21 November 2018
The patient is rushed out of the ambulance and into the ward. They’re not looking good: just a few pips from death. But another patient already sits there, their condition having deteriorated as the limited staff did what they could to attend to as many patients as possible. There’s not enough now to treat both these patients. There’s never enough. A spell in the operating theatre with the attending surgeon sees one patient walk away. The other is taken to the morgue. Before you have a chance to regret the decision – your decision – another patient arrives through the doors.
Dice Hospital is a game of often impossible choices. You wouldn’t think that a handful of dice and some meeples could come close to putting you in the scrubs of those in the life-and-death daily routine of working in medicine, but the desperate struggle of assigning nurses around your hospital here feels just about as close as any board game’s come.
No matter how much you build up your hospital with new departments or hire specialist staff better trained at healing your patients – the only part of the game where players directly interact, the benefit of taking in sicker patients from a row of ambulances balanced with first pick of the available improvements – the decisions rarely get easier. More staff, or better equipment? Specialised expertise, or general competence? Give one patient intensive care, or ensure a group remains stable? All the options feel just as viable – and just as perilous as the patients you’re forced to inevitably leave untreated tick another die face closer to their demise into a fatality token.
Part of what takes Dice Hospital beyond simply being a competent worker-placement game is its outstanding commitment to its theme. You’re not just instructing generalised doctors and nurses, but virologists, haematologists and even urologists, all of whom suitably combine with colour-coded divisions – from triage clinics and anaesthesia to renal medicine – to give each ailing die a 24 Hours in A&E-style tale of drama in miniature as they’re rushed between departments. It’s obvious that the game’s creators have taken inspiration directly from the reality of working in healthcare, and it gives the dependable gameplay an added layer of immersion that works magnificently.
The varied assortment of rooms and staff also elevates the gameplay’s initially straightforward strategy, enabling combinations and pairings that might benefit dice of consecutive values, for instance, or even make taking in sicker patients worthwhile as they’re quickly brought from one or two pips to the seven needed to be discharged. Unsurprisingly, getting as many patients through the exit in a single turn leads to the highest scores, but individual bonuses potentially given to each player for certain combinations of dice discharged in the same round add to the things to juggle in your mind – something that you can willingly ramp up using the optional deck of event cards and the even more stressful hard mode variants.
Dice Hospital’s fleeting player interaction – something its meaty objective-focused solo mode leans into – and familiar worker-placement gameplay won’t be the cure for everyone’s gaming obsession, but its theme makes it an experience that stands apart. This will be the best trip to hospital you ever make.
Tough decisions and an immersive setting make for a fantastically gripping hour where every call counts.
Buy your copy here.
Designer: Stan Kordonskiy, Mike Nudd
Artist: Sebastián Koziner, Sabrina Miramon
Time: 45-90 minutes
This review originally appeared in the October 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
Sometimes we may include links to online retailers, from which we might receive a commission if you make a purchase. Affiliate links do not influence editorial coverage and will only be used when covering relevant products.