Best Dice Board Games – Ranked & Reviewed (2019)
Dice have been around for ages. They were some of the first means of social diversion, gambling, and fortunetelling. Dice could be easily shaped from stone, clay, wood, or bone and provided hours of entertainment for ancient peoples.
Dice have been used since before recorded history although it is uncertain where they originated. The oldest known dice were excavated as part of a backgammon-like game set at the Burnt City, an archeological site in southeastern Iran, estimated to be from between 2800–2500 BCE. Other excavations from ancient tombs in the Indus Valley civilization indicate a South Asian origin (modern-day India). The Egyptian game Senet (link) was played with dice dating all the way back to 3000 BCE.
Mythological Stories of Dice
One of the oldest mythological fables tells of the Roman god Mercury playing at dice with Selene and winning from her the five days of the epact (thus totaling the 365 days of the year and harmonizing the lunar and solar calendars).
The ancient Greek philosopher Plato credits an Egyptian god with the invention of dice, saying, “At the Egyptian city of Naucratis there was a famous old god whose name was Theuth; the bird which is called the Ibis was sacred to him, and he was the inventor of many arts, such as arithmetic and calculation and geometry and astronomy and draughts and dice, but his great discovery was the use of letters.”
The Many Faces of Dice
Although they may be what first comes to mind when you think of dice, six-sided dice are not the only game in town (pun intended). If you’ve ever played Dungeons & Dragons, you’ll be familiar with 4-sided, 8-sided, 10-sided, 12-sided, and even 20-sided dice. Six-sided dice may be the most common but probably developed from “dice” that were a little less square. In his Encyclopedia of Play in Today’s Society, Jay Laird theorized that dice developed from the practice of fortunetelling with the talus of hoofed animals, colloquially known as “knucklebones”, one of the oldest divination techniques that incorporate randomness.
If you’re a nerd like me, check out our article on the history of board games to get the full story.
Okay, now that we have an idea of where dice games originated, let’s get rolling (pun intended).
“What do the dice say?”
“Dice say nothing. They are dice.”
“Why roll ’em, then?”
“They are dice. What else would I do with them?”
―Joe Abercrombie, Best Served Cold
STAINED GLASS WINDOWS… WOOHOO!
Well, it’s hard to get super jazzed about stained glass, but it’s easy to get hyped up for a game of Sagrada. It’s possibly one of the prettiest dice games I’ve ever seen. And it’s a ton of fun.
Sagrada is a dice-drafting game where players pull dice from a bag to complete a stained glass pattern on their board. You’ll have plenty of options to choose from as Sagrada comes with 90 multi-colored dice to fulfill your artistic expression.
The finely-tuned artistic style isn’t as easy as throwing some dice, though. Each stained glass pattern has a set pattern and certain dice can only be played in specific spots on the board, based on color or number of pips. If the dice aren’t cooperating, there are several special abilities that can be utilized to change up the dice.
If you’re having trouble with the dice gods, it may be time to find yourself a new god… an Eldritch one perhaps?
Elder Sign is a dice-based, Lovecraft-inspired board game from Fantasy Flight Games. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s from the same designer of Arkham Horror and shares a lot of the same themes and some mechanics. It’s basically a toned-down, dice version of Arkham Horror. If you’ve ever played Arkham, you’ll know that a toned-down version of Arkham is still a lot of game.
Elder Sign is a sometimes almost like a warped version of Yahtzee. Investigators must go on quests to stop the Elder gods from awakening. To complete quests, the investigators roll a handful of custom dice and try to match up the symbols on the quest card. Players will take any die that matches the quest and reroll for anything remaining. The quests get progressively harder because each reroll removes a die from the dice pool. Eventually, they’ll either complete the quest and gain a reward, or fail and receive a penalty (usually a loss in health or sanity).
If you’re jonesing for a round of Arkham but can’t get a group together, Elder Sign has you covered. Just don’t let the madness sink in…
Roll for the Galaxy
“Cursed is the wretch enslaved to such a vice,
Who ventures life and soul upon the dice.”
―Horace (Roman scholar), 1st century BCE
Did you ever hear of the theory that an entire universe could be contained within a single atom?
Whether or not it’s true, you can contain an entire galaxy in the form of a few cards and a handful of dice.
Roll for the Galaxy is very complex for such a compact dice game. In it, players use various custom dice to explore, colonize, and research technologies for their own space-faring civilization. Each face of the die corresponds to a specific action that a player can take and each additional planet or technology acquired throughout the game will give bonus dice or special abilities to boost or alter dice scores.
Roll for the Galaxy is a beginner-friendly version of Race for the Galaxy, and I personally like it better for its streamlined gameplay.
The only downside I can think of is related to human nature. Players roll their dice behind a screen and place them on their board to perform actions. If you don’t trust your fellow players to not alter their rolls, you may want to consider who you game with.
Marvel Dice Masters: Avengers vs. X-Men
Collectible Dice!? Who comes up with this…? and why can’t I stop rolling?
Marvel Dice Masters is one of the craziest mashups of genres and mechanics I can think of. It mixes deck-building (dice-building?), collectible card games, and mechanics from Magic: The Gathering to make a truly unique experience.
Instead of deck-building, Dice Masters swaps out cards with dice. Players choose 8 different hero cards (or villains) and add them to a supply pile. Each card has a specific set of dice that goes along with each card and players will build a supply of 20 dice that are distributed among the 8 cards.
Throughout the game, players will purchase those dice to add to their dice pool. On each turn, players roll a handful of random dice from their dice pool that will determine what kind of actions and attacks that they are able to perform on each turn.
The game actually plays like a Magic: The Gathering-style duel in that players will be putting out Marvel heroes and villains and attacking their opponent’s life points.
There’s a ton of strategy and synergies that can be mixed and matched, depending upon what cards and dice are chosen at the beginning of the game and what dice are purchased throughout.
Each die is completely different and super fun to roll. Each hero and villain have their own colored dice with a customized symbol on it that make it easily identifiable. The game itself is actually very cheap and booster packs are only a dollar, so it’s one of the few collectible games that isn’t going to break the bank.
“Who then may trust the dice, at Fortune’s throw?” ―Geoffrey Chaucer, known as The Father of English Literature, 14th century
Machi Koro is simplistic in design and easy to learn and play.
Step 1: Build Stuff
Step 2: Roll Dice
Step 3: Profit
It’s as if Sim City and Catan had a lovechild.
In Machi Koro, you become the mayor of your own little town. You get to decide what buildings will go into the town and the dice rolls decide what resources you get on every turn.
Everything about the game is simple, but everything also has a charming aesthetic that goes along with that simplicity. The artwork, for example, isn’t going to be hung in the Louvre any time soon, but I honestly wouldn’t mind it hanging on my wall. The rules are very quick to pick up, yet it’s super fun for having so few mechanics.
Machi Koro gets players into the game very quickly and rolling the dice and if you somehow get bored of building cities, there are several expansions already out and a brand spanking new Legacy version has been announced for a 2019 release.
Pandemic: The Cure
Pandemic: The Cure takes everything I love about Pandemic and distills it down into a streamlined dice experience.
Players familiar with Pandemic will be right at home with the tense gameplay and watching all of their well-planned work crumbling around them as the diseases outbreak and run rampant across the board.
The Cure is a little more random than regular Pandemic, but it’s much quicker, so it’s perfect to play when you’re on a bit more of a time crunch. Due to the dice mechanics, The Cure also suffers much less from Alpha Gamer Syndrome. Players will still talk and try to strategize moves, but because of the dice, you simply don’t have another player railroading the game.
The Cure is by no means just a tiny dice version of Pandemic. It’s actually quite large and almost feels like its own big box game in its own right.
King of Tokyo
“It is lost at dice, what ancient honor won.” ―William Shakespeare, English playwright, 16th century
Who doesn’t like giant monsters attacking Tokyo? The citizens of Tokyo perhaps, but that’s not the point.
The point is all about the dice and King of Tokyo has them in scores. It’s a Kaiju-based dice game in which players will compete to take control of Tokyo. When one giant monster takes control of Tokyo, they’ll gain victory points every turn, and every turn when they attack, they’ll hit every other player in the game. There’s always a downside to being the King. Every player will constantly try to attack the King until he is forced to flee… or die.
Each turn, players roll dice, Yahtzee style. They’ll be able to choose which dice they want to keep and reroll the others. This happens twice. You could get a number (1,2,3) to score points, fists to punch other monsters, or energy bolts to buy superpowers.
King of Tokyo is so goofy looking and reminds me so much of watching crappy Godzilla and King Kong movies. For those of you that don’t know what the Kaiju genre is, it’s a sci-fi genre originating from Japan where giant monsters fight flimsy plot lines in rubber suits. They’re campy, don’t take themselves too seriously, and are a ton of fun, which is everything King of Tokyo is… in a box.
Dice Throne: Season 1
Let’s get ready for a slugfest!
Dice Throne has players competing in a brawl to be the last player or team standing.
Each character gets a unique hero to use during the game, and each comes with a customized set of dice. I really like the dice in this game. Each players’ dice are not only customized by what’s on the face of the die, but they’re also designed beautifully to match up with the aesthetic of the character.
While attacking, players will roll their custom dice, which match up with the abilities printed on their player board, and the defender will do the same, but will only be able to use their defensive abilities on their board.
To add a little more flavor to the game, players can draw cards and use combat points they’ve rolled up from the dice to use special abilities which can upgrade heroes or modify dice rolls in their favor.
Dice Throne is a blast to play. Dice are flying quickly and you’ll be knee-deep in combat before you know it. Each of the characters plays and feels different, so it’s not stale and picking characters affects the game a little more than just color choice.
As you may have guessed from the title of the game, this is the first version of the game Season 1. There’s already a Season 2 out that adds even more dice, characters, and abilities to beat up your friends.
Star Wars: Destiny
“Tis Fate that flings the dice,
And as she flings
Of kings makes peasants,
And of peasants kings.”
―John Dryden, English poet, 17th century
In a galaxy not so far away, in a time not so long ago, a battle raged on between two factions. The weapon of choice weren’t lightsabers or blasters. The fate of the galaxy was decided by… DICE.
Star Wars: Destiny is a bit more collectible than some of the other dueling dice games on this list. The starter packs come with 2 heroes or 2 villains that will make up a team. Each hero will have custom dice to use when the character is activated and their corresponding card has all the references for their abilities and actions.
The game is very simple to learn and the instructions are only a 2-page leaflet. When building a deck to go along with the heroes, you’ll need to match up the colors of the heroes or villains you choose to use. If you have a yellow and blue hero then you can add blue, yellow, and grey (neutral) cards to your deck. Some cards will also have custom dice that go along with it or add special abilities to heroes. For example, you could give classic Leia a big ol’ blaster to replace her generic one, or equip a stormtrooper with a Tie Fighter.
The game ends when a player runs out of cards or when one team’s heroes or villains are killed.
For a bit of Star Wars flair and some big bulky dice, Star Wars: Destiny delivers a fun thematic experience in a galaxy surprising close.
Are you a Star Wars fan who loves board games? If so, pop on over to our rundown of best Star Wars board games and let us know what you think of our favorites!
“The devotion of the greatest is to encounter risk and danger, and play dice for death.” ―Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher, 19th century
QUARRIORS! COME OUT TO PLAY-AY!!
This game is going to look very similar to Dice Masters. That’s because the Dice Masters system is based on QUARRIORS!
In Quarriors, players will draft and roll dice similarly to a fantasy deck-builder, Q pun-filled theme. Each card will have corresponding dice and holds all the reference information so that players know exactly what each symbol on the custom dice means. Players are competing for glory points. So, the first player to reach a certain number of points wins. The point total will vary, depending upon the number of players.
Quarriors is probably the first dice-drafting game ever made. Being first has some advantages and disadvantages. It was the first game to mix all of these elements together and therefore, has a bit of the nostalgia effect that makes it special. It does suffer from a few minor rules issues that were ironed out and refined in the Dice Masters series that succeeded it. Does that mean Quarriors isn’t good anymore? Heck no. Quarriors is still a blast to play and full of stupid Q puns throughout the game that will keep you laughing nonstop.
“Capitalism knows only one color: that color is green.” ―Thomas Sewell, American Economist and Social Theorist
Panamax puts players in the shoes of various shipping companies trying to push cargo and make the most money.
Each player will control one company and ultimately control its destiny. Over the course of the game, you’ll also get the chance to invest in stocks of other companies that will fluctuate throughout the course of the game depending on how well you’re doing.
In Panamax, the player with the most money is going to win. Notice, I didn’t say anything about the most successful shipping company. In a case of art imitating life, you don’t have to have the most successful company to win. In fact, in certain cases, it might be better to tank your company and let it implode. If a bunch of your opponents have heavily invested in your company it might be worth your while to let it tank.
Where are the dice, though?
The dice in the game all represent cargo. Players will need to load cargo onto ships in order to make money. When they actually deliver it, they’ll gain special abilities or bonuses. Ships have weight requirements, though, and the dice need to be managed as efficiently as possible, otherwise, all that sweet cargo will sit in a warehouse not making you any money.
Panamax has a lot of moving parts, but that’s partially why it’s so fascinating. The fight to get cargo delivered, and the stock system in the companies adds layers of depth to the game that will keep you occupied for many sessions at your table.
How do you make a building? With dice, of course!
Blueprints is an excellent (and compact) game where players work to create buildings out of dice according to a secret blueprint they’re given at the beginning of the game.
Each blueprint holds a picture of a three-dimensional stack of dice that form a building and each different color of dice represents a different building material. As players take turns, they’ll draft dice from a dice pool and then place the dice on their hidden player boards to match up with the blueprint.
Players get a bonus for completing the blueprint correctly but they’ll also get additional points, depending upon what building materials they used (colored dice) and where they are located in the building. Once players get to a certain point, it might be worthwhile to ignore the blueprint entirely and just build whatever works.
Frankenstein buildings and angry contractors aside, Blueprints has a lot more strategy than it may seem at first glance. First of all, the dice pool always offers a chance that another player will pull the exact die that you need. Why that specific die? Well, to stack a die and make a taller building, the value of the die has to be equal to or higher than the one it sits on, making building higher buildings progressively more difficult. If that’s not enough, the different materials usually work best in specific situations, and the wrong dice draft could send your well-crafted plans tumbling down.
I really enjoy Blueprints. It’s a deceptively complex, yet incredibly fun game and it still manages to be very easy to learn and a hit among the uninitiated in the board gaming community, making it a perfect gateway game for newer players.
“Wine loved I deeply, dice dearly.” ―William Shakespeare, English playwright, 16th century
Dice Forge is one of the few games where you can completely customize your dice in-game. No, that doesn’t mean you get to build a dice pool. I mean that you get to literally rip off the face of a die and replace it with another; forging a brand new die.
Dice Forge has one of the coolest components I’ve ever seen, which makes it even more amazing that it’s primarily a dice game.
Players roll dice every turn and gain resources depending upon the roll. Players could get colored gems, gold, or victory points, depending on their roles and they can use those to buy cards that upgrade dice or give other bonuses.
The dice upgrades can be as simple as upgrading the side that gives 1 gold to 2 gold or it can get a little nutty. There are sides that give a x3 multiplier, a choice of resources, bonus points dependant on a second die. Each player’s dice are going to be completely different by the time the game ends.
Keeping all of these components together and in order, you think would be a nightmare, but the production value put into the box is incredible. The dice sides have a very organized tray that’s easy to set up and keep everything neat. The cards and board have a beautiful layout and all the cards have nice slots that perfectly fit everything needed and each player will have a board that keeps track of all resources.
Dice Forge is such a unique dice game and the production value from the dice and organizers offer a lot of value crammed into one box.
Zombies are in everything nowadays; completely unrelenting and unstoppable. They even come in dice. Zombie Dice by Steve Jackson is a super simple press-your-luck time-waster.
I pull this one out whenever I have 15-20 minutes to spare before I go out or whenever I’m waiting for something. Pull 3 dice out of the cup and roll. In Zombie Dice, the players are the zombies and boy, do you like brains.
To play, grab 3 dice and roll. Every brain is a point, footprints mean your victims escaped (for now…), and a blast means you got shot with a shotgun. Three shots and your turn is over and you lose any brains you may have rolled. After each roll, you can pull another dice from the cup and reroll all of your escaped victims. Brains and shotguns stay where they are, and you can give up anytime before you’re shot 3 times to score points.
The custom dice come in 3 colors; green, yellow, and red. The colors show the ratio of brains to shotguns. Green = more chances of getting brains and Red = more chances of getting shot in the face.
It’s easy, quick, and it is fun. Zombie Dice is still one of my go-to games when I need to kill a bit of time, or something portable I can play while waiting. Don’t take this to a library, though. The dice clatter like the sound of a tool chest falling down the stairs.
“Whose game was empires and whose stakes were thrones, Whose table earth, whose dice were human bones.” ―Lord Byron, 18th century
Roll some dice. Push your luck.
Dice Stars is a very simple game, similar to Yahtzee. Players roll dice and take totals to score on a sheet. Dice Stars is a little bit more intricate when it comes to scoring. Players pull a set number of dice out of a bag and roll. Instead of normal dice numbers, players can score colors and star values as well. Dice Stars comes with a custom chart to help keep track of all of this, and it’s much easier to see and do than it is to explain.
Players will fill out the scorecard in specific spots, depending on if a player chooses to score numbers, colors, or stars. Stars have their own special scoring points. For each section, there will be a certain number of Star spaces. If a player chooses to score stars, then they can fill in the same number of star spaces. At the end of the game, if the star row is completely filled, that row is worth DOUBLE the points. If it’s only partially filled in with stars, that entire row is worth a big fat ZERO. If there are no stars at all, it’s just worth regular points.
Dice Stars is a very simple concept and owes a lot of its roots to Yahtzee, but overall it’s just a more fun game (and I love Yahtzee). I used to play it for hours in the garage with my friends, and have a lot of fond memories associated with it, but Dice Stars has completely replaced it for me. It’s more interesting, more fun, and much prettier.
BANG! The Dice Game
Bang! Bang! If you don’t pull out the finger guns while playing Bang! you’re doing it wrong.
Mandatory finger guns aside, Bang! is the dice version of the same-named game. The rules are a bit simpler and more streamlined, and the entire game can be played in about 15 minutes.
It’s a mashup of dice and hidden traitor mechanics with 3 factions; the Law (sheriff & deputies), the Fugitives, and the Renegades. The Law wins if the Sheriff survives and takes out all Fugitives and Renegades. The Fugitives win if one manages to survive and take out the sheriff, and the Renegades win if all the Fugitives are dead and the Sheriff is killed.
Special dice are used in the game and rolled in a Yahtzee-like fashion. Players will have one initial roll and two rerolls while saving items they want to keep.
Players can roll:
- Dynamite: Can’t be rerolled and if you get three BOOM your turns over.
- 1 & 2: Players can shoot at a player 1 or 2 spots away from them at the table.
- Gatling Gun (3 shot marks): If you manage to roll 3 of these in a turn, EVERYONE else gets hit.
- Arrow: You get hit with an arrow and take an arrow marker. Once the last arrow marker is taken, everyone counts up the arrow tokens they have and take that much damage (it can be pretty brutal).
Bang! is such an interesting mashup of hidden elements and dice rolling that it’s hard not to like. In addition to the hidden roles, every player will get a historically-inaccurate alter-ego (Willy the Kid?) with special powers.
It’s so good that most players won’t even play the original game, preferring the dice version instead. Don’t forget to bring your finger guns.
“Death and the dice level all distinctions.” ―Samuel Foote, ‘The Minor’, Act 1
Liar’s Dice is a simple, yet classic game.
All you need is a handful of dice and maybe a cup to roll them in.
Each player is given 5 dice to secretly roll and view their dice (this is where the cup would be handy). Players then take turns betting on the results of a single digit of all the dice on the table, not just the ones they can see.
I bet two 4s.
The next player will then up the bet by betting either the higher value of the same number of dice (two 5s, or two 6s) or more dice (three 1s, seven 4s, etc).
The bets become progressively higher until someone is called out as a liar.
Any number of players can play at the same time, but it works best with just a handful. I used to play this game in the Navy a lot, and sometimes we turned it into a drinking game (I would suggest rum).
To be successful at Liar’s Dice, players will need to be able to read the other players, detect bluffs, and do a fair bit of probability-reasoning in their heads. It’s as if someone took all the skills needed to be successful in Poker and smashed them into dice.
MEGAFUN!!! Seriously, what a ridiculous name. What even is a DiceBot? It does sound mega fun, though.
In DBMF (I do enjoy a good acronym) players will roll dice to install modules into DiceBots.
What do DiceBots do? Destroy other DiceBots of course.
Players roll a handful of custom dice that correspond to different skill types and a handful of cards full of abilities and weapons to destroy your enemies. Players will take their dice and place them on a board, representing the different parts of the DiceBot (head, arms, legs, body). What dice you put into your DiceBot determines what weapons and abilities you can use.
Be warned, though, if you are cursed by the dice gods like Wil Wheaton. DiceBots Megafun relies heavily on dice rolls to perform actions, and if you haven’t appeased the RNG gods, you’re in for a world of hurt.
So roll up some DiceBots, toss a few extra dice into a wishing well and have some Megafun crushing your enemies.
Despite so much new technology, ever more complex mechanics, and thematic intensity in the board game sphere, there are still new games coming out every year that rely solely on dice. They’ve definitely become more complex since their knucklebone ancestors first showed up on the scene, but still have the simplicity of some of the earliest games. Call me old fashioned, but sometimes a simple dice game can be just what the doctor ordered.
Have you played any of these dice games? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.