Impressions – Dice Hospital

Dice Hospital is a Kickstarter game from Alley Cat Games, soon to arrive to the backers and will be available on retail soon. Dice Hospital is a game about managing a hospital by shuffling your staff between rooms to take care of your patients and make them better. From the theme itself, it reminds me of an old video game called Theme Hospital, which I really love, except with dice. Amusingly, for a game with loads of dice, there’s not much dice rolling.

A round on Dice Hospital starts with the starting player rolling a number of dice patients, whose number ranges from 2 to 5 – as any 1’s or 6’s would have to be re-rolled. Then, they are arranged according by the severity of the patients (lower dice rolls) with 3 dice on each ambulance. So, ambulance #1 has all the critical patients, and ambulance #5 has the better-off patients.

From the start, your choices are already tasty and interesting. Your selection of ambulance determines your place in the turn order – first player gets the severe patients, last player gets the less severed ones. By turn order, all players take turns on the selection of staff members and rooms. You can only pick one – a staff member or a room. Here, already, you are trying to figure out how much you want to have first pick on the cards and tiles, and then to balance between the expansion of your hospital and getting more staff, on each and every round.

Once that’s done, players will assign their staff members on available rooms to help improve the condition of their patients. Some rooms and some staff have abilities like this room can treat 3 dice by 1 pip, if the 3 dice are of the same type and have the same number. You continue to do this until you ran out of staff members to use and assign on different rooms. You cure a patient if it reaches 7, and then the patient is considered fit and is discharged.

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Now, here’s the bad news: Any untreated patients will have their health degrade by 1 pip. If the patient’s health degrades to 0, then the patient dies. If there are no more space in the hospital when you add in new patients (and you must add patients in every round) you have to chuck existing patients to the morgue, until you have enough free beds to welcome new ones. Dead people give you penalty points for being dead. I know, I used to receive those.

Now, this becomes interesting because you only have a limited number of staff, and you can only use a room once every round, but there’s so many patients! Dice Hospital escalates round after round as you put in more patients, curing as many as you can, so you can welcome more patients. Wave after wave, your doctors and nurses work like clockwork. Priorities need to be made. Plans needs to be set. Safety nets for dying critical patients should be at the back of your mind. Like you are in the cardboard NHS world, you need to think fast and be efficient.

To significantly complement the game play, the art in this game is highly amusing, as the patients are all dice. Not just in game, but in the illustrations of the hospital rooms – you can see a die lying on a bed and getting treated. It’s so adorable. This made the game so funny as players literally cures dice of their ailments. The staff cards look like ID cards. The penalty points are morgue tags. The art work of this game has successfully glazed on top of this game’s machinery.

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Another thing I really like about this game is the relative lack of downtime. On the first phase where players take turn picking ambulances and take a bonus staff or room, players can pretty much play simultaneously on managing their hospitals. This is amazing as this game can be quickly played with 4 players. Indeed, you just finish managing and curing patients, being proud of yourself, only for you to look up and see your friends finish and end up curing more patients than you do!

However, my concern with this game is that it would feel the same, after a few games, as the player board is always the same initially. Even with the rooms expansion, most of your hospital is still the same. I do feel that there’s adequate staff member cards and room tiles for people to play with repeated plays, but it’s not the numerous variety like what you get from Uwe Rosenberg’s Feast for Odin or Agricola.

I might be wrong with my concern, once I’ve played a few full games of it. Nonetheless, I am very eager to play this again, and play it as a full game. The task of curing your patients feels rewarding. The puzzle of optimal efficiency to avoid overcrowding feels great. When you discharged 5 patients in one round – beating everyone else and raking in all those points – you just want to clone yourself right now, just to high-five yourself.

Unfortunately, I did not play with the expansion. Hopefully, I get a chance to do that at some point.

[All images are from Boardgamegeek.com]

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