Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Dice Game Cometh

Mike, enamored with the success of Zombie Dice for Steve Jackson Games, thought Tasty Minstrel might ought to look for a simple dice game. In his mind it would be packaged like Fluxx, would sit on the counter by the register at game stores, and with a Pirate or Zombie theme people would buy the crap out of it. With that image in mind, Mike posted on the Board Game Designers Forum that he was actively looking for such a game, and I thought I'd make that the theme of this months' Game Design Showdown. With the knowledge that a publisher will be looking at the dice games, people came out of the woodwork to submit a record high - 38 entries! I haven't read them all yet, but they have been posted for voting.

I started thinking of my own dice game as well. I didn't enter the GDS, partly because I don't think it's kosher to enter and also run the contest, and partly because I haven't finished my idea yet. I was thinking about how some other good dice games work, like Yspahan, and some more recent titles Macao and Troyes - I like the idea of rolling a large number of dice in a common pool and then having players draft subsets of dice out of that to make sets.

I also like tech trees, and player boards where you advance your "technology level" like in Goa or Ted Alspach's new Perpetual-Motion Machine.

ASIDE: I kinda like that part of PMM, but the rest of it left something to be desired. In short, you draw cards from a face down deck and a display of 4 face up cards. You can upgrade how many cards you draw from each, how many cards you can hold in our hand, by collecting particular sets (poker hands) and then turning them in to add cubes to your board. In addition to upgrading your abilities, adding cubes to the board is how you actually win - the first player to place all of their cubes on their board is the winner. The problems I have with that are that especially in the midgame when you've upgraded your card drawing, you pretty much draw all (2-3) of the face up cards and several face down cards at a time. This means there's no point in planning what you might draw at all, because none of the cards you want will be there when your turn rolls around (this might not be entirely true for 2 players, but for 3 and 4 it sure is). It's also kind of annoying to shuffle the deck as often as you need to, and the deck itself is not very exciting. It's a 52 card poker deck. the suits are custom, but there are 4 of them, and the cards are A-K... you could play the game with a regular deck of playing cards bought at the dollar store. I would have enjoyed it more if the theme of PMM were more identifiable. Instead of poker hands, why can't the cards have gears and levers (machine parts), and the sets necessary are various combinations of those? I understand that in reality, Ted had a bunch of extra decks from a prior game, Rapscallion, lying around so he decided to make a game to use them up - that makes sense, but it doesn't mean I wouldn't have liked it better if the theme were addressed more.

So I thought, why not make a dice game where you put together machines - Doodads, Whatzits, Thingamajigs, and Whirligigs for example. And the way you do that is by building sets of machine parts (Gears, Pulleys, Spindles, Motors, Belts, and Switches perhaps) - which appear on the faces of the dice? After rolling a large pool of these custom dice, players would take turns drafting out dice or groups of dice that combine to make the next piece pictured on their playing board - which is like a tech upgrade chart. As you ascend various columns, you could gain powers or abilities (like in PMM or Goa), with the goal of completing your Doodad or Whirligig first - or completing the most Widgets over the course of the game, or something.

Then I had a better idea. I recently played Factory Fun, and in that game players each flip up a tile, then in real time they assess the tiles and grab one - once grabbed you must place it on your board and connect it up properly or suffer the consequences by paying points to discard it. So you want to rush a little to get the best tiles, but you also have to make sure you can use the tiles you get. I wondered whether it wouldn't be more fun to do my dice game like that. Instead of taking turns drafting dice, players could grab dice in a free-for-all, and once grabbed, the die would have to be placed on your board before you could take any more. this could introduce some frantic tension and interaction as you need to figure out what piece you need, find it, and grab it before someone else, and further, you don't need just 1 piece, but a set of several.

So here's my current rules draft:


A fast and furious dice game of invention and innovation for 2-X tinkerers.


XX Custom six-sided dice (Gear/Pulley/Spindle/Motor/Belt/Lever)
  Y each in 5 colors (Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, White)
X Player boards
9-ish markers per player

Each player board shows several Upgrade Tracks as well as progress tracks for inventions. Each track space is labeled with some combination of die faces. Sometimes only the color of the die will matter, sometimes only the symbol on the face, sometimes both and sometimes neither. One track will exist for each color of die in the game, and there will be a track for each type of invention as well as some other tracks that tend to give you better abilities.

Round Structure

1. Roll Dice
    Each player notes the number of dice of each color that they contribute, and takes that number from the supply. All of these dice are rolled together.

2. Draft Sets
    Players grab dice to complete sets on their player board. The following rules apply:
    2a. Only 1 hand can be used to grab dice
    2b. Only 1 die can be taken at a time
    2c. Once a die is touched, it must be taken and placed on your board before another die can be taken
    2d. Dice may only be placed in the lowest possible space in each column.

    2e. Once placed, a die on your board may never be moved.

3. Resolve Round
    After all dice have been drafted and placed, players advance markers on their player board for each column that qualifies.

4. Discard / Store Dice
    Dice on unfinished spaces on your board are discarded EXCEPT for the number allowed to be carried over from turn to turn (see player board).

Any thoughts on this?


Brett said...


I like the sound of it - although I personally find simultaneous selection just to anxious! - but I can't help thinking that it would be just a little too easy to cheat, or simply make a mistake. In a non-simultaneous scenario, other players would verify that each dice was taken and used properly, but if others weren't looking, rolling a dice over to get a different resource would be very easy. I'm not saying *I* would cheat, obviously ;-)

Seth Jaffee said...

I had worried at first that the dice might change facing fairly easily when bumped by players grabbing other dice, but I tried it a little bit and now I'm less worried about that, so long as the dice aren't those super light wooden ones with rounded corners from old Settlers games :)

As for people re-rolling - I'd be more concerned that they simply turn the dice to the facing they want, but to some extent I have to decide whether I want to worry about other people cheating, or simply make a game that's fun if you don't cheat, and expect that people playing the game are not cheating on purpose. I do prefer games where accidental cheating is difficult to have happen.

At the end of the round I imagine a 'resolution' phase where players look at their boards and remove any illegally placed dice before 'scoring' their completed sections. This could serve as a sort of accountability phase for legal placement, though not changing the die facing.

tomg said...

This sounds interesting. As a biologist I can see it as a teaching game for metabolic pathways, genetic data, and/or possibly building a cell or system.
Very cool. I'm a big fan of Macao and Goa so this is right up my alley.