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10 ways to use dice in your board game (other than roll and move)

For a long time, dice were mostly used for gambling or as a roll and move mechanic in board games. Times have changed and game designers have found all sorts of innovative ways to use dice like they’ve never been used before.

For a long time, dice were mostly used for gambling or as a roll and move mechanic in board games. Times have changed and game designers have found all sorts of innovative ways to use dice like they’ve never been used before.

It’s a great game design exercise to take a component or mechanic and try to come up with as many different uses for it as you can. You may end up with a whole bunch of innovative game ideas!

Roll and move is a mechanic that has been used in many games, including classic games like Monopoly and Trouble. But the problem with roll and move is the fact that players have little or no choice based on the outcome of the roll. They simply move the number of spaces indicated by the sum of the dice. Occasionally there may be different paths a player can take, but ultimately there are very few decisions one can make. However, interesting decisions are at the core of many great modern board games.

If you are going to use a roll and move mechanic in your game, I encourage you to look at some interesting ways to give players choice. You could have players roll three dice and they can choose any two or assign each die to a different task for example. This gives players some feeling of agency rather than being at the fate of whatever they roll.

It's also a good idea to find ways to mitigate “bad rolls.” If a player continuously rolls ones and twos, there should be something that they can do with these, perhaps in some cases something that's even better than if they had rolled sixes. If it can happen, it will happen, so make sure that low rolls aren’t always a terrible outcome.

Let's dive into some different uses for dice along with examples of games in which they are used.

Roll and Write

Roll and write games have become very popular lately. The earliest version of a roll and write game that I can think of is Yahtzee. While this game became very popular at the time, the genre only picked up steam again in more recent years.

Roll and write games are exactly what they sound like. You roll dice, then you write something down, typically marking off a box. Marking off boxes may give you points, re-rolls, or rewards. Everyone may have their own dice or players make sure dice from a common pool.

Some of the more modern popular roll and writes include Ganz Schon Clever (That’s So Clever), Qwixx, Qwinto, and Railroad Ink.

Use dice as counters

One very simple way to use a die is as a counter. They could be used to track health, strength, or various resources in your game.

The good thing is that dice come in all sorts of different denominations. Four-sided, six-sided, 8-sided, 10-sided, 12-sided, and 20-sided dice are all fairly common dice nowadays.

Stack dice

Six-sided dice come in a nice cube shape which makes them easy to stack. In a game like Tumble Town, dice are placed and stacked to make buildings.

This stacking mechanic is also used in games like the unimaginatively named Stack and Dice Stack.

I feel it would be interesting to make a game where you have to strategically stack the dice in a specific manner unlike what has been done before. Maybe this will become your next project!

Use dice in worker placement

Some games, including Dice Hospital and Grand Austria Hotel, use a dice placement mechanic. Instead of placing meeples to collect resources and perform tasks, players place dice.

The values on these dice may also determine how much of a resource a player gets or may be used in some other manner, such as triggering an effect.

Use dice to collect resources

In some games, what you roll will determine what resources you obtain, or in some cases, what other players will earn.

In Machi Koro, you roll a die, and all players may be able to collect money depending on what value you roll. You then use that money to buy more properties, each with a number at the top. Depending on the type of card, you will gain money when you roll that number or when other players roll that number on their turn.

Wingspan uses custom dice with different food types the birds must eat. You gain a token matching the value on the die based on which die you select.

Istanbul, on the other hand, only uses occasional dice rolling to gain resources. On a couple of tiles, you can roll dice and the higher you roll the more rings you will collect or you can wager that you will roll at least a certain number in order to collect that much gold. This harkens back to the use of dice for betting.

Use dice for real-time games

In some dice games, you must roll dice as quickly as you can to accomplish specific goals.

In the game Fuse, players must frantically roll dice and place them on cards based on the colours and numbers to complete specific conditions.

In Escape: Curse of the Temple, players must work together and roll the right combination of symbols to advance from one room to the next and collect gems. Depending on your roll, you may end up locking your dice and other players will have to come to your rescue. This is all done under a strict timer.

In Tenzi, you simply roll and re-roll dice as quickly as you can to be the first to get 10 of a kind.

Use dice in puzzles

Many board games have a puzzle-y aspect to them. One such game is Sagrada. In Sagrada, you roll and place dice based on the colour and number to make stained glass images on your personal window board.

It's always a puzzle trying to figure out where to best place your dice.

Use dice to make sets

You might even consider using dice to create sets much as you would with numeric cards.

One such game that uses this mechanic is Favor of the Pharaoh. In this game, you roll dice, lock in at least one of them, and re-roll the remaining dice. Your goal is to get combinations of pairs, three or more of a kind, runs, all different, or other combinations to earn more dice and get one step closer to winning the game.

Use dice to push your luck

When it comes to rolling dice, the outcome is based purely on luck. So, it's no surprise that some push your luck games utilize dice.

One such game is Zombie Dice. In this dice-chucking game, you roll the dice to collect brains but must also avoid taking too many gunshots. You can stop at any time and the brains you've collected will be added to your total or you can decide to push your luck and try to gain more. However, once you get 3 shotgun blasts you lose all your progress on that turn.

Use dice for cool down

One other innovative way to use dice in a game is for cooling down. By that I mean you need to take the time or use a resource to make an action available again. You’ve essentially heated something up and you need to cool it down in order to make use of it again.

One game that does this really well is Steam Punk Rally. You collect and roll dice to activate different components of your vehicle, which will help you gain more dice, armour your vehicle, or move you forward. However, those dice stay on your vehicle until they are cooled down. Every cog you spend allows you to roll down one or more dice by a combination of two pips. Once any dice are essentially rolled down to zero they can be removed and that space will now become available again. It’s a very clever mechanic.

Final thoughts

There are so many ways to use dice aside from rolling to determine movement. I've highlighted just 10 examples of how to use dice in other more innovative ways but this list is not exhaustive.

There are certainly other ways you can use dice, including some that haven't been invented yet. So, get out there and find some cool new ways to use dice in your game!

What other innovative ways have you seen dice used in a game?

Please leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear from you and learn about other games using dice in innovative ways.

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