Simplifying Gaming Through Cards and Dice

Posted by Jeff McArthur on Aug 26th 2014

In many of these blog posts, I’m going to refer to the ‘70s as the dawn of modern gaming. It’s the time when war games exploded into a whole genre with massive board games and elaborate miniatures games. It’s the time when board games began experimenting on a massive scale with something other than rolling the dice and moving a figure around a square board. And most importantly, it’s when role playing games brought along a whole new dimension of gaming with various types of dice, providing multiple odds.

Designers and players got excited about the possibilities of what could be done with games; how they could reflect reality, and how they could be used to simulate numerous elements of both reality and fiction. As such, by the time the ‘80s rolled around, people went overboard. I admit, I was one of them, diving into rules that were far too complex and involved to be any fun. I think we got into them because it gave us a sense of pride of being able to understand these tomes that were as thick as law books.

As we grew up, though, as we matured and had less time, we found ways to still reflect those aspects of life and fantasy, but without spending so much time learning rules and grinding through the games. There have been numerous methods used for this streamlining, but I think the biggest methods have been cards and the way dice are created and used.

Cards, for instance, provide a way to randomize events happening and results taking place through an easy method of drawing something and reading it. One can do something as simple as having a picture to reveal the results. This shortens the time that once was spent opening a rulebook and poring through tables and lists to find one measly result.

Specialized dice have been used for this, too. Anyone who has played the recent X-Wing game has seen this example in its purist form. The attacker has red 8 sided dice that are blank on several sides, have solid explosion markers on a couple side, and hollow explosion markers on a couple more. These explosion markers, as one might imagine, represent hits; the solid ones being normal hits, and the hollow ones being critical hits. (You draw a card for a critical hit to see what it is, thus speeding the game up even more.) The defender rolls green 8 sided dice. On several of the sides is a dodge marker. So the player rolls after being shot at, and every dodge cancels out one of the hits.

This game is further enhanced with the use of cards being used to choose the fighters used on each side. The cards are simple and easy to read, providing the amount of shots fired, the amount of dodges used, and other information, like shield and hull points. Additions are added to these with smaller cards, making it clear which are the ships and which are the enhancements.

All of these additions make the game speed up; and what used to take six hours to play, now takes about one hour. Some people have complained that this has "dumbed down" the war gaming hobby, but when it comes right down to it, the results are usually the same as when very complicated rules are used. It’s just that people playing one game take an hour to get there, and people playing the other take six hours to get there.