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The last time I posted a blog, I wrote about specialty dice. You know what I mean. Dice that are six-sided cubes that have something other than pips or the numbers one through six on the sides.
If each face is different, that doesn’t change the fact that there is a one in six change of any given face coming up. That being said, I have concluded that specialty dice do have a real benefit beyond adding some bling and theme to a game. They give information that you can determine by looking at the die and not having to check any charts. As an obvious example, Memoir 44’s dice don’t require you to look at a combat resolution table. The pictures tell what you exactly what you were able to hit on your roll.
So even if you can argue that a specialty die is just a conventional casino die with a make-over, I think they really make a real and legitimate difference.
However, there are some games where the dice are genuinely different. If the same symbol appears more than once on a die or if there are more than one die that have different configurations of symbols, than the specialty dice are doing more than just cleaning up the need to look at tables and looking pretty. They’re changing the game.
A very simple example is the recent push-your-luck dice game Zombie Dice from Steve Jackson. The game itself is a member of the Pig/jeopardy family of dice games, which is one of the simplest kind of dice games out there. You roll them bones until you either choose to stop and take the points you’ve earned up to that point OR you wipe out and lose all your points for that turn. Even if you’ve never heard of the game Pig, you know exactly how this kind of game works.
So what makes Zombie Dice different? The fact that not all the dice are created equal. You only roll three of the thirteen dice at a time and they are not alike. You have green dice that have three brain (scoring) faces, yellow dice that have an equal number of the symbols, and red dice that have three shotgun (wipe out) faces. Sure, the dice you pull are random but you get to see what dice are in the pool before you pull.
Zombie Dice is still a very simple game that doesn’t require much in the way of thinking. However, the nature of the dice does affect the odds and does affect the decision making. The different types of dice do make it different and distinct. Sure, in reality, most of the time, we’re all just going to roll the dice like crazy, regardless of the dice color. However, it’s nice to have the option out there
Another simple, push-your-luck game that I think does a better job with specialized specialty dice is Monopoly Express. (Yes, I’m sure that many of my readers will react to the word Monopoly like it was pepper spray. Sorry, guys, there is no escaping the existence of Monopoly.)
The key element to that game is to collect enough dice faces of a given property to create a monopoly. However, not all properties are of the same value OR the same likelihood. What that does that mean as far as the way the dice are designed? No two dice are the same. (Watch someone go through the game die by die and prove me wrong ) While you can still assess the relative odds of getting a particular property, trying to build a chart to accommodate the game would be tediously complex. Instead, since the property icons are right there on the dice, it is really easy.
So, looking at these two, simple push-your-luck games, it seems like when you start to alter the basic 1-in-six chances of a common six-sided cube die, you can add some interesting mechanical wrinkles to a game. Indeed, in the case of Monopoly Express, you take what would be a fiddly process and make it very easy to play.