Monday, February 12, 2007

First Posts, Dice, Rambling

First Posts

I feel like I’m supposed to introduce myself and let you know what I’ll be writing about, but unfortunately I don’t quite know what I’ll be saying four weeks from now, and the first option doesn't appeal.

So: Hello, my name is Aaron. Gone Gaming for many years.

I suppose I’ll just ramble on for a bit.


I’ve run into dice a lot the past week. For me, they are like old friends and hated enemies, and I find them comfortable, but there are at least three or four people I play games with that pick the dice up cautiously: tentatively reaching out for the dice and then flinging them away as if they are a poisonous snake that is threatening to bite deeply.

Which is just a fancy way of saying that they don’t like dice in their strategy board game.

Some games foster straight dice competitions [ Rum and Pirates comes to mind], while others use the dice in a fancy allocation-of-resources type way [Yspahan, which shows up later], and still others have a target number that you’re trying to beat. All told, there are lots of ways to use dice, and Shannon could probably write a long article listing the different ways games have used dice, but I don’t think I can do that, certainly not for my first post.

Ultimately, dice require the players accept that each action they take might fail. So not only do you [the player] have to worry about crushing the other players, you must worry about being betrayed by the dice, and having your cunning plans nullified by a failure that is out of your control.

Some players can’t quite accept that additional wrinkle. This fact continually surprises me, probably because I’ve spent most of my life rolling dice, and I expect them to betray me. Growing up on Avalon Hill and Dungeons and Dragons must have taught me early on that the best-laid plans always have a chance of failure.

In a wargame (miniatures, or hex-and-counter), every move you make towards victory will probably require a roll of the dice, so each decision must balance strategic placement with probabilities, ultimately trusting the dice to not thwart your plans. It's an important part of this style of game - maneuvering your resources not to overcome, but for a chance to overcome. I think that this results in practice with little frequent failures, and ultimately makes a stronger player, since you aren't as likely to sink into despondancy and despair when a strategy is set back.

I think my only other thought is that most games that heavily feature dice are meant to be played multiple times. When traditional dice mechanics find themselves in the average eurogame they are often demonized because the game is either too short, or not played as frequently as the designers intended. This circumvents the laws of probabilities with a small sample size, and since the game won’t get played again for months, if at all…

So I've been pleased to see the recent increase of positive reviews/ratings on games that feature dice. I feel that there is a lot of uncovered ground between dice and Euro mechanics, so I hope to see more games utilize dice in various ways. Case in point:


which is apparently the only game that causes me to not roll lots of “1”s. I can’t seem to pick up more than one camel in the game. That certainly doesn’t mean that I can’t do well on my turn, but it does give me freedom to complain constantly.

Yspahan is such an interesting game, and has enjoyed not only strong positive notes online, but a bit of time in the sun in one of my game groups. Unfortunately, I think it is fading away locally under the pretense of ‘too random’. Which is too bad, not just because I enjoy the game, but because I don’t think it deserves that label. It has a wide range of paths to victory, and sometimes having your path dictated to you by dice is just as satisfying as choosing freely.


1 comment:

Shannon Appelcline said...

Welcome, Aaron!

An article about the ways that games use dice certainly sounds like an excellent topic;). I'm actually putting something like that together for the roleplaying history book I'm currently working on, but an expansion to board games sounds like an interesting idea, because board games use dice in some ways that RPGs don't tend to, such as the resource production of Settlers.

I totally agree on the use of dice in games, as you could probably guess from some of my earlier articles. They tend to be risk/reward propositions, and can make for a very different and enjoyable sort of game.