Picking a Bone with the Bones

February 26, 2010

No item in boardgaming is as shrouded in mystery and superstition as our dice. As Russ noted in an earlier post, part of the fun of gaming with a wide variety of people is seeing the various ways in which they use their dice–towers, cups, blown kisses, and good-luck jigs. We praise and thank them when they shower good fortune on us, according “lucky dice” positions of honor in our dice bags. We also hurl so-called “bad dice” across the room where they roll under the water heater, never to be seen again, or punish them with a few seconds of radiation in the microwave (true story, by the way–I know a guy who knew a guy…)

You’d think the boardgame manufacturers would understand. But no. In an effort to cut costs, they package their games with “weak bones.” The results speak for themselves: cheap cubes which roll on our tables like drunken fratboys down the streets of New Orleans at Mardi Gras. There are two major types of offenders:

Woodies: Found primarily in Euro style games like Settlers of Catan and Small World. I swear these are made out of balsa wood. They weigh almost nothing and become quite dangerous in the hands of vigorous dice shakers. It’s not uncommon to see them bounce ten feet after hitting the tabletop, and they eventually end up in the cat’s mouth, under the china cabinet, or out the open window and into the neighbor’s yard. Pros: Will float. Cons: Energy properties of Flubber.

Chaddies: Found in all sorts of games, World at War: Blood and Bridges being the worst offender in my collection. These are cheap plastic cubes with hanging bits of waste material or irregular corners, usually as a result of a bad casting process. These dice wobble around like a carnival Tilt-a-Whirl ride, coming to rest at an angle that can only be described as “cosmically wrong.” Pros: Might look right if you’re playing while sampling “mood enhancers.” Cons: Can’t be trusted to “roll true.”

How either of these types of dice make it through quality control into our boardgames is beyond me. Any gamer worthy of the title will remove them immediately from his games. In my own case, this has led to the dreaded “reject box,” full of neglected woodies and chaddies. To replace them, I have purchased dice from Chessex. But the whole situation begs the question: why are manufacturers putting these terrible dice in our games? I have heard that it is quite expensive to get dice made for a game, and those costs are passed along to the consumer. Why not just ship games with a) quality dice (and most of us will happily pay the extra cost), or b) ship the games without any dice (thereby making the games cheaper), leaving us to make our own decisions? The half measure–terribly made dice–is just frustrating.

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Roll Dem Bones

August 18, 2009

Dice are one of those integral parts of gamer culture. Each player seems to have his own preferences, superstitions, customs. I remember seeing a guy at the WBC playing this massive WWII war game that spanned all of the European theater. Every time he went to roll the dice, he would stand up, do two large quick shakes–holding the dice in both his hands–do a third slower shake bringing his hands to the top of his dice tower, release the dice from his hands with a parting flourish–dropping them down the dice tower–and then lean over to check the results.

Dice Tower

The Dice Tower - I dislike them, but you can still learn to make one here http://www.instructables.com/id/Making-a-Formboard-Dice-Tower/.

I thought, at least he made using a dice tower look cool, as I dropped a couple six-siders down a dice tower at my own table, cringing at the rattling the dice made as they banged down the wooden structure without grace or style. Despite their popularity, I can’t stand dice towers.

I don’t like that they are loud. The plastic die bounces around against the structure and the rattling seems to echo and magnify in the tower. I don’t like that they are bulky. I can’t imagine transporting one of these to and from a game. The L-shape and tenuous construction don’t seem very conducive to being stuffed into a backpack. And finally, I really really hate that it does all the die rolling for you. It literally pulls the fun right out of your hands!

Fortunately, John nor any of my other game playing friends use or insist on dice towers. However, John isn’t without fault. (Just ask his wife! Hey-oh!) See, John has these itty-bitty 12 millimeter dice. Now, there isn’t anything wrong with 12 mm dice, per se. You get 36 in a cube from Chessex and that’s a lot. They are perfectly serviceable. Heck, in the event that someone rolls the dice onto the board, they are small enough that they often don’t disturb the pieces too badly.

Can you tell which one is a M-A-N's die?

Can you tell which one is a M-A-N's die?

But, come on, I’m a man, spelled M-A-N. I want manly dice. I want to feel them clatter around in my hand, see them bounce and spin on the table. I don’t want to put on reading glasses and lean over the table to see my results. It’s 16 millimeter dice for me. It doesn’t matter much if they have rounded edges or squared edges (but it they do have squared edges, I like them to be perfect right angles with corners that look like they could take someone’s eye out), as long as the pips are high contrast to the die body. There’s nothing I dislike more (except for maybe dice towers, it’s a close call) than dice whose pips match the color of the die body. There should never be any confusion as to what was rolled.

Which is a perfect lead into my last point: etiquette. Dice that are cocked or land on the ground should be rerolled. It isn’t because we think you are cheating (I’m still watching you, buddy!), but it’s good etiquette to roll in such a way that everyone at the table can verify your roll. And finally, for Pete’s sake, don’t roll into the board. Nothing is more annoying than a bulldozer roller that knocks aside all the playing pieces, because they roll their dice onto the board. If that’s you, please roll into the box top or (sigh) use a dice tower.