Artist: Martin Hoffmann and Claus Stephan
Keltis: Das Wurfelspiel is Knizia’s answer to the “die-cification” of mainstream board games. As the title indicates unambiguously, Keltis: Das Wurfelspiel is part of the Keltis/Lost Cities board game series. When a game achieves a certain level of popularity, you will start seeing spin-offs coming out of the wood work. Usually, games with a heavier content will be stripped down to its core and streamlined into a card game, dice game or even a Roll and Write. Many games have gone through this process and it makes me wonder whether there truly is a market large enough to accommodate all these follow ups. For me, I am not nearly as thrilled to play the downsized reincarnations of a popular game. In fact, I try to avoid them. It’s not that the games are bad, sometimes, they can overshadow their heavier brethren. I just don’t like playing these spin-offs. I’d much rather play the original design especially if they have the same feel. For some reason, the Keltis family of games is an exception to this rule. I own many of the spin-offs likely due to my blind faith in Knizia’s brilliance. In any case, I have been re-ranking all the games in this series and today’s review will be focused on Keltis: Das Wurfelspiel.
As you can imagine, the Dice Game features the same symbols that appear in Keltis. Like Keltis, you are trying to advance your tokens on the board to score points. The higher your tokens are on each track, the more points you will score, that is unless your token is stuck at the bottom half of the board. In which case, you will score negative points. This means that you should be committed to move your tokens as high as you can for each track, if you choose to activate that track. Part of the tension is deciding if you should even start a track and if you have enough time to move up and score positive points. The number of tracks you activated is completely up each player. There are 5 tracks in total and these five tracks have a corresponding symbol and color that matches the die face. Unlike the ascending/descending card play in Keltis, you roll dice to decide movement. You have a pool of 5 dice with a single chance to reroll any number of dice. Before the reroll, any number of dice can be sequestered to lock the value in place. At the end of both rolls, the active player must choose a group of dice with the same symbol to move up the track a number of spaces as there are dice with the matching symbol. For the most part, players will choose the largest group of dice to get maximum movement, assuming of course, you have an active track. In addition, players can also collect stones. For every pair of dice that show the stone symbol, one can pick up a single stone chit. Collect enough of these chits and they translate to points at the end of the game to supplement scoring.
The game ends when a certain number of tokens on the tracks crosses a threshold on the board. As soon as that happens, the game ends and scores are tallied. Points are scored from the board based on the position of your token on each track. Again, the higher the token on the track, the more points. Players also add the stone chits collected and refer to a scoring table to determine the bonus points earned.
Thematically and even mechanically, the game feels similar to Keltis. The only difference is the track movement that depend on dice and not on cards. With dice, you obviously get far less control, but the game is still pretty balanced in a way. That’s because you will usually get some choice for movement as more than half your tracks are usually activated. Unless you are extremely unlucky, for the most part, you should be able to move up at least one space on any track. Now, this is definitely true in the beginning of the game when multiple tracks are active. However, late in the game, it is possible that you may have reach the final and top most spot for each of your activated tracks. In which case, you can roll and pass on your turn instead of initiating movement. However, you may have wished that you activated more tracks earlier in the game to score more points. The key to winning is of course to get a bunch of dice with the same symbol to move up several spots in a turn. The game does have some decisions, but I think the decision tree is relatively small and usually, it boils down to choosing which group of dice to select for movement. In some instances, there are bonus elements on each track and if you land on those spots, you trigger the bonus. In which case, sometimes, there are valid reasons to choose a small group of dice for a specific track. I would say overall, card play trumps dice rolls for games in this series.
That said, the game is extremely short and can be replayed on the flip side of the score board. The variant board is slightly harder in that some spots are blocked. So, even if you can move 3 spots, but the third spot is blocked, that group of dice cannot be selected. The board is more challenging for sure, but not by much as the game is pretty light to begin with.
Do you need this if you have Keltis….. well, probably not. Especially if you also own Lost Cities the card game. I think card play in this series is superior to dice and I think I would always prefer to play Lost Cities or Keltis over this. However, the game does have some charm, and is lightning quick for 2 players. I think if you are a fan of the series, you may want to check it out.
Final word: Average