Just roll with it: My commentary on #wargame #boardgame dice

A tweet by fosfanol (@fosfa on Twitter) caught my attention this weekend.

This got me thinking; do I really care about the dice that come in my wargames or boardgames? I mean, I’m definitely not one of those RPG players that likes to shame my d20 just because it rolled “wrong.”

Courtesy blastr.com

Then again maybe I am, in a way.

I have a dice collection. I have also been known to change out dice in a game. I did this most recently when I changed out the black and white d10 that came in Blue Water Navy (Compass Games, 2019) for red and blue. I mean, they just look so much more thematically correct!

As I look across my gaming collection, I can’t help but feel that the die itself is changing. One of my latest acquisitions, One Small Step (Academy Games, 2020) has three d6 in them but they are custom die with game-specific faces on them. Academy Games also used a custom d10 as the Spent Die in the latest edition of Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel Third Edition (2019). Just look at the evolution of the Combat Dice in the Commands & Colors series that has progressed from stickers applied to the sides of a d6 to nicely etched dice. Further, I positively cannot imagine playing any of the Academy Games Birth of America series without their special dice.

So, some designers or publishers have forced us into using their custom dice. I can’t really change that. But what about the many other games that use ‘plain old vanilla’ die? Do the dice really make a difference?

For me, I look at dice in the game and evaluate if I need to change them on a few factors:

  • Size: If a throw is only two dice then I don’t mind big, chunky dice. In some ways it’s easier for this Grognard to see the results. But if the roll is a handful, then smaller die are definitely appreciated.
  • Color By Design: Color is important in two ways for me. Some game designers use different color die rolled at once to help determine the outcome by using the die color to represent different effects. In these cases it often is helpful to just roll the die pool and read the results (recognizing that sometimes the roll may be not needed).
  • Color by Theme: A second way the color of the die might make a difference is the theme of the game. In Blue Water Navy the d10 is used to resolve the action; the color of the die has no impact. So in this case, I decided that it just looked better to replace the black & white die with appropriately colored ones for each side. Does it make a difference in play? No, but it looks better to me!
  • Dice Tower or Tray: With the rise of accessories in gaming, some people now use the size of their dice tower or the dice tray as a determining factor. I have a (small) dice tower that works well for 12mm or smaller die, and a dice tray that works for many sizes. Personally, I dislike these accessories. Dropping dice into a tower just doesn’t have the same physical or audial satisfaction as taking some dice, cupping them in my hand, shaking them about, and listening to them clatter across the table as they roll. I often use a dice tray to keep the die from rolling about (or when table space is at a premium) but again, rolling into the tray feels like I am restricting the roll; artificially stopping it early as it hits the tray walls. Silly? Maybe; but it’s my game and I want to enjoy EVERY aspect of it, even the die rolling! (As a concession to Mrs. RMN, I bought a Poker Mat for the dining room table to place under the games that we play. Not only does this preserve her nice table, but it provides a nice surface for rolling dice – even those sharp-edged Gamescience ones).

I have been around the hobby long enough to hear the claims of Colonel Lou Zocci and his Gamescience dice. Heck, I bought into the marketing and have a fair number of Gamescience die in my collection.

Are they really that much better? According to some, no. But at the end of the day it’s the aesthetic of the die that make the difference for me. Here I have to say that, given my choice between Gamescience and Chessex, I’ll take Gamescience.

At the end of the day I usually play with the dice that come with a game. These days with more custom dice in games I have no other real choice. But yes, @fosfa is is correct, size – as well as color an thematic match – can make a difference!


Feature Image: My dice collection (at least those dice not in a game).

2 comments

  1. Yeah, more and more games are going the custom dice route now. It’s more expensive, but I do find them a bit more immersive that way.

    As much as I understand the reasoning why Bezier Games made the dice in Colony regular dice instead of custom (even though the numbers represent different resources), I do find the immersion in that game much less because they are just numbers.

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