Game Review: Engaging Roll & Write Puzzler “Torpedo Dice”

torpedo dice from stratus games - board game review - boxEver since their introduction, there’s something about submarines that fascinates people. Maybe it’s the unimaginable experience of being in a metal tube thousands of feet under the ocean’s surface, skulking along, waiting for a chance to surface and BLAM! attack with a well-placed torpedo. Or maybe it’s the fact that submarines are the wild card of modern warfare, able to sneak up on ships without warning in a way that no other craft or vessel can manage. From Das Boot to The Hunt for Red October, K-19 The Widowmaker to Run Silent, Run Deep, there have certainly been a lot of movies made about submarine warfare, from silly to incredibly tense and gripping.

When game designer Chris James and artist Stephane Escapa wanted to create a fun and interesting multiplayer roll and write game, it’s no surprise their attention turned to submarines! If you’re not familiar with roll and write it’s a category of board games that are designed to be fast, lightweight, and affordable. In fact, most R.A.W. games are also print & play, which means you can download PDF versions of the player gameboards, print them yourself, and try out the game without paying a nickel. Given the rise of multi-hundred dollar Kickstarter miniature game extravaganzas, it’s nice that some designers pay attention to affordability and access too.

The result is Torpedo Dice from Stratus Games, and it’s a 1-4 player competitive roll and write game where each of you is trying to sink your neighbor’s submarine before they sink yours. It’s fast, fun and entertaining. This review focuses on the solo game, but before we proceed, let’s have a quick overview of the primary game mechanics.

OVERVIEW OF TORPEDO DICE GAME

Each player board has a control panel along the bottom that indicates what of your weapon and propulsion systems are still intact and a display of the opponent’s submarine with a grid superimposed. There’s an intro board for multiplayer called the Training Board and an advanced board called Mission Mode both for players really ready to rumble and for the solo game. Here’s the Training Mode side of the player board:

torpedo dice from stratus games - board game review - player game board intro training mode side

You’ll notice that there are two types of target spots: those with “sight” marks denoting it’s a critical spot, and those without. Remember, this is your control panel along the bottom, but your opponent’s submarine in the “porthole”. shoot out the four targets creating a sort of sideways “L” shape on the periscope and you’ve disabled their periscope and moved one step closer to winning the game. Meanwhile, they’re shooting at you too, of course, so they’re going to mark their picture of your sub and you’ll have to cross out the dashboard weapon system capabilities along the bottom of your own board as they destroy things. The first person to destroy all the other person’s systems wins. (this means you don’t have to hit every single dot, just those that are actually targets).

Let’s flip over the playing board to get to Torpedo Dice‘s Mission Mode, however, since that’s where the solo board is also located:

torpedo dice from stratus games - board game review - mission mode advanced

The mechanism utilized with the dice is really interesting because you aren’t paying attention to the value of the die you roll, but the placement of the pips on the invisible 3×3 grid used to layout die pips. Here’s one way to visualize it:

torpedo dice from stratus games - board game review - target grid

I’ve added my own grid and numbers here, but imagine that you roll a 5 on the die. That has pips in the four corners plus one in the middle, so it would allow you to hit squares 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 in the above. Roll a three and you could hit 3, 5, 7 or 1, 5, 9. Roll a two and it’s 1, 9 or 3, 7. Got it? Now here’s the key: This 3×3 grid you can superimpose over any spot on the enemy ship, so I could shift it down one, over two, even move to a spot where most of the spots don’t have any sort of target. It’s ingenious and very logical once you try it a few times.

Note: If your pip “hits” a spot that’s already been hit – or doesn’t have an empty circle – then it costs you one of the torpedoes along the lower left portion of the board. Run out of those 12 failed shot torpedoes and you lose. I neglected to include that in my playthroughs. Ooops.

LET’S GET INTO THE SOLO GAME

Mission Mode has all the controls on the dashboard along the bottom, but you have to use turns to power up the various systems, whether it’s the Periscope (which lets you flip your die over to use a different value), the Sail (which lets you add/subtract 1 from the die by rotating it), the Fins (change die to match opponent), etc.

More importantly, the solo automaton is simple and easy to track on the top left of the board. Here’s a closeup:

torpedo dice from stratus games - board game review - solo board area

Every time they roll a specific numeric value, it’s marked off. Once the same roll happens twice, that weapon system on your submarine is disabled and they’re one step closer to beating you. Roll another of the same and it cascades clockwise (denoted by the white arrows) to the next sector. Along the bottom you track what systems of theirs you’ve destroyed (remember, their submarine is what you see on your player board).

Here’s the game, ready to start. There are two dice (five are included for the full 4-player mode) and four of the dry-erase pens with eraser caps. The board is 8 x 6 inches (20 x 15 cm) for reference:

torpedo dice from stratus games - board game review - solo game - beginning

Each turn the player rolls both dice and picks one. The other is assigned to the automaton. You then modify your die based on whatever systems you have enabled, if any, shoot that pattern at the enemy torpedo or activate a new system, then take the other die and apply it to the automaton’s board, marking off its consequences, as needed.

A few rolls into the game, here’s where things stand. Notice that I only mark off the target sight spots on the enemy torpedo. I’ve rolled a 6 and a 2, so am going to use the six (to target three of the weapon’s system spots + two porthole spots above it) and let the enemy mark off the 2.

torpedo dice from stratus games - board game review - solo game - partway in game

Much further into the game and I’m poised to win even though it’s looking rather dire on the solo automaton board on the top left:

torpedo dice from stratus games - board game review - solo game - game over

The key is that every time I destroy an enemy’s system, their shot back at me is a miss. A critical aspect of solo play, for sure, it means that I can either destroy the Fins (I only need one pip) or the Propeller (I need two pips, spread apart) and the next turn won’t count. I can use the 2 to destroy the Fins and the 5 that the automaton receives is null, then next turn I can destroy the props and win, or… I can destroy the prop this turn with the 5 (imagine its 3×3 grid positioned so that the top or bottom row are the middle of the prop, allowing me to get both of the open target spots) and then for sure win next turn regardless of roll since I only need to take out one pip.

Done. Winner! Woot! Sorry, mate, about sinking your submarine, of course, but that’s Torpedo Dice for ya in solo mode.

GAME THOUGHTS

And that’s how you play. It’s easy, the board’s small, there are really no tokens, meeple, cubes or other items to lose (other than the dice) and it’s a quick and engaging solo puzzle game. Your challenge is to optimize all of your hits, know when to enable your systems, and how to exploit the opponent’s missed shot when you destroy a system too. I imagine it’ll be fun as a multiplayer game too, but haven’t had a chance to play this competitively yet. Definitely a good one and young player friendly too with its erasable board, lively design and simple play mechanism.

TORPEDO DICE, from Stratus Games. 1-4 Players, Approx 15 minutes/game, Ages 8+. $27.99 at Amazon.com

Disclosure: Stratus Games sent me a copy of Torpedo Dice for the purpose of this review. Thanks!

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