condition players to always look at a die's card to make sure they are using it's special abilities.  In fact, many times even experienced players forget to check.

I'm not really sure how to draw attention back to the cards when a player is fixated on their dice.  In a perfect world, there would be a copy of each card for each player.  That way when they purchase a die, they could place a copy of that card in front of them for reference.  Though in reality, this would result in more clutter, and likely less card variety.  Instead of being able to include 3 or 4 versions of each creature, they would only be able to include 1, maybe 2 if we were lucky.  But still, in a perfect world, I would have liked to see a copy of each card for each player.

How does the new player versus old player match up go?

When you play with the basic rules, experience in this game has a minimal impact.  The path towards bigger and better dice is somewhat chaotic.  Managing to get 8 or 9 quiddity on a single turn to buy a wizard or dragon has much more to do with luck that strategy.  Then actually rolling the creature faces of that die once you purchase it is equally luck driven.  As such, there simply aren't a lot of places for a player to leverage greater experience into more effective play.

What could have been done better?

If you want to play a version of Quarriors that rewards experience, play with the advanced rules.  There are more interesting synergies that an experience player might notice in the advanced game.  It can become more viable to buy lots of smaller creatures that play off each other instead of fewer larger creatures.  The spells also become more important as well, since they are one of the few dice you won't have to cull in order to get their effect.

But as always, the dice level the playing field.  It's not only possible, but should be expected for new players to win regularly, regardless of which rule set you use.

What are the feelings the game evokes and why?

Like many games that involve rolling fist fulls of dice as a primary mechanic, Quarriors feels like a slot machine.  You roll a fat clump of dice, and hope for something good.  Numerous dice have special abilities which even let you pull out more dice to roll, or reroll a die hoping for a better result.  Both of those add to the visceral sense of fun in rolling the dice.  So it may be a slot machine, but it's a fantastically fun slot machine, with lots of flashy colorful results that pop out.  Sometimes you win, and get lots of quiddity or a big creature.  Other times you lose with a bunch of weak creatures and not even enough quiddity to summon them all.

There are a lot of ways to alter your roll.

Under the basic rules, there is a severe runaway leader problem.  If someone gets lucky and captures a powerful die on their first turn, they have an enormous head start.  Not only are they scoring often, and killing everyone else's creatures, but they are culling all the weaker die from their pool, and preventing others from doing the same.  It's a horrible double whammy.

Even worse is when a single player gets hopelessly left behind.  Everyone has bought amazing creatures but him, and he has no way to catch up.  Everything he puts out is instantly killed, and he never gets to cull anything.  Nearly every game of basic Quarriors has the one sad player, left completely hopeless as everyone zips along.  Sometimes he never scores even a single point, through little fault of his own.

What could have been done to make the game more enjoyable?

With the advanced rules, the game feels more fair.  There is a natural ebb and flow as players buy, score, and cull creatures.  It's much more difficult to get that indomitable lead, or keep other players down.

The player who gets a big die on their first turn will no longer score with it every round.  Nor do they get to cull all their basic dice out, while preventing others from doing the same.  This does an incredible job of keeping everyone in the game, all the way to the end.  Players may still lag behind one another.  However there is no longer that crushing sense of hopelessness.  No longer is insult added to injury when a player not only kills your creatures, and prevents you from scoring, but keeps you lagging behind by blocking you from culling!  An essential action in any deck builder.

Some people loathe the randomness in this game too.  They hate that they can buy all the right dice, but completely fail to have the creatures land creature face up.  To them I'd say just play Dominion.  There just isn't much you can do to remove luck from a game that revolves around dice.  But to it's credit, the game does offer enough abilities that mitigate luck.  The spells especially offer many reliable opportunities to stockpile quiddity between turns, upgrade your creatures, or outright kill your opponents creatures when all else fails.

Long term strategy, short term tactics, both or neither?

There are a lot of compelling reasons
in the advanced game to buy the two
lower dice over the dragon up top
The basic game is mostly a mix of tactics and luck.  Mostly luck.  The majority of the time, when you roll 8 or 9 quiddity and can buy that mighty dragon, you didn't do anything special to make that happen.  The game is mostly won or lost completely on luck.

However in the advanced game, you actually have more room to do some clever dice pool building quickly with the two buy rule.  It's not uncommon at all to purchase two cheaper creatures, or a creature and a spell that complement each other.  I've repeatedly seen strategies that revolve around purchasing numerous smaller creatures win over people who just purchase the most expensive die they can.  There is also more long term watchfulness with respect to your dice pool.  You need to make sure that you are constantly buying new creatures to replace the ones you score.  Otherwise you burn out, and find yourself needing to rebuild your dice pool nearly from scratch!

Are the dilemmas the player is presented with of sufficient quality?

The basic game is rather straight forward, so far as the dilemmas go.  You try to roll for the most quiddity you can, then summon the biggest guys you can.  Rarely will you opt to purchase a cheaper die, or forgo summoning a unit unless you are certain he's just going to get killed.  The game almost plays itself.  Although there are a small handful of low cost cards that are compelling enough to get no matter what.

However, in the advanced rules, there actually is a good deal of room for more nuanced play.  Sure you got lucky and purchased that dragon on turn 1.  But now what do you do with it?  Do you forgo scoring with it, so that you can use it to kill your opponents turn after turn?  Do you try to use it as a meat shield, and hide your creatures behind it to increase their survivability?  Perhaps it has an ability which only kicks in when it scores that you desperately need.  Or maybe you don't want the dragon at all, and would rather snatch up two portal dice, and hopefully leverage them on future turns.

What could have improved the dilemmas?

The advanced variant does an incredible amount to make the game more interesting and varied.  However, last I checked it's not included in the rules for Quarriors.  It very quickly showed up on BoardGameGeek posted by Mike Elliot.  It's also listed as an official variant in the rules for the second expansion.  But that is it.  It's so very important to improving the longevity of Quarriors, I'm let down that it's not offered more enthusiastically to the player as a good thing.

Also, the fact that it's called the "advanced variant" does a lot to turn people off to it.  I tried for ages to talk my group into playing "Advanced Quarriors" but to no avail.  The moment the word "advanced" passed my lips, someone was already pouting "Can't we just play normal?"

These don't exactly shout "PLAY ME!"
Sadly, we all got bored of basic Quarriors.  So it sat on my shelf and gathered dust.  Finally, months later, I decided to suggest Quarriors again.  Only now, people had forgotten how to play since it had been so long.  Being somewhat sneaky, I decided to just not say anything, and teach them the advanced rules.

The game was a resounding success.  Halfway through, someone finally noticed that something was different.  When they spoke up, it was only then that I explained we were playing a variant.  Even then I shied away from calling it the "advanced" variant.  However at the end of the game, everyone agreed it was a much more enjoyable experience for it.

The moral of the story is, don't call it the advanced variant.  Say it's a more fun variant.  Say it improves the game.  Or don't even ask if people want to play, and just launch into explaining it.  For something called "advanced" in the rulebook, it's pretty simple.  Once I get people playing it, I've never had a single complaint, or anyone who wants to go back to the basic rules.

Physical component design and limitations?

I'd be lost without the reference
The only thing I don't like about Quarriors is the dice.  I love them, but sometimes I hate them.  They are colorful, and pop, and are fun to roll.  But they are also tiny, with frequent production flaws that make the numbers difficult to read.  Now they did include a complete reference of all the sides of the die on every card.  That helps enormously.  But still, it's a let down that it was needed at all.

Also, I'm not sure it can even be bought anymore, but the original tin this game came in, while a creative idea, is a pain.  Each set of 5 dice was kept in it's own teeny tiny bag.  Setting up the game was a tedious process of going through all the bags, finding the right ones, then attempting to open them without ripping anything.  They were incredibly flimsy.  Then you go through the same thing when you put the game away, going through about 13 bags and getting all the dice packed back away in them.  It was a frustrating amount of overhead for a relatively short game.

What could have been better?

The new box is fantastic
I really would have liked to see full sized dice, with better quality control.  Although, for a game with 130 custom dice that sells for $60, it's somewhat understandable.  I'd like to say I would have gladly paid $80 for Quarriors if it came with full sized dice, but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't.  $60 is a good price point for this game, and anything higher would definitely be pushing it.  Especially when you consider what full sized dice would have done to the price points of the expansions.

Concerning the tin, I'm pretty sure it isn't even an issue anymore.  Last I checked, all copies of Quarriors now ship in a very nice box that they've been using ever since the 2nd expansion was released.  It's truly a joy to work with.  All the dice are laid out at 45 degree angles.  Absolutely everything is visible, and very easy to pull out and put away.  I was hesitant to even mention the problems with the tin.  But it never hurts to be thorough in case someone is getting a used copy, or just an ancient version that has been sitting on their local shop's shelf for years.

Long term prospects?

Quarriors for me was an instant hit which quickly dulled under the basic rules.  I absolutely adored it at first, but quickly grew bored.  The basic game just felt too "solved" and luck driven.  The decisions rapidly became obvious and tedious.  Plus the runaway leader problem grew enormously frustrating.  You could perceive quite easily in the first few turns who was going to win, and definitely who might as well sit this game out.

However, now that I've finally converted my group to playing with the advanced rules, I suspect that Quarriors will enjoy a nice long life in my collection.  It's a much more interesting, varied experience.  The game takes a bit longer, but it's much more engaging the whole way through.  The cheaper dice see much more play, as do more spells.  It just feels like more of a game, and less of a lottery.  I'd even suggest skipping the basic rules and going straight to playing with the advanced rules!  It's that much better.


  1. Thank you for a very interesting and detailed review!

  2. Would you still buy the base game today, with all the other dice games out there? Am thinking of purchasing this along with the Quartifacts expansions as recommended by Tom Vasel, but I hear there are better dice chucking games out there (Dice Masters)? How does Quarriors hold up?

    1. Honestly, I've been out of the loop a lot lately. I still think Quarriors holds up on it's own. But if you were to only buy one dice chucking game, there probably are better by this point.