01 December 2022
We chat to Thomas Lehmann about his new dice-building classic
Can you introduce yourself to our readers please?
I’m a freelance game designer, best known for Race for the Galaxy, my work with Matt Leacock on the Pandemic expansions, 1846, and Res Arcana. My first published game was 30 years ago and I’ve been a full time designer for the last 15 years.
How do you describe Dice Realms to people?
Dice Realms is a dice rolling game where each player rules a small Medieval realm and contends with Fate.
Fate is both in the luck of the roll and a Fate die that is rolled every turn and affects everyone. Its faces include good and bad harvests, harsh winters where you must feed your people or take misery tokens, innovation (free upgrades), and a pesky robber who takes away a die for a turn unless you roll a shield.
The game gives you tools to manage your luck: one free reroll every turn, reroll and set-a-die tokens you can invest in, and, most important, the ability to specialize your dice as you upgrade them to tilt the odds of rolling what you need in your favor. Your skill in choosing what to upgrade and reroll, how much to expand, and when to start earning points will determine if you build the most prosperous realm and win!
The game really explores some of the concepts of ‘deckbuilding’ games by having these customizable dice – it’s a little like running multiple decks – can you explain why this is so appealing?
Part of the fun is the game’s tactile nature -- popping out faces and pushing in new ones has a bit of a “Lego-like” feeling that many people enjoy.
Most turns, you’re upgrading at least one die face or buying a new die. Your realm is constantly improving and expanding. This appeals to many players.
Another feature is that every game is different. In addition to the 5 standard lines always in play, 5 random tiles are drawn from a bag of 35 to determine which additional faces or lines of related faces are available in that game. Figuring out how you should alter your play based on what’s on offer adds a puzzle-like quality.
Even with the same setup, there’s variety due to the Fate die rolls. A string of harsh winters at the start will feel very different from a series of good harvests. Some setup tiles alter the customizable Fate die itself, swapping in Plague faces or a third Winter to produce a different play experience.
Finally, there’s the subtle “pool” interaction between players due to the limited number of extra dice available and the fact that the game ends if any one of three pools -- grain, misery, or VP chips -- runs out and you need more. At that point, you add the 10x chips (so everyone gets what they earned, even misery), finish the round, and total the scores. To win, you need to pay attention to what other players are doing and correctly time the endgame.
What are you most proud of within the game?
As a designer, you’re always trying to get deep game play from simple rules. In Dice Realms, two dead-simple rules drive the game: getting a free reroll of a single die each round and the ability to cross-grade a die face to a different one at the same tier.
Want to build a strategy around a particular face? Put two of them on a die and reroll it if you don’t roll that face. Now, you’re better than 50% (5/9) to roll that die face every round. Put a third copy of that die face on the die and now you’re 75% to roll (or reroll) it every round. Specializing your dice is powerful.
While being a very deep and satisfying game, the actual game loop feels very beer-and-pretzels, tell us about why you think this is, and whether it was an intentional design decision?
It is deliberate and flows from these simple rules. Dice Realms is my sixth published dice game and it's my love letter to dice rolling games. When the first deck building card game, Dominion, came out, there was a lot of experimentation and fumbling about as players got used to deckbuilding. Similarly, getting used to dice crafting and understanding how to tilt the odds in your favour in Dice Realms takes practice. I hope new players will give Dice Realms several plays and discover its depth and strategy and not dismiss it as being too luck-driven. That's always the danger when designing strategic dice games.
What’s your favourite strategy in the game, personally?
I quite like the Banker, a die face that lets its owner freely trade Grain, Coins, and VP chips 1:1. Early on, you can turn a grain surplus into an extra die. Later, you can often trigger the end game by draining the VP chip pool.
I’m also fond of the great Cattle round-up. When the Cattle line is in play, if you get a third die, 2 set-a-die tokens, and put a Cattle Baron face on two of your dice and a Rancher on the third, then when you roll any of these faces, set the other two dice and you’ll earn 12 VPs, 12 coins, and 4 grain. 12 coins buys 3 set-a-die tokens, which means you can now do this every round, no matter what you roll. You will quickly end and win the game. Pulling off this combo is very satisfying.
Both examples underscore the value of set-a-die tokens. They are costly, but in the right setups, they can be the key to victory.
What’s next for Dice Realms? And what’s next for you?
I recently posted draft rules for Co-op and Solo play on boardgamegeek. It took me three tries to design a Co-op/Solo version I liked. (An attempt involving a “bot” involved too much tedious swapping of bot faces.) In Solo play, you start with a third die, but the Invader attacks twice each round, which produces a stiff challenge.
These rules have been tested, but I want more feedback before incorporating them in a future expansion. And that’s the other item we’re testing, the Dice Realms Trade Expansion, which also adds a new die type, 5 more lines, 9 more individual faces, and 8 event tiles. Rio Grande Games has given me the green light to start with the art team on production, but no date has been set for its release. Probably, late 2023.
I have quite a few projects in the works. Next to be released will be Terminal Velocity, a Jump Drive expansion, scheduled for this year's holiday season. Enjoy!
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