Monday, September 26, 2011

Nitro Dice - Racing For The Finish, But Only To Get It Over With

I got this copy of Nitro Dice from Minion Games at the same time that I got Five Fingered Severance, and I specifically requested it from them because it looked really cool. It has the stereotypical "Fast And The Furious" crowd; the big-boobie blonde wearing too-tight clothes, the asian chick with a plaid schoolgirl outfit, and even a juggy little skank on the front of the box, holding a hanky to start the race. The concept was cool, too: a light, racing card game with some screwage that was short enough to play at the beginning or end of a night. Everything seemed perfect...right up until I was reminded of my late friend Frank Hatton.

Frank was one of the best friends I ever had. He was a pill-popping, smack shooting, alcoholic mess. Half the time he'd be sitting in his garage, watching Sin City or Van Helsing for the 300th time, talking to himself or laughing at something for no apparent reason. He was an older guy, and as 'country' as cornbread, hailing from Harlan, Kentucky. Salt of the Earth kind of guy.

Anyhow, the reason I thought of Frank was that he had a penchant for wordsmithy, and at one point we were headed to the liquor store to go get something to replace the Scope he'd been drinking, all minty-breathed, and we saw this woman. At the time, there were no words to describe this terribly unfortunate-looking woman. 'Fugly' didn't even begin to describe her. Not remotely.

Anyhow, Frank, in his generally incoherent manner, said, "Oh my God! She's TERROCHEROUS!" To this day, I can only surmise that it was a mixture of 'terrible' and 'treacherous'. But the context was dead on. This woman was indeed terrocherous. And the ghost of my dear friend Frank was summoned by Nitro Dice after the second play, where I looked at the other players and had to ask, "Does this suck as bad as I think it does?" The answer was, in all cases, of the affirmative kind, with the exception that my buddy Mickey, who knew Frank, said, "Pete, that was fucking terrocherous. I never want to play that again." And sadly, I have to concur.

Getting into the concept of the game, it's essentially a card game that uses dice as cars, set at a street race. The D10 die that represents your car also represents your "gear", which is the same as speed, and it tells you and everyone else at the table how fast your car is currently moving. As you cruise on the tracks, which are simply a bunch of poker-sized cards with track sections illustrated thereon, you must play cards that match the type of section you're about to enter in order to enter them without taking damage.

You can also play cards as your car leaves a track section, replacing the section with one that has an obstacle, in order to make your opponents' time harder. There's even a damage tracking card and chit that tells players how bad their cars are beat up, thereby limiting their speed. All in all, the concept sure sounded neat.

Getting into the art and components, the box itself, as noted, has a little red-headed chick on the box with 3/4 of her tits hanging out of a tube top, with 2 race cars in the background. It's all done in the "new" anime style, with a computer-drawn look to it. It's actually quite nice, really, all the way through the box, and the copious amount of cards that represent the track really look great.

In addition to the many cards are six D10 dice in unique colors, and six matching card stock tracks and chits to keep track of damage as well as some nitro tokens you can use to give yourself a speed boost. If you were to rate this game just on the look and bits, it really is quite good. The rulebook has some little ambiguous spots, but after re-reading it a couple of times you get all of the mechanics down; it's just not laid out incredibly well.

To set up, you simply place the track cards in a row for a drag race, or in any configuration your mind can conjure. You can add a pit stop too, if you wish, which allows you to fix your car once it's been damaged. Deal out nine cards to each player, and once you're done with that, you simply roll off to see which starting positions the players begin in. You're off to the races.

Playing the game is simple, really. At the beginning of each round, all players set their speed by adjusting the value of their die. You start the game at zero speed, and can adjust it up or down one point for free, or two points if you discard a card. The damage track has a value of one through nine, and this indicates your maximum speed, so you can never adjust your speed higher than the the speed indicated on your damage track.

This is where the game begins to piss me off. Because the numerals on D10 dice aren't sequential, it means that as you speed up and slow down, you have to take the die off the track, find the number you're looking for, and put the car back. It would be OK if that was something that wasn't done often, but until you get to the top speed, you're pretty much changing the die every turn.

After the first play we abandoned that idea and used the damage tracker to indicate speed, using the die to indicate damage. That alone took fifteen minutes off of the game time, and it stopped all arguments about "where was the car before you picked it up" which occurred several times during the first play.

Getting back to the actual racing rather than the fiddling around with dice, once everyone has set their speed, the person who is moving fastest may move their car first, and in the case of a tie, the player who is furthest ahead gets to go. In what is the smartest part of the game, movement is done not only by simply moving your car forward as many spaces as is indicated by the speed value on your car die, you can also change lanes and perform advanced manoeuvers by discarding cards.

You can zip in between cars and drift around corners in this manner. While this is neat, the actual practice of doing so is really wonky and anti-instinctive because of how the movement takes place. The illustrations in the book help, but even after three plays I was constantly going back to the book to make sure I was doing it right.

Additionally, every time you enter a new track section, you must discard either a matching card type, or any three cards, in order to do so without taking any damage. Not having the right cards is a real killer in this game, and it's important to make sure that you don't inadvertantly discard cards you'll need on later turns in order to move around the track, even in a straight line.

Another neat aspect to this game is that you can draft other cars. If a car is directly behind you in the same lane on a straightaway, and you're moving at the same or a greater speed, you pull that car forward one space for free. While you normally wouldn't want to help an opponent, you can use this to pull the opponent's car onto a hazard, causing damage, or better yet, over the threshhold of a new track section, causing that player to have to discard a card as normal.

If you're moving too fast or a previous player screwed you over, you can brake to slow down. Simply discard cards to reduce your speed by one per card, and then record the new speed by changing your die. Like I said, you're messing with that die a hell of a lot in this game. Alternatively, if you're on a straightaway, you can use the nitro tokens to move two bonus moves, although this doesn't change your die.

There's also a copious amount of screwage in the game by changing the track on the fly. This is truly the one saving grace of this game. If you have a card that matches a track section, you can discard the track section and replace it with the one in your hand. This is a hell of a way to remove an obstruction from in front of you or put obstacles in front of your opponents, forcing either damage or lane changes, and sometimes causing collisions. The only real restriction is that the track section to be replaced must be free of any cars when you do it.

Speaking of wrecking out, there's a fair amount of damage dealt in the game. This can be from hitting obstacles that you can't avoid, from not having the right cards or enough cards when entering a new track section, and from hitting other players' cars. Each time you hit someone, both cars take a damage point, and if you rear-end someone, you immediately must reduce your speed to match theirs. If you've taken too much damage, you can go into the pit stop, which allows for you to spend your speed points to regain health. You can't enter the pit going faster than five speed points, and you regain one health point for every movement point you give up on your turn.

The last thing you do in a round is replenish your hand. Depending on your position, you take either 5, 4, or 3 cards, with the leader taking the least and the slacker taking the most. If you're in the pit at the end of a turn, you get a freebie as well. All in all, managing your hand is the single most important aspect of the game, and if you run short of cards at the wrong time, you're completely and unabashedly fucked. The winner is the player who crosses the finish line first on the last lap of the game.

Some games can be one lap, others as many as you wish. The game is quite flexible on length, but while this is advertised as a fast-playing game, it's not. It's very slow, very tedious, very fiddly, and not a whole lot of fun. I would recommend having as few track sections as possible in a small circular track for the learning game as well, since there are some tricky bits to understand, such as the drifting and swooping between cars.

Overall, I would not recommend this game to anyone who likes Formula D, Powerboats, Snow Tails, Rush n' Crush, or any other racing game. This feels much more like a dry piece of toast than a fast and furious racer. It's just so damned fiddly that you never seem to get into the groove of the game, even knowing how to play and having played before, and the whole die-is-speed mechanic totally and utterly fails.

I'm sure there's people who would appreciate this game more than I do, because it's well-produced and the design is pretty slick, but like so many games that look great when you read the rules and fall completely flat when you actually play, this game just sucked ass for myself and every one of the six people I've played this with. And thanks to Frank and Mickey, the final assessment of this game can be pared down to one simple word: terrocherous.

Why Nitro Dice Is High Octane Racing Fuel:
- The art is really nice all the way through and the production value is quite good
- There's some smart stuff in the game, with cool screwage mechanics being foremost
- Hey, everyone loves skanks and juggies

Why Nitro Dice Exploded Into A Fireball Of Pain And Death:
- Incredibly dry, fiddly and torturously boring gameplay killed this for me
- The dice being used as the speed was an epic failure
- Odd drifting and slotting rules made it harder than it had to be

I, and all of my friends, unambigously hated this game; it took over a month to get through three plays. I went into each of the games I played with an open mind, but at the end of the day, this is a terribly boring game. I mean, boring beyond all comprehension. For $22.00, maybe you can try it and see if it was just us, but I think you'd be better served getting six D10 dice and a copy of Cherry Pop Tart instead. The one thing I got from this game is that I should add "terrocherous" to the Urban Dictionary.

1.5/5 Stars

You can read the rules at BGG, and check out the Minion Games site if you wish here:


Hendal said...

Hey Pete,

I hate to say it, but I feel Minion Games just does not do enough play testing. I was suppose to do demo´s of their games at GC 10´, and after playing them and finding things that where broken and getting back a reply that they would add that to their list of game changes I decided GC time is to precious to waste on teaching a game that was not playtested enough. They send me a PDF of all 4 games they had - which was awesome. When I found stuff wrong with Nile, I asked questions only to find out they had a new version out with new ast work, some new rules, and they never told me, just seeemed weird. I like your new word though!

Anonymous said...

You have more experience with Minion, so I'll have to defer to your judgement on the other titles they carry. All I know is that Five Fingered Discount is wicked awesome. Incredibly fun and well designed game.

This game was just terribly boring. Nothing wrong with it, per se, just fiddly and truly mind numbing.