Thinking Out Loud about Game Design

A blog where I just vent my thoughts about certain game design challenges and talk about unfinished game design ideas
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Dice based trick-taking / climbing / building games (no idea what to call this)

Niko Lepka
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Board Game Designer
SirenRPG Designer
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Something about using dice for what they aren't entirely intended for has been an enticing idea for me for a while.

So it got me thinking about doing a trick-taking style game, but with some sort of unique dicey twist.

Games like Würfel Poker, The Science and Seance Society, and Cult of the Lamb's Knucklebones involve rolling dice in secret, then assigning them to specific "posts" or positions.

So what if we took that as a core concept and mixed some trick taking-esque elements in? Maybe some board control?

The most naiive approach to this, is of course to just have it be a literal trick taking game.

Every player takes a handful dice, say 5, and rolls them.
Then each player in turn simply plays a die and tricks are resolved as usual sans any sorts of trumps.

But that feels boring somehow.

Note: All the game concepts from this point forward assume the same few mechanics:
- Dice are pulled from a bag and rolled in secret behind a screen.
- Players have a rather large number of dice, but only roll a subset of them.
- Dice are placed on the table adjacent to each other, as opposed to on specific squares on a pre-defined play-area.
- The rolled dice are used as-is

Six sided dice, when viewed from above are squares, and thus have four "naked" faces.
Borrowing the concept of "liberties" from Go, there are several different approaches to solving this problem.

The most obvious one for me, is to simply replicate the die's face-up value along each of the four liberties. Those four liberties would then be points in favour of the given player.
The game would then to be trying to block liberties while simultaneously exposing your own in order to try and win the upper hand.
Granted, this doesn't play very trick-takingly, since nothing's being removed from the table.

If we then allow for Go-style captures, we do regain the capturing, but now we need to either allow for Go-style placement, whereby the dice don't necessarily have to be placed against the liberties, although you probably still want to to avoid the opponent from gathering too many points.
Doing this also necessitates making rules for whether or not the liberties pointing towards the inside of a territory count towards the score.

Point Goals
Inspired by a certain Domino game (All Fives I think it's called) comes the idea of trying to force certain liberty sums.
In this game, if all of the ends on the domino chain add to a multiple of 5, the player who caused this to happen scores that amount of points.

To make this work with dice, the game would either need to
- use a neutral seeding die (to prevent the first player from scoring 20 points by placing a single 5 in the beginning)
- simply state the first player's die doesn't count towards scoring (lame)
- have the first player be the one who rolled a 1, and then use said 1
- change it to multiples of 7 instead, just to put it out of range of a single die
- have it so it's not the liberties that score, but the die itself (in which case the seeding restrictions are irrelevant)

The major benefit of this design is that all players can just use the same colour dice since scoring happens immediately.

Additionally, a limitation of only allowing dice to score if they have at least 3 free sides should probably also be added, jsut so the entire chain of dice doesn't score round to round.

Another idea that came to mind, was to use the relative value of the dice to cause captures.

An example of this would be that dice totalling the same value (e.g. a black six and two white threes), they would each cancel out, and whoever caused the total would get the dice as a trick.
This would likely create a lot of strategic counter-play, as each player keeps trying to capture and avoid capture.
Additionally, groups of same-coloured dice could group their values for a higher total, which becomes harder to beat; though that might result in playing far too defensively and just creating massive clusters.
To make for a longer game, one could only score the opponent's dice, returning their own dice to the bag. The game would then end when one player is out of dice.

Taking inspiration from Icehouse, we can bring in the concept of "icing".
In Icehouse you have defensive pieces, which score points, and offensive pieces which attempt to overwhelm the defensive ones and prevent them from scoring.

Since dice have no way of presenting as either offensive or defensive pieces, they instead have to do double duty.
All dice score unless they have a die or dice of an opponent's colour totalling a higher value adjacent to them.
Clustering would be a beneficial mechanic here to increase the value and overcome the suppression somehow.

Somewhere in the depths of this whole rant I have a vision of cascading elimination, where a board state is created similar to what I've described already, but then players eliminate pieces from the board in reverse player order, removing pairs of dice according to certain criteria.
The idea here is that the last player to lay the last die is the person who begins the cascade.
Similar to Six, any dice detached from the group simply get captured.
What those criteria are, I cannot fully articulate.

Apologies for this unfocused and incoherent rant.
I saw one photo from Cubeo and my gears started turning.

So far the idea in the Relative Value and Point Goals sections have the most legs, and I might develop them into something more concrete later.

Please let me know what you think
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