Dice, dice, baby

Dice, dice, baby

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Writer_smallerYou gotta roll with it

As previously illustrated, Aileen is a cardboard sniffer. There is no element of unboxing a new game that she loves more than the smell of it. If my own board game fetish were to be thus labelled, I’d be a dice fondler. As soon a new box is opened I’m rummaging around the cardboard and the plastic looking for dice, like some kind of hipster hobo, for whom dumpster diving for food is too ‘last year’. I can’t wait to get them into my hands and feel the weight, the quality; hoping for a good heft, and a satisfying roll. There is of course, an extra thrill of pleasure in custom dice. Unique faces, fascinating symbols, strange new purposes and uses.

I often spend time here proselytising about the wonderful social nature of board games. But their other great appeal is their tactile nature. Picking up a piece and moving it around. Holding a hand of cards. Amassing counters and tokens. Placing a lovingly crafted wooden meeple to claim a territory or declare an action. That wonderful ‘thunk’ as a good hand of dice hits the table rolling. The artwork, the atmosphere it creates. It’s all so tangible, helping you to connect with the game. To turn a box of cardboard and plastic and a dull book of rules into an experience that really engages you.

Thankfully Lands of Ruin doesn’t do away with dice, which as far as I’m concerned would put it on the wrong end of the age-old baby/bathwater equation. What they do claim to do is streamline a complex rule set to make it easily and instantly playable. The companion app will crunch the numbers, and allow for complex mechanics and detailed tables to be used without the need for constant rulebook reference. At least that’s the promise of the Kickstarter.

The thing I find the most interesting about their system is the ‘AI’ element that populates the battlefield. This is at once the game’s most innovative mechanism, and also the best argument for the digital integration they are putting on the table. As opposing players skirmish, other factions will move about the battlefield. Infected dead and rusting, but still deadly, war machines and robots will get in everyone’s way and turn a straightforward skirmish into an altogether more interesting encounter. It’s a battlefield that becomes a real environment, and that’s an exciting idea.

I’m less enthusiastic about the idea of ‘hiding’ the complexity of the rule system, though. I want to know what is modifying my dice roll. If the game has an interesting rule set, and a lot of determining factors in game play, I want to read about them. I want to use them to plan, to build squads. If the depth of the game is hidden from me, I feel it won’t have the same ‘crunch’ as other wargames, and might even lead to not being able to engage with the game on the same level as I so lovingly described above. Of course, at this stage, that’s all just speculation on my part. Without playing the game, I don’t know how much of this will hold up, for better or for worse.

There is a lot to like here though, and I’m seriously considering pledging at just the ‘digital’ level, which gives me access to the app; I can then use existing miniatures to play the game (Necromunda, I’m looking at you). And I have to say, I do admire 6EX Games for having that pledge level. It translates to an affordable buy-in, which might be the most important deciding factor of all for a new game in the already crowded miniatures game market.

Anyone else been looking at this? What do people think about a system like this? Would it make a game a more or less enjoyable experience?

24 Comments on Dice, dice, baby
  • Ben Thorp

    I think the answer to the question is “it depends”. Mostly it depends on whether or not it actually breaks the “magic” of the game. So – whipping out a tablet in a futuristic game is fine. But a touchscreen in medieval fantasy is a little weird. Plus, airplane mode should be required 😉

    Also – dice *are* excellent. Presumably you have King of Tokyo? Those dice are _amazing_….

    • Ben Thorp

      (Oh – played 7 Wonders for the first time last week, and the owner of the game used an app to calculate science points, which seemed like a good idea. Using an app at the end of the game for points is an exception to the theme rule)

      • Actually, Alchemists is a good example of this as well. It’s a fantasy themed game, but the companion app is very carefully integrated. It’s dressed up really well in the theme of the game, so becomes part of it, rather than something that takes you out of it.

      • John Beveridge

        another reason i always stay away from green. it can lead to victory on occasion but you really need things to fall into place.

    • We don’t have it, but have played it. And yes! They are amazing. Big, chunky custom dice with a nice heavy feel to them. All praise Richard Garfield!
      Good point about breaking the ‘magic’ of the game. Companion apps do run the risk of taking you out of the experience of the game, and breaking the spell.

      • Emily

        Mmmm, I love the feel of good hefty dice in your hand.
        I think the best dice we have are from Seasons. Big, chunky, well weighted and lovely custom pictures.

        • I have actually heard people sing the praises of these dice before. I somehow have an impression that reviewsof Seasons made me feel it wasn’t a game for me, though I can’t remember why. Obviously I need to revisit this…

          • Dexter Ó Thuithear

            Due to the fact that I had just come from a 12 hour night shift, and would therefore be hitting 24 hours awake before round 3 ended, I decided to take as few ships as possible, and rolled with a pair of IG-88s. I’d never run it before, which was definitely a bad idea. To be fair, it actually worked out pretty well. Had I not run out of caffeine toward the end, I might have made some better decisions in the final game.
            Either way, it was fun. I didn’t arrive with any intentions of winning, just of having some craic, so mission accomplished there.

            Definitely come up again. There’s a casual mini-tournament on each Sunday, usually with a shiny new ship up for grabs as a prize. I make it in there about twice a month for it, but there’s always a decent bunch there for it. The prize isn’t really played for, so much as it being an excuse to try out weird lists, new ships, and just have a good auld time. I’m looking forward to heading in this weekend actually; see if that IG-88 list plays any better when I’m actually awake…

          • I did play against an IG-88 list, actually. It was pretty cool, I love the idea of twin-linked killer robots. Has me seriously considering some Scum & Villainy for the first time.
            Will at least try and make a day trip to Conclave, but depending on work will look at some Sundays inbetween as well.

          • Dexter Ó Thuithear

            Scum are very thematic. Lots of dirty plays and shenanigans, and some genuinely great options. Imperials are my go-to, but playing Scum arguably gives me a lot more giggles.
            If you’re thinking of heading the Scum route, Most Wanted is kind of their core set, but the YV666 is a stellar ship to pick up. So versatile.

  • Dan Roth

    I’m with you—I love rolling dice. I don’t know why, but there is just some pleasure in it.

    My favorite RPG system is Savage Worlds. There are many reasons I like it…but one of them is that you get to use lots of different kinds of dice!

    • While I don’t actually know much about RPGs, I do presume the most important metric in determining how good a system is, is ‘how many dice can you roll’. Also I guess ‘does it allow you to roleplay as a person with a pet badger’.

  • wr00t

    I used to carry two weirdly shaped dice made of clay which i have bought during a local fair in my jacket pocket, often reaching for them to fondle. There is some sedative effect in doing this 🙂 although i don’t really like games with lots if dice rolling, because of the sound of them rolling on a table. Makes me cringe. So, unless i have a mat or can roll the box’s lid i avoid this 🙂

    • I like the idea of a nice calming set of dice to carry around at all times.
      I’m horrified to learn that the soind of dice rolling grates on your nerves though. That must be a terrible affliction for a board gamer!

      • wr00t

        I didn’t meant it to sound like a phobia 😀 I can roll dice, but it is just too loud for me, when rolled on a wooden or plastic table. Especially if we are to play at work in the rest room (even if after the working hours, but there are still people around). Making noise makes me nervous a bit 🙂 I have a few nice rubber mouse pads in my Dice Town box to lessen the noise (you still roll them in a cup, not on the table). I need a few more to accommodate every players count 🙂

        • Ah, that’s fair enough. In other new, ‘Dice Town’. I think I like the sound of that game 🙂 I must investigate it.

  • Dexter Ó Thuithear

    I have a love/hate relationship with dice in X-wing. More often than not, they fail right when I need them not to, and go really well when I already have modifiers to make sure they have gone well (why is it I only roll full natural hits when I put points into Accuracy Corrector?!).
    In one particular game, they failed me so badly, I downloaded the official dice app for my phone, searching for some kind of enhanced blessing from RNGesus. I can’t bring myself to use it in a game though. I like the tactility of the dice, and I feel like anything as tactile and tangible as a tabletop game deserves at least physical dice and references.

    I have seen some cases where apps have been great aids to a game (the companion app for Avalon really handles the set up perfectly), but I’m usually sceptical. I prefer to have all the things laid out. Maybe I’m just old, but I like the ceremony of it all.

    • There are definitely some games where companion apps help a lot, but I’m with you on preferring ‘real’ components. I would definitely never use an app to replace dice, anyway. Even if my own X-Wing rolling can be seriously dire. It’s not that uncommon for me to roll 3 or 4 blanks when attacking. That happens most often when I have a focus token, meaning I’ve blown a roll AND wasted an action, too.

      • Dexter Ó Thuithear

        Yeah I’m often the same. It’s why I latched on to TIE Advanced with Accuracy Correctors after the Raider launched. It’s great to know you never miss a shot, and can take take an evade every turn. Shame there’s so little overall damage output from them. How I’d love to take them to the store championship.

        • I guess even with Accuracy Correctors the TIE Advanced still isn’t the best little ship in the world. What did you end up running, actually? I managed to not get a chance to see? Great to meet you, by the way. Pity we didn’t get a chance to chat, but I had a great time. Really friendly crowd, so I’m dead set on making it up to The Gathering again, so maybe in the future.

  • Christopher Patrignani

    Have you ever played Golem Arcana? It has similar mechanics of doing all of the major calculations (factoring Cover, Armor, Mobility, Range, etc) via an Application. Though, unlike Lands of Ruin, it required the use of their miniatures due to the tech at work (infrared barcodes on everything read by a Bluetooth stylus). Gameplay wise, Personally I like it. This is about as close as I wanted to get to “miniature war games”. But the biggest criticism I always heard was “why do you even need the miniatures, this is just a video game.” I imagine the arguments would be similar here.

    • I remember when Golem Arcana was launched alright, it was part of the ‘first wave’ of app integration. But no, I’ve never played it. Are there … still dice involved?

      • Hieronymous Pseudonymous

        Just for posterity, Golem Arcana is no longer supported by its company. (Apparently it was too expensive for them.)

  • John Beveridge

    i couldn’t disagree with you more. i fricking hate dice almost as much as they hate me. i love games without dice. anything that curtails the element of chance. luck of the draw is far as i like to go with chance, because you usually have at least some say in that, at least in games that involve deck building/drafting.