# End Times 2023: Laissez les bons temps rouler

There is a fairly recent (especially to me) December tradition I now look forward to every year: __Dicember__. It’s quite simple, the only thing to do is to play dice games, and I love dice games. I feel more like playing when I hold a handful of dice in my fist than when I am looking at a wall of cards. There is an enjoyable physicality to it, and the more dice, the better (more dice also reduce randomness, which I welcome). For a while, it even quenches my lust for hoarding. The dice are all there already and they are mine!

## What is a dice game?

The thing that strikes me the most in that challenge is that people have a very loose definition of what a dice game is – basically any game where there is a die in the box. I have seen **Draftosaurus** mentioned several times as a dice game. If I go to a board game retail store asking for a dice game, and the seller suggests Draftosaurus, I sure won’t ask for advice there anymore. The official definition of dice games in the Dicember challenge is “a game where dice are the main component”. This is, I think, a pretty good definition, loose enough to cover a large variety of situations, but restrictive enough to rule out Draftosaurus once and for all. Yet I think we may need to explore it a bit more; for instance, **Elder Sign** has more cards than dice, but I would say it is a fairly prototypical dice game; while **Orchard** comes with lots of dice for its little box, yet I don’t consider it to be a dice game. The dice could easily have been tokens.

So I asked myself, what does it take for a dice game to be a dice game? Do you need to roll the dice every turn? Most dungeon crawlers have that, and I would argue most dungeon crawlers are not dice games. I am also wondering whether **Par Odin!** is a dice game, but you don’t roll anything – it’s a pure logical puzzle that happens to use dice as the main component.

Let’s aim at capturing a rough idea of the prototypical dice game – acknowledging in advance that dice games can stray pretty far off that and still be dice games in their own right. A dice game should exploit dice as a tool to draw samples from a probability distribution, and the decisions you make mostly pertain to that probability distribution. From there, I see two major brands of dice games. You may either manipulate the distribution or navigate it. **Yahtzee** is typically an example of probability manipulation. By choosing what to re-roll and what to keep, you directly influence the probability distribution of the results. Games like **Splitter Dice**, **Criss-cross**, are games about navigating the probability distribution: you cannot influence it in any way, but you must deal with the outcomes while taking into account what may come next.

You can go a step away from that core, in both of these directions. You can have a very loose handle on the probability distribution, e.g. by picking loot that will grant dice or a +1 bonus to the results: dungeon crawlers, and all games where dice are the random output of your decisions, belong to that broad and wide family – and by this account, **Risk** is a dice game. In the “navigation” direction, you have dice allocation puzzles: you no longer navigate the distribution, but you deal with the outcome of it by assigning the dice results to specific actions. Dice effectively become randomized workers. The chief example of that is probably **Deep Space D-6**. In these games, dice basically serve as random input.

And you have all sorts of cross-over, of course. **One Deck Dungeon** is a good example. You are given handles on the distribution (you can get more dice, purchase skills to alter the results, etc.), but each roll also leads to a dice allocation puzzle. This dice allocation puzzle, however, is round-independent, so One Deck Dungeon is closer to the core of dice games by its manipulation side, than it is by its navigation side.

Now that we have fleshed out the theoretical frame of dice games, let's dive into a few ones that have been highlights of this Dicember season, mostly because they are thematic dice games, and this is the quality that tremendously matters to me.

## 1. Proving Grounds

It's not the first time I mention __Proving Grounds__ on Solitaire Times. It's a real-time dice game by Kane Klenko (designer of **FUSE**). The core mechanic is great: you may re-roll as much as your time... within one minute. But here is a trick: you need sets of more than one die to damage enemies, and if there is only a single die in your pool showing a vale, you may get hurt. But you may only re-roll sets of more than one... So there is a bit of push-your-luck involved as you try to avoid single dice while forming the sets that you need. It's very fun! Unfortunately, the game is a bit repetitive and runs a bit long. The modules do little to alleviate that and don't really twist the core experience in meaningful ways. Of course, it fully belongs to the "probability manipulation" family. Once you are finished with your rolls, the results of the dice uniquely determine what happens next.

## 2. Call to Adventure

I love showing off with my unusual dice: d4, d8, d10, d12, d20... Yet it never occurred to me that I had a game full of d2. And why not? Yes, that means that I now consider flipping a coin as a regular d2 roll, but, what can I say, you need to keep an open mind in life and games. Anyway, __Call to Adventure__ is all about building a pool of d2 so you can tackle increasingly difficult "challenges", which in turn grow your pool and grant you symbols that give points in the end game. Here again, this is a pure "probability manipulation" game, since you grow your pool to manipulate the probability distribution into producing the right results. This is a rather simplistic game, but it screams thematic vibes from the moment you set it up. So even though it's not an experience to be repeated many times within a short time frame, it's one I always enjoy.

## 3. Siege of Valeria

I played __this game__ only once (for the Dicember challenge) but it left me an excellent first impression. You need to defeat enemies coming onto your fortress and to do so, you roll dice and allocate them to the enemies. The good thing is that, when you defeat a monster, you can use it at a card to mitigate your rolls. As such the game is a clever mixture of both probability manipulation and dice allocation. Although I am not a fan of the artwork by the Mico, it gives the game aesthetic consistency, which helps the theme come off. In other words, it just works, even though I lost the game because I had exhausted the enemy monsters pile, which feels very much like an athematic reason to lose.

## 4. Re-roll galore: Valhalla

__Valhalla__ is the first game of Go On Board (publishers of The Witcher: Old World), and at that time they had already nailed the recipe for a KS success. They built upon a simple game mechanic and added layer of bloat after layer of bloat: expansions, minis, alternative game modes, etc. Among these additions, a noteworthy solo mode that hooked me to back it. Years later, I finally stopped being intimidated by all the contents and played it vanilla solo. It's a very simple game where you play Viking cards with little symbols on them, then attack a monster by rolling a fixed pool of dice. You may allocate these dice to the Vikings to activate them, so their combined strength beats that of the monster. All involved warriors get sent to Valhalla though, from which they provide a handy cosmic back-up that you will need as the monster grows stronger. Most of the game consists of re-rolling your pool of dice in the hope of activating enough of your warriors, and of choosing the right roster of Vikings so you may have a better chance of activating them. Probability manipulation all the way then. As usual with Go On Board though, the game's difficulty lies less in figuring out what to do, than in getting the luck to achieve so.

## 5. Dungeons, Dice & Danger

And here we have a pure game of probability navigation: __Dungeons, Dice & Danger__. You never manipulate the dice rolls, you only need to deal with what you are given, every round. You roll four dice, and must make two pairs out of them: each pair is summed up to give a number. You must then mark off two dungeon "rooms" adjacent to the ones you already explored, or monsters whose numbers match those you formed. If, at some point, you can't 'hit' a monster, or can't mark off one of the two rooms, you lose one health (it goes down pretty fast!). This is a very fun roll-and-write of dungeon exploration, which relies entirely on its core dice mechanic, and on how you manage the sequence of the random probability draws. The theme isn't quite there due to the weird way you lose health points, but the artwork is immersive and I always feel like I am creeping through a dungeon.

## 6. Paper Dungeons

Another dungeon crawler-themed roll-and-write, __Paper Dungeons__ seems extremely anxious to ensure that whatever you roll, you can come up with something good with it. It offers zero mitigation on the rolls, but you never feel that you need it - especially since what you need most, moving through the dungeon, simply requires spending a die, any die. In that sense, this game strays away from the mechanical core I identified, and lies at the further end of the "probability navigation" spectrum, where the game decisions are more akin to that of a worker placement. Despite my reservations with the genre, I had fun with that one, and you can definitely exploit the multiple Pretty Clever-like combos on your paper sheet to achieve what you want. Still, it runs a bit long, and there are a bit too many elements for what it is.

## 7. Star Wars: Angriff der Klonkrieger

Another pure "probability navigation" game, where you are dealt 16 dice every turn (this should be a clue on its own) and need to allocate them to your little character sheet boxes to perform Force-infused feats. Since each round plays in a largely independent way, you don't actually navigate the probability distribution, but the iconography, the tactile feel, give it all a fairly integral dicey feeling. I am surprised __this game__ is so obscure: there are few decent Star Wars games and this one stands its ground. It offers a recreation of the Battle of Geonosis, and dice are used to slay endless waves of droids. The aim is to be as efficient as possible in cleaning the arena with your lightsaber. Good fun, from the designers of Encore!

## 8. Eight Epics

And the last one... __Eight Epics__ is all about dice manipulation. The goal is to defeat impossible threats with completely unlikely combinations - e.g. getting six 1s with your six dice. Your only hope relies on a meager amount of re-rolls, and on character skills that can be activated at the cost of their health points - of which they only have a few. I find this game borderline masochistic and extremely challenging, but according to the designer, if you play on Easy mode (which to me is the super hardcore impossible-to-defeat mode), you should be able to win almost every time, so there are lots of handles to boost up the challenge if you wish so. I think I hate this game as it makes me feel impotent, weak, and dumb, but I believe it will be an eternal keeper because it's a unique and twisted design in a very small and portable box. I'll play it at least once per year, for each Dicember.

For those interested, here is

of all 31 games I played to succeed at the Hard challenge.the full listThere is probably nothing I love more in games than chucking a load of dice, so thanks for this post! There were a few games here I'd never heard of, too - I'll have to check out Dungeons, Dice and Danger ...