Building a Dice-Building Game: First Steps

With Bread and Circuses waiting on the USPS to get sent off to a publisher, I’ve been waiting for another game design idea. Such an idea was inspired by Episode 106 of the On Board Games podcast, in which one of the hosts laments that the term “dice building game” is used in reference to Quarriors. He argues that Quarriors is more of a “dice pool building game” than a “dice building game” since you aren’t actually constructing dice. The hosts discuss how they’d be interested in seeing a game in which you construct or rebuild the dice as the game goes on, which started my wheels turning.

Theme

For this game, the base game engine – players build or add to dice – lent itself easily to two themes. One of the themes, fantasy/RPG-style combat, seemed to already have something of a strong representation in the dice game market, most recently with two Kickstarter games – the currently-funding Dungeon Dice and the already-funded Dungeon Roll. As a result, I decided to go with my second idea for a theme, civilization-building.¬†Civilization-building dice games are also not new – my favorite being Roll Through the Ages – but there don’t seem to be quite as many as there are in the fantasy genre, and I’ve been wanting to make a civilization-building game for a while.

Mechanics

My mechanical challenge is to get mechanics that are interesting enough, but also don’t violate basic tenets of the “X-building” genre (including deck-building and “dice pool building”).

From my observation, the most popular X-building games (Dominion, Ascension, and Quarriors in particular) use the same following basic mechanics:

Limited and equal starting resources. Each player starts off on the same footing, with the same elements in their resource pool (Copper and Estates, Apprentices and Militia, or Basic Quiddity and Apprentices, respectively).

More starting resources than you can use in one turn. Each of the three games start the player with two turns’s worth of resources (dice or cards), so that there’s a forced delay between when you acquire a resource – especially your first couple turns – and when you can use it.

Card gaining and removing mechanics. Each game has a way to add new cards to your deck and ways to remove (trash, banish, or cull) resources from your deck/pool.

Combo/engine building possibilities. Each of the games contains a set of cards such that skilled players can combine the available resources to get a large effect.

Multiple paths to victory. The available resources are diverse enough such that you don’t have to take a particular route to win the game.

Components

When I started thinking about components, I needed to make one fairly important decision – is this going to be a game where players upgrade dice by replacing one face with another or a game where players add to dice by adding additional elements? This was a decision that was partly decided by what seemed to be the easiest way to prototype – LEGO dice.

Using LEGO dice made my life easier in a few ways. First, if I decided to go with an “add” model, I don’t know how else I’d do it apart from tables and many, many cubes, which would be unwieldy, expensive, and counter-intuitive to the basic “dice building” concept. Second, if I ended up going with an “upgrade” system, I could model that with the four-peg faces of the LEGO dice.

This does lead to a problem later – particularly, I think that LEGO may own a patent on this. Still, I think I’m better off designing a good game and making modifications if there are patent issues than not designing a game at all because of fear of patent issues. If nothing else, I can try to take the path that Mobile Frame Zero took.

Engine

With the components set, I had to figure out an engine and overall “how the game works”.

The current plan (I’m waiting for parts to ship so I can start testing) is to start each player out with basic plots of land like farms, forests, and lakes, and use these plots to generate resources allowing them to build more advanced buildings, which would allow players to take different actions when those buildings are rolled. Each building would be a 1×1 tile on the die, and to diversify options within each game and keep costs down, each building would be tied to a color, and one building of each color would be in play each game. Points would be scored from the buildings purchased as well as some end-of-game bonuses, possibly related to set collection and/or the greatest number of buildings of a certain color. End game condition would be related to building depletion, to be determined with solo playtesting.

From Here

Once the parts arrive (some from eBay and some from LEGO), I’ll be designing some basic and advanced buildings and seeing how the basic engine works. Right now, it feels like the actions I choose for the buildings is going to be the critical factor in the game’s playability.

-John

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2 Responses to Building a Dice-Building Game: First Steps

  1. Gary says:

    I agree that this seems like fertile ground for game design. I just posted some related thoughts and links regarding component options on the geek in this thread: http://boardgamegeek.com/article/12434626#12434626 I look forward to seeing where this goes for you!

  2. Roger Hicks says:

    I recently listened to this episode as well (I’m a bit backlogged on my podcast listening), and my mind went straight to LEGO Dice :)

    A few years ago I partially coded a browser-based game called Dice Battle Cars that involved, well, dice, cars, and battle. It involved a mechanic where you could upgrade your car by changing out the faces on the dice that were associated with that car. Of course, the dice were abstracted to computer code so swapping faces was far more trivial than it would be in a board game.

    Sounds like you’ve got a good start on an interesting game. Keep me updated on how it turns out!

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