High tech hexahedron
Earlier this year, we got our first look at DICE+, which promises to combine the physicality and social aspect of board gaming with the wider appeal of tablet-based videogames. With tons of features listed, it appeared to be a pretty slick piece of technology, but limited by its short list of compatible software.
For now, that is still a pretty accurate assessment.
DICE+ (Android [tested], iOS)
DICE+ is a really cool idea, and from a hardware standpoint, it's executed fairly well. At first glance, DICE+ appears to be just a plastic cube with blank white faces, about 50% larger in each dimension than a standard gaming die. Picking it up or otherwise setting off the internal accelerometer activates the LEDs backlighting the die's faces, illuminating the numbers one through six. As a collection of LEDs, the light can show up in many different colors.
After handling it for a bit, the next thing one notices is that it's lighter than expected, due to its largely hollow inside. One of the listed features is perfect balance, so there are presumably small weights inside to keep it from being a loaded die. The materials used on the outside are semi-soft, so rolling the die on a hard surface doesn't produce quite as much noise as expected.
Inside the die is a variety of sensors, put in place to determine which of the die's faces is oriented upward, and to ensure that the die was legitimately rolled and not just placed with the desired face showing. That last feature gave me a bit of trouble at first, as lazy die rolling coupled with the larger size are interpreted as having too little motion to count. In order to make the die register, players need to really shake it up during the rolling process.
DICE+ connects via Bluetooth to tablets running Android 4.0 or above and third generation or later iPads. All of this is powered by a rechargeable battery, which is advertised to hold charge for up to 20 hours of gameplay. After a few weeks of playing it here and there, I haven't had to recharge it at all.
One of the major drawbacks of the technology is that it does not lend itself to custom dice. Dice like those from Descent: Journeys in the Dark (Second Edition) would be unreasonably painstaking to reproduce with DICE+, so it is mostly limited to a standard one through six roll. Additionally, there has been no official word on four-sided, eight-sided, ten-sided, twelve-sided, or twenty-sided DICE+ development past the desire to do so.
All in all, the hardware is solid, and I could imagine it being a valuable item for its particular niche, once more games support it. Unfortunately, the five titles that come with DICE+ are lackluster for hardcore board game enthusiasts, with a few that are meant for very young children.
This Way Up is a roll-and-move game, with no opportunities for decisions to be made. Players move along a one-dimensional path, rolling the die to determine how far to move, then tapping the corresponding space. As a tool meant to teach young children basic counting, it could be useful.
For anybody else, it is a waste of time.
Chuchumba is another counting game, but it adds in another element of memory. Players must remember where certain animals are on a line of train cars, roll the die to see how far they move, and then pick out which train car they moved to.
Again, it can be used as an educational tool for kindergartners, but it otherwise does not show off the capabilities of DICE+ very elegantly.
Rumble Stumble does make slightly clever use of some of DICE+'s features. After rolling the die, the face will light up in one of four colors. The player who rolled will then have to touch and hold hexes on the main board matching both the number and color rolled. After that, players keep holding until their next turn, so it becomes almost like a tiny version of Twister that you play with your fingers.
This one is semi-entertaining as a party game, but the novelty wears off quickly.
Rainbow Jack takes a bit more thinking than any of the previous games. Players have five rows of numbers, each with a different color. The goal is to get one row added up to 21, but the catch is that the color assigned to each roll is random, and rolls can be used to add or subtract to your own rows or to do the same to your opponents.
Since the DICE+ controller takes a second to light up after a roll and players are only given a few seconds to make decisions, this title is actually pretty difficult and can help older children in doing quick arithmetic calculations and decision making.
Backgammon is the last of the five included titles, and as a 5,000+ year old board game, there is not a lot to say about its mechanics. This is by far the most thought-intensive of the five games. As a version of the ancient board game, this works well enough, but it does feel a bit slow with only one DICE+ to roll, as each player must roll, wait the half second for it to register, then roll again for the second die. For that reason, it may not have been the best choice as a game to showcase the hardware, but it is still welcome among the other mostly mindless entries.
Thankfully, the team behind DICE+ is trying to make it compatible with more substantial existing properties like Supremacy or Talisman. At present, the store featuring compatible games is pretty barren, with "Coming Soon" plastered on many of the more enticing titles. While it is a very cool piece of tech for multidisciplinary gamers, there is not much reason to own it just yet.