My preteen niece seems to have a bit of game design in her blood. She experimented with the design of *Phase 10* and a standard deck of playing cards and wound up with her own game… almost a Rummy-light. Since *Phase 10* is part of the Rummy family, that’s not a huge surprise, but it’s interesting to see her chasing down those game design principles and applying them in new ways. It’s instinctive, it seems, rather than the sort of analytical approach I might have used. Color me impressed.

She also designed another game from the ground up, a curious little game that has little resemblance to anything I’m familiar with. It’s pretty solid for a small game, and I’m still trying to suss out the strategies and balance. She does all this game experimentation and design simply with a deck of cards, just noodling around with ideas.

That sort of game design experimentation is something I’ve tried to capture with a recently purchased set of dice. It’s a standard role player’s collection, seven dice of varied shape. There is one twenty sided die, one twelve sided die, two ten sided dice, one eight sided die, one six sided die (the ever-popular cube) and one four sided die. These are usually abbreviated as D(whatever) dice, with the twenty sided die labeled a D20, and the six sided cube labeled a D6 and so on. It’s a nice spread of dice, with a variety of potential applications.

I’ve tried to come up with math games using them to teach my children. I’ve tried to use them to teach my niece a little about game design. I’ve used them to play with variations on themes I see in games that already use dice, like *Warhammer* and *Settlers of Catan *(which plays differently with a D12 instead of 2 D6). It’s nice to have these dice for when I want to experiment with a bit of randomization, but want to try something a bit less common than the standard D6 collection.

I’ll share a couple of rudimentary games, then, in the hopes of spurring some thoughts and conversation. I’d like to see what else might be done with this set of seven dice. I’m still experimenting, but I’d like to hear other ideas, if you’re willing to share. I’ve been keeping things simple; no board, no cards, nothing much more than scorekeeping. That’s not the only way to design, and certainly not a restriction for conversation, but it’s been nice to keep things simple while I’m getting a bead on exactly what I can do with these things.

Game One: Pick n’ Roll (2-7 players)

Each player picks a die (youngest player first), then rolls their dice. Highest number rolled wins.

Simple, maybe too simple, but gives young children the chance to see the differences between dice and hopefully, to relate shape to numbers.Game Two: Roll n’ Toll (2 players)

Remove one D10. Player one picks a die, then player two picks two dice, then player one picks two dice, then player two picks one die. Both players roll all three of their dice. Highest number rolled wins. (Alts: Start with two sets; D20,D6,D4 vs. D12, D10, D8. Players just choose a set. Highest

totalwins.)

A bit different choice involved, and with the Alt rules, a more equal chance to win. Even with equal total potentials (max of 30 if using either set), the “swingy” D20 will make for a sporadic win pattern. Minor addition practice for kids, some probability considerations.Game Three: Mix n’ Match (2 or 3 players)

Roll one D10, rolled number is the target number. Players choose a set and roll. Closest roll to target number wins. Use these sets if two players: D20,D6,D4 vs. D12, D10, D8. Use these sets with three players: D20, D4 vs. D12, D6 vs. D10, D8. Any of their dice count for target roll. (Alt

:Use any simple math functions using your dice results to get close to target.Ex: Target = 6, rolls = 2,8,10.8/2= 4,10-4 = 6.)

More math potential, estimation of probabilities to match target.

Any of these could, of course, be mixed and matched. You could also add complexities and other players like this:

A third, neutral player (Judge) rolls the extra D10 and keeps the number secret behind their hand. The other players roll one of their dice (they have either two or three, depending on how many players), and the Judge tells each player if their result is higher or lower than the target (if this first roll matches the target, declare an immediate winner and move to another round, ignore ties). Each may choose to keep that roll (lock their choice) or roll another die. Repeat for as many dice as you have (2 or 3), if the player chooses. Previous rolls are ignored; only the latest roll may be the locked number. When each player has a locked number, reveal the Target, and the closest roll wins.

These are pretty simple math games. You could introduce some sort of brinkmanship mechanic, or a bluffing mechanic. Maybe use the dice not for their numbers, but for their shapes. Maybe see who can stack the dice better and/or faster. See who can spin one like a top for the longest, and which dice spin better. There area lot of things you can do within the seven dice box before you ever try thinking outside the box.

So what would *you* do with this set of seven dice? What can you do with *just* those dice? Maybe add in a pad of paper? A few coins? A whole bag of varied dice? Miniatures of some sort? A game board?

I start with seven dice because that’s a nice, streamlined set of data. It’s great for number games for kids, and might just help nail down some balance issues before layering a bunch of complexity into the system.

Whatever the limitations you choose for yourself, like my niece’s game design experimentation with a deck of standard playing cards, I believe it’s a good game design exercise to work with simple game units and see what sort of games you can come up with. Once you have a feel for those simple elements, you can start introducing a few new factors and see how everything interacts. What works with 7 dice may blow up with 15, and what works fantastically for two players might be painfully political with three. Something perfectly balanced for three players might fall apart with four players. Hidden information might make a game better or just frustrating.

Like learning any new language or skill, playing with basic elements is useful for comprehension. Complexity and shiny blinginess can be added as occasion permits. Nail down the core game design first, and become fluent with the tools, and then branch out.

*Interestingly, after I’d written this but before I posted it, Raph Koster reposted an essay about The Fundamentals of Game Design, and how designing in small pieces can be a good approach. His “prototype kit” is a bit more than seven dice, but it’s still pretty simple compared to some final games. Really nailing down the basic elements of a game should, in my mind, take precedence over any of the window dressing, including art. Even Wizards of the Coast famously does iterative design with what they call “playtest” cards long before they get the artists on board. Game first, trappings later. As an artist, I do believe that art and appeal are important, but without a solid game to hang them on, they just can’t do much.*

on October 25, 2010 at 7:16 AMKlepsacovicMaybe I’ve played too much kotor recently, but have you ever tried playing Pazaak with them?

on October 25, 2010 at 7:18 AMAnderoth“Chicken” (2-1,000 players)

Choose three numbers that are on all the die (preferably something simple like 1-3), and designate those numbers as “Going over the cliff”. Starting with the D20, have each player roll it and record the number they get as points. If a player rolls any of the Cliff numbers at any time they lose. Next, each player decides whether they want to roll the D12, and those who do repeat the same process as they did with the D20, but rotating who rolls first.

For the next “roll round” -the first D10- all players get to make the choice again to either roll or pass, including players who had passed in the previous round. Repeat the same process, the other D10, D8, D6, and finally the D4, adding the result of each roll to their total score. Winner is either the person with the highest score or the last man standing after everyone else has “gone over the cliff”.

Not a terribly original idea, but it uses the decreasing number of die sides to increase the risk factor of each roll. Allowing players who previously passed to roll in riskier rounds adds a bluffing element as well as encouraging risk taking from all parties.

on October 25, 2010 at 8:16 AMMelmothOk, this is just very quickly off the top of my head with no opportunity to test it for balance or even think about it much, but as a fun exercise here goes:

D4vid vs Goliath

A solitaire-type game (because I hate PvP)

Take the D4 and the D20 and place them such that they indicate their maximum values.

Place one of the D10s to one side.

You are D4vid, and you have four lives. The aim is to take down Goliath with his twenty lives.

Each turn you roll the D12, D10, D8 and D6 and add the results to form your attack roll.

o After you have made your attack roll, and as long as you would have at least one life left afterwards, you may choose to spend one of your lives to:

o Remove one of the dice from this turn’s roll (your

choice as to which) OR

o Remove one life from Goliath’s total

o Once per game you may choose to roll the spare D10 and subtract its result from your attack roll for that round

o If your attack roll matches the number of lives that Goliath has left, he is defeated and you win.

(Critical hit!)

o If your attack roll is over the number of lives that Goliath has, you lose a life.

(You’ve overextended your attack and left yourself open

to counter-attack)

o If your attack roll is under the current number of lives that Goliath has, then Goliath loses one life.

(Just a flesh wound)

Play continues until you lose your last life or Goliath is defeated.

I’m imagining the game to be quite tricky, and the longer it goes on the more certain Goliath’s victory is. Hopefully it would reflect the imbalance of the ‘actual’ battle, but show that sometimes, with tactics and a bit of luck, you can still win.

The number of attack roll dice might need some balancing, however, which could be done with play testing and working out of averages.

on October 26, 2010 at 5:25 AMiseyMy 5 year old is a ‘builder’. If we go our for breakfast he takes the little jelly packets and builds things – bridges, towers, etc. So naturally, my first thought was brought up by you – stacking. Seemed like a natural fit since my little guy will spend 30 minutes building waiting for our breakfast, and we have to tell him to put them away when it’s time.

Trying to remember the dice layouts, but building a small model where you can add up numbers that ‘touch’ in various stacking layouts, and adding the score if they are on top of each other – if side by side, the numbers subtract.

The goal is to go 1-10, then back down, without using the same combination of dice and stacks. (Without playing with the dice, I don’t even know if that is possible – but some variation on that).

Math and motor skills.

on October 27, 2010 at 11:13 PMTeshThanks for the comments,all!

Klep, I totally forgot about Pazaak. You’re right, that would probably work, but my kids probably wouldn’t understand it. Maybe my wife will like it, though…

Anderoth, that sounds really good, actually. Simple, sure, but clean and clear enough to be playable, and maybe build on top of.

Melmoth, that’s considerably more complex… and I like it a lot. It’s especially interesting that you’re using the different dice for different functions. I do think that you’d need to playtest it a bit and see what it actually does. I do suspect that it might wind up a bit too difficult, with the attack values being too high from the four attack dice, but that’s something to play and see. That it gets harder as time goes on is icing on the cake. Nice tension, great theme, fun use of limited resources… that’s my kind of game design. 🙂

Isey, I love the idea of using the dice as puzzle pieces for stacks and math tinkering. Math and motor skills are both valuable for young ‘uns. I’ll tinker a bit and see what the layout of these dice will do.

I’m also sorely tempted to go ahead and buy that pound of dice. It’s certainly not something I *need*, but it could be a lot of fun.

on September 27, 2011 at 6:31 AMLint Collecting « Tish Tosh Tesh[…] Game Design Experiment: 7DX […]