Game mechanics – dice vs cards

Dice header
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One of the most asked question in game design for beginners, “should I use cards or dice in my game?”. Today I’m going to try and give my own take on this subject.

It’s all about the choices

Most board games, when you boil it down to the most basic form, involves players picking options from a limited pool. This can be deterministic in cases like worker placement or moving a unit according to a rule set. It can also be random, most commonly done by drawing a card or rolling dice. I’m going to approach this article from the point of view of the dice, and next time we’ll look at cards as a mechanism for random choices.

The underdog

Everything a dice can do can be done by drawing a card from a shuffled face down deck of 6. They are far more expensive to produce, especially if they contain more than just the usual 1 to 6 pips. If you want more choices than 6, you need to use the much more expensive exotic dice. So why would anyone want to use dice?

Speedster

If your game involves very few random choices, but they are always the same choices done frequently, then the dice is your friend. It is much faster to roll a die than shuffle 6 cards. One example is “Survive Escape from Atlantis”. At the end of each turn the player rolls a 6 sided die to decide which one of the 3 creatures to move. If you want to have the same chance of drawing each monster every time, you could either have the player draw from a deck of 3, replace and reshuffle each time, or use a die.

What the dice really excels at is when there are multiples of these simple random choices. It takes the same amount of time to roll 10 dice as 1 die, but it will take 10 times longer to shuffle cards if cards are used instead. Instead, cards are usually drawn into a hand and choices are made from the hand instead, giving players more control. If you  want to take control away from the players however, dice is the way to go. Some dice game versions of card games such as Bang and Roll for the Galaxy takes advantage of this. They offer players limited control over their choices in the form of rerolls and limited amounts of reassignments. They are however much more random than their card game counterparts.

Dice as pieces

Another thing that dice can do better than cards is they can act as pieces on the board. Sure you can place cards on the board, but they take up much more space or risk being covered. A dice can convey more information than a meeple on a game board, but less information than a card. A meeple is a good choice when it does not need to change states during the game. If your board pieces needs to change between a few states, a dice is a good option. However, if your piece has more than a few states, potentially a standee plus cards on your own tableau to track states is better.

Numeros

The information most often determined by dice is numbers. We’ve talked about dice offering random choices, but it does not have to be. When you roll dice containing pips and use them together, you are making variations of one choice. It can be the attack power, currency, and a plethora of other options that involve numbers. In this case, the number that comes out is certainly not random, but follows a very specific pattern of distribution that holds true for any number of dice.

dice frequency

If this distribution is something you would like in your game, then it is much easily achieved with rolling multiple dice than having a deck of cards that follow this pattern directly. The distribution can also be adjusted by simply removing or adding dice into the roll, instead of needing a whole new deck of cards.

In conclusion

This article isn’t to argue importance of dice in gaming, because it has certainly earned its place. It is often frowned upon in modern games due to its random nature. I feel that it is making a comeback as designers use new mechanics to counter the randomness. Games such as Through the Ages and Roll for the Galaxy are seen as strategic games even though they use dice. There is a right place to use dice, and hopefully this article gives you some cases where dice is better than cards. Lastly, it’s a lot more fun blowing into a handful of dice and wishing on the results than drawing a bunch of cards.

Roll for the Galaxy

roll for the galaxy
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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Set Up
  3. Gameplay
  4. End Game
  5. PDF Manual
  6. Buy now at $40.00

Introduction

Roll for the Galaxy is a dice rolling space empire building game. Players roll their worker dice to determine which worker will do which action this round. The workers will be assigned to settle new planets, research technologies, or get more income. The catch is that each player may only “activate” one of the 5 available actions, so not every worker will get to perform its assigned task. The game ends when one player has 12 tiles in their world, or the victory points pool is exhausted. The player with the most victory points at the end of the game wins.

Set Up

Board set up

Place in center

  • all dice
  • Phase tiles X side up
  • 55 game tiles in bag
  • VP pool containing 12 VP per player + 10 for final round

Player set up

  • Dice cup
  • Player mat
  • Credit marker on 1
  • Player screen
  • Phase strip
  • Initial tiles
  • Draw 2 game tiles and place on mat
  • Put 3 white dice in cup
  • Put 2 white dice on citizenry
  • Take the dice as indicated by starting tiles

Gameplay

During each round, the players will perform these 5 steps. There are no turns, players can all play simultaneously. Repeat until one of the Game end scenario is met.

  1. Roll
  2. Assign
  3. Reveal
  4. Do Phases
  5. Manage Empire

Roll

Roll all workers in the cup.

Assign

Place dice onto the phase strip using the following rules

  1. Initial placement
  2. Phase selection
  3. Reassignment

Reveal

All player reveal the screen. Flip over the phase tiles to the active side for any activated phases among the table. Return to the cup any dice on inactive phases and the dice used to dictate. note for 2 player game

Do Phases

Simultaneously resolve each of the activated phases in numeric order. Use all workers assigned to the phase, including any workers that selected it. Place any used workers in the Citizenry. Note powers of developments when placing workers or resolving phases. The phases are

Manage Empire

Recruit workers from the Citizenry back into the cup by spending one credit for each dice recruited. If the credit tracker is at 0 at the end of recruitment, move it to 1 for the next round. Recall developers, settlers, and goods from the tiles back into the cup.

Flip all phases back to the X side. Check if game ends, and start new round if not.

End Game

Game end is triggered when the original VP chip pool is exhausted, or any player has 12 or more tiles. Add score as follow

  • VP
  • VP equal to cost of tiles in tableau
  • Bonuses from 6 cost developments. Round up fractions

Ties are broken by number of dice in cup, then credits.

CV

CV
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Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Set Up
  3. Gameplay
  4. End Game
  5. PDF Manual
  6. Buy now at $20.74

Introduction

Each player plays through the life of a character, writing the CV for that character as the game progresses. They aim to have the most impressive CV and live the most fulfilling life by game end. CV is a engine building game dictated by dice rolls. Players earn points by acquiring cards and sets of card that will give victory points at the end of the game.

Set Up

  1. Sort CV cards by card back, place early adulthood, middle age, and old age on board
  2. Deal 5 from early adulthood deck onto board
  3. Deal 1 life goal card to each player, place indicated number of life goal card face up on board
  4. Deal 3 childhood cards per player
  5. Draft childhood cards
  6. Give 4 dice to the player with the bicycle

Gameplay

The player with the bicycle starts. Each player takes their whole turn before passing on to the next player. On a turn, players will

  1. Roll all dice, up to 2 rerolls except for bad luck, which is frozen
  2. Buy up to 2 cards from board and pay resources. Each resource can only be used once per turn
  3. Add cards to CV, update tokens
  4. Shift cards to left and fill empty spaces, check for Social assistance
  5. At end of round, discard the left most card before adding new card

End Game

The game ends after the round which the old age deck has less cards than the number of players. Players add up their points from

  • Relationship, Health, and Knowledge sets – from table
  • Possession cards
  • Personal life goals
  • Public life goals – Only to player who best achieved it, ties are friendly

Player with the most points wins