The game flows tremendously well. It only lasts 30-45 minutes even at the full player count of 4. Yet, in that short time, you can really influence and feel the progression of your civilisation.
Most other ‘the dice games’ I’ve played have players rolling dice up to three times and then using all their dice during one turn. In Nations, everyone rolls their dice once at the beginning of each age. Then, players take turns performing one action which will usually use only one or two of their dice.
To get more (and better) dice, players usually have to replace their older buildings and the dice they grant. You lose dice but you can discard dice that you have already used this age. You can roll your shiny new dice right away and use them on your very next turn. This dice recycling mechanism really feeds into the feeling of progression: you do one thing, that enables another, then another, and so on.
Additionally, because players only take one action per turn, everyone has to be aware of what others can do. You must get in while the getting is good: the building you want might not be there next turn. If however no other player has the right rolls to buy that one building, you probably want to do something else this turn. This is something you just don’t get from a game where players roll a new set of dice every turn.
Finally, rerolls are still available but they are given to the players as a resource. It’s up to you to choose when and what to reroll.
All this puts a lot of control into the player’s hands (or, at least, a sensation of control). Certainly a lot more than you might expect from ‘the dice game’.
I am worried about variability between games though. It feels like the game will get repetitive after multiple plays. Sure, there are different building names but within a same age, there really isn’t much difference between the things you can buy. For example, many of (if not all?) the advisors give rerolls.
I was also disappointed that there is no difference between the civilisations at the start of the game. I understand that it would be hard to balance asymmetric starting configurations, but I still think it’s missing. This obviously doesn’t help my concerns about the replayability of the game.
However, both of the negatives are more long term issues that might not even be a problem given how addictive the gameplay is. This is definitely one of those games that you want to play again the minute it is game is over. All in all, I really like this one.
Have you played this a lot? If so, did you find your games different each time?