Dicenstein is a dice game about Frankenstein-ing together a monster, hence the name Dicenstein. Players excavate a cemetery to collect monster part dice to build their monster and battle with opponents. Designed by Chris Fernandez and Tom McGinty, this monster mash-up was funded on Kickstarter and is available for direct orders from Petersen Games.
Players track their individual stats on a player board and start with the stats of a hunchback. After moving into the graveyard, players pull random dice from that location. Once back in their secret laboratory, they can roll their stockpiled dice to see what parts they have available to build a monster. Each part used from a different monster grants that monster’s special ability to that player. While in the laboratory, players also have an opportunity to hoard parts. This means they exchange dice for points according to the value indicated on the burial map. When moving around the graveyard, a battle occurs if you enter the same space as an opponent. Players roll attack dice according to their stats trying to land hits on the enemy monster. Combat is the other way to score points and is an opportunity to steal dice from your opponent, which can be important when opponents have all the dice you need for hoarding.
The set collection mechanism in Dicenstein was interesting, but somewhat flawed. Players get dealt three monster army cards and pick two, which they will secretly aim to collect while also collecting sets of specific monster parts to hoard for points. The monsters are randomly assigned to point value groups on the burial map (see above photo). For example, four monsters will be in a group worth five points for four parts. There are also some monsters that are worth zero victory points. These can be used for the monster bosses which give points for a number of dice of any type, but are available once per game. I enjoyed this because it was fun determining which dice you could spare and hoard those for points, but also keep in mind that you need to collect monster parts on your secret army cards to score points at the end of game. The problem with this is that 7 of the 12 monsters are in the top tier point groups. It is very easy for a player to be dealt 3 monster army cards from the high value groups. If this happens, they can either hoard the dice for points or keep them to score at the end of game, but not both. Another player who got monsters on their cards worth 0 victory points has no tough choice to make. They can hoard the high value monster parts during the game and keep the other dice to score later, which helps them score more points than everyone else.
The experience of playing this game is rather slow, particularly for the first several games. There are many cool ideas in the game, but they get slogged down by the details of the game. In theory, rolling dice and building a monster sounds super fun. However, in practice it really slowed down the game. Players roll, dare I say it, too many dice and then end up checking all the stats and need to consult what each monster ability is. Some of said abilities are too complex to summarize on the reference cards and need a full section in the rulebook. Constructing the monster was by far the slowest part of the game. This does speed up once you’ve played several games and know the abilities better, but the long drawn out first game, of what should have been a medium family friendly game, discouraged people from playing again. It feels like too many aspects were combined into one game. Had some aspects been reduced or removed, the game would have had a better paced and more enjoyable. My suggestion would be to remove the monster abilities and secret monster army cards for a first game. Learn the how movement, combat, and hoarding parts works. Build a monster for the stats only. Once comfortable with these aspects, add in the monster abilities and secret monster army cards. I would also suggest changing how the monster army cards are chosen. My opinion is that it is better to draft these cards, because it is less likely a player will be forced to take all high value monsters. It will also give you some knowledge of which cards your opponent may have selected and thus which dice you should steal after a successful attack. On the topic of attacks, in most games played combat was avoided when possible. Unless there is a good chance of killing an opponent, there is no reward for just doing damage. Just doing damage create an opportunity for someone else to take out a weak opponent, earning points when you did all the heavy lifting. I would have liked to see a rule or an option to allow a monster who takes damage to retreat to their laboratory. Allow them to rebuild their monster, or simply return to the graveyard on their turn with their weaken health. As it is, whoever lands the last hit gets all the points and gets to steal a die. The last contributing factor to the overall slow experience of this game is the amount of setup it takes before you start playing. Placing out all the boards, the monster tokens onto the burial map, then finding the corresponding spots to place the dice.
There is a two-player variant that adds a gravekeeper who moves towards the space last scavenged. This forced combat on players and made scavenging a bit more risky. I enjoyed this added mechanic and liked trying to get the gravekeeper to cross paths with my opponent. However, it still suffered from the problems previously mentioned and created new questions that didn’t have answers in the rulebook.
What kept this game enjoyable was the theme. Dicenstein features a whole slew of monsters including a giant mantis and clown, in addition to the classic monsters. Even more creatures are featured in the board artwork. Players move around the graveyard actually digging parts (dice) out of a bag and piece together strange beasts. It makes you feel a bit like a mad scientist. This was pretty fun determining which space gave you the best odds up digging up something value and if you could get there without getting into a monster battle. Despite slowing down the game, trying to build the monster with the best stats did bring some satisfaction. Especially when you increase your stats to be able to move anywhere on the board or go to a space and take all the dice. If you love meeples and dice, you’ll get plenty of from Dicenstein. Four giant monster meeples and there mini counterparts are included and 117 large custom molded dice. The only component problem I experienced was a mishap with the sliders that are different from the original design and don’t work well with the player boards. In the slots they couldn’t slide down to the minimum and maximum stats, so we just let them sit on top of the board.
Rather disappointingly, Dicenstein was only mediocre. It had the makings of good game and looked awesome, I was so excited to play it. However, it was a bit heavier than it needed to be, which made it hard to introduce to new players. The large components and artwork made it look like a great game for kids, but it ended up having too many elements for children to track and understand. I’d really have to be in the right mood to invest the time into playing and teaching Dicenstein. However, other set collection, combat, and dice-rolling games are more likely to be brought to the table over Dicenstein. The strong theme is what makes the game worth keeping around. It will likely get much more play time around Halloween.