Forgive me if this is an obvious question: I've only just started looking at board game design, so I'm still learning of the different game mechanics.

I have a concept for a dice mechanic and I as hoping to find out if it's used in any other games and whether it has any noticeable drawbacks.

  • For any particular skill, the play can create a pool of n number of dice, but they can be any type of dice (D4, D6 etc.). n being representative of their character's abilities, so the greater the character's ability the more dice they get.
  • It works on a min/max = fumble/critical basis: 1 is always a fail. A max roll is equivalent to a critical hit. Any other number is moderately successful.
  • The conceit here is that the player can attempt to increase the odds of a critical hit by opting for a smaller die (such as a D4 or D6), but this also increases the risk of a complete failure. Or they can play it safe and use a larger die (D12 or D20) with much lower risk of failure, but also lower odds of a critical.

In my concept for a game the successful dice are effectively used to 'buy' clues, with any critical dice being inherently more valuable.

EDIT: Here's a example of how it might be applied:

  1. Player One wants to search for clues. Their search ability is 3× dice.
  2. The player is feeling cocky, and really wants to find something good, so they opt to roll 3D4.
  3. They roll a 1, a 2, and a 4: so that's 1x fail, 1x success, and 1x critical
  4. As a result they discover 1x somewhat mediocre clue, and 1x excellent clue.
  5. Player Two wants to search: they have a better search ability, so they get 4x dice.
  6. Player Two decides to roll more conservatively, and opts to roll 4D12.
  7. They get a 3, a 4, a 6, and a 9. So, 4x mediocre clues.
  • One consideration is the number of rolls per game/session. If the number of rolls per game/session is low (e.g. ≤10), the player using a d20 would end without any failures whatsoever many sessions.
    – ikegami
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 17:20
  • How does it work when you roll more than one dice?
    – ikegami
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 17:29
  • @ikegami I've added an example above. It is possible for a player to play conservatively by using a d20, and never fail: that's intentional. I'm focusing less on a binary fail/succeed mechanic and more on a risk-reward fail/succeed/bonus. I suppose it's the notion of being able to make a strategic choice on the dice used as opposed to just following a character stat that I'm interested in.
    – Dre
    Commented Jun 9, 2017 at 18:15

3 Answers 3


Formula D is a racing game where you select your die (non-standard D4, D6, D8, D12, D20, D30) based on your "gear". So if you are in first gear, you roll the D4 and you can roll between 1-4. If you are in 6th gear, you roll a D30 with numbers 20-30 printed on it. You move forward the number of spaces specified on the die. It also has a D20 Danger Die where specific events can happen. For example, during the start rolling a 1 is a stall (lose a roll), and rolling a 20 is a very good start (extra roll). It's similar to your case where you have different dice for different power-levels, and you have events where you roll critical or very bad rolls.

Zombiecide is a game where you search for weapons and roll dice to kill zombies. In this game you'll end up with weapons such as the Chainsaw (5d, 5+). The chainsaw lets you roll 5 dice. For each 5 or 6 rolled, you kill a zombie in your current square. Another one is the baseball bat (1d, 3+). With this weapon you only roll one die, but a 3 or higher results in a kill. It's similar to your game where you can power-up with more dice. It also has chances of failure/success, but not quite like you described.

  • The Formula D mechanic looks interesting. Doesn't Zombiecide just use D6 dice though? Or am I just reading it wrong? I get the impression there's no strategic reason to not just roll the maximum number of dice for each weapon.
    – Dre
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 20:07
  • @Dre in zombiecide the dice are d6, but the weapon decides both how many dice, and your target number. So you have to pick between "roll a lot of dice, but only score a hit on a high number" or "roll few dice, but hit on a low number".
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 13, 2017 at 7:31
  • @Erik so to clarify: each weapon provides you with a choice(s) of pools of dice to roll, but each pool has a different target number? Interesting. I'm curious as to how the game presents that to non-statistically minded players in a manner that is intuitive. Thanks for the explanation.
    – Dre
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 9:15
  • usually the number of dice and success barrier are in keeping with the weapons flavour. So a mac-10 rolls 5 dice and requires results of 5+ to hit, it fires a lot of bullets in a burst but isn't very accurate. Conversely the rifle rolls 1 dice and requires a 3+ result to hit, more accurate but fewer chances to hit Commented Jun 16, 2017 at 7:53

I am unable to find any game with that precise mechanic, but there are many related:

Snowblind: Race for the Pole uses different sided dice to provide different probabilities. Every action you perform in a round requires you to take a die, and after every action you must roll all dice in your possession, with low numbers causing bad things to happen to you. A player may stop performing actions at any time during the round to stop rolling their dice...but then they aren't doing anything.

John Company focuses on the min/max focus you put here. When skill checks are required, players exhaust or spend a certain amount of resources to purchase dice. Out of all the dice rolled, the best single die determines the result. In this case, the designers decided that low values were good, so on a single 1-2 the action succeeds, a roll full of 5-6s results in a failure with dire consequences, and in between (at least 1 3-4 but no 1-2s) is a failure but with no further consequences save for the resources wasted. Tougher checks remove dice prior to the roll. Since all dice cost resources, you're encouraged to use as few as possible, but the penalty of a crit fail is severe. Spend the resources ahead of time, and you can greatly minimize that probability, but it never fully goes away. (John Company makes it more interesting in that usually one player sets the "budget" for a series of checks, and another player decides whether to actually take them...and is also the only one to be penalized in the case of a crit fail (whereas everyone takes a minor hit for a normal fail.))

XCOM: The board game Might fit into what you're doing more. You roll a certain amount of binary success or not dice, with a 8-sided "terrible thing" die. You can roll as many times as you want, and the amount of successes add up, but each time the minimum threshold of the terrible die increases (so on your first roll you need to roll higher than a 1, next roll higher than a 2, etc.) Fail to meet the threshold, and you get a catastrophic result. This has the bonus of allowing for situations where you both succeed AND get the catastrophic result at the same time (i.e. you succeeded, but at great cost.)

The problem with the method you propose is that a higher stat is mostly meaningless. Being able to roll more dice means I have a better chance of crit success or failure. Heck, there may be times where I willing want to roll just one die, as then I have the lowest chance of failure! It doesn't really do much for the decision as to whether to push my luck.

I've seen your edit as I was typing this. It seems like you have n separate tests, where n is the statistic. In this situation, the player will pretty much always roll the largest die "I need a clue, don't care what" or the smallest die "need the best, nothing else will do." As a result, it's a pretty simple binary decision. I don't think that's what you're looking for necessarily.

  • the XCOM mechanic is very interesting. It's basically 'pushing your luck' turned into dice form, which makes me wonder if I should change my idea to a 1 = completely backfires, max roll = success and everything else is a fail. This means the player has to weigh their appetite for success against the increased odds of not just failure but something bad happening.
    – Dre
    Commented Jun 12, 2017 at 20:12
  • 1
    @Dre if 1 = backfire, max = success and all other are fail, there is NO reason not to always pick the smallest die. The chances of backfire & success are always the same and failures are never desirable.
    – Erik
    Commented Jun 13, 2017 at 7:34
  • 1
    @Erik It depends on the definition of "fail." I could see a world where a "fail" would be a lesser clue, whereas the backfire would void all dice used that turn. That would make the decision making process more interesting. As for the system itself, if this dice rolling system is "the thing", I think that you need a bit more spice. I would investigate making the "middling" dice have different side bonuses/effects. There's the "high risk/reward" small die and the "safe result" big die, but maybe there's a middle "let's look for things that aren't clues as well" die.
    – J.John
    Commented Jun 13, 2017 at 13:13
  • 1
    @Erik Very good point. I think J.John's suggestion - where a fail just nullifies that one die but a backfire nulls all the dice - is an elegant and simple solution. I suspect I need to draw up some kind of table listing the odds and see if it still works. I'm not against the idea of a 'soft' fail still providing some kind of benefit; it just puts the onus on the GM to create different 'levels' of clues which is a bit of a pain, but not the worst thing in the world.
    – Dre
    Commented Jun 14, 2017 at 9:12

It reminds me of DiceBag games where you roll bags of dice with more dice being better games such as Roll for the Galaxy and Orleans. Those are the closest I've seen that haven't been mentioned.

Now you ask about downsides to your mechanism and with open dice selection and only min and max mattering. It seems to put it delicately, boring. I can't think of any understanding of what you've listed that I would want to play because most die rolls would be uninteresting. On a D20 you have 1 success and 1 fail and 18 mediocre. That's a lot of uninteresting rolls.

I realize you don't have a full game concept but with a mechanic like that you're going to really need to incentivize a player to even go for that greater risk and considering it's JUST as likely to fail as it is to succeed? In addition no difference between a 2 and an 18? That's a hard sell.

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