Anatomy of a Genre: Dice Games, Part Three — Mini-Reviews

Over the last few month, I’ve been talking about dice games: how they work, why they’re fun, and how their mechanics have evolved over time. In case you missed them, please check out Mechanical Evolution (part one) and Just the Stats, Ma’am (part two).

This week I’m going to put a capstone on my dice game series by offering some mini-reviews of all the games I’ve played in the genre. Within you’ll find discussions of Airships, Can’t Stop, the Catan Dice Game, Dancing Dice, Easy Come Easy Go, Kingsburg, Liar’s Dice, Pickomino, Stone Age, To Court the King, Wicked Witches Way, and Yahtzee. Continue reading

Anatomy of a Genre: Dice Games, Part Two — Just the Stats, Ma’am

It’s a Dice Fest!

That’s an oft-seen complaint on certain internet bulletin boards whose readers think that all games should be entirely strategic, with no chance for random elements to intrude upon carefully made plans.  If that’s really the sort of game that you like, then no problem. But, don’t buy blindly into the concept. I think dice games can provide a lot of benefits that you don’t find in a “less” random game, the greatest of which is the visceral and encompassing joy that can fill you when you receive an unlikely, but badly needed roll. Besides that, if you’re wanting to simulate reality in any form, then you need to accept that randomness happens. Just ask Hillary Clinton or Constable Charles d’Albret (of Agincourt).

This isn’t to say that a good dice game is totally random. Instead, it uses additional mechanics to turn that luck into another game element that can be controlled by a good player–which is the topic of this week’s article. Continue reading

Anatomy of a Genre: Dice Games, Part One — Mechanical Evolution

I’m going to be the first one to officially call it: 2008 is the Year of the Dice (at least in the slightly delayed American market).  I think To Court the King (2006) really got the current trend going, but since its release we’ve seen several notables including Kingsburg (2007), Airships (2007), and The Catan Dice Game (2007).  Going by other publications like Alhambra: The Dice Game (2006) and the forthcoming Ra: The Dice Game (2008?) I’m starting to think that every board game is going to have a dice game too.

Thus, I’ve decided to start a multi-part look at dice games. This week I’m going to concentrate on the mechanics by looking at how dice games have been played over the last several decades and how those general mechanics have evolved over time. Then in future articles I’m going to look at how to control the randomness of dice and I’m going to review several of the most notable games.

As a final tease for this week’s article, let me say that if you keep on reading, there’s a neat diagram toward the end.

Evolving Dice Mechanics

Broadly, dice could be part of any game.  They act as a randomizing element in any number of war games and randomly affect production in German-classic The Settlers of Catan. I’m sure a hungred other games use them in a hungred other ways. However when looking at dice mechanics this week I want to move beyond those games where dice are a part of the design to those games where dice are the core of the game. Granted, the game could still have other emphasis. Liars Dice is really a bluffing game, Kingsburg is broadly a resource-management game, and Wicked Witches Way is actually a memory game. Still, the dice are a critically important element in each. Continue reading