In the past, when I’ve talked about the merits of different characters in Dice Masters, I’ve generally been a bit vague: high attack and defence are generally good, low purchase and field costs also help (with some exceptions). It’s definitely something I was aware of, but you certainly wouldn’t call it scientific.
Earlier this week, I came across an article on The Reserve Pool where someone made an offhand about rating the efficiency of a card based on the sum of the attack and defence divided by the purchase cost plus the average field cost. Obviously, this formula does nothing to take account for abilities, affiliations, or other card text, but it still looked interesting to have a way to number-crunch these basic stats.
It was interesting to go back and run the numbers for some of the cards which have really defined the game over the first year or two of its life. The cries of “Overpowered” make sense when you realise that even before you factor in her ability, Black Widow: Tsarina has amongst the highest efficiency out there, simply on account of that purchase cost of 2 and total field cost of 1. It also really helps to show up which characters are actually pulling their weight in terms of the hefty purchase and field costs they incur.
Even leaving aside the issue of powers, there are still issues with this sort of numerical assessment. For one thing, the difference between a 3 and 4 cost card is the same as that between a 4 and 5 cost card, which isn’t really reflective of how the game works, particularly in the early stages: if a card costs 3 or 4, then you can go all-out for it from turn 1 if you really want to – you’ll need a bit of luck, but with a re-roll, it’s far from impossible to get the right numbers.
As soon as a card costs 5, the picture changes completely: turn 1 it is just flat-out impossible. Turn 2 it’s only a possibility with a very specific set of circumstances, and even when you get into the later turns, you still either have to find a way of rolling more than dice, or you need to roll a character dice (which you’ve previously paid for) on its double-energy side.
Again, with field costs, the higher ones aren’t just a like-for-like price for higher strength values on the dice, they represent a significant loss of flexibility. I don’t mind drawing 3 or 4 Black Widow dice in a turn, because there’s a reasonable chance I will be able to field most, if not all of them at once. As soon as you get into characters with 2 or 3 field costs, you are left with a difficult conundrum. Maybe you roll a couple of high-cost sides and can’t field them at all. Maybe you don’t roll characters at all on your first turn, and then have to leave your sidekicks on the energy side as you attempt to get that key Avenger out.
As an example, let me invite you in to the unnecessarily dark and troubled place I call my mind. Until I stop playing this game, I don’t think I’ll ever quite get over how annoyed I was with myself the day I drew one copy of Magneto: Will To Live and 3 sidekicks. It was fairly early in the game, and I had managed to get Magneto early on thanks to Big Entrance.
First roll, I rolled all four dice as energy.
For reasons which now escape me, I decided that 2 energy would probably be enough to field Magneto, re-rolled his character dice AND one of the sidekicks, to get an extra body in the field. Both came out as characters, with Magneto on level 3!
Suddenly I had a character I couldn’t possibly field, 2 energy I had little use for, and a sidekick. Instead of dealing my opponent six damage he could do nothing about and going to the Prep Area, Magneto went to the used pile, and took another 2 or 3 turns to reappear, which ultimately lost me the game. It was entirely my own stupidity, but it was also a decision which only needed to be made because of Magneto’s high field-cost.
This also adds a final point I want to make about these numbers. Put simply, some dice care more about field cost than others. If I play Human Torch, or Nick Fury, chances are that I want them to sit there for the rest of the game (although my opponent probably feels otherwise). With a character like Beast, I want to have him KO-ed every turn, so being able to get him back in the field cheaply is a must for him to be a viable play.
Despite all the caveats above, I think this is still a useful system, and I’m intending to use it from now on. As a very rough guide, I’m working on the basis that efficiency of 2 or above is really good, and below 1 is poor, with anywhere in the middle being within the standard range of what I expect to see. Before I did start using the terminology though, I thought it made sense to jot these thoughts down. Essentially, every time you see me talk about “efficiency” everything written above is implied within!