Early Prototyping – Dice Mechanics

This is the second post in a series on quick and dirty prototyping board games.

Before I start, here are some quick links to all posts in the series:

  1. Early Prototyping – Quick and Dirty
  2. Early Prototyping – Dice Mechanics
  3. Early Prototyping – Turn Order, Who Does What, and When?
  4. Early Prototyping – Completing the Systems
  5. Early Prototyping – First Test Build

In my previous blog post, I ran through just how easy it is to make game components, and highlighted some of the benefits of the “just do it” approach where you get started on making something ‘real’ rather than focusing on theory and designs-on-paper.

During the component-building session, I foresaw some of the areas that need developing before I could play a test game. Broadly speaking, I would need:

  • A creature vs creature combat system
  • Some kind of system for moving creatures across the board
  • A way to decide who should act, and when
  • Mechanics for spell-casting, including constraints, ranges and some scale of relative spell power

This all seemed like quite a lot to do (and it was), but the good news is that they were ‘real problems’ and not theoretical problems.  Fortunatley, I’d already come up with quite a few thoughts and ideas around these topics.


Thinking, always thinking…

Working on this project in my spare time means that I have to chip away at problems in short bursts. Therefore, I need to make the most of any opportunities when I can actually think deeply. Everyone is different, but I’m an introverted thinker and need solitude to really go “away with the fairies” and ponder a problem.  I have observed my own behaviour here. Having struggled to think straight in today’s awful open plan offices , I am mindful of the times that i find myself thinking  deeply about something. I noticed that I’m usually on my own, for example, just after I’ve woken up or when I’m having a shower. 

Additionally, I also like to let ideas incubate for a while, letting them percolate in the background before I feel ready to explore them further. 

I reckon about a month passed between the first cardboard-cutting session that i describe in my previous post, and play testing with a test build. During this month I focused on some of the problems that I listed above, the first one being the creature vs creature combat system. 

Creature vs creature combat system – contested dice

Previously, a few months before hand, approximately around Christmas 2019, I had done some digging and found an android app called “Custom Image Dice” that allows you to create your own virtual dice. Crucially,  it allows you to use your own images for the die faces.   After an afternoon’s  experimenting with the app I found that it did needed what it to.

My motivation to look for such an app stemmed from a strong feeling that I wanted to use my own custom dice in whatever game I made – this was probably inspired by the dice system in Star Wars Armada. Throwing a whole bunch of bespoke D8 could be quite dramatic and was often quite exciting!

I revisited this dice simulation app and created a brand new set of dice for my wizards game, reusing many of the old graphics that I’d knocked up for dice when I first tested the app.

The problem of what to do for a combat system had been percolating in the background for a few months already. I was going to have each creature have a pool of dice that players would roll when their creature had a fight with another creature, Both players would roll whatever dice and compare the results. This is what I call a ‘contested dice’ roll. 


Photo of the 'custom image dice' app running on a tablet

The “Custom Image Dice” app. Here I’ve rolled a critical hit, a block and a hit+block. See below.

Results could be ‘hits’, ‘blocks’ or ‘critical hits’. One player’s ‘hits’ would be cancelled out by the others ‘blocks’, and vice-versa. For now, critical hits would just act as an unlockable hit, but I envisage that in the future they would allow players to activate special creature abilities .

The following table shows the different dice that I was planning to use.


Face 1 Face 2 Face 3 Face 4 Face 5 Face 6 Face 7 Face 8
Standard D8  H H B B H B C
Heavy D8  H H B B H H B B C
Magic D8 Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z
Veteran D8 H B H B H B H H B H B B C C


H: Hit
B: Block
C: Critical Hit
Z: Zap (Equivalent to a hit for now. I wanted a more interesting symbol on the dice, hence ‘Zap’ and not ‘Hit’)

Standard Dice

These dice will be the most common dice that a creature has, so for example, a basic man-at-arms type dude might roll 2 or 3 standard dice.

Heavy Dice

For creatures that are bigger, heavier, better armoured or are shock troops, these Heavy Dice would add a greater number of results to any role. Ignoring critical hit results, these dice have no bias towards hits or blocks, which is something I might change in the future. For example, it might be better to split this dice into two or three different dice, allowing biases towards defence or attack to be simulated.

Magic Dice

Relatively few creatures will roll Magic Dice – creatures like fairies, ghosts and dragons. Right now, the intention is that they add a big wallop to any roll. The implementation of these dice will totally change as I experiment, but for now I want to include some dice that have a dramatic effect on the results.

Veteran Dice

The idea here is to have some dice that are acquired by creatures that gain combat experience. I’ve no idea how to implement an experience system, but I figured I’d create the dice in the ‘Custom Image Dice’ app while I was at it. These dice have a bias towards more consistent results in general and less of a ‘swing’.

Dice Costs

I should note that I realise having many dice would be more expensive to manufacture but at this stage, I’m not wanting to limit the creativity side yet. It may be that additional dice are included in an expansion, or I ditch some dice in favour of others.

Good enough?

After an afternoon of simulating dice rolls between a couple of fictitious creatures I decided that my dice were good enough.

In my next post, I’ll look at designing some of the game mechanics that tie everything together and govern how players interact with the game world.