Everyone is entitled to their opinions. I had an opinion on dice. A strong one. Everyone is also entitled to change those opinions. Have I changed mine?
In early 2016 I wrote a post about my loathing of dice. It’s fair to say that this has been my most discussed, and most controversial topic. Even more so than the post that had a few judging my blog post (and my character) by it’s title.
Rarely do my posts ever draw the attention of famed board game designers; or if they do, the gaming elite certainly don’t comment. But in this case…it appears that Rob Daviau and I share a differing opinion strong enough to elicit feedback.
So, it’s been more than a year since I wrote that editorial. A year of lit up notifications every time I promoted it. A year of new games played. A year of hearing why dice are amazing from all my friends who love the geometric randomize-ers. A year of failing to avoid dice games.
The question is:
Has my opinion changed?
The short answer? Yes.
Since that is as clear as mud, let me give you the long answer.
1. Yes, I Still Believe Dice Are The Epitome of Luck
When I think of random, the first thing that pops into my head is dice. And to this day, while some scientists and mathematicians may disagree with me, I do not believe that is an unfair association.
Because of this, I will still generally gravitate away from strategy games that use 4 sided, 6 sided, 20 sided or other polyhedral chance creators as a core mechanic of the flow of the contest. I still believe that dice for combat are almost literally the worst, and rolling dice for movement is something that 99% of the time makes me want to throw a game out the window (yet for some reason I CAN make it through a race of Formula D without it making an assisted aerial exit).
2. I Concede that Dice Aren’t ALWAYS a Lazy Mechanic
In my defense, for this point I put the word “Almost” in there, and no… it wasn’t a late edit, I assure you, it has been there since the beginning. But, I’m a guy who’s willing to look at what I said, take a step back, and consider my words. After much thought, and deliberation I would like to amend my statement on the design elements of dice:
“I believe that in several cases, dice are used when a different mechanic would, in my opinion, create a more strategic or thematic environment for players. When this happens, it is my belief that it is a lazy choice on the part of the designer.”
Am I just trying to cater to Mr. Davaiu?
Honestly – he can hate every word I write, and that’s totally cool. But it was his well stated reaction along with feedback from several others that prompted me to go back and re-read what I had written. If you see being retrospective as catering… then so be it.
What changed? Let me give you and example. Recently “I got the opportunity” to play Roll Player with some friends on Tabletopia (aka didn’t have a choice because it was Married with Board Games own Lara Williams turn to pick the game of the month). Of course the physical grabbing and rolling element is removed in the digital space, but so is the picking the dice up off the floor after someone get’s a little aggressive with their “technique.”
But I digress.
Without delving into the rules Roll Player is a very intriguing game with a WHOLE lot of strategic decisions.
Full disclosure: I had fun playing it!
It is SUPER evident that the designers of this game took a lot of time developing the mechanics, play-testing the special powers, refining the goals, and crafting the overall experience of the game to be more than just Yahtzee on steroids.
But wait a second, wasn’t that one the points in my original “Anti-dice” post?? Yep! In fact I even had it in bold for some extra emphasis!
“Some games can take the dice mechanic, and turn it into a strategic decision.”
This is what Roll Player does at it’s core. And it does it very, very well. During game play, whether you roll 6’s or ones doesn’t matter too awfully much as rolling the dice is secondary to drafting them onto your board and all the strategery (totally a word) that involves.
Really quickly before I move on, lest you think this dice-hating-maniac is suddenly having a love affair with a game full of dihedral ploygons; it is my opinion that Roll Player fails with dice in a big way during set up. Before a turn is taken, each player rolls a set number of dice based on player count and places them on their character mats. This random start really rubbed me the wrong way! As an extreme example, I could roll 7 1’s and my friend John could pull out some #MinserMagic and roll 7 6’s. I don’t care how you slice it, I’m going to be at a distinct disadvantage for the remainder of that game. That said, I would totally play this game again, and could even see it having a place in my closet.
Which leads me to say,
3. Maybe There is a Place for Dice Outside of Dice Games
Ok… this is where I’ve made some big changes in my perspective. Unfortunately, I’m probably not going to make anyone happy because dice lovers will believe I haven’t come far enough to their side, and dice haters are going to feel betrayed. But oh well, I tend to live a lot of my life in the middle anyway.
When it comes to dice as a primary mechanic (Notice… that’s in bold – it means it’s a key issue), there are SOME games that will have a place in my game closet. Games like Roll Player, Tiny Epic Galaxies, Artifacts Inc., The Oracle of Delphi, and probably even Sagrada (although I haven’t played that one yet), have done a lot to start lulling me over to the dark side of dice affection.
Not only that, but I have discovered that there are times (albeit rare times) when an utterly random die is something that is super beneficial.
My most played game of 2016, Stockpile, started to wear a little old on me after about the 15th play, but then I got the Continuing Corruption expansion. This expansion comes with 3 new “modules” that can be added to the game in any combination, but it’s my belief that the expansion is worth it just for the elements added by the dice alone. Having the stock market become more volatile adds a LOT of variability to the game without adding much more randomness than was already present within the confines of the rules.
Nonetheless, some of my gripes about dice still exist, even with some of the games mentioned above. For example, I’ve had games of Tiny Epic Galaxies where the luck of the dice was with one player, while another player spent all their energy resource re-rolling…re-rolling….re-rolling, and never getting that one action option they needed. And I’m sorry, but for some reason that form of frustration will always be a fun-suck for me.
So What’s My Opinion On Dice Now?
I stand firmly in…the middle. In my opinion, there are some terrible dice mechanics out there, and if a designer uses them in anything more than a young kids game, I still think it’s lazy.
There are more ways than I had realized that use dice in a heavily strategic and satisfying way, and that’s not lazy at all.
So for me, I’ll probably be a little less shy about dice in the future…but I won’t be starting a D6 collection any time soon.
Disclosure: In case you missed it at the top of this post, this article has some affiliate links in it. Read my full disclosure policy here.