Category: Dice Game
Designer: Brian Henk & Clayton Skancke
Publisher: Pull the Pin Games
Year Published: 2020
Playing Time: 15-45 mins.
To Play or Not To Play: Play this game . . . with the expansion.
Okay, full disclosure. I know VERY little about Zorro as a character or franchise. My understanding is that he’s like a charismatic and charming Batman operating in the American southwest when it was under Spanish control. He wears all black, and a mask, and goes around righting wrongs and saving the day. Beyond that, I'm in the dark.
The premise of this game is that Zorro has gotten old and is ready to retire. The local population relies upon Zorro’s unique brand of swashbuckling bravery; so several local vigilantes have decided that they will become the next Zorro. You are one of these locals. Your task is to acquire some equipment that can help you look and act more like Zorro, use this equipment to accomplish some Heroic Feats, and then fight off the Scoundrels and Villains that are plaguing the local population!
The Zorro Dice Game (brought to us by Kickstarter) applies that theme to a familiar set of mechanics borrowed from the classic dice game Yahtzee. On your turn, you’ll roll six dice. You can save any that you want to save, and re-roll the rest. Once you’ve completed three total rolls, your dice are locked and you have to use them as they lie. So far so good.
To start the game, each player has nothing but determination. Four cards from the Common Equipment deck are laid out on the table, and then covered by four cards from the Heroic Feat deck. On a player’s turn, they select a Heroic Feat to try and accomplish. Each Heroic Feat displays four die results that you must roll in order to succeed. For example, “Thwart the Bandits” requires two “thrusts” and two “taunts.” The six main dice in the game each have one face for each possible result: thrust, taunt, leap, dash, charm, and grab. On your turn, you’ll roll the six dice, save any useful dice for later, and reroll the rest, until you’ve rolled three times. If you have four dice that match the four on the Heroic Feat, you claim the Heroic Feat card as well as the equipment beneath it.
Equipment is quite useful. Usually, it provides a passive bonus for the entire game. For example, a dagger will give you a permanent thrust result that you can use for all subsequent Heroic Feat attempts. That means you’ll only need to roll the other three symbols if the Heroic Feat requires a thrust result. Sweet!
Early in the game, it can be really hard to complete these Heroic Feats. With only six dice, the odds are not great even with two re-rolls. However, all the players are kind of in this together. They all want to help the populace, even if each one secretly thinks that THEY should be the next Zorro! Before you attempt a Heroic Feat, you can ask another player to help you. If they agree, you gain access all of their equipment for that turn. And if you fail to succeed even after three rolls, you can give the remaining dice to your helper for one last-ditch attempt. If they manage to get the missing faces you need, then it works! You get your Heroic Feat and the equipment, and your partner gets rewarded with a random equipment card from the top of the Common Equipment deck. Each player is limited to just three equipment cards, so helping another player might let you swap out a piece of equipment you don’t like much. But that’s it.
It may seem counter-intuitive to help, but the rulebook emphasizes that if you want the game to be fun, you need to help each other early in the game. I found that helping other players was a good idea until everyone has at least two equipment cards -- after that it’s every person for themselves! Your experience may vary. But trying to play this strictly competitively from the beginning is dull, slow, and miserable.
So where do these Scoundrels and Villains come in? I’ll get to that in a second. Each Heroic Feat has a color associated with it. The rulebook states that this references what location the Heroic Feat takes place in, such as a Farm or the Village. It doesn’t really matter, the important thing is the color. When you claim a Heroic Feat, it goes in front of you, next to your Equipment tableau. When you claim a Heroic Feat that matches the color of one that’s already there, you place it adjacent, completing the square that sits on the sides of each card. If you’re the first player to complete that color square, you get to claim the colored Hero die sitting on the matching colored Scoundrel. Hero dice have 4 faces that depict the actions associated with that color (for example, the yellow die has four "grab" faces) plus one taunt and one thrust. For the rest of the game, you (and only you) get to roll that die in addition to the core six dice.
However, as soon as you claim that die, the player to your left is forced to fight the Scoundrel instead of their normal action. The scoundrel will have some ability to make the fight a little harder, but other wish it functions like any other Heroic Feat. The difference is that you cannot ask for help when fighting a Scoundrel. It’s all up to you. If you lose, nothing bad happens, you just lose your turn and the Scoundrel leaves the game.
But if you win, you get to draw the top card of the Premium Equipment deck! Premium Equipment is very powerful, which makes up for missing your chance at a Heroic Feat. In fact, it is so powerful that you’re only allowed to have one Premium Equipment at a time, even if you somehow get the opportunity to draw a second. If you do draw a second, you have to pick one to keep. And Premium Equipment counts against your three Equipment maximum. But the rewards make up for it. You might draw a Cart, which lets you hold an unlimited amount of Common Equipment! Or you might draw Tornado, Zorro’s horse, which grants you a fourth roll each turn!
The game continues until a player has completed three Heroic Feats of the same color. Once that happens, they get to claim the matching colored die locked by the Villain of that color. As soon as that happens, the majority of the game is over, and all that remains is the showdown with the villain. Starting with the player to the left of whoever claimed the last die, each player gets a chance to fight the Villain. The Villain has a unique power to hurt the other player, and requires FIVE dice to defeat, instead of four like the Heroic Feats and Scoundrels. Each player goes in turn using their normal three rolls and any relevant equipment or bonus to try and defeat the villain. If they succeed, they put their pawn in the center of the table standing up. IF they fail, their pawn goes to the center laying down. If only one person is able to defeat the villain, they win and become the new Zorro!
If multiple players succeed, they must have a duel. They’ll each take a full turn of dice rolling to try and get as many thrusts as possible. Again, they can use all of their equipment and bonus dice. Whoever gets the most thrusts wins and becomes Zorro! If all the players fail, then they also have a duel using the same rules as above, and whoever gets the most thrusts wins.
This game is cute. It’s very easy to learn and remarkably fun to play. And the art captures that perfect balance of humor and urgency that makes Zorro so much fun to watch. However, the game is almost too simple. Many of the Common Equipment cards are just duplicates. You can end up with two pairs of boots, each granting you a bonus Dash result. This is nice for accomplishing Heroic Feats that require Dashes, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense. And the Heroic Feats loose their charm exceptionally quickly. This is because they all are basically the same. Each Heroic Feat requires four dice results: two of one face, and two of another. The combinations are mixed and matched, but multiple Heroic Feats may require the same results.
In the end, you’ll either just be looking to complete your color set or attempting the Feat that matches your equipment best. Unless you decide to take things to another level, and aim for the Feats that will allow you to prevent other players from completing a set and earning a bonus die. That only really works in a 2- or 3- player game. More than that and there will be too many new Heroic Feats entering the board for you to realistically stop them. That brings you back to those two options I outlined above.
The biggest flaw I’ve found with this game is that it is technically possible to end it really fast. Let’s say your first Heroic Feat is yellow. On your second turn, you go for another yellow feat. That earns you one yellow die, and forces the next player to face the yellow Scoundrel. On your third turn, there happens to be a yellow Feat on the table, and you succeed. Now you have both yellow dice (which are very helpful for facing the yellow Villain!) and you’ve triggered the end of the game. Now everyone has to face the Villain after only taking a couple turns. In my experience, the player with both bonus dice will either beat the Villain outright, or will win the subsequent duel. Ouch! With more players, it might be more possible to avoid a situation like this, but in a two-player game this is an easy situation to arrange. You can play this game with two people, but if either player decides to make a beeline for victory, they’ll probably win in a way that’s no fun for either of you.
In the end, The Zorro Dice Game is very simple, very repetitive, and really kind of boring. It could be fun for groups who aren’t very familiar with games or for kids, but it offers little for more experienced players. UNTIL YOU ADD THIS:
It’s time to do something I’ve never done in this blog: I’m going to review an expansion as well! Kickstarter backers also received the first expansion to The Zorro Dice Game: Heroes and Villains. This expansion includes a mere 40 cards, but it makes an enormous impact on the game! First, it expands the game to accommodate up to 8 players and adds rules for solitaire play. Neat.
The biggest addition is that it adds 8 new Scoundrels and 8 new Villains. Now instead of facing the same old Scoundrels and Villains in every game, you’ll face a random one. This makes it harder for experienced players to prepare for a specific encounter and increases the sense of suspense when a player completes a matching Heroic Feat set.
The most important addition, though, are the 12 new Common Equipment cards that it adds to the deck. These cards grant exciting new powers, like turning any dice results of “Charm” to “Dash.” Combined with a base set equipment card that lets you re-roll any “Dash” results, you now have a fairly powerful engine that lets you freely reroll a die 33% of the time! That’s pretty sweet! Essentially, the new equipment lets you create mini-engines out of your dice that can make you a powerful match for any player or Villain.
The Zorro Dice Game is cute, but boring, by itself. The Heroes and Villains Expansion adds just enough complexity to make the game fun and exciting, if still rather simple, for experienced gamers and newcomers alike. I believe the game is rather flawed in the way the early game is nearly impossible without help from other players even though the game is technically competitive. On the other hand, it is an interesting touch to create a mechanic that allows for cooperation. I hesitate to draw this comparison, but it is kind of like Munchkin in that regard. Fortunately, Zorro has far fewer "Take That" mechanics to ruin the late game. You can cooperate early in the game when you need help, but you have very few ways to hurt your opponents late game.
Ultimately, The Zorro Dice Game exists for fans of the franchise and kids. I wouldn’t recommend playing it. But with the Heroes and Villains expansion? Absolutely! The game is short, easy to learn, and the expansion makes it genuinely fun to play and replay. I played this game eight times in a single weekend: once with the base game to learn the rules, and the rest of the time with the expansion. Without the expansion, I would have been bored after the second game and never picked it up again. My games averaged about 20 minutes, so it's not like this is a terribly long game. You should play this game, but only with the expansion.
This review was chosen by . . . me. It's rare that I get to review a game so soon after its release! Usually, the games I review are selected by my followers on Twitter @OrNotToPlay. See you next week!