Tuesday, November 13, 2012
How many dice (to include with a game)?
Those who like dice games are going to answer this question with “lots”! But game designers can’t think that way. Every item added to a game increases the retail price of the game very roughly six times the actual cost. So if you put in some extra dice that cost $.15 altogether the price of the game rises by at least a dollar. If you add a dollars’ worth of dice the price of the game increases by roughly six dollars.
Not surprisingly, then, it’s the publisher who has the ultimate call about how many dice are included in a game. The designer can suggest, can try to justify, but in the end the publisher will decide.
The publisher will try to include the minimum number of dice that is not obviously inconvenient for the players. The designer is going to want “more dice than the players need”. That’s partly because the designer recognizes that anytime players must delay to find enough dice to roll then the game lasts longer than it should. And in these days when people want, or at least say they want, very short games, anything that unnecessarily makes the game longer is a Bad Thing.
Let’s take some examples. Fantasy Flight Games included five dice in their edition of Britannia. But when the game is played at a tournament the players typically open up their sets and have at least five dice per player, sometimes color-coordinated. :) The tournament games would definitely take longer if there were only five dice in play. Yet you can justify inclusion of only five dice, because a typical battle in Britannia is unlikely to involve more than three attackers and two defenders. There’s a stacking limit of three in clear terrain and two in difficult terrain, except that each nation is able to have one overstack, of unlimited size in clear and four in difficult. So a typical defending force in Britannia is one or two armies and a typical attacking force is two or three. Voila!, five dice. (By the way, roughly 800 dice are rolled in the course of a Britannia game, so dice are important and delays can add up.)
I have a “screwage” style pirate game prototype that includes dice rolling to resolve recruiting, pursuit, cannon fire, and boarding. Over the course of the game there can be quite a few dice rolls but no more than one die is needed by a player at any time. Yet most of these rolls are opposed, that is there’s a roll for both pirate and non-pirate, so you need two dice at the time to avoid delay. The question is, how many dice should be included in the game? Because the game is otherwise relatively inexpensive - it has no board, consisting of cards, some markers, and some dice - my opinion is that six dice should be included. That will be enough for one per player in all but exceptional cases (the game can be played by 2 to 8).
A game that requires two dice to resolve an attack is going to be slightly more expensive than a game that requires one die. If only one player rolls the dice in a battle then you need fewer dice than when both players roll. But as long as you keep the number down to around four dice I don’t think you should customize your design just to keep the number of dice to a minimum.
When you’re playtesting a game you should be aware of how many dice are available because this may impact the length of the game and the attitudes of the players. If you always playtest the game with six dice and the published version has three dice then it’s not quite the same game, probably for the worse. So a wise designer would include no more dice in playing of the prototype than he expects to be included with the published version.
I think most readers will understand that dice other than six sided are significantly more expensive and should be included in a game only when the additional expense is justified by gameplay that could not be achieved with six sided dice.
How did this esoteric question come to mind? I am testing the less-than-two-hour version of Britannia, which uses picture dice. Picture dice are more expensive than normal dice, and though normal dice could be used picture dice are regarded as much “cooler” by players. We started testing with six dice, but as you roll two dice per army that’s only sufficient for a 2 to 1 battle. Too often, I thought, one player had to wait for the other to roll before he could get enough dice to roll. Following the rationale for five dice in the standard version of Britannia I should include 10 dice in this version. But we tried playing for a while with 11 dice as it happens, and that seemed to be one too few, so now we’re playing with 12 dice. That’s a lot of dice but the game can go a little faster, and a major objective of this version is to have a game that takes 90 to 120 minutes. So I will argue in favor of at least 10 and probably 12 dice, but once again the publisher has a lot to say about it, and I may change my mind when I find out how much more picture dice cost than ordinary six sided dice.
“How many dice” is a minor thing in the great scheme of tabletop game design, but lots of little things add up so you need to think about these constraints while you design commercial games.
Another time I’ll talk about the virtues and “sins” of dice in games.