I’ve played Dice Hospital twice so far and felt this was a suitable time to give my first impressions of this medically themed worker placement game.
So, players start with their nice shiny new hospital and draft ambulances filled with patients (dice) to fill it. Using their initial nurses and any specialists they may have gained, they ‘heal’ the dice with the outlook of getting them back out on the street, thus earning lots of point That’s it in a very small nutshell!
It certainly came across as very simplistic, at least at the start, but I soon realised that there were some nicely interwoven mechanisms at work here, which presented a pretty puzzle when it came to discharging lots of healthy dice all at the same time.
First up, there was the ambulance draft. The first player takes first pick, but can’t pick ambulance 1, which holds the dice closest to deaths door (the dice are arranged in order, 2 to 5, to be placed in the ambulances). This in itself takes some thought, as your aim is to discharge a high number of patients all in one go to maximise your score, so you need to think how the dice held by the ambulance are going to work with those already in your hospital. The other tasty bit about the ambulance draft was that it also decides who takes over as first player – the person who drafted the lowest number ambulance.
After the intake of patients, it’s time to upgrade your hospital, and whoever took the lowest ambulance, and gained the first player token, takes first pick. The choice is any one from a number of specialists and departments and will often be decided by the patients you have already in your hospital, as we shall see.
The next phase is the hospital activation, and this is done by all players simultaneously, which greatly speeds things up. Here, you place a worker in a department and do the action indicated. If you placed a specialist, then there may be additional actions you can take as indicated on their card. Now here’s the meat of the game, and it gets quite juicy, like an unrested steak. The actions you take will heal a number of dice, depending on the department and worker. Healing a die will increase its number by an amount, and when their value would exceed 6 then they are fully healed and moved to the discharge lounge. There are, and this is the where the puzzling really begins, departments and specialists that heal more than one die at a time, but usually there’s a catch, such as they must be the same number and/or colour, or even consecutive numbers.
As you can probably guess, this is where the old grey matter starts to overheat as you plot and plan how to get dice of the right colours to the right values in order to treat the most at once – you can heal a die more than once per turn – any untreated dice at the end of this phase, referred to as neglected patients, gets their value downgraded by 1. If they’re reduced to zero, then I’m afraid their time has come, and they get removed from the board – a fatality token is then placed in your mortuary!
The final phase, shift change, sees the workers reset, as well as the dice returned to the untreated area of the board. New cards are drawn for the development phase of the game and things restart over, up until the end of the 8th round when final scoring is carried out.
Let’s return to that meaty bit. I had a great time here, and in the few games I played, I started to understand the intricacies of using the departments and specialists to heal and, often more importantly, knowing which patients to neglect to reduce them to a usable number for next turn. You must think a turn ahead to make the most of the resources you have. It was a joy when I used a department to heal a couple of dice of the same colour and then used a specialist to heal another colour but bring it to the same value. Then use another department to heal them all – you have to look for the order in things and it can take some working out, which could lead to a bit of analysis paralysis for some, but at least it’s all done simultaneously.
The first game was all about learning these intricacies and seeing how the specialists worked with the departments. The second game took this further, and I started to get a feel for tactics – should I try and lean heavily on bringing in dice of the same colour, or get a spread and develop my hospital to cater for them all? I went for the former and almost doubled the score of my first game, but it will take many more to try the various combinations on offer.
Discharging patients is how you bring in the victory points, and the more you kick out of the door at once the more you score, it isn’t linear, discharge 4 and score 7, 6 gives 11, and discharging a whopping 12 will return 35 points.
Administrators can score you additional points for meeting their criteria, such as discharging at least 2 greens or discharging more than everyone else. I need to play more, but my initial feelings about these administrators is one of unbalance. If you have the one that gives an additional point if you discharged at least 2 greens (there are three different colours of dice) then that seems easier than the one that sees you having to discharge at least one of each colour or discharging the most in the round – I’ll have a better idea when I come to review the game.
There wasn’t a lot of player interaction, with the ambulance draft and hospital improvement phase being the only real opportunity to influence what others are doing, but even here it was limited in what could be achieved. This isn’t a problem, just an observation as many games suffer the same, and a lot of people don’t mind this at all, myself included. It does give a good indication to what the solo game will be like, though it is the type where you’re just aiming to better your score, not my favourite way to play solo, I’d much prefer trying to beat an AI opponent or advance a storyline, but if the game presents a real challenge, then it could see plenty of play.
There are a few optional rules, such as adding event cards (we’ll use these next play), a hard mode, and a variant called final round collections, which sees you sending out your remaining patients to other hospitals, scoring points for matching numbers and colours in the ambulances.
So, after a couple of plays I think there’s a decent game here and I’m looking forward to exploring it further. I don’t think it’s a particularly deep game, as once you’ve got the gist of it then it’s just a case of using the worker actions in the right order for the particular dice you have, I don’t, however, intend to imply that this will be easy, and it should present a pretty puzzle. I can’t see the number of players making much of a difference to how it plays, other than the first player having a greater choice when it comes to choosing ambulances and development tiles/specialists, and I can’t see it adding much to the game time either, which came in under an hour for both my games.
I’ll get around to reviewing it at some point in the near future, after several more games, playing the variants, and, of course, a good run at playing solo, but until then, everything seems to be in good health!