The Weird, Wonderful World of Dice

[Image courtesy of ThoughtCo.]

Dice have been an integral part of gaming for centuries. They’re the simplest way to introduce randomness to a game.

The six-sided die is, by leaps and bounds, the most familiar die. The d6, as role-players call it, is a staple of classic board games like Yahtzee and Clue, as well as the centerpiece of role-playing systems like GURPS.

But the d6 is hardly the only kind of die you see in gaming. Plenty of games and role-playing systems rely on dice of other shapes in order to run smoothly.

[Image courtesy of Wikimedia.]

If you play World of Darkness role-playing games like Werewolf or Vampire: The Masquerade, then the d10 is your friend. If you enjoy updated editions of Dungeons & Dragons (or even board games like Unspeakable Words or Scattergories), the d20 is a familiar sight, whether it has letters or numbers on it.

A standard dice set for beginners Dungeons & Dragons contains six different dice shapes: a pyramid-shaped d4, a d6, a d8, a d10, a d12, and a d20. (Many come with 2 d10s, one with single digits and one with double digits, allowing you to calculate percentages).

[Image courtesy of Instructables.]

Heck, if you think about it, flipping a coin to decide something is simply rolling a two-sided die.

But when you start delving into the history of games, it’s amazing to see just how far back some of these traditions and conventions go.

Did you know that The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a d20 in its collection?

Dating back to Roman times (somewhere between the 2nd century BC and the 4th century AD), the above die is inscribed with Greek letters. It’s not certain if this particular die was used for games or religious divination, but there’s no doubt it’s a beautiful example of craftsmanship.

And this is just scraping the surface. One of my favorite dice in my collection is an oversized 3D-printed d20 with Braille markings for every number. Such a cool piece.

Can you think of any strange dice in favorite games of yours, fellow puzzlers? We’d love to hear about them! (Unless they’re fuzzy dice hanging from your rearview mirror. Those don’t make reliable rolls in regular gameplay.)


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The 2017 New York Toy Fair, Part 2!

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On Tuesday, I gave you a general rundown of what it was like exploring the massive spread of puzzles and games on display at this year’s New York Toy Fair.

In today’s post, I’d like to highlight some of the puzzles and games that most impressed me. I think many of these will also appeal to many of my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers as well.

So let’s dive right in!


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One of the prime spots in the Launchpad area for first-time attendees was given to the team at Steamforged Games Ltd., who have brought the video game franchise Dark Souls into the board-game realm.

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Between one and four players can test their mettle against various creatures, battling to capture their souls and use them to make your character stronger and more capable. The impressive array of miniatures, player cards, and tokens makes for an interactive experience that should satisfy both video game fans and board gamers alike.

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For a more traditional family-friendly puzzle game, the crew at Befuddled Games has you covered with Kerfuddle and Tree Top Hop, both of which are suitable for solvers of any age group.

Kerfuddle combines a touch of Boggle with the ever-changing gameplay of Fluxx. Roll the dice and use them to form words, but be careful — the “Shake It Up” cards can make your word forming much more challenging.

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Tree Top Hop is a great intro game for young players, as they move around the tree top, spelling words on their cards and racing to the treasure at the center of the board. By combining word-building and strategy, this is a terrific gateway game for new players.

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Along the same lines as Kerfuddle is Twizmo! Words, except instead of dice, you have a Rubik’s Cube-style Twisty puzzle providing you with the letters you’ll use to build your word list. Designed by the same team who brought us Tak•tak, Twizmo! Words is a strong quick-play game for any Boggle fans in your household.

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Snippets takes the list-building idea in another direction. Instead of random letters, you’re given a three-letter snippet of a word, and it’s up to you to come up with as many words containing that snippet as possible. So, if you’ve got TRA, you can write down EXTRA, TRAIN, STRAP, and so on.

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And to close out this collection of word-forming games, we have Letter Tycoon, which adds a monetizing mechanic that really spices up the gameplay. Here, not only are you making money by forming words, but you can patent letters so that when other players use them, you cash in as well. It’s a really clever take on the word-building genre of games.

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We now move on from combining letters to combining jigsaw pieces. The puzzles from Palmetto Puzzle Works all center around tessellations — shapes that repeat and interlock in many different ways.

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Whether you’re trying to fit the pieces into a given space or you’re connecting them freestyle, these well-made wooden puzzles bring an M.C. Escher touch to the world of jigsaw-style solving.

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Beasts of Balance, on the other hand, has players using game pieces in a different way, as solvers stack the animal shapes and try to keep their ever-growing tower of creatures and artifacts from toppling over. The game has a tablet interaction feature that enhances both the gameplay and the storytelling aspect of the game, making the most of new school and old school puzzling.

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But if you’re looking to do some puzzly building in a different way, Maze by Seedling is a solid choice. Here, you can map out and design your own marble maze, and then tackle your own creation with a fully-functioning labyrinth board, complete with marbles, walls, and holes to avoid.

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And while we’re on the subject of do-it-yourself puzzling, the crew behind Pinbox 3000 have designed a build-your-own pinball game system that allows for infinite customization. They give you everything you need to build a functioning game, and then leave the theme, bells, and whistles totally up to you.

I wrote about this one back when it was a Kickstarter project, and it was cool to see the brand continuing to thrive and grow.

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Another gaming classic with a modern twist is Tatsu, which combines Asian-inspired mythology with backgammon-style gameplay. Designed by the same creative team as the tile-placement game Hive, Tatsu is a clever, elegant game all about strategy and guile. It’s easy to learn and tough to master, and I suspect it will do quite well.

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If you’re looking to combine strategy with rapid-fire gameplay, Tenzi is for you. In Tenzi, you’re given ten dice, and you have to keep rolling them until all ten match. It’s like Speed Yahtzee! But with dozens of additional variant games at your disposal, from stacking to scoring to rule-shifting games, this dice game has legs and is easy to tote around to play anywhere.

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If you’re looking to take your card games anywhere, the team at Narrows Hill have a great solution for you. The Card Caddy is not only a protective case for any deck of cards, but it opens up into a perfect card-dealing and sorting setup for ease of play.

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We also got an early glimpse of a forthcoming addition to the Fluxx family of card games. Since Fluxx is celebrating 21 years on the market this year, the crew at Looney Labs is celebrating with Drinking Fluxx, a spirits-soaked version of their famous chaotic rule-shifting card game.

You can mix and match the various ingredients to try to create a winning formula (and perhaps a sideline as a bartender for your fellow players). Just make sure you call a cab after playing.

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Whereas Tenzi and Fluxx are quite portable, Banana Bandits from CMON Games requires some space, since you have an entire 3-D building to set up as your game board. As you and your fellow players try to prove yourselves as worthy successors to the boss of the Banana Bandits, you’ll climb and explore the building, collect coins, and tangle with opponents, all on an impressively realized game space.

Will you be top banana, or is it time for you to split?

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And the last game I’ll be discussing today is Doctor Who: Time of the Daleks, an elaborate galaxy-spanning game where you play as one of six Doctors traveling across time and space in order to complete missions, save the innocent, thwart your enemies, and generally wreak timey-wimey havoc.

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Between the terrific miniatures and the expansive options available for players, this was one of the highlights of Toy Fair for me, and I can’t wait to see how they incorporate additional Doctors into the game later down the line.

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Obviously this is just a small sample of all the fantastic, eye-catching puzzles and games that graced New York Toy Fair this year. But nonetheless, it’s an impressive group, covering so many different aspects of the puzzle and game world, and constantly blazing new trails in terms of creativity and innovation.

I have no doubt you’ll be seeing more about some of these projects as 2017 rolls onward.

[You can check out our full gallery of photos from New York Toy Fair on Facebook by clicking here!]


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: TableTop Day Edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

For those new to PuzzleNation Blog, Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and update the PuzzleNation audience on how these projects are doing and what these people have been up to in the meantime.

And today, I’m following up on all the International TableTop Day goodness we got up to this week.

The PuzzleNation offices weren’t open on April 5 for the actual TableTop Day, so we celebrated a few days late with an event on Tuesday, and we invited our pals from Penny/Dell Puzzles to join us in all the puzzly game activities we had planned.

Here’s the table of available games for play that day! Everything from one-player brain teasers from ThinkFun (like Rush Hour and the Sudoku-inspired Chocolate Fix) to bigger group games like Apples to Apples and Scattergories, and everything in between! (Including previously reviewed games like Castellan, Pink Hijinks, ROFL!, Fluxx: The Board Game, and Loonacy!)

Here, fellow puzzlers partake in a spirited round of Apples to Apples, the perfect way to blow off a little steam at work after a long morning of puzzlesmithing.

Furiously contested games of Bananagrams and Qwirkle were conducted at either end of our play area, and both were big hits with attendees.

I even had the opportunity to test my mettle against Penny/Dell’s well-traveled Corin the Puzzle Bear in a few rounds of Jenga.

While he beat me handily in two straight games, the tide soon turned against him in round three.

We had a pretty decent turnout overall, and everyone who attended had fun. What more can you ask for, really? (Other than more excuses to play games during work, that is…)

I hope your International TableTop Day was just as enjoyable. As Wil Wheaton says on his YouTube show TableTop, play more games!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr, and be sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games!

A day for puzzles and games galore!

This Saturday April 5 marks the second annual International TableTop Day.

For the uninitiated, International TableTop Day was the brainchild of Internet superstars and gaming devotees Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day, known for their YouTube series TableTop.

While on the surface, International TableTop Day is a day to celebrate board games, card games, roleplaying games, dice games, and any other games and activities played around a table, the true spirit of the day is the socializing and communal gameplay that comes from sitting around a table with friends and loved ones, leaving phones and distractions behind, and enjoying a game.

Like last year, this year’s TableTop Day is a truly worldwide event, with game stores, hobby shops, and many businesses opening their doors and offering space for friends and strangers alike to play games. On the TableTop Day website, a map cataloguing events across the world on April 5th has over two THOUSAND events and counting listed!

While the PuzzleNation offices aren’t open on April 5, I will definitely be celebrating the day at home with family and friends; we’ve got several terrific games lined up to play, including Qwirkle, 12 Days, Gravwell, Scattergories, and a few others to be determined.

Not only that, but the following week, in the spirit of International TableTop Day, the PuzzleNation crew will be getting together with our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles and hosting a belated TableTop Day event for our fellow puzzlers.

Let us know what you’ll be playing for International TableTop Day! You can share your pictures with us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr, and make sure to check out the growing library of PuzzleNation apps and games! (They’re perfect for sparking some communal puzzling!)

And, most of all, simply enjoy a game with friends and loved ones. Happy International TableTop Day everyone!

Roll with it!

When it comes to games, there’s probably no component more common or familiar than the six-sided die. From craps to Yahtzee, backgammon to Monopoly, everyone has played a game where the dice controlled your destiny.

And there are several games where the dice are integral to the puzzly gameplay.

The most obvious example is Boggle and its numerous variants. Boggle is played with a 4×4 grid of dice with letters on them, shaken up in order to randomize the letters shown. Players have a limited amount of time to spell out as many words as possible, moving from one letter to an adjacent one.

Testing both your vocabulary and anagramming skills, Boggle is great fun and a terrific challenge, depending on the letters you get. (It can also depend on which edition of the game you purchase, since some have different available letters in order to facilitate gameplay.)

Along that line, I actually received a great puzzly dice game as my Secret Santa gift in the office this year. (How did they know I like puzzles and games!?)

It’s called Campbell’s Alphabet Dice Game, and it’s a marvelous mix of Boggle, Yahtzee, and anagramming games, challenging the players to conjure words from the letters they roll.

The packaging is clever, and the game is designed with all sorts of puzzly references to cooking. With higher-valued letters and a low-stress game mechanic — if you’re stumped, everyone rerolls their letters instead of making one player suffer with crummy letters — it’s a nice addition to my puzzle game treasure chest.

And when it comes to letter-dice games, we have to talk about one of my all-time favorites, Scattergories.

In Scattergories, you roll a giant 20-sided die with numerous letters on it, determining what letter everyone will be using that round. Then players are required to come up with one word for each category that starts with that letter.

The puzzly aspect comes not only from coming up with appropriate words to fit each category, but trying to figure out which words your fellow players WOULDN’T come up with themselves, since answers duplicated by one or more players are worth zero points.

It can be a real challenge to not only come up with ten answers on the fly, but to then try to get into the heads of your opponents and guess what words THEY’D write. More than once, I’ve psyched myself out by assuming one answer was too easy and changing it, only to discover a friend had done the exact same thing. *laughs*

Of course, I would be be remiss if I didn’t mention Dungeons & Dragons, a dice game that goes far beyond the average board game-playing experience.

When it comes to conquering puzzles, some of the best puzzle-solving experiences of my life have been in sessions of Dungeons & Dragons with friends.

Whether it was unraveling a curious mechanical puzzle in order to unlock a door, solving a devious riddle to avert some horrible outcome, or devising a clever way to combine the tools at hand to overcome an unexpected obstacle, my puzzle skills often served me well, allowing me to match wits with dark wizards and perilous foes.

This weekend marked the 40th Anniversary of the birth of the world’s most famous roleplaying game, and it’s hard to deny the incredible legacy sparked by those curiously-shaped dice.

Dice games come in all shapes and sizes — as do the dice themselves! — but they add a marvelous wrinkle of randomness and challenge to the puzzle-game community.

What are your favorite puzzly dice games? Did I miss any major ones? Let me know in the comments!

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