Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Random Number Generator

This week the lovely looking Dice Forge made it to table at NoBoG, a simple fantasy themed game centred around how well you can roll a pair of dice.
Dice Forge box, a stylistic copy of Dark Crystal if ever there was one.

Familiar ?
Dice. The original Random Number Generator. In years ancient and dusty, dice were the venerable go to method of driving just about any kind of turn or event in a game. How far can you move ? There's a dice roll for that. Did you secure that lucrative career ? There's a dice roll for that. Did you just stab Fred successfully ? You get the idea. In fact so ubiquitous was the die that the idea of a game having any other kind of controlling mechanism was unimaginable. Gotta have dice innit. Otherwise how do you tell what's happened ? Just pick an outcome ? Ha ha ha ha ha. No. Dice inject that real world chaos, you need them. In every game. If you were being particularly special and bucking the trend just for the sheer hell of it, you might have got a spinner instead ( Game of Life ), or bizarrely, the "Pop-o-matic" a contraption formed from a clear plastic bubble, a bit of deformable metal and a die trapped forever within.
The Pop-O-Matic. If you're of a certain age you can
probably still hear the dink, donk, rattle of this going off.
An amazingly frustrating and unsatisfying way to
roll a die, unable to caress it lovingly to
encourage it not to screw you over or whisper
darkly to it that a terrible fate of the "bad dice bin"
awaited it were it to once again give you a crap result.
Scroll on to today and now dice have *mostly* been relegated to table top war games which still can't imagine a world in which dice don't determine whether you win or lose. Where dice do crop up in modern games they are often firewalled neatly behind Euro mechanisms, or constrained in their ability to rain pure Randomness onto the table, but even so, for some, any mention of dice in a game harks back to those dark old days when everything was a d6 lookup table.

So to Dice Forge. A modern game unashamedly powered by the continual rolling of 2d6. A bold strategy Cotton. Let's see if it pays off. The dice in Dice Forge are a little special. At the beginning of the game the dice have little variation in them - 9 out of 12 of the faces have 1 gold on them, but as the game goes on you have the chance to pop the faces off and replace them with whatever you can afford and fits your current strategy.
Buy new faces for your dice, pop off the old ones and add the
new ones. What new faces you choose and what you replace is up to you.

The game itself is very straight forward - roll dice and gain 1 of four resources, moonstones, firestones, gold or straight up victory points. Gold is used to buy different die faces, whilst fire and moonstones are used to buy cards from the table that have points and or powers associated with them. At the end of 8 or so rounds the game finishes and the person with the most points wins.

Everything that can be purchased in the game is limited - so getting to something first can be crucial, and getting to something powerful twice can be a game winner. Judging what balance of things to put on your dice - do you go for more stones, more money or just straight up points - and what card powers could help or hinder others is the key to winning this game.
A selection of new faces for your dice. Pay your money take your choice(s).
Are you gonna prioritize points, money choice or something funky ? Choose wisely.

The game is fairly short, plays quick with little downtime, and won't leave you agonising about what to do - the choices are straight forward and the complexity low enough that this is more of a kick back and relax kinda game than an Analysis Paralysis of perfect information deal. Building new faces on your dice is an innovative mechanic that is satisfying to do and doubly satisfying to see in the slow changing of probabilities in what you can potentially roll. Although the luck of the dice are the heart of this game, the amount of mitigation and control you feel about what results those dice can roll, and when to transition from setting up your dice to getting on with earning powers and points is very cool.  In fact if you squint there are some familiar tempos going on here - build your dice to get the results you need, then power on to use what you're rolling to garner points and powers, in much the same way that early stages of Euro games can often focus on building your engine or capabilities before you make a concerted effort for end game objectives.

Combined with the relatively short length of game and minimal downtime - all players get to roll their dice and gain stuff regardless of whos turn it is - means this game hits the sweet spot of random but not critically luck fest frustrating.
The main board - effectively a market place of cards on offer

There are however some rough edges to the game. Some choices seem overly powerful and promote a rush to who can get them first ( 6 gold die face I'm looking at you ! ). This combined without any decent kind of catch up mechanism can mean the game can be a bit of a runaway affair under the right circumstances. With all things being equal, a pinch of luck, and all players on the ball however, the number of times this happens should be fairly limited.

It also has to be said that despite you being able to determine exactly what your dice are gonna roll, if you spend all game hitting your best rolls and your opponent rolls nothing but crap, the game is going to be a foregone conclusion. Given the amount of dice being rolled however this is also unlikely to be a serious balance issue with timing of what to buy when arguably being more crucial than minor variations in luck. But with some exploitation of Over powered combinations and a bit more luck than your neighbour you might at times feel like there's little you can do except wait for it all to end ( but as that's not very long, that's not so bad ).

If you're being super objective about the game, then you can also say that the schtick of the buildable dice is pure gimmick. Effectively this is a deck builder but where you shuffle your cards after every deal - you choose what die faces to put on your dice, in the same way you choose what cards to stick in your deck. The game would be far cheaper, easier to handle and also way less visually and tactile impressive if the dice were replaced with a deck of 12 cards. You could also make a case for eliminating a greater range of luck out of the game by making players rotate through their whole deck like your typical deckbuilder, instead of always having a random result from that dice roll / shuffled deck.

Overall the game is gorgeous, fun in a very tactile kinda way, and seems like an all round excellent game for the younger player, whilst also being cool for the oldsters.

* One might argue that in our contemporary Euro dominated design world, the very opposite of die driven zealotry now holds true. Dice ? In a game ? But how can you successfully plan for the future ? Just leave it to luck ? Ha ha ha ha ha. No. Picking outcomes injects that real world planning into a game. You need it. In every game. If you were diving further down the rabbit hole of game design, you might come up with a theory** that stated the nature of early Ameritrash game design with bundles of dice and probabilities represents something deeply cultural about the Anglo Saxon mindset, and that the perfect information non random everything is based on The Precise Plan in Euros represents something deeply cultural about the German mindset ( Germans being the champions of the Euro design style ).

** I didn't say a good theory