Making better use of dice in games



I’m surprised Troyes and Quarriors weren’t mentioned.

BTW, Alien Frontiers is available for iPad and is a great way to fool around with the game.

This is a great article, about an interesting game, and an even more interesting idea.

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TSR (before they were bought) put out a board game called Chase which had an interesting use of dice. I still have my copy. It’s quite good — in many ways it’s like checkers, but the energy mechanic means that it accelerates towards a win state, making games shorter and less boring.

I would fail utterly at this game. D6s fucking hate me. Traveller, WH40k, Snakes & Ladders, whatever, I lose/get killed/acquire a shitty patron/disappear in a misjump/etc. Horrible little cubey bastards.

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Have you tried a dice tower? It at least gives the impression that it’s not your fault.


perhaps you should start using left handed dice?

But do these clever rules add to the underlying model, or don’t they?

Non-transitive dice (Grime dice) look pretty interesting.


Mostly related, have you guys heard of Go First dice? I have no stake/relation to them, just always thought they were cool:
I looked at his text file and built a similar data set last week in Excel to confirm that all 24 ordered outcomes indeed are equally likely among the 20,736 potential rolls of 4d12, at 824 times each.

CoB is an innovative game design where dice take on a unique role that is more closely tied to tactics than luck. And to be sure, Feld is a master of using dice in interesting ways. One of his more recent games, Bruges uses a common pool of dice to help players determine which actions they want to take as well as the consequences that they may suffer. The dice interact with hazards that accrue for all of the players, cards that the player can play in order to gain income and the price that the players must pay in order to advance up one of several scoring tracks. This unique twist leave the players contemplating not which rolls will come up but how they can best employ (or prepare for) those rules in order to create an advantage that coincides with their gaming strategy.

Feld is not alone in this. Many designers are using dice in innovative ways. Quarriors and Troyes have both been mentioned, but examples abound. Seasons where dice become both resources, action choices and round advancers, Small World where dice rolls supplement troops, Steam Park where rolling a pool of dice is a race that helps players determine which actions they can take during each round, Merchant of Venus where rolls can be used in multiple ways each with a different effect, Marvel Dice Duel where dice are drafted and employed in battle, Kingsburg which is referenced in the article, etc.

As this article aptly notes, the overarching trend of so many wonderful game designs in innovation. However, innovation that reflects upon older trends (as with novel uses of dice) is so much more rewarding for me as a player. It keeps the game both accessible and engaging.

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Wow. 5,000 years of stagnation? I guess all those poor Backgammon players were having a terrible time, sullenly pushing their tokens around the board, wishing without hope that someone, somewhere would invent a game that wasn’t shackled to the ordinal numbers. At last a hero arises!

That’s some awesome snark. But people being comfortable with something is exactly why it stagnates.

Look at Nest as an example. No one had really made any significant upgrades to the thermostat in generations. People were comfortable with it. They didn’t have a conception that a thermostat could be better. Then Nest created a thermostat that could detect motion, wirelessly connect with other devices and learn patterns. And now everyone wants one.

Board/dice games are hardly different. Once you’ve grasped how much more interesting they can be, it’s hard to go back to Monopoly. Or Risk. Or Backgammon.

Dear Matt,

being the lead designer of Kingsburg, I must say I feel your article gives an unfair description of my game, even if it does it through the words of Alien Frontier’s author.
“the effects dice can achieve grow more powerful as their values grow higher” is not a fair representation of how Kingsburg really works. The effects are more powerful as the sum of the dice grows higher. This means that by cleverly using three low numbered dice you will get three effects that combined are more powerful than the one you’ll get just adding them to reach a single more powerful effect.
This actually basically means that Kingsburg is indeed what mr. Niemann wanted, he maybe simply did not realized it when trying the game (and he has all the rights to do so, but not to say that my game works differently from what it does, or that it has flaws that Alien Frontiers corrected, what seem to be implied by your article).
But, to respect truth and history, your article should more correctly state that “Since the release of Kingsburg in 2007 and Feld Rome in 2005, game designers have increasingly taken non-conventional views of dice, with good examples as Alien Frontiers and Castle of Burgundy”.
I am sure Stefan Feld, would agree with me (also because I had such a conversation with Steven a few Essen Fairs ago).

Would it be too much to ask for a correction of this article, or a more articolate and objective take on Kingsburg?


Andrea Chiarvesio

Dear Andrea,

Matt here. As a contributor and not an editor, I don’t have the authority to issue corrections. However, I respectfully disagree with your request.

While Kingsburg is a fine game and has clearly made an intellectual contribution to the field, it is meaningfully different from Alien Frontiers and Castles of Burgundy, which are the focus of the article. Both of those games break the classic connection between higher dice being more valuable, which Kingsburg did not.

Yes, players can cleverly assign lower-valued dice to achieve greater effects in Kingsburg, but higher valued spaces still deliver more powerful actions. This observation was not meant as an insult against you or Kingsburg. Like I said, it’s a fine game, and I recently enjoyed playing it. I also don’t believe Niemann’s comment was meant as an insult. He simply imagined it to be a different game than it is.

Thank you for reading and commenting on my article. If you’d like to talk further, please private message me and we can move the discussion to email.


Who is everyone?

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Why thank you, I was rather proud of myself. But really, to be perfectly snarkless, I think dismissing a classic game like backgammon does not make you awesome. It lowers you. People have been playing that game for 5,000 years for a reason, and the reason wasn’t because they lacked creativity.

And much as the games you’ve described sound really very fun, I don’t expect they will eclipse backgammon over the next millennium or so. I could be wrong.

Nice article, and I’ve written a response here:

What this made me realise is that I have been moving away from dice as a gamer for some years now. Agent placement games (Lords of Waterdeep, Tzolk’in etc.) get my playing time over dice-based games. I don’t see Quarriors as much different from D6s. Better rolls help you out; it’s as simple as that.

The Castles of Burgundy sounds very interesting, and I have to say (and mentioned in my article) that I played Kingsburg recently and enjoyed it a lot. While higher dice rolls give you access to better options, low rolls aren’t the end of the world. Similarly the game Stone Age merges agent placement with dice rolling in a way that works (for me, at least).

I never lost love for backgammon. It’s the perfect short game (5 - 12 min.) for when you have just a little time to kill, or a lot (preferebly in a pub). A roommate and I kept a running total of points for quite a while. I’ve often wondered how many different games there were to play, and how many games you’d need to play to be 99.44% confident that you’d played every one of them. Go.

Actually, that totally describes my experience with playing backgammon and Risk. I refused to play board games for years because there was always some wonk at the table gloating about their superior intellect… or whining about the game mechanics, depending on how their dice rolls had gone. Really does take the fun out of things.

All the friends I play with now have an informal “it’s just a game, get over yourself” rule, which improves this immensely. It lets the whole group sit back after a game and talk strategy vs chance in an interesting, civilised way.