Dicey Peaks: Not High Enough
Day 34: We have reached the final camp before the summit. The storm slowed our progress. The mountain itself seems to rise higher with each step. Neville’s oxygen ran out just before sunset; we must press on without him. After whatever rest we can manage tonight, at first light I will select mostly clear dice and make the final roll.
Sheer adventure awaits you in Calliope Games’ Dicey Peaks, by Scott Almes. Up to six players assault the summit of a Himalayan mountain. Listed for ages 8 and up, we found that even kids as young as 5 can join in on the expedition, making this a good option for a wide range of ages. Strap on your crampons, brave adventurer, and read on.
You climb the mountain in Dicey Peaks by rolling dice, natch. There’s a bit of light strategy as the dice come in three flavors: clear-white dice are more likely to result in forward movement, dark blue dice more likely to recharge your oxygen, and ice-blue dice are evenly balanced between the two. You first choose 5 dice, mixing from all three pools as you please, and then roll them. You can then examine the result and declare whether you are going for “moving” or “resting”. Each type has both positive and negative die faces: when you’re resting, for example, a tent icon is good but a yeti paw print is bad. Assuming you didn’t get 3 bad faces, you can now grab three more dice, press your luck, and roll them to add to your result. Bust, and you lose your turn completely.
There’s not many turns, so losing one hurts. The board is constructed of random hex tiles arranged in a triangular mountain shape. It’s only 16 spaces to get to the top of the mountain, and moving 7 or even 8 spaces in one turn isn’t unheard of. First one to the top wins – sort of. More on that later.
Your forward movement is limited by the amount of oxygen in your tank. You start with 9 units. Resting refills your tank (I guess you brought a compressor and liquid air distiller with you?). The higher up you get on the mountain, the fewer units you are allowed to refill in a single turn.
Besides the dice, the hex tiles provide further randomness. When you land on a space, you flip over the tile and follow its instructions. A few give helpful bonuses like an extra movement or two. But many make you lose even more oxygen.
Dice-based games feel particularly polarizing in this day and age. Some folks disdain them with a vehemence usually reserved for brussels sprouts or landing on Boardwalk. But the dice and the random hex tile placement are the keys to the replayability of Dicey Peaks.
You can try out a few different strategies for the ascent. My favorite is to aggressively push for the top, then stop before the summit for a quick and small oxygen recharge. But selecting from the dice types (and how hard you press your luck with successive dice rolls) are the only choices you make, and so the only choices you can alter on your next play. This keeps the strategy light for your little ones but might leave you less-than-enthused about playing again.
The great equalizer in Dicey Peaks is the endgame. Upon reaching the summit area, you choose from one of the three last tiles. If the tile you chose has the flag, you win. Otherwise, your turn is over. So even if you have perfect strategy to get to the top first, you can still be undone by the luck of the draw.
When playing with the kids, this was both helpful and frustrating: it lets even the littlest ones still win every so often, even though they’re usually last to the top. But the older kids complained of such unmerited catastrophe after playing well to get there first.
Pick Axe to Grind
Before I go there’s one last problem with Dicey Peaks I need to mention, and that’s the design of the oxygen meter. The plastic oxygen tank pawns used on the meter are a little too realistic – round, tall, and narrow cylinders. Keep them standing up, they are easily knocked over by stray dice or excited kiddos reaching across the table to move their climber. Lay them on their side, and they roll away right off the table. Whenever I play with the kids, this forces me to mentally keep track of everyone’s meter, just in case. Eventually I gave up switched to using coins.
It’s the little things, like these poorly-thought out pawns and the totally random endgame that keep me from enthusiastically recommending Dicey Peaks. But the simple ruleset, quick choices, and easy playability across all age ranges might make it a good game for your family.
You can order your own copy of Dicey Peaks on Amazon.
The Family Gamers received a promotional copy of Dicey Peaks for this review.
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Number of Players: 2-6
Age Range: 8+ (we say 5+ in a mixed group)
Playtime: 20-50 minutes