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What's the right number of dice?

12 replies [Last post]
Inquisibot's picture
Joined: 04/01/2014

Duane here from team Inquisibot!

We are currently working on refining our game Mecha Mettle and I'm looking for some thoughts from designers on dice.

Quick Summary: Mecha Mettle is a 2 player card and dice game where players engage in space combat as pilots of their customized spaceship. Players play cards, roll dice, and use special abilities to protect their ship and damage their opponent. The game ends when a player destroys 5 of his opponents ports.

In our prototypes, we have been using basic 6 sided dice with players rolling 3 dice for every test. A successful roll varied based on the card, as they had different thresholds. Some cards required rolls of 5 or higher to be successful, some cards required 3 or higher and so on.

We are currently trying to translate this dice system into one that uses symbols instead of numbers, and allows for more than 3 dice to be rolled at a time. A symbol system is quick to compare and easy to teach.

We are trying to find a good balance in the amount of dice being rolled and the number of symbols on each die. It's a lot of spreadsheet work right now, but solidifying this system will allow us to balance out the relative power of individual cards, making for a fair and competitive game.

So the question I am asking of you all is how many dice are you comfortable rolling? We currently have a maximum of 6 dice being rolled at a time. Would you prefer something higher (8-10 dice) or lower (2-4 dice)?

Joined: 03/25/2014
I would say as few dice as

I would say as few dice as you can and not a single one more. In other words, boil down the mechanic to its core and see what's the lowest number of dice you can use for your stuff to function.

It is not entirely true that "A symbol system is quick to compare and easy to teach." When you use a standard die you know what every side means without the need to be taught, you know how to compare and add numbers to play the game, etc. With custom dice you need to teach your player how the dice work from ground up, as if he encounters this object for the first time. The more custom dice you roll in the same time and the more symbols they have, the bigger the confusion in the new player.

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
Opposing Rolls

I agree with Samarkand on their remarks regarding including as few as possible. However, I would also caution you to double-check your game for any situations where players will be simultaneously rolling dice, and comparing their results. You do not want to have a situation where memory is required to determine the winner in an opposing roll situation.

Just to clarify, here's a question: when you say a maximum of six dice are rolled at once, do you mean six dice per player, or six dice across/between all players?

Another option is to cut your production & shipping costs by omitting dice completely and have players provide them, like a print n' play type situation. That way the issue isn't of your concern (apart from reception of your game by the gamer population).

Whatever the answer, I recommend you keep the resolution easy to understand for your players, and don't require them to use their memory when more dice can solve the issue.

Inquisibot's picture
Joined: 04/01/2014

I suppose I need to help clarify on the system. The game is around medium complexity, so I'll try to keep this as light as possible.

When dice are rolled, they are used for combat. Similar to RISK in that both players are rolling dice to resolve an encounter.

In our previous system, both players rolled 3 dice each. The attacker rolls 3 dice, with each individual dice result trying to match or exceed the threshold of his cards listed attack. The defender is rolling 3 dice in the same way trying to match or exceed his cards listed defense. Any single die result that match or exceed the listed numbers on a cards attack or defense count as a success.

As an example, the attacker uses his turret, which has a listed attack value of (4). He rolls 3 dice, and gets 1-4-4, which gives him a total of 2 successes. The defender then rolls 3 dice of the space he is defending. It has a listed defense value of (5), and he receives 3-6-4, which gives them a total of 1 success. The attackers successes have overpowered the defenders successes (2-1), which means he wins combat, destroying target. In the case of a tie or the defender having more successes, the defender negates the attack.

A card would tell the player which dice to roll, and from what category. Different dice have higher or lower probability than others.

We are using 4 coloured dice.
Blue dice: Normal attacks (4+)
Red dice: Special attacks (3+)
Black dice: Evade (5+)
Green dice: Shield (3+)

The reason I have said that I believed a symbol system on the dice would be easier to learn and understand, is because its purpose is to cut out the middle step of our previous system.

We want to use a symbol system on our dice to remove the need to check values on what is a success or not. Instead, players would just roll the corresponding coloured dice, and if they land on a symbol, its a success. All they need to know is that to win an attack, you need more symbols than your opponent. To defend, you must exceed or match your opponents symbols. To answer your question let-off studios, we have been testing this system with dice and stickers, with up to a maximum of 6 dice at the moment, but on average only 4 dice are rolled.

I agree in trying to cut down the number of dice, so I'll be looking at the minimum amount of dice I need to roll to make the game work. Manufacturing costs have been looked at, and it's a bit daunting to mass produce something with lots of components.

We are not quite ready for print and play just yet, but we are play testing at every local designer event and board game event where people will kindly offer their time and thoughts.

Thanks for the feedback so far though!

let-off studios
let-off studios's picture
Joined: 02/07/2011
Maxed-out Dice Use

Pretty cool system you have set up there.

Since you have opposing rolls of different-coloured dice, then I'd say make sure there are enough dice of any one colour to match up with the highest value listed on any one card. If the max ever listed for red dice is 4, then include 4 dice in the game. Do the same comparison for the blue, black, and green dice.

If you ever have a situation where players have opposing rolls of the same colour dice (perhaps a weird situation where both players need to roll Evade dice to see who has the most successes), include the maximum number of that colour dice a player can have (that is, both players possess the highest value listed on any one card). For example: if one card allows for 4 black dice, then include 8 black dice with the game.

In my opinion, the penalty of having too many dice included is MUCH better than the pain of not having enough dice at the outset.

I have no opinion on symbols versus pips. In my opinion, symbols may add to the immersion of your game, but little else. On the flipside, the cost per unit will usually increase. Maybe that can be modified significantly by using blank dice and including stickers, but I have no authoritative clue.

Inquisibot's picture
Joined: 04/01/2014
Min Maxing

Thanks for your thoughts! I will be closely looking at the exact amount of dice we need to make the game function, and narrow it down so that there are no excess dice. Keep our costs down, and the game will be a lot simpler because of it!

truekid games
truekid games's picture
Joined: 10/29/2008
I've explored that question

I've explored that question before, and about 5 dice was what most people were comfortable rolling in one go- both because of hand size and because of having to suss out the results of the roll.

Obviously some gamers want to roll giant handfuls of dice, but they're definitely the outliers, and small children top out at about 3.

6 should be fine, I'd edge away from going higher than 7.

Inquisibot's picture
Joined: 04/01/2014
Very helpful!

Your experience with this very topic is extremely helpful, thanks for sharing what you've learned! I think I have a clear picture of how I need to tailor our dice system now, thanks to all of the great advice that the community has given.

schattentanz's picture
Joined: 02/18/2014
Buckets of Dice

Do you remember Dragon Dice?
Dragon Dice has been a pure dicegame and it involved buckets of dice.
Warhammer/40k both use buckets of dice and you just can not deny their huge number of followers.

So you might go for few dice for a couple of reasons (such as price, comfort and what else), but as well for huge numbers of dice, mainly because there are folks out there who enjoy rolling lots of dice (such as me :) )

Kind regards,

Joined: 02/03/2009
A different perspective from a hater of dice.

I'm not a fan of dice and usually avoid them in all my designs. However, as an exercise in design I did use them in what I thought was an interesting way in a battle game of mine. I had both players roll dice Simultaneously and compare results. Each d6 had three potential symbols evenly disitributed on it's 6 sides. Both players rolled at the same time and all matches between the opposed rolls nullified the opponents dice. The remainder was what determined the end result of the combat. It was fast and easy, kept both players involved, and there was no math involved. The number of dice can get very large without slowly down much gameplay. In my case the experience of the unit was the number of dice rolled by your unit so veterans would have an advantage by having more dice. Combat power and armor values were fixed, the dice was a way to model "Combat Friction" and whether a unit could utilize it's potential.

Since you are doing a spaceship game why not divide your symbols between "Defense", "Firepower", and "Maneuverability". From what I understand of your system both players could place a card face down, roll and resolve. Rather then a sum of dice make the card powers tied to a number of symbols. Devastating attacks may require three firepower symbols making them harder to execute but awesome if you do, while low value attacks require only one but are much more likely to happen. Likewise defensive cards like "Shield rotation" or "countermeasures" would have varied values and corresponding effects. Maneuvering could become a way to not just avoid damage but also gain initiative for the next round. A player that has won initiative gets to resolve their move first, etc.

devaloki's picture
Joined: 01/15/2014
I disagree with this trend of

I disagree with this trend of "less is better." That can be the case a lot of the time, but sometimes more is better for theme. Look at 40k with how many dice you roll in that game, that's fun as hell!

Inquisibot's picture
Joined: 04/01/2014
I think we have found a balance

While most comments have been suggesting lower amounts of dice, we have found a nice balance which ends up being between 3-4 on average, with peaks of 6-8 if used with specials. It's a medium amount of dice, but it gets the job done.

Ratmilk, the system you have described for your design exercise is actually very similar to the system we are now implementing. While units do not gain experience, different units have different roles and higher potentials in those categories. We will be releasing a low fidelity Print and Play with rules in the coming month, so feel free to share thoughts on the amount of dice and the combat system when we get it available for public testing!

Thanks for your responses!

questccg's picture
Joined: 04/16/2011
A handful is the most practical

Having to roll about five (5) or six (6) dice is probably the most practical amount. If they are all custom each dice having it's own meaning, well then you have for a pretty interesting concept.

If I was to add a layer of complexity it would be something like this:

  • Have six (6) DEFAULT custom dice, each with it's own colour.
  • Introduce other dice from a dice bag that could substitute one of the DEFAULT by a more *powerful* or more *customized* dice.

So what this does is make the game have six (6) basic dice (each with a different colour) and add a whole TON of custom dice you can draw from a dice bag.

That my friend could be a whole lot of dice - but in a controlled fashion.

Just some ideas!

Note: Have a lot of dice lends well to casino machines... But seriously it also works will with video games. In reality when having to roll them, there is probably a more practical cut-off.

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