Can a board game really harness the raw, primal feeling of tearing down the highway and, conversely, can it overcome the paralytic wave of boredom I feel whenever I accidentally watch NASCAR for any length of time? (I know, millions of people love NASCAR. And to them, I say…sorry, I dozed off, what were we talking about?)
Most games probably can’t. But what about Dicey Curves?
Dicey Curves plays 2-8 players (though I find the track gets crowded beyond 4-5) and lasts around 30 minutes, though the game (i.e. race) length can be completely customized. You and your friends will chuck dice and navigate the track, all vying for the number one spot across the finish line. It’s a game about raw luck and positioning and strategic use of limited resources.
But, and this is the most important bit, Dicey Curves is a racing game about racing.
On each of your turns in Dicey Curves, you will add a card to the ever-growing race track, grab a pile of five white 6-siders and roll, trying to form straights or sets of numbers. These combos allow you to move along the track, based on the number of dice in the set; a (2 3 4) lets you move three spaces, whereas (4 4) would let you move two. Barreling along is quite easy on straightaways, but just like real racing (not to mention other racing games), where Dicey Curves gets a little complicated is in the titular curves. And it’s in those curves that the reason I really like this game comes to light.
My first exposure to car racing games was Formula D (apparently pronounced Formula ‘Day’, as I’m corrected constantly?), a big, pretty game from Asmodee. It’s got a million expansions, tons of accolades, unique dice representing gear-shifts, neat little minis, variable player powers, boards bigger than most tables, just so much going for it! Formula D is a Good Game, by all accounts.
And I didn’t like it.
I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t like it. It bored me somehow, and it wasn’t until my third game that I understood why. Formula D is a racing game absolutely obsessed with slowing down. You can gearshift up to go an insane number of spaces, but the instant you hit a curve, you’d better slow your ass down to a crawl so that you don’t damage your fragile little car and smash yourself clean out of the game.
I get it, speed management is an integral part of racing, especially on tight, dangerous curves, where all those exciting accidents happen! But it just felt so incredibly blah to be playing a game with a fracking 30-sided die and to live in fear of ever getting past 4th gear. Ok, I’m exaggerating, but that’s just how it felt. Formula D makes curves, arguably the most dangerous and exciting part of any race, into these fussy little annoyances.
Dicey Curves doesn’t suffer that issue.
You see, in Dicey Curves, the curves are still obstacles to overcome. But instead of demanding you stop a certain number of times as in Formula D, the curves in Dicey Curves (which I am just going to start abbreviating DC for a bit) act as gates which you cannot cross until you have rolled certain size combos.
And while that may sound like just trading one slow-down mechanism for another, there are two things which make DC’s handling of curves so much better – control tokens and exploding 6’s.
Let’s start with the (sadly metaphorical) exploding 6’s. While you roll five dice by default, for every die that comes up a 6, you add a bonus green die, and reroll the 6. If those come up 6’s, add more dice and roll some more! With any degree of luck, you won’t be working with five dice to make those 2,3,4 and even 5 die combos, you’ll be working with up to ten dice, making your eventual success so much more likely. Each 6 rolled is a little jolt of excitement, adding more and more tension to your attempt to scream around turns and blow past your opponents.
But what if you’re rolling poorly? Or what if there is a pileup in front of a gate? That’s where the control chips come in. You can turn in these little plastic wafers to reroll dice, or add extra dice if you didn’t get any 6’s. Once you’re on the move, you can spend them to bypass other cars which would otherwise block you, or keep moving after you’ve technically stopped, or even to control other players’ cars, to either get them out of your way or corner them behind tough gates.
While these control tokens are not insta-win, they make it much less likely that you’ll waste turns trapped behind a gate, wishing you could just go fast.
And, in another really clever little design choice, the way you get chips is by purchasing them with left-over combos at the end of your turn. Moved once, then got stuck behind a gate that your current combos won’t bypass? Well, turn those combos in for some chips and next turn you’re more likely to succeed. See, in Dicey Curves, turns are never really ‘wasted’; if you can’t get past a curve, at least you are probably accruing control chips for your next turn. Each failure to advance makes the next attempt more likely to succeed.
Sure, bad luck happens, but you gain more agency with each passing turn, not less, and that changes everything about the experience for me.
Included in the Dicey Curves Deluxe bundle is the ‘DANGER!’ expansion, which adds even more control and a whole mess of take-that mechanics, including lane closures, track debris, and car damage. The expansion really changes the tone of the game from light and fast to brutal and competitive, adding a lot of playability for those looking for more interaction and challenge.
Listen. Formula D is a big, beautiful game, and in all likelihood, I just need to give it another chance or three. But the bottom line is that Dicey Curves Deluxe was fun right out of the small, super-portable box (which has definitely hit my lunch table a few times, something a bigger game simply couldn’t).
Sure, the components could have been fancier, but ultimately, an emphasis on going rather than stopping make Dicey Curves the racing game for me.
If you want to check out Matt Worden’s awesome little racing game, grab yourself a copy here!
(Full disclosure time: Matt sent us a copy of Dicey Curves at our giddy, enthusiastic request. His generosity didn’t factor into our review, but it does factor into our considering him a pretty cool dude all around)