Snowman Dice - Review (and Competition!)
By Ben Porter
Every media outlet/critic has their darlings.
Edge Magazine will love Nintendo forever and ever; the British media will always fall over itself to laud praise upon Dame Judi Dench. And ever since I played Ice Cool, my admiration for Brain Games has grown and grown. Between the clean-cut, child-friendly aesthetic used throughout their games, and the common thread of simple, streamlined games implemented in unique and clever ways, the Latvian publisher actually has quite a lot in common with Nintendo.
Snowman Dice is a game for 2-4 players. Each player has 5 dice. Each dice has 6 unique symbols on it; head, torso, legs, snowflake, snowball, and arrow. Players are in a race to build their snowman by stacking 3 dice - each of the correct facing - and getting him to the North Pole (centre of the table) before the other players do. It takes about a minute to explain the game, and it can be played in about 10.
Sometimes - very rarely - you will happen upon a game that you know that you're going to like as soon as you set eyes upon it. For me, Snowman Dice has been one of those games. Now that we've gotten the bold assertions out of the way (well, mostly), let's get on with a proper review.
The game favours a soft, monochromatic palette of blue and white, which immediately evokes a wintery feeling. The ball-shaped zipper bag that the game comes in, the 20 dice, instruction leaflet and North Pole marker are all of various hues of sky blue with wee splashes of other colours here and there as required.
It might seem simple, but I love the fact that the snowmen featured on the cover art are comprised of blocks as opposed to the more rounded snowmen typically seen - it makes for a very elegant marriage of the game art and components. It serves as a great example of "picket fencing"; that is, using the constraints of the game to fulfill a greater purpose. Furthermore, the 3 snowman pieces represented on the dice are all square. Fantastic.
The 19mm dice the game uses have a good, chunky feel to them and are just very satisfying to roll. The dice size used feels just right; any smaller and they would become a bit trickier to stack, and any bigger and it would be difficult for many players (children particularly) to roll 5 of them in one go. The squashy, ball-shaped zipper bag the game comes in is a stroke of genius, allowing you to put it easily in a pocket or bag, or squeeze it into a jam-packed suitcase if you're going on holiday or to a convention. I love that the game doesn't come in a box - especially when so many games now come in boxes far larger than they need to be.
The only thing really letting the game down is the North Pole token. It's really just a thin, round piece of laminated polythene with a North Pole printed on it. It's pretty flimsy and will probably get damaged or lost pretty quickly. That being said, it's not really essential - you could well use a coin or a coaster to represent the North Pole and it isn't going to detract from the experience. And considering the whole game comes for £15, it's not a dealbreaker at all.
Snowmen racing to get to the North Pole as a snowball fight breaks out.
Thematically, that's pretty much snowman dice in a nutshell. It's a gentle, child-friendly theme that emphasises the Brain Games family-centric design ethos which also serves as some first-class cohesion between theme and mechanics. Indeed, I think it would be impossible to separate the theme from the mechanics, which is quite unusual of itself. Oddly enough, designer Mike Elliott is also one of the minds behind Dice Masters, which is a game that has seen numerous iterations in different universes - the Marvel and D&D universes amongst those.
There is nothing wrong with a game that could - in theory - be separated from its theme; very often games are designed with the bare bones of the mechanics in mind first and the theme comes along later. It's hard to tell how Snowman Dice would have started out because the theme and the mechanics are so tightly interwoven, which is something else I really admire about the game.
To paraphrase Peter Hopkins of Drawn to the Flame, a game of Snowman Dice invariably descends into glorious anarchy.
That the game is so simple to teach and so quick to play will mean that almost everyone will be frantically pushing lopsided snowmen across table, shouting excitedly and flicking snowball dice at each other's squinty snowmen. Or full-on lobbing snowball dice if you're me. (Don't do that.)
For all Snowman Dice may seem - at least superficially - as though it's really a game of luck, it's a little more nuanced than that. Planning is an important factor to the game. Do I keep my arrow, head and torso and just roll my remaining 2 dice? Or do I reroll all of them? Should I hold onto a snowball just in case? Should I just focus on building my snowman, or should I pay more attention to my neighbours? All of these little decisions being made over and over in a matter of seconds. The inclusion of the snowflake - which counts as a "wild" for building your snowman - also helps to mitigate the luck element of rolling the dice. The snowflakes are also not overpowered, as a snowman built featuring any of these is only worth 1 point if he wins, whereas a "pure" snowman is worth 2 points. And again we see yet another decision the player is faced with.
Dexterity is the other integral element of the game, as you have to physically push - using only your index finger - your snowman to the North Pole, shouting "Look at my snowman go!" before you go so that the other players know when to start pelting you with snowballs. You have to be fast, but you have to balance your snowman properly, and you have to be steady so that he doesn't fall over.
Games are fast and frantic - first player to 3 points wins. Honestly, a lot of the times I've played it the 3 point threshold has been ditched so that we can just keep chucking snowballs at each other. There's also something about the simplicity of the rules and the high energy of the game that seems to bring out the "competitive spirit" in many players. So long as you don't mind games with rules that tend towards a degree of elasticity, you'll have fun playing Snowman Dice. If you prefer games with rigid, comprehensive rules, you'll quickly become frustrated.
Personally speaking, the more I play Snowman Dice, the fonder I become of the game. I recently took the game over to my parent's house as I thought that my mum might find it fun. My dad - who normally just sits out whenever I bring a game over - happened to be in the room when I was explaining the game to my mum, and I gave each of them 5 of the dice as I talked through the game, really just expecting to give them an overview of how it worked.
We ended up playing several rounds of the game, all three of us laughing and jeering at one another.
That my dad entered into the game without the need for any persuasion was really special. After playing he enthused about how simple - yet clever - the game was; how much he liked the fact that it all came in a wee snowball-shaped bag; and how fun it was just to play. (He wasn't impressed with the North Pole token, however!) This really exemplifies what I mean about becoming fonder the more I play the game.
Snowman Dice is the sort of game you'll want in your collection if you're the type of gamer who is evangelical about the hobby. It occupies a similar area to games like Sushi Go! in that it will appeal to a wide demographic, will be friendly to children and adults, whilst still being entertaining to gamers who have been around the block. At £15 RRP it's an absolute bargain - I'd go as far as to say it's an auto-include for most all collectors of tabletop games.
I was taken with the game the moment I laid eyes on it, but the fact that it drew in a more reluctant gamer like my dad has meant that it's sky-rocketed in my estimations. Where it's perhaps not a game for the crowd that will fret about "game weight", Snowman Dice is a game for everyone else.
A copy of Snowman Dice was supplied by Brain Games for this review.
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The winner will be selected on Wednesday 10th of July at 7.00pm BST.