INTRODUCTION

What is Reiner Knizia's Decathlon?

It's a well-themed and quick dice game, that's more fun than many other common dice games. Created by master designer Reiner Knizia, it has a strong athletics theme, simulating the ten events of a decathlon, with the mechanics of each event correlate well with the theme. So we're talking summer Olympics instead of winter Olympics, but let's be honest, it's the thrill of competition that we like about the Olympics, and you'll find all that and more in this game! It has a high fun factor, combining a push-your-luck mechanic with some interesting decision making. It is best when played competitively and keeping track of records, but also ideal for playing solitaire. Best of all, it's free, and only requires 8 six-sided dice in order to play, along with the rules. Had this been published in a fancy box from a big game publisher with the usual designer labels and marketing, it would be well known and quite highly regarded. But as it is, you can get it for free, and in this review I'll tell you how you can get the game, what you'll need, and how it works.



Where do I get Reiner Knizia's Decathlon?

You'll need:

1. Eight dice. Yep, 8 regular six-sided dice, you probably own these already anyway!

2. The rules. You can download the full and detailed rules from Knizia's official website, right here:
http://knizia.de/wp-content/uploads/reiner/pdfs/Knizia-Websi...
You'll pick up how the game works very quickly, in fact if you read this review and use on the freely available custom score sheets, you won't even need to consult the rules.

3. A score-sheet. Eric Gaudet has made the perfect score sheet for the game, which you can print and use to keep track of your scores as you're playing - it incorporates a rule-summary and pictograms for each event, so if you use this you won't even need a copy of the rules. Download it here:
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/file/info/23603



One BGG user even came up with the bright idea of turning the scoring sheets into boards suitable for dry erasers!



GAMEPLAY

The official word is that the game can be played with 1 to 4 players, but there are ways to make it work competitively in teams with large groups of 50 or more (see for example Warren Adams' fantastic account: Dozens of Daring Dice Duellers Do Decathlon Delightedly). Just like a real decathlon, competitors compete in ten separate events, trying to score as many points in each discipline, and the winner is the player with the highest overall score over all ten events. Let's invite Dr. Knizia himself to help explain some of the rules for each of the events.

Event 1: 100 Metres



Knizia says: (8 dice, 1 attempt)
Divide the eight dice into two sets of four. Throw the first four dice. If you are not satisfied with the result, pick up all four dice and rethrow them. This can be repeated several times until you freeze the first set. Then throw the other four dice and proceed in the same manner. Try to freeze sets of dice with high values but which contain no sixes. You have a maximum of seven throws, one initial throw for each set and up to five rethrows which may be divided between the sets as desired. The number of rethrows should be counted out aloud.
Scoring: Total the value of the dice for numbers one to five, but subtract any sixes from the result.

Example:


Event 2: Long Jump



Knizia says: (5 dice, 3 attempts)
Run-up: Start by throwing all five dice. Then freeze at least one die. If you wish, rethrow all the remaining dice. You may rethrow several times, but after each throw you must freeze at least one more die. Try to freeze many
dice with low values. If the total of all frozen dice exceeds 8, you suffer an invalid attempt by stepping over. If you decide to stop throwing with a total of 8 or less on all frozen dice, you then jump.
Jump: Pick up your frozen dice and throw them all. Freeze at least one die and rethrow the remainder. Proceed in this manner until you freeze all dice. Try to freeze dice of high values.
Scoring: Total the value of all frozen used in your jump.

Example:


Event 3: Shot Put



Knizia says: (8 dice, 3 attempts)
Throw one die after the other. At any point you can stop throwing and finish your attempt. Your attempt must end after all eight dice have been thrown. If you throw a one you suffer an invalid attempt.
Scoring: Total the value of all thrown dice.

Example:


Event 4: High Jump



Knizia says: (5 dice, 3 jumps per height)
Jumping starts at the height of 10 and is increased by increments of 2. At each height you can decide, on your turn, whether you will try to jump the height or whether you prefer to skip it. If you decide to go for that height, you have three jumps in which to master it. Take all three attempts back to back before the next player takes his turn. On each jump you throw all five dice. The jump is successful if the total of all dice equals or exceeds the current height. If you have three invalid attempts at one height you have to stop.
Scoring: The maximum height which was successfully mastered.

Example:


Event 5: 400 Metres



Knizia says: (8 dice, 1 attempt)
Divide the eight dice into four sets of two. Throw the first two dice. If you are not satisfied with the result, pick up both dice and rethrow them. This can be repeated several times until you freeze the first set. Then proceed with the second, third and fourth sets in the same manner. Try to freeze sets of dice with high values but which contain no sixes. You have a maximum of nine throws, one initial throw for each set and up to five rethrows which may be divided between the four sets as desired. The number of rethrows should be counted out aloud.
Scoring: Total the value of the dice for the numbers one to five, but subtract any sixes from that result.

Example:


Event 6: 110 Metre Hurdles



Knizia says: (5 dice, 1 attempt)
Start by throwing all five dice. If you are not satisfied with the result, pick up all the dice and rethrow them. You are allowed up to five pick-ups of the dice. The number of rethrows should be counted out aloud.
Scoring: Total the value of all five dice.

Example:


Note: Eric Gaudet's score sheet has a minor error for this event. Knizia's intention is that dice can be re-rolled up to five times, for a total of six rolls altogether, as discussed here.

Event 7: Discus



Knizia says: (5 dice, 3 attempts)
Start by throwing all five dice. Then freeze at least one die. If you wish, rethrow all the remaining dice. You may rethrow several times, but after each throw you must freeze at least one more die. Only dice with even values may be frozen. Try to freeze dice with high (even) values. You can decide to stop throwing and finish your attempt at any time. An attempt ends automatically when all five dice are frozen. If, after one of your throws, you cannot freeze another die because all the remaining dice show odd numbers, you suffer an invalid attempt.
Scoring: Total the value of all frozen dice.

Example:


Event 8: Pole Vault



Knizia says: (8 dice, 3 jumps per height)
Jumping starts at the height of 10 and is increased by increments of 2. At each height you can decide, on your turn, whether you will try to jump the height or whether you prefer to skip it. If you decide to go for that height, you have three jumps in which to master it. Take all three attempts back to back before the next player takes his turn. On each jump you decide how many dice you want to use and then throw them. The jump is successful if the total of the dice is equal to or higher than the current height, and if the throw does not show any ones. If you suffer three invalid jumps at one height you have to stop.
Scoring: The maximum height which was successfully mastered.

Example:


Event 9: Javelin



Knizia says: (6 dice, 3 attempts)
Start by throwing all six dice. Then freeze at least one die. If you wish, rethrow all the remaining dice. You may rethrow several times, but after each throw you must freeze at least one more die. Only dice with odd values may be frozen. Try to freeze dice with high (odd) values. You can stop throwing and finish your attempt at any time. An attempt ends automatically when all six dice are frozen. If, after one of your throws, you cannot freeze another die because all the remaining dice show even numbers, you suffer an invalid attempt.
Scoring: Total the value of all frozen dice.

Example:


Event 10: 1500 Metres



Knizia says: (8 dice, 1 attempt)
Start by throwing the first die. If you are not satisfied with the result, pick up the die and rethrow it. This can be repeated several times until you freeze the first die. Then proceed in the same manner with the other seven dice. Try to freeze dice with high values but no sixes. You have a maximum of thirteen throws, one initial throw for each die and up to five rethrows which may be divided between the dice as desired. The number of rethrows should be counted out aloud.
Scoring: Total the value of the dice, but subtract any sixes from that result.

Example:


Final Scoring

Done all ten events? Add up your scores for your final total, and award prizes accordingly for the highest scoring players!

To illustrate, here's the actual score sheet from the decathlon when my daughter (aged 10 at the time) set a massive overall score of 285 points on August 26, 2008, as described in this session report. It's still the current world record for a complete decathlon in competitive play.



Championship Variant

Knizia's rules also include a championship variant that can be used when playing with a larger number of players, where the top three players in each discipline get medals (gold/silver/bronze) worth 3/2/1 honours each, and the player with highest amount of honours at the end is the winner. Personally I find it more satisfying to go by the overall point score of the decathlon, regardless of the number of players.

Other resources

There are a few other resources here on BGG worth knowing about:

Guinness Thread of World Records: Link
Chart for Recording Decathlon Personal Bests & House Records: Link
Sample session report: Link
What you need to know and what people think about Reiner Knizia's Decathlon: Link
Probabilities and Meaningful Decisions: a review based on some statistical explorations: Link
This last article will be of particular interest to those interested in statistics and probability. A good knowledge of probability will certainly help you make good decisions in this game, and Lajos has written a series of superb strategy articles, exploring the optimal way to tackle each of the ten separate disciplines. The article above summarizes his conclusions - consider it training for elite athletes!



CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

It's very well themed. The way each of the ten mini-games simulate each individual event of a decathlon is very clever! The designer has done a great job of marrying mechanics with the theme. For example, in the long jump, you'll try to get as fast a run-up as possible to increase the distance of your jump, but you have to be careful not to press-your-luck too far, otherwise you'll overstep and foul! This is ingenious - Knizia at his best!
It's a lot of fun. Especially if you're going to play this competitively, there's a lot of tension and excitement. The press-your-luck factor makes the game very enjoyable fun and enjoyable to play, and yet there are still some interesting decisions to be made. This is the kind of game where everyone around the table will egg a player to keep rolling, and where there will be whoops and hollering as critical rolls bring up glorious success or tragic disaster!
It's great for non-gamers. It's fun for the whole family, and because of the strong theme and press-your-luck elements, this is the perfect game to introduce to new gamers. They'll immediately have just as much fun as you, and will be able to play competitively from the outset, perhaps even breaking some records of their own!
It's got variety. Because there are ten different disciplines, each of which is theoretically a game in itself, the game doesn't quickly grow old - you're not playing the same thing over and over.
It's very replayable. We enjoy keeping track of house records, and this gives us an incentive to push our limits, because there are records to break. Of course there's a luck element, but in the case of this game it's a strength, because it makes the game immensely replayable, especially if you enjoy keeping track of your results, and compete against your own previous performances and "personal bests" in each discipline.
It's original. Unlike many other filler games, very little about this game feels derivative - it has a unique feel, flavour, and game-play.
It's quick. The entire decathlon may take you half an hour or more when playing with 2-4 players, but each event (effectively a miniature game) only takes a few minutes.
It's competitive. Keep track of your personal bests and house records, and try to beat them!
It's international. Record your scores and beat the world records achieved by other gamers around the world!
It's suitable for solitaire play. For some gamers, this is an important consideration. Certainly it means that you can have fun playing even if you're on your own. Solitaire results are not eligible for world records though!
It's free! For a free game, the game-play is really quite outstanding! I've paid good money for games much worse than this. Even by Knizia!

What do others think?

The game is not entirely without criticism. Some people consider it too long - but this depends on the amount of players, and it is possible to play with less events. Some people find it frustrating to get behind in the early stages, because it can be difficult to catch up - while there's some truth to this (although even leading athletes can collapse under the pressure of difficult events like the pole vault!), keeping track of personal bests and records in the individual disciplines will help sustain interest for all players right to the end. For the most part, the game is very well received, and here's a sampling of some of the accolades and praise given to Reiner Knizia's Decathlon:

"Fast-playing, easy to teach, and solo play. An absolute winner." - Collin Cimino
10 fun push-your-luck-style dice games put together with a good sports theme. This is the type of game that can elicit shouts from the table.” – David Bohnenberger
"A fun dice game. Basically each event is its own game." – Andrew Finke
Like Yahtzee but plays better. I like it that you have many different variants of dice-rolling within one game. Moreover, it fits in nicely with the theme.” – Elijah Lau
"So much drama in such a simple game!" – Chris Smith
"Dice games are usually so boring for me, but this is one of the very few captivating ones. It's original and captures well the spirit of the various disciplines." – Michel Fortin
"Great free push-your-luck game. It's gone over very well with family and non-gamers." – Tom Chappelea
"Free, easy, fun, quick, addictive." – Franco
"This press-your-luck game is a hoot to play! It's a dicefest that beats both Yahtzee and To Court the King hands down." – Kiboko Hippo
"This dice game is a mathematical joy and a blast to play with friends. With multiple press your luck mechanisms and competitive scoring, everyone is involved throughout the game, even when not rolling." – Jason Barnes
"Super cool print and play dice game. Brilliant!" – Tarmo Rajamets


Recommendation

Is Reiner Knizia's Decathlon for you? As long as you enjoy the press your luck element of dice games, this is a fantastic little dice game from Knizia that is superbly themed, more fun than most other dice games, and has a very high fun factor when played competitively. Great for families and non-gamers, tense, and with good "press your luck" aspects, Reiner Knizia's Decathlon is a must-try! All that and more is yours FREE! Spread the word!

 


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The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

This review dedicated to a Hungarian gamer.
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Fishy
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Nice game indeed. However i never understood why you'd want to skip a height in high jump or pole vault. All it seems to do is make you score even lower when you fail, as you only score the highest height you passed.
 
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Patrick Riley
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cafard83 wrote:
...you only score the highest height you passed.


I think that's actually the reason. Suppose you made 16. Do you risk failing to get 18 and never get a chance for 20 or do you just go for 20?
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Judit Szepessy
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Thank you for this great review! It is nice for us geeks to be directed to a great and fun game that is FREE!
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Rob Killeen
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Great post! Thanks.
 
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Rick aka_
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Excellent review! Eric's score sheet really makes this game shine. Hope Wally World still has those cheap lamination machines..
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Beau Bailey
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Why don't you believe me?
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xenongames wrote:
cafard83 wrote:
...you only score the highest height you passed.


I think that's actually the reason. Suppose you made 16. Do you risk failing to get 18 and never get a chance for 20 or do you just go for 20?


It's actually a carry over from the real life events. In jumping events, you want to minimize the amount of jumps. Your body only has so many jumps per day in it, so you want to use those where they can be most effective. If you jump at every raise of the bar in high jump, you will burn yourself out very quickly.
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James Fung
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Choosing heights is much more important in pole vault since even low heights have a significant chance of missing: even height 12 has a 1-in-7 chance of failure.
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Jeroen Geenen
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This is definitely True, and i think it is explained in some of th statistical articles mentioned in this review.
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Patrick (xenongames) wrote:
cafard83 wrote:
I never understood why you'd want to skip a height in high jump or pole vault. All it seems to do is make you score even lower when you fail, as you only score the highest height you passed.

I think that's actually the reason. Suppose you made 16. Do you risk failing to get 18 and never get a chance for 20 or do you just go for 20?

Patrick is right. For an extensive discussion on exactly this question, see this thread:

Why skip a height in high jump or pole vault?

 
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Miguel [working on TENNISmind]
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And for a simple example, that I think is clearer than all those simulations/calculations:

https://boardgamegeek.com/article/2666084#2666084

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Brie
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EndersGame wrote:


Where do I get Reiner Knizia's Decathlon?

You'll need:

2. The rules. You can download the full and detailed rules from Knizia's official website, right here:
http://www.convivium.org.uk/pdfs/Decathlon_E_v20060701.pdf
You'll pick up how the game works very quickly, in fact if you read this review and use on the freely available custom score sheets, you won't even need to consult the rules.


Outdated link.

Current link is:

Subsection of Knizia site where rules can be found.

PDF of rules:
http://knizia.de/wp-content/uploads/reiner/pdfs/Knizia-Websi...
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briezee wrote:
Outdated link.

Current link is: Subsection of Knizia site where rules can be found.

PDF of rules: http://knizia.de/wp-content/uploads/reiner/pdfs/Knizia-Websi...

Links now updated, thank you for that Brie.
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