Tag Archives: DicePack

Using the Whole Buffalo

Now we get into some technical details. Whenever you’re making cards, you’re probably printing more than one of them on a sheet. This is one of those things that’s so obvious that it goes without saying, even when it should be said. I can name at least one entire game (the eleven-card Pico) that was created simply because there was space left on a card sheet in another project.

In our case, we need thirty-six cards to represent all dice combinations. It’d be good to also include a card you could stuff in the lower part of the deck to trigger a re-shuffle (to keep the last few cards from being entirely predictable). I happen to be thinking of printing through The Game Crafter, which at the time I was first thinking of this project used sixteen-card sheets. Okay, so it happens that they’ll soon be switching to eighteen-card sheets, which starts making just thirty-six cards look attractive again, but travel back in time with me here. Thirty-seven cards on three sheets leave a lot of wasted space. Eleven cards’ worth, in fact. What can we do with that (aside from re-publishing Pico)?

domino cardWell, another game accessory that looks an awful lot like a pair of dice is a domino. The cards we’re already planning on cover twenty-one out of the twenty-eight that appear in a set of double-six dominos. So, we could include that feature for zero extra cost of goods. This also helps with the previously mentioned problem of the narrow scope of the project. It supports more experiences, plus a portable domino set makes the whole project not just an expansion to other games.

Sure, this is all pretty basic. But I think it’s a good simple example of a broadly-applicable design principle. In the end, we’re looking at making real usable objects with tools that have their own constraints and affordances. In this case it’s a printing method, but it’s always something, and that always influences the design process.

One side note: I spent some time fixing the white points on the photos I took, so the white die now looks white and not pale grey. The grey background looks better by contrast. I only mention it because it’s something I learned about photography in the course of this project. Yay, learning!

Next: I don’t know; do the indices throw the balance of the cards off a bit? Would it look bad to also have another index over the shadow in the lower right, or should I move the background image a bit? Maybe I’ll just make ice cream.

Click the Camera

I touched yesterday on one of the problems I wanted to solve with this dice deck, which is the limited number of games that use exactly two six-sided dice. Nothing against The Settlers of Catan or Backgammon, but let’s see what we can do to broaden the scope of the project just a bit.

First, we can include many other games that use just one die at a time, and even a few that use two distinct dice for different purposes. So, we’ll make the dice distinguishable, one white and one shaded. While we’re at it, by varying the color of the shaded die we can produce random colors (and yes, I can name games where that’s useful).

Now, how to produce the needed images? I have little skill as an artist, but I can program, and I can take non-embarrassing photos (the latter thanks in part to the excellent discussions of board game photography on BoardGameGeek.com, particularly the advice of BGG user EndersGame). I start with photos. But this means I need to be able to take very consistent photos of thirty-six different sets of dice.

dice cardThe solution is an inexpensive tripod and a foam core jig, with marks for the positions of tripod and dice. Natural light is best for this sort of thing in the absence of real lighting equipment (thanks again, BGG), so I set up out on the back deck.

All of this was actually done some days ago, and I’m reasonably happy with the results. I’m not 100% sold on the grey background of the foam core, but I want something that’s not going to argue with the shades of any of the dice. If I were a better photographer I’d probably be able to polish it up more in post. I did edit out a number of blemishes to the pips on my actual dice.

dice cardSo I printed up some prototype cards using these images. And, sure enough, the prototype is serving its purpose, which is in part to tell me what I did wrong. I didn’t think, at first, that I would need indices on the cards. Indices are the notations found in the corner, so you can hold the cards fanned. Those aren’t necessary if you’re just going to flip cards off the deck to give die results. But once you have the cards, you open up a lot of possibilities other than that one. You can easily imagine more variants, such as drafting or auctioning the cards. Or, yes, playing a hand of them. Plus, I’ve got another cunning scheme for this deck that would absolutely necessitate hands. So, indices it is. Well, the photos aren’t going to provide those.

I can think of few things I’d rather do less than editing little corner symbols onto thirty-odd cards, and then having to redo them all again consistently if I want to make changes. So, the solution for this part is nanDECK, a neat if quirky little card-rendering programming language by Andrea “Nand” Nini. Yes, there really is a programming language for everything.

That’s what I’ve mainly been doing this morning. You can see the results as they currently stand. I’m thinking I may want to further annotate the index for the color-blind, now that I’ve gone this far.

Tomorrow: Aren’t these cards starting to look a little bit like dominoes?

Overcoming Self-Editing

One of the big problems with starting any creative project is getting over self-editing. Most people (well, most adults, anyway) are very self-critical, and fearful of the disapproval of others. This is no way to galvanize you into action.

When I run creativity exercises, I often start with a warm-up where each participant is expected to come up with three bad ideas first, and share them. This is usually very effective at liberating people from their self-editing. If bad is now good, then that little voice telling you that all of your ideas are bad suddenly becomes encouraging. Not being in the mood for that, though, I’m going to try something similar that I’ve also seen work: start off with something so unthreateningly easy that self-criticism would be just kind of embarrassing. Sort of like the first round of a Limbo contest where you can just sort of duck under the bar.

So, let’s start with a dice deck.dice card

The idea behind this is pretty simple. In any game with dice, you’ll occasion­ally get lucky or unlucky streaks that hit a particular player. In a well-designed game these are often mitigated by the sheer number of die rolls involved, or by other factors. But it happens often enough to leave a taste for some kind of response. So: you make a deck of cards showing all of the possible pairs of rolls on two six-sided dice, and use that instead. No more streaks, because there are only so many of each combination in the deck.

Now, this is a very niche item. It addresses only the subset of board game players who are involved enough to try variants, and then only fans of those games that use two six-sided dice (which does include a lot of mass market games like Monopoly and Parcheesi, but not all that many games overall). On account of this, I suppose, a dice deck is hardly among the standard accessories you can just go out and buy (but yes, I do know about the cards that come in the Traders and Barbarians expansion for The Settlers of Catan).

This is actually a little silly in the world of the 21st century. Even something with a very small audience can be published print-on-demand, because nobody has to stock any inventory of it. The only serious cost keeping it from happening is the up-front development effort. So, hey, great project for someone who’s looking for something to do anyway, right?

Tomorrow: designing the best possible version of something that nobody sensible would spend that much time on anyway.