Dice Week Day 1: Pig
Pushing your luck with a single d6
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This week we are doing something a little different! It’s Dice Week!
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Wikipedia calls them “small, throwable objects with marked sides that can rest in multiple positions.” I prefer to call them shiny math rocks. Either way, dice are a core component of many tabletop games.
If you count senet’s d2 throwsticks, dice have been used to play games for at least 5,000+ years. There’s a long history and countless games to explore.
I thought it might be fun to do a series of mini-posts on different dice games. The goal is to get some inspiration to use dice in different ways in your next game design. The side benefit is that you might find a new dice game that is fun to play on its own!
During this first-ever Dice Week we’ll take a look at five different dice games! One game each day for five days.
My criteria for game selection was something like this:
The game needs to be a classic and not tied to a specific copyright or IP. Looking for games in the public domain that can be remixed.
It needs to use a reasonable number and type of dice. This means that games that use six-sided (d6) dice are preferred.
The rules need to be easy to understand. There are some really interesting games out there, but I was looking for ones with minimal rules.
The first game is Pig!
The game of Pig has been around since at least the 1940s. It’s probably the most simple of the games we will look at this week, but demonstrates something that can be powerful in game design.
Pig is an example of what Reiner Knizia calls “jeopardy dice games” in which the player decides if they want to jeopardize their current position or points. These type of games commonly fall into the category of push your luck mechanisms.
How to play
Each turn the player rolls a single d6 die:
If it’s a 1, they score zero points and the turn ends.
If it’s any other number, they add the die value to their point total.
The player decides to roll again or not, gaining points if it’s a number other than 1, but losing all of their accumulated points if it is a 1.
Players alternate taking turns. The first player to reach 100 points wins.
There are a many variations of Pig including:
Two-dice pig: Two dice are rolled instead of one. A single 1 ends the turn but no points are lost. Rolling two 1s ends the turn and the player loses their points. Interestingly rolling a double (e.g. two 3s), the player gets the points but is forced to roll again (i.e. they may not hold).
Hog: Uses a dice pool instead of a single die. Players can choose any number of dice to roll each attempt, and they only get one roll per turn. If any dice are a 1, they score nothing. Otherwise they score the amount rolled.
Pass the Pigs: Pass the Pigs (Moffat, 1977) is commercial variant of two-dice Pig. Instead of dice, you are throwing (rolling?) small plastic pigs. The position of the pigs is equivalent to dice values. For example, landing on their left or right sides is similar to rolling a 1 with dice, ending the turn.
How many times should you roll? When should you hold?
There is a pun-filled website that does a wonderful job of explaining the math behind the game: The Game of Pig.
Maintained by Todd Neller and Clif Presser at the Gettysburg College Department of Computer Science, you can play Pig online and look at visualizations of the optimal playing strategy. Their papers Practical Play of the Dice Game Pig (Neller & Presser, 2010) and Optimal Play of the Dice Game Pig (Neller & Presser, 2004) were helpful while doing research for this post!
Ideas & inspiration
It’s no secret that I adore push your luck mechanisms and games where players must decide when to hold or turn back. You can see this in both Exclusion Zone Botanist and Eleventh Beast. So the game of Pig is inherently interesting to me.
I can imagine a few ways to use a Pig-like mechanism in games:
Magic system: A magic system where you “power up” your spells before casting them. You can roll any number of times, adding the value to your spell’s power. Rolling a 1 causes your concentration to break and the spell fails.
Skill checks: You can continue to roll to increase your degree of success, but rolling a 1 will cause a failure.
Exploration system: You roll to decide how far you move into a zone (e.g. forest or wasteland). Each value pushes you further in, but rolling a 1 results in some unexpected event or problem.
Deceit mechanism: In narrative games, you could use this as a bluffing or deceit mechanism. You continue to spin a tale of lies with each success. Rolling a 1 would result in failure as the other character catches you in your lies.
The first caution that comes to mind is the risk of rolling a 1 on your initial roll. This would immediately end the attempt and probably not be a satisfying player experience.
The second caution might be that math could be used to determine the optimal number of attempts and/or how far to push your luck. Players prone to min/maxing might reduce their player agency, and instead just roll the optimal number of times.
Some things to think about:
Simple games can be fun and lasting. Pig barely has any rules and requires almost no components, and yet it is well known and enjoyed by many.
Minor modifications and variations can create interesting results. Rolling two dice instead of one adds more possible roll results (e.g. doubles). Changing the component 2d6 to two plastic pigs made Pass the Pigs a best selling game!
Dice games have potential for TTRPG design inspiration. Players already have dice at the ready, usually including a pile of d6s. Opportunities exist to incorporate dice game ideas into both RPG systems and one-off, adventure-specific uses.
I’m curious what you think about the potential to use Pig-like mechanisms in TTRPGs this week! We know it can be used in board games, but what about in a roleplaying game? This could be either as a core system mechanism or just a single use.
Dice Week continues tomorrow! See you then!
— E.P. 💀
P.S. Post your best (clean) pig joke or pun in the comments. 🐖
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