Lesson 8.2 - Dice - The Cardboard Designer

Lesson 8.2 – Dice

Board Game Design - Loads of Dice

Chance comes in different flavors and the way you apply it to your game affects the player experience in different ways. One of the most popular forms of chance are Dice. Let’s explore them some more.


Undoubtedly the champion of chance, dice have existed in one form or another since before recorded history. The oldest dice ever found in Iran may date back from 2800-2500 BC. So it’s fair to say that dice have been used… a lot.

Their popularity likely relies on their versatility and their simplicity. As players, it is easy to work out the chance of something happening when we roll a dice. If the right number(s) show up, there is instant feedback on the success of the roll. Although we may envisage a 6-sided-block when considering dice, we can in fact take dice with many different sides to change the odds of certain outcomes. This means with relative ease, we can iterate on the design of game or tweak the game as needed. With just a few changes we are able to affect the relative likelihood of an outcome.

Bell Curves

Further versatility with dice comes when we start to increase the number of dice rolled in a single throw. Sites like AnyDice help designers to get a sense of how common a roles may be with a given combination of dice.

If we roll 2d6 (2 six sided dice) we immediately skewer the chance of the game to make 7 the most likely outcome. Whereas we originally had 6 options with equal chance with single die, we now have 36 different possibilities that move towards the middle numbers. As you can see from the image, there is a much greater chance of rolling a 7 vs rolling a 2.

This is an extremely powerful tool – that can change a game dramatically with relatively tiny changes.

Look at how games like Catan use these mechanics to diversify their game-play. In this instance, the “robber” is activated when rolled on a seven. This allows people to steal cards from one another. Now the 7 won’t always be the number that is rolled, but when it is it forces player interaction. There is a chance that players will be able to steal a card they are in need of. In this case, making this the most common outcome of the dice roll is intentional to keep the game moving.

As we are not limited to just having d6’s with 6 different sides and we can employ the use of other sided dice. The ability to refine the likelihood of certain rolls becomes even more tweak-able.

As a designer it is important to ensure that the game still plays well if a player does happen to roll ten 2’s in a row. The pure versatility – and almost universal understanding of dice – makes them a game designers dream tool.

Hot Numbers

Humans are strange beings. We try to apply logic or control in situations where they can’t actually exist. It is the reason you see people develop “systems” for random games like Roulette for example.

Game Design - That's Numberwang

Dice are the same. Anyone who has played a few rounds of DnD with friends will be familiar with the “impossible roll.” The D20 being the main tool of DnD players have a 1 in 20 chance of rolling any specific number. Not amazing odds, but hitting 5% a few times in a row isn’t unusual.

Why then does a 2nd or 3rd “natural 20” roll illicit such joy? Why do we perceive that the impossible has happened and the player has prevailed when all seemed loss.

It is because humans don’t like chance. We like to apply meaning behind everything that happens Due to their nature – each time you roll a dice, you have the exact same chance of rolling the same number each time. But this doesn’t “feel” like it’s the case. So when a player rolls a few 20s in a row – it feels magical.

It is why every Roulette table shows the last 20 or 30 numbers the ball landed on. It is supposed to help gamblers identify the hot numbers. The truth is that this a complete fabrication. Casino’s work very hard to make sure that their tables are as random as possible. This ensures squeezing every penny out of their punters.

The same bizarre rituals apply to gamers. Adventurers will often select “good” dice for the evening out of a pool of choices. If a dice rolls a few low numbers – there is a perception they have “gone off.”

These are important perceptions to be aware of as a designer. You can employ them in your games to adapt the player experience. How likely you make a roll for example will create different levels of tension in your players.

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