Rolling the Dice

by Steve Bowler on November 7, 2008 · 3 comments

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I’ve been trying to incorporate some dice rolling into a card game I’m trying to build in my spare time for fun (ha ha ha I’m crunching what spare time), and while the game itself is taking too long (this is a CCG, after all), I’m finding the die roll the most controversial part of the game.  Folks who’ve tested it for me either love it or hate it.

I’d love to say that “at times,” it creates the most drama, but the reality of it is that the die creates almost all the drama.  There’s a lot of good push and pull in the cards, but the die?  You love it, and then you hate it.  And then you love it some more.  It is the harsh mistress.  It giveth, and it taketh.

I could go on for days about the damn thing, but the point is, that randomness it introduces and the absolute mystery of the outcome = instant drama.  Are you going to fail?  Succeed?  Critically fail?  Crit hit?  Even if I allow you to modify your target number with some cards, to attempt to make it easier for you to hit your target while at the same time feeling a bit more in control of your experience, you can always roll a one and miss.

It’s funny what some randomness can do for your game.  If it’s balanced right, it can be a lot of fun.  Modern gamers really don’t seem to enjoy dice rolling in their simulations.  Most gamers wouldn’t realize that there’s tons of dice rolling going on under the hood (the AI shooting at you has a 75% accuracy rate with a – 10% on each successive shot in a burst to hit.  This would literally be computed with dice on each shot as % dice (two D10s) with a target number of 25, and then roll a D10, and subtract it from your roll for each shot after the first).  But people don’t want to see the randomness.  Especially when it’s their guy rolling the numbers.  People these days want skill.  They want to feel in control.

So in a dice game, it seems that to allow for the player to feel they’re in control, you have to give them decisions to make.  Dice games inevitably turn out to be risk/reward gamble games for the most part.  Force players to make quick mental calculations about probability, and let them determine if they’re going to press the attack or hang on another turn, based on what previous rolls have told them.

In my research, I’ve stumbled across this great little Yahtzee-esque game called Zilch.  And like any good dice game, it’s got some kick-ass risk/reward mechanic.  You have to keep rolling to hit a minimum score in order to bank some points, but then to get ahead you have to take some risks and try for higher scores to bank, which starts guaranteeing you’re going to roll a “zilch” score and drop all points from that attempt.

There’s even a penalty for trying to “go big” too often.  If you zilch 3 times in a row, you lose points from your bank (which is normally untouchable).

It’s a nice little game, and I think I’m learning a bit about risk/reward with dice just from playing it, even if that lesson is to create situations in the game design to force players to risk above their comfort zone every so often.

It feels good when it pays off, and it infuriates you when it doesn’t.  Those damn dice; who knew there was so much drama in rolling a little piece of plastic?


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