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Dice Rolling Mechanic

The term dicey has come to imply risky and uncertain situations, and with good reason. The roll of a die is nearly synonymous with chance and luck, and yet a wide variety of games have come to utilize dice and dice rolling in innovative ways.

Tabletop game designers have found a large variety of ways to couple strategy with the luck of rolling dice, and have done so in a variety of ways. Let’s explore some of these methods below as we consider how dice rolling can be incorporated with many different types of mechanisms.

Overview of Dice Rolling

Dice rolling is probably one of the most widely used game mechanics, and is incorporated in quite a lot of different games to varying degrees. Some games, such as Farkle and Liar’s Dice include dice as the only component of the game, while others supplement dice rolling with something else that helps control the mechanic, such as the structured scoring sheet in Yahtzee.

Other games include dice rolling only as a supplement to other driving mechanics, such as in Settlers of Catan, where a pair of dice are used to dictate resource distribution, but do not control other key aspects of the game. Some games, such as Wingspan, allow for selection within a dice roll to help incorporate some amount of strategy within random results, where a dice roll determines resource options, and players then choose from the available resources.

However it is being used, dice rolling has found its way into a stunning variety of tabletop games, and will likely continue to be used in games well into the future.

Important Considerations with Dice Rolling

Dice rolling can easily be used to create set collection and push-your-luck sorts of games, but they can also be utilized in so many other scenarios. Here are a few considerations:

  • Dice rolling is a wonderful randomizer and can be used in nearly any game to consistently select a random result. Board games that have random selection from a small number of options can often substitute either standard or customized dice for cards that must be mixed or items that are randomly pulled from a bag.
  • Dice rolling is less helpful when increasing or diminishing specific resources must be shown, but this mechanic can still be employed to some degree when options may be added or removed as a set, such as in Rolling Through the Ages where dice rolling is combined with a sort of engine-building mechanic as additional dice are added throughout the game.
  • Dice rolling can serve to offer constantly shifting option sets, whenever player options need to be limited or changed within finite boundaries during a game. In this setting, dice (representing option sets) can be added, removed, re-rolled, or switched out throughout the course of a game.
  • The number of dice may also be used to indicate strength or influence in settings where power randomly fluctuates and plays into other outcomes. This includes combat games, such as Risk, or other sorts of games where wielding influence is important.

Cautions and Tips for Using Dice Rolling

Still, it is important to remember that dice rolling can be overused. With the exception of games that are based only on dice rolling, too much interaction with dice can easily make the game’s outcome feel random and abstract unless you are very careful with how dice are incorporated.

Dice rolling might be the whole game, as in Don’t You Forget It; or it may be central, as in Settlers of Catan; or alternatively it may be a randomizer only peripheral to the game’s key function, as in Chameleon. However it is used, dice rolling should leave room for at least some additional interesting decisions, otherwise you might end up with a random race, not much more involved than Candyland. For instance, even though dice rolling moves players around the board in Monopoly, the game’s central feature is managing money and making buy, build, or pass decisions.

To help you get started in deciding how you will involve dice rolling as a part of your game, here are some examples of ways that it can be used. Come up with something creative, and remember to not distract from your core mechanic and theme!

  • As the whole game, dice rolling can be rather abstract, but can still be used in a variety of ways including pushing your luck, organizing specific sets and combinations, or bluffing.
  • As a central part of a game, dice rolling can be used to distribute resources, provide action abilities, or move players around a board.
  • As a peripheral part of a game, dice rolling can be used to select what resources are available, provide coordinates for a group, or provide additional actions. Dice rolling can also be used as a great randomizer to help provide strong dummy opponents in single-player games.

What are some interesting ways you have seen dice rolling be used as a part of a game? How else can dice be used, even in strategic games? Please comment below with your thoughts!

Examples of Games with Dice Rolling

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