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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.


I’m working on a cooperative

I’m working on a cooperative dice game that requires 5D6 per player and right now I have it set up to handle up to 7 players. 35D6 will be expensive even in bulk so if I can find a publisher that’s interested I bet the will reduce the number of players.

If a game is primarily dice,

If a game is primarily dice, 35 d6 will not be a great expense at all.

lewpuls wrote:If a game is

lewpuls wrote:
If a game is primarily dice, 35 d6 will not be a great expense at all.

The game also includes 72 cards, 7 player mats, a condition track and a condition marker.

I think the dice usage is

I think the dice usage is very important to note here: especially how many players are involved in each contest. For the pirate game, if most of the rolls are active player vs. game, you would probably do better to just have one dice and set a difficulty class. If you must have a dice to roll against, who is going to roll it? If it is an inactive player then you need the second dice, but that's still an iffy solution as it increases maintenance as turns change (though it does help with downtime concerns).

I think in general you want to err to the minimum number of dice: not only is it cost efficient, it is a useful marker of active player, and a time-honoured way of demarcating the beginning and end of turns. For beginning players this can really make it more clear what is happening (and decreases overall clutter), while for advance players is it really that hard for them to acquire extra d6 from their gameshelf? The only time you really need to provide a separate set of dice for each player is if players are rolling against each other every turn.

Re the coop game: why do you need so many dice?? How are they using them? For the 7 player version comparing or adding 35 different results on each roll is a lot of bookkeeping. If you're adding, I have serious concerns about why you need this many dice, as your results are all going to group around 17.5 anyway: the more dice you have, the more consistent the result. Why not use some kind of randomizer deck at this point? It would take much less space, less cost, and achieve much the same result.

Overall, having dice and cards can be tricky to manage, and really needs to be justified. Something like Elder Sign manages because you don't have a hand of cards you have to hold and put down whenever you roll. It also requires both dice and cards because of the core mechanics. Elder Sign is also a great example of the economic use of dice: by reducing the number of dice it focuses attention on each player as they act, and it frees up resources to use dice with different probabilities.

I don't think you should ever

I don't think you should ever ask a customer to supply additional components for a commercial game. For a print n play game it's expected, for a commercial game the customer expects to get everything he or she needs.

For the pirate game, some other player rolls the opposing die (and the player taking his turn can specifically refuse to let one chosen player roll, for what it's worth). This helps keep people engaged in the game, and is MUCH simpler than a difficulty class (which players have to remember or look up).

Given the large numbers of "bits" (3D and cardboard) now common in commercial tabletop games, I don't see a clutter problem in supplying more rather than fewer dice.

I actually learn towards the

I actually learn towards the Publishers point of views, even as a player.

I do agree that I shouldn't be inconvenienced by lacking components. If conflict is primarily between two players and each one will usually 6 dice... you should include 12 dice. All those dice will be needed at the same time, so reusing them will be bothersome.

But I am fully against paying for components I don't NEED. If a roll and move game requires 2 dice to move a player each turn... I don't want 10 dice. I don't care that it makes the game play faster on the off chance that I play with 5 players... I don't want to pay extra when I can just pass the single pair of dice.

I realize that dice are cheap... but so am I. Give me what I need to play... but if I find myself with a bunch of pieces that I never use I will feel cheated. It's far too easy to spend someone else's money in an effort to "Make their life easier".

All this said though... it does depend specifically on the needs of your game. It is entirely possible your game does NEED 12 dice to play. If your play test's show major slowdown during most combats with less dice... then include them.

The real question is can you

The real question is can you modify the design of the game to account for fewer dice? More dice is not necessarily better, and if you look at the mechanics that you are trying to achieve, it is likely you can get away with fewer dice.

For example, 2d6 gives you 36 outcomes, 5d6 gives you 7776 outcomes, but when you are rolling 2d6 vs. 5d6 the difference between the results is largely equal - meaning that in a contested roll, 2d6 or 5d6 you're not really changing anything. Sure the 5d6 may have some results that occur less than 5% of the time that give extreme differences not possible with a 2d6 comparison - but is that honestly good for your game (if you're being truthful about it.)

Also using dice in different ways can give you more results with fewer dice. For example, if you want to include values from 1 to 36 you could see if multiplying the two dice together as opposed to rolling 6d6 can give you an interesting set of results (resembles sort of a double bell curve). Or 3 dice, one 0-5, and another 1-6, that are multiplied together then added to a 3rd die 1-6. That gives you a different set of results as well that range from 1 to 36

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blog | by Dr. Radut