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Curse of the Black Dice Board Game Review

Black-Dice-Box-Board-GameThe Curse of the Black Dice is a semi-cooperative game for 2-4 Pirates. You and the rest of your crew will go on various adventures, needing to pull together enough to avoid getting your ship sunk or any similar nasty fate. In the end though, only the Pirate who walks away with the most gold can be the winner!

Ready to set sail! And find Gold!

Before each game the players select a mission to play from 1 of 4 cards in the box. Each mission has 6 spaces of “Adventures”, corresponding to the 6 faces of the dice included in The Curse of the Black Dice: Anchor, Rum, Hook & Cutlass, Treasure Map, Ship and Pirate Flag. First of all you will roll 5 “cursed” black dice per player and arrange them next to the corresponding symbol. Then players take turns to roll and add their own dice, looking to at least match the numbers of player-dice to the number of black dice lined up against each Adventure.

Black-Dice-In-Play-Board-GameEach round a player rolls all his dice, then picks one symbol rolled, and adds all dice of that face to the mission. Players can discard a rum token to re-roll all their dice, or to use the special ability of one of the Pirates on their crew – typically to alter a dice result, or to manipulate the Black Dice.

Once a player has placed their dice, the next player takes a turn, and you keep going round until everyone has placed all their dice. At this point you resolve all the Adventures, progressing from left to right. In each Adventure, you compare the number of dice: looking for whether there are as many or more coloured dice and if so the players win and gain rewards (shown at the top of the mission card). When there are fewer player dice than black dice they suffer the consequence of failure (shown at the bottom of the mission card) AND re-roll the number of Black Dice they failed by – if these dice land on symbols of Adventures not yet resolved they are added to those piles, meaning that a single failed adventure could cascade into several more.

Generally speaking the left-hand side of the Mission contains Adventures which benefit the players as a group, whilst the right hand-side offers players the chance to advance their own cause, making money and paving the way for ultimate victory.

Pieces of Eight Twenty-Four

Black-Dice-Components-Board-Game All the components for this game feel fairly nice quality. There are just under 50 good-quality plastic custom dice, 24 for the players, in 4 different colours, and 24 “Cursed” Black dice, which give the Curse of the Black Dice its name. The four different missions included in the Curse of the Black Dice are made of sturdy card-stock, as are the Pirates and the various tokens which with you manipulate the game. The art fits the feel of the game and the finish on the dice fits right in. Aside from tokens representing rum, there are also gold coins – in a nice touch these are generic on one side, hiding a monetary value of 3-5, so even by looking at another player’s pile of loot, you can rarely be sure who’s winning.

As with so many board games, the box for Curse of the Black Dice is comically large compared to what’s inside, but it’s a very generic size/shape (good for fitting on shelves) and leaves plenty of room for expansions should you want them.

Lost in Translation – but not completely

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There is no written language in-game to worry about

All the designers of Curse of the Black Dice appear to be German and The Curse of the Black Dice comes with Polish, German and English rulebooks (there is essentially no in-game text besides the rules, so the components are of no particular language.)

Unfortunately the Rulebook does feel like a translation: there are several places where the wording is just odd and a few where things are unclear.

Assuming you begin with the first of the 4 scenarios for your first game, there will be rules flagged up to you that simply don’t apply in that game – when you do encounter them in later scenarios you then have to re-trace your steps to find the explanation.

All of this is by way of a warning: I don’t think there’s anything in the rulebook which makes it unplayable and Curse of the Black Dice is definitely a fun game once you figure it out, just expect that you might need to take a little time puzzling over some of the sections to figure out what is what.

Whose side are you on? Mine!

In the first few 4-player games of this that we played the mission was accomplished without any of the crew drowning or the ship sinking – this led to some comments that The Curse of the Black Dice might be a little bit on the easy side.

This, I think, links back to one of the defining features of Curse of the Black Dice, the fact that it is semi co-operative.

There is a discussion on Board Game Geek about whether the entire concept of a semi-co-op game is flawed: the discussion is 322 pages long and doesn’t look like its stopping. I’m going to chime in here and say that I think the concept can work, but you need to be clear on what you are doing.

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In this example, the green player has ensured that the crew succeed at the mission – but only red and blue will get any gold out of it

If you were to play Curse of the Black Dice fully co-op, then you should be able to match the dice against you and complete the mission. However, there will be some players who are putting dice in and getting nothing out: the Hook and Cutlass adventure has a penalty for losing – a pirate thrown overboard, but no reward for winning. In a fully cooperative game, you wouldn’t mind putting all 5 of your dice on that adventure if needed – without a crew, you lose the game, but there still has to be an overall winner in Curse of the Black Dice, whilst you’re keeping the crew aboard, your fellow-gamers are getting rich as they place their dice on the adventures which get them Gold and Rum.

At the end of each round, the player who put the most dice on the left-hand side becomes the captain – they get a small wooden sword, and go first in the next round but unless it’s the final turn, this is extremely unlikely to translate into material benefits: as one of the designers has noted on Board Game Geek, the Captain’s sword is basically a “you played for the team, don’t get the marker a second time” marker – play enough rounds as the captain and defeat is pretty-much guaranteed.

Looking for Variety? It’s the Spice(d Rum) of life!

As the developers note on Board Game Geek, this game is very modular – you can play the same mission, with the same player-count and get a very different play-experience by changing the Pirates, or you can keep the Pirates and change the mission, or change the player-count, which automatically changes the number of Pirates…

In light of this, it’s not surprising that the designers have come out with suggestions for ways you could vary the game. There is an official Solo variant which can be downloaded from their website, as well as lots of smaller tweaks lised in forums.

Black-Dice-Captain-Variant-Board-Game

In reward for his selflessness, Green is now the Captain, and can take the 5 for himself whilst directing the 3 to Blue who is probably winning

The various minor tweaks out there serve to either make playing Curse of the Black Dice harder, or to alter the balance between the player-roles: These include ways to make the failure of a particular adventure more punishing, require more rum to get the crew back to work, or giving the captain a more useful power.

There’s also a Solo variant on the website. Aside from being even sketchier than the main rule-book in terms of translation / proof-reading, this is a welcome addition – it doesn’t feel tacked on, and offers an interesting gameplay experience which is at once both clearly the same game and different from playing with 2 or more. That said, this is one of the places where the low difficulty level of The Curse of the Black Dice can be most keenly felt, and without your fellow players to compete against you might want to adjust the difficulty, which is easy enough to do by adding an extra Black Dice or cutting your starting rum ration. Curse of the Black Dice is definitely the sort of game that can unravel pretty quickly if it does start to get away from you, but in Solo mode as written, I’ve never had it manage to do that.

It seems inevitable that this game is going to get an expansion, and long-term that’s probably a good thing: eventually, that limit of 4 different missions to play could get a bit restrictive, especially in high player-count games, where there are fewer possibilities in terms of Pirates (there are still 21 different combinations, even in 4-player, so don’t panic). That doesn’t mean that the current game is lacking, just that there’s plenty of scope for the future.

Facing the Curse of the Black Dice

Overall, Curse of the Black Dice is a good, fun game. It plays quickly, and the vast majority of the gameplay is very straight-forward. The fact that outcomes are dictated by dice-rolls stops things from getting too predictable, and ensures that there’s plenty of variety in the box for the money you paid.

Black-Dice-Sinking-Ship-Board-Game

Blue and Red have done the same as before, but Green isn’t going to save them this time – Adventures 1 and 3 will be failed, and with those Black dice being re-rolled, everything could fall apart…

There’s not a massive amount of depth strategically in terms of beating the game, but there’s a lot of scope in beating your fellow-players. This is how it should be: Ultimately, any Semi-Co-op game lives and dies by the group who play it – for the maximum fun experience you probably need a group who are prepared to push the boundaries of helping themselves over helping others and a shared understanding on what the ultimate goal is. If your group has a player who’s going to sink the ship or kill the crew if he’s too far behind to win then you need to be careful not to get too far ahead of him!

If you don’t communicate the nature of the game properly, or if you get fed-up with the Rule Book too quickly, there’s a danger you could get frustrated with this, but I think it really repays just a little investment of time. The theme and the art of this game all come together really nicely, it’s simple to pick up, and because most of the nuance is social it can be played a lot without becoming predictable.

5 (100%) 5 votes
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James Phillips

I'm an avid board and card-gamer, still trying to figure out where Board Gaming fits into life as the dad of a very grabby toddler. I enjoy thematic games (Fantasy, Cthulhu, etc) and play a lot of cooperative games, along with a bit of competitive gaming (currently Legend of the Five Rings) when I can make it out of the house. When not playing games, I can be found doing a mundane office job, or working on my own Blog, Fistful of Meeples.

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