Quarriors is a “dice-building” game – a deck-building game, but with dice instead of cards. Quarriors was one of the big buzz games from 2011, and was nominated for multiple Dice Tower Awards this year. Quarriors was designed by Mike Elliott and Eric Lang, is published by WizKids, and retails for about $55.
The Quick Take: A big thumbs down. Little strategy, way more luck whammies than you can shake a stick at, and the mechanics of the game have a built-in “win more” aspect that can easily let a player with an early lead run away with the game. About the only positive is that, if you really like to have a bag full of dice and then roll them, the game does entirely consist of drawing dice out of a bag and rolling them.
Can we assume that everyone here has played a deck-building game? No, really, there’s someone left who hasn’t played Dominion?
In Quarriors, each player starts with a “dice pool” of 12 dice. When full, the dice pool is stored in a bag, and dice are drawn out of it when needed (like having a deck). After being used, the dice go to a used pile (discard pile). When a die is needed and the bag is empty, the used pile is recycled back into the bag.
The starting dice pool consists of eight basic Quiddity Dice, and four Assistants. Quiddity Dice produce quiddity from all six sides. Quiddity is the currency of the game – you use it to buy dice, and later use it to activate creature dice. The other four dice are Assistants, a very basic creature. On half of the sides, the Assistant produces quiddity. On one of the sides you can re-roll the Assistant die and one other die. And the other couple of sides are the creature version of the Assistant (see below).
In addition to these two dice, each game features another 11 dice that can be bought and added to players’ dice pools. Every game includes the Portal die (which allows re-rolls and possibly adding an extra die to the active pool), six randomly chosen creature dice, and three randomly chosen spell dice. In order to increase the play options, each set of five physical dice that come with the game corresponds to three different cards that are placed out to provide information on the exact properties of that kind of die that game (normal, Strong, and Mighty versions for creatures; Cantrip, Charm, and Incantation versions for the spells).
On each player’s turn, that player draws six dice out of the bag and rolls them. The dice can be matched up with the corresponding card to check what each side means, although this isn’t necessary after the first few times. This is known as the active pool. After any re-rolls are taken care of, the player may summon creatures or ready spells. All creatures and spells have several sides that produce quiddity rather than showing the creature or spell – they can only be used for the spell/creature part if that side is up.
Spells are pretty straightforward – you move the spell die from your active pool to your ready area. Then you can use the die basically whenever you feel like it.
Creatures have some numbers on them – three, to be exact. There’s a little image of the creature in the middle, and then to the upper left is cost in quiddity to summon the creatures, to the upper right is attack power, and to the lower right is defense. Once the summoning cost is paid (by moving quiddity-showing dice from the active pool to the used pool), the creature moves to the ready area.
Once that’s done, the creatures just summoned can attack. The total attack score of all of the creatures in the ready area is summed, and then this is used to attack each other player (so if there are 3 attack power of creatures out, 3 attack goes at each enemy player). If the other players don’t have creature dice out, then the attack does nothing – the whole point is to kill other players’ creatures. But if they do have creature dice out, then they have to start nominating creature dice to absorb the attack. One dice is sent out at a time – if the attack equals or beats that creature’s defense, then the creature goes to the used pile. If there’s any remaining attack, then another defender has to trot out. There is no effect if there is some attack left, but not enough to kill the defender.
After the attack is done, the player may use any remaining quiddity to purchase a single die (the marker card tells the cost), which is added to the used pool. Any remaining dice in the active pool are then tossed into the used pool as well. Turn over!
The next player’s turn begins by scoring any creature dice still in his or her ready area. The number of Glory for each score die is defined by the marker card. The scored die is placed in the used pool. The player than has the opportunity to “cull” one die for each creature scored – he or she picks a die from the used pool and puts it back on the appropriate card in the middle of the table.
Then the player draws six new dice from his or her bag, rolls them, and it all starts over again. Winner is the first to 12 (4 players), 15 (3 players), or 20 (2 players) Glory.
Quarriors comes with a big stack of dice – 130 of them. The dice are also nice custom jobs, with engraved sides rather than painted ones, so they hold up very well. They aren’t big dice, but they aren’t micro dice either.
There’s also the marker cards, which are pretty flimsy, but that’s OK because you only shuffle them once per game. There’s a Glory tracker with a marker for each player, and four cheap-feeling dice bags.
Quarriors other distinctive component is the box itself, which is actually a cube tin, designed to look like the game’s Dragon die (once you take the wrap-around label off). Now, this tin has drawn a decent amount of flak, because it’s not exactly the sturdiest metal in the universe, and it’s going to get dented. But I think the tin is an overall positive – it’s unique, it’s interesting, and the fact that the tin will get dented doesn’t hamper its ability to protect/hold its contents. On the other hand, the top maybe could stay on a little better – I haven’t had it come open, but I could see it doing that if you’re the sort to just chuck a die-shaped game tin into your trunk.
Let me be blunt – we universally disliked Quarriors. Not only did we dislike it, but we honestly aren’t entirely sure why anyone does.
There is almost no strategy involved. You get to buy one die a turn. If you aren’t buying a Portal or the most expensive thing you can, it’s because the designers mispriced the dice. There’s no decision to be made who to attack. The only tactical decision to be made is whether to summon all possible creatures, or save a few extra quiddity to purchase a better die later that turn. Yahtzee is more strategic.
We definitely fall into the camp that thinks there’s a “double-luck” problem. Luck #1 is when you draw your dice for the turn. Since this is the equivalent of drawing a new hand in a card game, we’re all on board with this one. Luck #2 is that you then have to roll the dice. So you might get to use that big Dragon die you bought. Or you might never actually roll it creature-side up for the entire game. It’s one thing to have to wait and see when your nifty new card comes up in a deck-building game – but at least you eventually get to play it.
We acknowledge that this is a light game – that it isn’t supposed to be heavy strategy, and that there’s supposed to be a large chunk of luck. We’re fine playing games like that when we’re in the mood. But the lack of strategy and the fact that the die drawing and rolling is the totality of the game means that the double-luck basically consumes the entire game – there’s simply nothing to it but rolling the dice again and again and hoping for the best.
But, wait, there’s more! The game has a massive “win more” problem as well. By bringing out a big creature die or a collection of small ones on a particular turn, you accomplish several things. First, you have a lot of attack and can prevent your opponents from scoring. Second, you have a higher chance of scoring on your next turn. Third, this then lets you cull weak dice from your pool, thus increasing the chances of being able to do it again next turn. This means that a player who is lucky enough to grab a strong die or two early, and then lucky enough to roll the creature sides of those dice, is going to be able to simultaneously advance his win condition directly, stop his opponents’ win conditions directly, and improve his engine for future turns. This just snowballs, letting the earlier leader cruise to a massive victory.
Now, just because a game has some flaws doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. But Quarriors isn’t. The problems we list above are basically the entire game. We sat down with the game for an extra session to see if we might have missed something. We hadn’t. I’ve scoured the popular reviews on BoardGameGeek, trying to find out what the positive reviews liked about the game, and this is what I came up with – “it’s fun because it’s fun!” Now, as somebody who writes reviews, I know it can be hard to really precisely spell out what it is that made a game fun or not fun. But I should be able to find a review that can say something about what makes this game enjoyable, and I wasn’t able to do that (after reading maybe 10 reviews). I’m sure there’s something specific out there, but I’m not spending another hour trying to find why other people liked this – you’re reading this review because you wanted our wit and wisdom, right?
The only thing resembling concrete praise seems to be that it doesn’t involve shuffling like a deck-building game would. And even there I have to disagree, because I find shuffling a bitty deck every few turns much less of a hassle than rooting around a dice bag for exactly the right number of dice every turn.
So, it seems like someone will find Quarriors to be a fun game if they think dice are really cool, and they find the concept of rolling a bunch of unique and nifty dice to be inherently fun, regardless of whether the context of that die-rolling involves any other positive qualities one might associate with a game. Alas, we were not in that category.
There are variants for Quarriors that are supposed to make it better – letting you buy two dice per turn instead of one and/or drastically changing culling so that (other than Assistants) the only die you can cull when scoring is the die you just scored and you have to cull it in order to actually get any points. We have not explored these variants – I know there will be some who think we should have, but after sinking two sessions into Quarriors to make sure we were firm before posting this negative a review, we just aren’t willing to sink more time into trying to save the game.