Las Vegas

Designer: Rudiger Dorn

Artist: Harald Lieske, Markus Schmuck and Mia Steingraber

Publisher: Alea / Ravensburger

If it weren’t for Artus, I would have also gladly collected the Alea medium box series. Urgh. (Photo credit: Eric Martin@BGG)

I recall my first game of Las Vegas. It was at a newly opened gaming cafe in the suburbs of Los Angeles. Gamehaus at Glendale, I believe. We were short on time and I knew that Mr. Dorn had just published a game for the medium box Alea series that was pretty light. At that point in time, I really didn’t care much for light, party-type games. In this case though, I knew that we needed a 20-30 minute game and this game fit the bill. I remember doing a 2 player game with my partner and started reading rules. Thankfully, the rules were short because the brand new cafe was really distracting. Still, the game left a pretty positive impression. It was light, but it had enough decisions that the game didn’t feel mindless. I was intrigued, but not enough for me to go out and buy a copy immediately. Over time though I did manage to snag a copy and added it to my collection, and now, I am glad I did not dispose of the game as my 6 year old is enjoying the game with us.

There are 6 casinos in Las Vegas, each assigned one face value that matches the pips on a six-sided dice. A number of money cards are then distributed across each casino. The dealer flips the money cards and keeps on flipping additional cards until the total matches or exceeds $50,000. The money card value ranges from $10,000 to $90,000. So, you may have casinos with 2 cards ($30k+$20k) and another casino with 3 cards ($10k, $10k and $90k) and so forth. This random distribution of money cards is important as it serves as an impetus for players to fight for casinos with more valuable money cards.

Play starts and each player has 8 dice which they will roll during their turn. Players then group the dice and are free to place a set of dice with the same values in one of the casinos that matches the pip-values. So if you roll two 3s’, then both dice must be placed in the #3 casino. You are only allowed to place one set of dice. That is pretty much the entire turn and the next player goes. This goes on until all the players have placed their dice and the round ends and the money cards are distributed.

Players with the most dice for each casino will get first pick of the money card. Usually, the most valuable card one will go to the first player. If there are more than one group of dice on the casino and also more than one money card, then the second and perhaps third player will also select the money cards. If there is only one money card, then only the winner will get that single money card. Ties are not broken and tied players get nothing. This means that if there is a third group of dice along with the tied players in the same casino, that player will win the money card even though they may have fewer overall dice in the casino. In this way, all the money cards that can be distributed are distributed and one round of the game ends. The game is supposed to be played for 4 rounds, but you can probably stop after round 2 or 3 for shorter variants.

Right, the game sounds dirt simple, right? Well, yes and no. The game is undoubtedly light. Yet, there are decisions to be made each turn, and there is more to it than meets the eye. For example, if you want to challenge another player for the high value money cards in a casino, this decision is not only based on your die rolls but also when you roll those dice. If early during the game, you can challenge for a casino, but the fellow competing player in that casino may catch up by placing more dice. On the other hand, if late in the game and you have the right rolls, perhaps it might be worthwhile to take a shot because the competing player may not have many dice left and moreover, they may not roll the exact pip value to add more dice to that casino. Another thing to consider is if there is more than one money card on a high-value casino, say a $40k and a $90k. Then coming in second may not be that bad at all. So pushing a player to over-commit on dice and then pulling back is valid. Say you have a single die and your competitor has two in the same casino. Your fellow competitor rolls 2 more dice and is compelled to place them in the casino thinking that you might want to fight for the majority when in fact, you are comfortable with coming in second. This deplete their pool of dice, opening more chances for you to win in other casinos. Yet another scenario, if two people are battling a high value card and there is a possibility of a tie, I might want to sneak in one die in that casino just in case I can squirrel away the money under their noses. There are lots of subtle interactions and tactics in Las Vegas that fly under the radar.

Yet another example of emergent play in Las Vegas is the idea of playing defensively to deter other players to challenge your position. Say there is $90k in casino #5 and you roll four 5s’. Do you want to deter other players by placing all your 5s’ in that location? Sure, you will likely win that casino and prevent other players from competing, but you will also lose half your dice in that one placement and hence, unable to compete in other locations. Is that worthwhile? It might, if this is round #4 and you think you can take the lead and win the game with that $90k. However, there is always an element of risk. Say another player has 4 dice left and rolled four 5s’ in his turn. That means that player has to place all 4 dice in the same casino and forcing a tie. So, the element of risk is always there with dice rolling no matter how slim the chances are.

The rules in Las Vegas are simple, but there are emergent properties of the game that aren’t always that clear until you play it. But once you play once or twice, you will quickly identify all the possibilities and tactics that come with the simple rules. It isn’t overly complex but it does make for a few angsty moments that is worth the 20-30 minutes of your play time.

If the complexity of Las Vegas isn’t adequate for your taste, there is a variant in the game using neutral dice. Each player will get two of those neutral dice and their placement is similar to all other dice placements, except they count for a illusory player. So, those neutral dice can be used to prevent other players from winning a majority for a valuable money card or sneaking in a tie so that you can grab the money card by being the last person standing. If that is not enough, there is also an expansion for Las Vegas called Las Vegas Boulevard. It adds more modules to the base game and ups the complexity. Finally, if you really must, there is a new “deluxe’ version of Las Vegas published by Alea under their new big box series. It is called Las Vegas Royale. The game is similar mechanisms wise and incorporates some elements of the base game and Las Vegas Boulevard and includes flashier components. It also has newer modules to cater to the modern lifestyle gamer that yearns for more of everything.

All told, Las Vegas is a simple game and for me, the original edition is more than adequate to experience what the game has to offer. For such a mind numbingly simple set of rules, there is a surprising amount of metagaming and emergent interactions that makes this game special. I wouldn’t recommend this game to every one, but this is a great family game and a wonderful filler. If you dislike dice, then please move along. If you hate luck in games, then don’t bother. But if you want a light dice rolling game that doesn’t involve checking off boxes in a score sheet, then Las Vegas is worth a look. After all, you can’t win if you don’t place a bet.

Final word: Good

Kid’s Corner

6 Years and 5 months: Ho ho ho, this is a perfect game for my budding gamer daughter. Coming off the heels of a bunch of Knizia card games and light tile-laying games, I am introducing her to dice and a game of chance. Her first few plays were interesting. I noted that she wanted to fight and compete with others for the same casino despite our attempts to dissuade her. That’s fine, she gets to learn in a different way. She then quickly grasp that fighting for a tie is a terrible idea and won’t benefit her even though it hurts her opponent. In a 3 player game, that is not a great idea as the third player will stand to benefit from the conflict. She hasn’t learned that yet, of course. I could see her brain cranking away trying to understand the consequences of her actions. Right now, she is placing dice but only partially thinking about the value of the money cards. I can sense she is trying to figure out placement more than creating an opportunity for easy wins on uncontested casinos. I realized that she still hasn’t properly grasp the comparative values of the money cards in the context of competition. For example, is getting an easy $40k better than fighting for a $90k? The latter is more straightforward because a win means she gets more money not knowing that she still has to fight to get that $90k and the dice gods may not be on her side.

This is obviously a great game for kids to expand their cognitive reasoning and to assess risk and probabilities in an indirect way. Sure, I am not sitting there calculating my odds of rolling a 6 with two dice, and neither will she. But, she ought to be able to slowly see how dice placement correlates or alters her chances of winning or losing a casino she is competing for. Las Vegas, being the short and simple game that it is, is a perfect vehicle for kids to learn these skills in a fun and subtle way. I recommend this game as a step up from your HABAs’ and basic Gamewrights. It’s a good stepping stone. Don’t underestimate your child. I frequently do it and then feel amazed that they can grasp the concepts and strategies far quicker than I expect them to.

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