In 2011, the Spiel des Jahres jury split the award into the original prize, intended for families, and a connoisseur’s prize (the Kennerspiel des Jahres), with games too complex for non-gamers (though there are certainly even heavier games than the ones that get nominated for the KdJ). One byproduct of this is that it seems lighter games are being more commonly nomianted for the regular SdJ award; this had already been happening somewhat with winners Keltis and Dixit. Las Vegas is one of the lightest games nominated for the award, and in fact, publisher alea rates it a “1” out of “10” on their complexity scale. Designed by Rüdiger Dorn, it’s a dice-chucking game of risk-taking at casinos… Can a game this simple also be fun? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:
Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game?
Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing?
Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself?
Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine the setting described in the game?
Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?
Components: There isn’t that much stuff in the box, which is alea’s standard medium-sized box. You get a pile of 54 bank notes (relatively standard cardstock), six cardboard tiles to represent casinos, a start player card, the rulebook, and most importantly – 40 (!) dice. The dice are relatively standard in size and look, but they’re solid and roll easily. The casinos and bank notes are where the art comes into the game, and it’s okay, but it doesn’t look as exciting as it should, because alea knows nothing about bright colors or fun graphic design. (I wish this game had been put by North Star Games…) Additionally, the scantily-clad showgirl on the spine is rather awkward when you pull the game out at a party, since the game is totally kid-friendly otherwise. The MSRP in the USA is $34.99, which I think is totally reasonable, although maybe a bit high for the mass market (and the game should be there).
Accessibility: I already made a stink about how light the game is, and I’ll prove my point by explaining the rules here. Each player begins the round with eight dice, and the game is played over four rounds. On your turn, you roll all of your remaining dice (once) and place ALL of one number on the corresponding casino (the casinos are numbered 1-6). You keep going around and doing this until everyone is out of dice (some people exit earlier in the round when they run out of dice). At each casino, whoever has the most dice gets the biggest bank note, whoever has the second most gets the next one, and so forth until the notes are gone. However, before you pass out the notes, any tied players have their dice removed from the race! You do this four times, and that’s it. The only other thing to note is that bank notes are put on each casino until the sum is over $50,000, so different casinos have different numbers of bills. So, yes – anyone can play this game.
Depth: Based on the last section, you might think this game is pure luck – and it’s definitely a dominant factor. However, I definitely feel like I have several good options often in the round, and the first roll is tough from the beginning. Do I commit a lot of dice to make sure I get one spot? Do I try to sneak in to each casino? What makes the game work is the “ties get nothing” rule. It can be intensely frustrating to roll your last die, which you have to place on the rolled number, and make yourself get stuck in a tie when you were going to make out with some cash. However, that danger is exactly what makes the game fun, and enhances the push-your-luck aspect of the game. It’s not, you know, Terra Mystica, but for a pure dice game, I think it offers more interesting decisions than Yahtzee, Farkle or Qwixx.
Theme: The theme for this game is just perfect, and it’s amazing that they could find such a fitting theme for a simple game that is pretty abstract due to its tiny, tiny ruleset. The gambling, push-your-luck feel of the game goes with the Vegas theme perfectly, as does the dice-rolling. I only wish that art was bright and colorful instead of being typical drab alea colors. I should say that the art isn’t that awful; I just think it could be much, much better.
Fun: This game is an absolute hoot. Somehow, that one tiny rule about ties not only gives you that risk-taking feeling, but also causes hilarious moments of ‘schadenfraude’ when other people get stuck in ties and lose out big. The rules are so simple that this is a great family game, full of cheering and moaning (depending on how things go).
I suppose this isn’t related to the fun of the game for me personally, but please explain to me why Castles of Burgundy (also by alea) is being sold in Barnes & Noble in the U.S. and this game isn’t. It’s just plain idiocy. This was a Spiel des Jahres nominee, perfect for families, and perfect for the uninitiated American gamer who might think Settlers of Catan is too complicated. I can’t imagine anyone buying Castles of Burgundy sight unseen who isn’t an avid gamer being able to even make sense of the rules, or even being drawn to the cover. Las Vegas has a theme that Americans will immediately recognize and find appealing and fun. What the heck, alea? This game should be in Wal-Marts, Targets, and Meijers all over America. Yet another reason I kind of wish this game was with another publisher.
All that being said, this game is a fantastically fun one that absolutely anyone can play, and that’s far truer about this game than similar statements about other games. A true gateway game, a true classic, and the game that probably should have won the 2012 Spiel des Jahres. This game is an absolute pinnacle of game design – go check it out.
5 out of 5