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Subject: Are dice dead? For a Civ game? rss

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Christian Marcussen
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I admit it. I like dice.

I'm working on a civ game, and right now it includes dice for combat. So I have two questions.

Are dice a dying breed? I know games still include them, but take a game like Star Craft by FFG(dice lovers like me). Here they opted to go with a diceless system which to be fair does not really add much that dice could not acheive (or even improve perhaps). I assume they did this for commertial reasons or?

Secondly, lets say you were interested in a board game like the Civilization computer game, and someone managed to do it. Would it turn you off if combat was done with dice (with combat cards, very few consequtive rolls, and weighted quite a bit towards the expected winner)?

As I said, I like dice. But I also like my designs, and want them to be successful. I would hate to include a mechanic which would make it outdated and unattractive when I with a little effort could design another mechanic. .

Please comment... Thanks
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Matthew Kloth
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Dice aren't unfashionable. Especially for a civ game, which is seen as more ameritrashy and more complex.

You should use good dice mechanics though. What's looked down upon is chucking in dice rolling just to add randomness. That's not a very good implementation.

How many more meaningful decisions are added by including the dice? How much more depth does the game have? Do the dice add risk evaluation or randomized resources? By that I mean do you make a decision and have the dice determine if it succeeds or do you roll the dice and then look at what you can do with them. Stereotypical Euro gamers prefer rolling first and then solving the resulting puzzle, while "hardcore" players usually don't mind either way as long as it adds depth.
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W. Eric Martin
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Dice and civ games can work together just fine, Christian. Check out my preview and review of Matt Leacock's Roll Through the Ages if you're not already familiar with the game.

Every game mechanism is a tool that can be used well or poorly, and any blanket statement that someone makes about dice being essential/obsolete to any game should be ignored. What matters is the end result, whether the dice work within the game as a whole.

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Matthew M
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marqzen wrote:


Are dice a dying breed?


No...but I think it's safe to say that the paradigm of "I roll, you roll, bigger wins" has grown stale. Dice are welcome when they are used in innovative ways. World of Warcraft: The Board Game is a great example of this, IMO...dice are integral and interesting in how they are used and manipulated by the player in combat.

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take a game like Star Craft by FFG(dice lovers like me). Here they opted to go with a diceless system which to be fair does not really add much that dice could not acheive (or even improve perhaps).


I don't think that's fair at all, actually. How could dice replicate or improve the simulation of damaged-but-not-dead troops that the card system used in SC features, for example? Dice are surely different, and I wouldn't say that cards are objectively better in all ways, but they offer a different set of considerations and I like the game more for those differences.


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Secondly, lets say you were interested in a board game like the Civilization computer game, and someone managed to do it. Would it turn you off if combat was done with dice (with combat cards, very few consequtive rolls, and weighted quite a bit towards the expected winner)?


This represents the essential paradox of dice. On one hand they provide an easy and random source of variance. On the other hand, variance can lead to outcomes that "shouldn't" happen. Weighting the results towards the expected winner really exacerbates the problem. Why are you using dice if one of the sides "should" win? And on the flip side, if the side that is expected to lose ends up winning because of a low percentage die roll the weighting you have provided only intensifies the frustration with luck that the person who "should" have won ends up feeling.


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As I said, I like dice. But I also like my designs, and want them to be successful. I would hate to include a mechanic which would make it outdated and unattractive when I with a little effort could design another mechanic.


In the end your design should answer these questions for you. First, are you designing the game from a top-down (overall concept first, fit the mechanics to match the concept) or bottom-up (idea for neat mechanics first, find a larger concept to integrate it into a full game) approach? If you're talking about making a civ game it sounds rather like the former. In that case, how you want to see combat work should dictate the mechanics you use for it. If you want combat to have some unpredictability to it and to be resolved quickly then using tried and true (and yes, even stale) dice resolution mechanics are fine...but that won't be a hook for the game. If you want combat to be more nuanced and something that players spend more time thinking about then you need to find ways to have that manifest through the combat resolution mechanics. Either way, you should find mechanics that fit your image and be open to letting go of your love for dice if it turns out that something else would work better.

-MMM
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Christian Marcussen
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Great posts all of you! Thanks.

Matthew. You raise a good point about the frustration increasing when the dice are weighted. I imagine this mostly being the case for people who generaly don't care much for randomness in the first place. I reckon for people who appretiate what dice bring to the fight, that having things weighted toward the "expected" winner would be appretiated.

In regards to Star Craft I can think of quite a few ways that dice could so the same as the cards. I can also think of ways that it would speed up combat. But that's not really the issue at hand. I respect your opinion on it, but I would rather not delve further into it. It was merely a segway into my question of whether or not it could be regarded as an admission that dice are dying.

When I played my Civ prototype today, I appretiated the speed that the combat had. I imagine that if I made some kind of card driven combat system that it would slow things down a bit, add more cards to the game, and perhaps focus things a bit too much on combat. But I need to play it some more to be sure.
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Matthew M
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marqzen wrote:

When I played my Civ prototype today, I appretiated the speed that the combat had. I imagine that if I made some kind of card driven combat system that it would slow things down a bit, add more cards to the game, and perhaps focus things a bit too much on combat. But I need to play it some more to be sure.


That's exactly where dice can be great. When time is of the essence. I know you were just using SC as an example, but I think it provides a good contrast here, because in SC the combat IS the game. Cards in SC still provide randomness, but give the player control about how to allocate the randomness. If you roll poorly with dice then you can only hope that better rolls are in your future, but it's no guarantee. With the combat in SC you KNOW that you have better cards coming up if you've only drawn your crappy cards right now, so you can plan your strategies with that in mind.

Great topic, by the way. I've enjoyed thinking about the issue, as well as reading your own thoughts and what others have shared.

-MMM
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It really depends on how they're used. In a traditional CRT, unlikely results are far too likely. Also, the Euro paradigm is randomness then action, not action then randomness. Finally, too low a number of dice rolls in the game can make randomness decide the game instead of skill: a good current example of this is Kingsburg, where a couple of bad rolls early on can make playing the rest of the game pointless--even in the unlikely event of every other player getting equally bad rolls later, they've still had the advantage of the better early rolls until then.

Stone Age actually has action then randomness. Stone Age allows the player Tools and a choice of how many dice to roll to soften the randomness of dice, but some people still want to play the variant rule that any resource die can be taken as a 3 instead of rolled. The problem is that unlike a deck of cards, dice have no "memory"; if you roll 1000d6 and get all 1's, the chance of the next die roll being a 1 is still 1 in 6.

Consider trying the randomness then action model. The problem with arguments like, "Where a bullet hits is random," are that especially in a Civ game, the scope is so large that even 1000d6 wouldn't be enough to simulate the evenness of the distribution. Even for a single weapon an intelligent general will have alternate plans and targets: for example, a B-29 approached Kokura, Japan but the "weather roll" for Kokura was bad, so the plane went on to somewhere the weather roll was good...Nagasaki.
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marqzen wrote:

I'm working on a civ game,


Well hurry up, I'm always ready for a good civ game!
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Christian Marcussen
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wifwendell wrote:
marqzen wrote:

I'm working on a civ game,


Well hurry up, I'm always ready for a good civ game!


You're in for a treat Although the game would first need to be picked up by a pretty strong publisher. But, but... all in good time. I expect to make a BGG entry in a little while once I settle on a title.

Now back on topic. I guess a good comparison would be War of the Ring although my system is a bit less random. But would War of the Ring be a better, more attractive game if it used some other mechanism for combat?
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Dice never go out of style.
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I'd probably prefer a different way to handle war (I do not dislike dice, but I do not appreciate using them for "roll the highest" or its ilk in a multiple hours game).

marqzen wrote:
But would War of the Ring be a better, more attractive game if it used some other mechanism for combat?

Maybe. Some ideas would prove worse (or not better) than the plain dice rolls it uses, but probably there can be better solutions (the hard part is inventing them ).
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Andy Leighton
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MusedFable wrote:
Dice aren't unfashionable. Especially for a civ game, which is seen as more ameritrashy and more complex.


Well I am not sure I would see Civ games as more Ameritrashy.

But anyway on to the dice. It all depends on how you use them. Having a stealth bomber taken out by a wooden catapult (as happened in one of my games on Civ IV on the computer), or an archer taking out a tank is never a fun thing. So it depends on the scale - if it goes from stone age to modern then there is going to be a massive disparity in dice pools (and/or some automatic hits and misses). I certainly have no objection to dice on principle but it has to fit the balance of the game. The longer the game, the more the number of meaningful decisions, the less you want the dice to swing things too much. I think that having the weaker of the two sides having too much chance to win in a battle between widely mismatched sides (archers vs tanks or even marines) is a poor design. When the sides having a more evenly matched composition then more randomness is acceptable.

I note that Roll Through The Ages is an ultra-short game as far as Civ type games goes so what is appropriate there may not be appropriate for a longer game.

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Eric
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andyl wrote:
But anyway on to the dice. It all depends on how you use them. Having a stealth bomber taken out by a wooden catapult (as happened in one of my games on Civ IV on the computer), or an archer taking out a tank is never a fun thing. So it depends on the scale - if it goes from stone age to modern then there is going to be a massive disparity in dice pools (and/or some automatic hits and misses). I certainly have no objection to dice on principle but it has to fit the balance of the game. The longer the game, the more the number of meaningful decisions, the less you want the dice to swing things too much. I think that having the weaker of the two sides having too much chance to win in a battle between widely mismatched sides (archers vs tanks or even marines) is a poor design. When the sides having a more evenly matched composition then more randomness is acceptable.


I agree with you, but the possibility of a catapult taking out a tank should be there. When things like that happen, they add so much to the narrative of the game and, in some cases, become legendary among friends. I have fond memories of a single army in Kamchatka holding off a horde of 12 armies coming from Alaska in a Risk game. And you obviously remember quite well the catapult taking out your tank.

Of course, these things should happen only rarely, and it is frustrating to be on the receiving end of it, but situations like that really add to the narrative of a game. In this way, randomness in dice can add a lot to a design.

Interesting thread, by the way, and a good read. And good luck on your design; I'll be on the lookout for your game entry.
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No dice are not dead for a Civ game. Have you played Minos? It is a Civ game that uses custom dice in an innovative fashion, both for determining allowable actions each turn (a mechanism later adopted by War of the Ring (First Edition), but Minos allows up to two free re-rolls for more flexibility) and for combat. In combat certain dice provide different strengths but a specific combination provides much better strength, and rerolls require expending tokens acquired from the action rolls. So the player can prepare for combat by taking actions to acquire combat rerolls, then decide when to use the rerolls to maximize their combat totals. Of course if they take too many actions to allow combat rerolls they will fall behind in civilization development so they have to strike a balance.
 
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I think it depends. For a VERY SMALL NICHE GROUP that is primarily found on BGG, dice don't really appeal to them. If you are trying to sell a niche game to a small group of people, then dice are the bane of their existence, and making a civ game without dice would be a good move.

I have an idea that these people don't like the idea of risk...or the gambling aspect of risk. Of course every good gambler knows that with the throw of a die, you need to have the odds slated in your favor...but gambling is...gambling.

Which is what dice really bring to the game, if you really look at it. It makes something partially luck based, and brings in that gambling aspect. There's always the chance that you COULD lose, no matter how good the odds look. It's a thrill that has been around since at least the Romans...and maybe longer. Hundreds of games work on this type of luck/gambling mechnanic. People even get addicted to it. Why? Because it's fun.

Even without the die, people try to get different gambling mechanics into their games. Some try to diminish the aspect of it even more (such as Starcraft which uses the card gambling mechanic of randomized cards in a hand, but where each unit has a very small random range). This of course would be easy to replicate with dice simply by rolling a random die to decide what units you have the ability to use, and a 3 or 4 sided die to roll and add to a set value of the unit).

It really depends on what group you are trying to appeal to. IF you are trying to appeal to the group that has a dislike of the aspect that things occasionally are beyond their control...then you want something that has NO gambling type mechanics (Some call it luck, but even in a pure non-random game there is still luck...luck of whether your foe realizes your intentions, luck of whether they are trying a certain strategy, and other sorts of luck).

If you are trying to appeal to those who like the gambling mechanic...then of course you'll want to add it in.

However, for a Civ game, I think the best thing is to try to make it fun and interesting.

If you are trying to make it 4x, look at some of the more successful 4x games out there. Personally I think Twilight Imperium is one of the moer popular games out there in that aspect...and it uses dice rolling for combat. Far more civ like than Starcraft by a LOOOONG shot. On the other hand, a civ like game such as Antike has NO dice rolling and really no gambling factor. Some consider it a very dry game, while others consider it ingenius.

It all depends on what type of crowd you want to appeal to.
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I go to all the work of creating my own custom dice tray... http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/366311 ...and you have to go and ask a question like that?

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Christian Marcussen
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GreyLord wrote:
If you are trying to make it 4x, look at some of the more successful 4x games out there. Personally I think Twilight Imperium is one of the moer popular games out there in that aspect...and it uses dice rolling for combat.


Well TI3 is one of my favorite game, and I would say it is similar in some respects. Oddly enough it's a tad simpler than TI3,and combat is a bit less random. But I think someone who likes TI would enjoy [insert cool name for a civ game]

I guess you are right about the crowd who hate dice. I think what I was getting at if that former minority of people were begining to be the majority.

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It all depends on what type of crowd you want to appeal to.
Well I would say I'm aiming for the TI3 crowd, as well as the crowd who likes the Civilization computer game. This crowd most likly would not mind dice some years ago... But now I wasn't too sure.

It seems though that dice still have their place.

Squash... great images
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lmnop wrote:
andyl wrote:
But anyway on to the dice. It all depends on how you use them. Having a stealth bomber taken out by a wooden catapult (as happened in one of my games on Civ IV on the computer), or an archer taking out a tank is never a fun thing. So it depends on the scale - if it goes from stone age to modern then there is going to be a massive disparity in dice pools (and/or some automatic hits and misses). I certainly have no objection to dice on principle but it has to fit the balance of the game. The longer the game, the more the number of meaningful decisions, the less you want the dice to swing things too much. I think that having the weaker of the two sides having too much chance to win in a battle between widely mismatched sides (archers vs tanks or even marines) is a poor design. When the sides having a more evenly matched composition then more randomness is acceptable.


I agree with you, but the possibility of a catapult taking out a tank should be there. When things like that happen, they add so much to the narrative of the game and, in some cases, become legendary among friends. I have fond memories of a single army in Kamchatka holding off a horde of 12 armies coming from Alaska in a Risk game. And you obviously remember quite well the catapult taking out your tank.


It was a stealth bomber. A wooden catapult took out a plane flying at about 1000 ft (grrr).

Quote:
Of course, these things should happen only rarely,


Absolutely, but I don't think the computer Civ IV combat is quite right.


If combat plays a large part in marqzen's game then it may even merit a mini-game rather than just both sides roll a bucket a dice and consult a CRT. The problem would be in making that mini-game short enough not to detract from the main game. If the mini-game is well designed then dice could be an integral part of that and still not unbalance things too much.
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i agree with the idea that no particular concept is bad, if implemented well- this includes dice.

however, i've run into more than one gamer who specifically refers to dice use in a negative light, across the board. this is not because they're right, but because people grab onto generalizations.

so i would say that dice are fine, but you will invariably find a couple of dumb kids who run with the "dice bad" torch a little too heavily. i would do what works best play-wise, there will always be critics no matter what you do, and those critics will be wrong as often as they are right.
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Octavian wrote:


Dice are surely different, and I wouldn't say that cards are objectively better in all ways.



Build a deck with six cards numbered 1 to 6. Reshuffle all the cards each time you draw a card. What did you get?
 
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Tall_Walt wrote:
The problem is that unlike a deck of cards, dice have no "memory"; if you roll 1000d6 and get all 1's, the chance of the next die roll being a 1 is still 1 in 6.

Actually, and this *really* is nit-picking, if you rolled 1000 (or even 100) 1's in row then that would suggest that the die wasn't 'fair' and so the chances of rolling another 1 would be *higher* than 1 in 6.

Simon
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harris_family wrote:
Actually, and this *really* is nit-picking, if you rolled 1000 (or even 100) 1's in row then that would suggest that the die wasn't 'fair' and so the chances of rolling another 1 would be *higher* than 1 in 6.

I did consider mentioning that point, but for the reasons you listed, I didn't. Those who haven't looked at dice closely may miss that the opposite sides add to 7. 3/4 is pretty balanced; 2/5, less so; 1/6 not close. Typically dice are made by making holes and painting the holes: then the heaviest 1 side should be at the bottom, favoring 6; if they paint on pips, six should be heavier, favoring 1. In any case, getting 1000 1's suggests that the dice are biased and the chances of getting a 1 are greatest.
 
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Stuff happens in real life, sometimes some very unexpected and near impossible stuff (I seem to recall a certain jet crash landing in a frigid river where every single person not only survived but there were no serious injuries). If you want to simulate this possibility, you'll need some random mechanism to do so.

The random factor is no place for games crowd is looney IMO. Dice can be used quite effectively and quite quickly to simulate the most likely scenario along with the more highly improbable (but still possible) ones. If you stay clear of having the improbable happening as often as the likely, you'll have the appeal of a wide majority of people.
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Sergei wrote:
Build a deck with six cards numbered 1 to 6. Reshuffle all the cards each time you draw a card. What did you get?


A hard-to-use d6? Oh, and it also wears out with repeated use!

Cards are useful where you want more than a 1-6 random number distribution. For example, if you had a seven card deck with cards numbered 1 to 6 and a "reshuffle" card that when drawn caused you to re-shuffle and pick a new card, you would be far less likely to get the same number twice in a row.
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Dice are great way to create uncertainty. But what is missing from a lot of dice games is the possibility of mitigating the risk by spending resources or actions. Stone Age does a great job at this by letting you buy tools. The tools can be used to ensure your dice are maximized and you can still get good results on bad rolls.

In a civ game, you could allow people to "invest" in military training or tactics and they could then expend those as rerolls or +1 to die roll to improve their odds of winning. You could even then give people who had NOT invested the same opportunity, but at a much more expensive cost, such as population or infrastructure loss.
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