Category Archives: Dice

We think 20 siders are so modern…

Foolish mortal! Actually, far from it. The dice (top) is a 20 sider inscribed with Greek letters, found in a Roman dig, date uncertain but probably at least during the Empire.

This was thought to be the oldest 20 sider on the planet.. and then…

As impressive as this is, it doesn’t hold a candle to this stone 20 sider below, ALSO with Greek letters inscribed, dating back to Ptolemic period Egypt.  Since the Ptolemies were basically Greeks, the Greek letters are no mystery, but one does wonder.. what GAME was being played here?  It’s clearly a gaming piece.

Same shape, same Greek letters…?

The recent appearance of an ancient stone 20 sider from Ptolemaic Egypt at a Christie’s auction has me pondering.. what lost game used this dice? The same basic dice with the same or similar characters, from two different historical periods.. if it was used for the same game, that game was around for hundreds of years, and is now lost. Probably.

We’ll never know of course, but I think it’s great that these things have been around a lot longer than the advent of Dungeons and Dragons “to hit” dice!



The Dice of Generations

When it comes to geek “cred,” you either have it or you don’t have it. When I was a kid, there was no such thing as “geek cred”. That’s because the very concept of receiving peer social approval by being able to intelligently speculate on the origins of Boba Fett or recite Monty Python sketches verbatim was only rewarded by a very select crowd, and this was lore spoke of in hushed tones, hurriedly while we were looking over our shoulders to make sure nobody was listening. Lest the jeering start.

Kids these days don’t know how good they have it.

So.. when I reference these objects, I’m sure there will be people in the readership of this blog that are going to recognize them. They will know their origins. They will sigh wistfully at the rounded edges, the scratches, the almost vanished grooves where numbers used to be.

It is altogether fitting you should be wistful.  These are the very first commercially available D&D dice, designed specifically to play that game.  I’m not sure of their provenance, but it is likely they were manufactured around 1980 or so.  Sure, they are (technically, an Octohedran, a Dodecahedron, a cube, a pyramid and two Trapezohedrons, but to an earlier generation, these were the spiff.  Dice MADE to play D&D with.  They were a huge hit.  Everyone who played had a set.  So what if they were crappy dice?  So what if the ink had to be reapplied with a drafting pen, until the edges got so warn and rounded you weren’t sure if it was worth repairing?  So what?  These were D&D dice.  These opaque beauties weren’t much to look at but this is “how we rolled” when we were nestled in Jay’s basement, or my basement, or Pete’s house.  I never got rid of mine, but I did put them in my old 16mm film can, and stored it on top of a bookcase in my study when we moved into our last house in 2000, and there it stayed undisturbed.  When a tree fell on my house last October, we had a flooded basement and had to pitch everything.  Including my bookcases and tons of gaming stuff.  I didn’t give it any thought, but the can (and everything else in my study) was gone.

(going back in time for a moment): Many years ago, my son, then in 5th grade, came home all excited.

It’s this game we play at lunch time, dad.. one person sort of navigates with words, the other people kind of go through adventures, by calling them out and then we draw maps… it’s really really fun!

I realized my son was describing Dungeons and Dragons to me.  His very first game of it.  I had never pushed him into playing, or even really talked to him about RPGs.  He wandered there all by himself, and thought he was cool because of his great discovery.  He’s played D&D on and off since then, not every week but on a semi-regular basis.  Now that he’s out of high school, he’s got his first job at a Summer Camp for scouts, as a blacksmith.  I recently got an urgent call from Garrett.  There’s no internet at camp, no cell reception, and he’s bored and so are all the other young men down there.  Would I send him the D&D 5 edition Dungeon Master’s Guide and Player’s handbook?  I was tickled, and said, sure, why not, I can think of worse diversions.  Then I texted him back– “need anything else? Do you have dice?  You need special kinds”  He texted back.

“Got that covered. I found this when they were tossing all your stuff in the rollaway”

And he sent a picture of a little steel film can, full of crappy D&D dice from circa 1980.  And a few of the sturdier, cooler Lou Zocchi dice, too, from the same period.   I was speechless.   I realized, then, that these were the dice of generations.  They were kind of rounded and old and probably needed a re-inking, but my son, by himself, had wandered into the same hobby I had loved when I was his age.  He was having the same kind of fun we did back then, with paper, pencils, a good DM with some imagination, munchies… and a can of crappy old dice.  Some things don’t have to be the latest and greatest, when you have an imagination.

He texted me later asking “Hey, I didn’t ask, I just saw them throwing stuff out and the can rolled out.. it is okay for me to use these?  We don’t have a game store near here” I texted back… “Of course it is. That’s YOUR dice collection, now.”

Postscript: Garrett sent me a photo of him setting up for a D&D 5th edition game at the Summer Camp he works at. Note the little 16mm film can full of original TSR dice goodies, still giving good service, 40 years later.

Aether Captains, by Todd Sanders. My First PNP game.

I like the work of Todd Sanders.  Todd is a real polymath.. a poet, an artist, an architect, a translator and a game designer.  He has given a facelift to a large number of older games with graphic redesigns, which he gives away for free on Boardgamegeek.  He has created an entire Victorian Science Fiction universe in the Clockwork Caravel series of games, then just gives them away as free print and play games on Boardgamegeek.  One of them that I have always wanted to try was AETHER CAPTAINS, a solitary dice game where you captain an airship, represented by specialty dice you make yourself.  The airship is attacked by Aether Pirates flying a range of air units.

Print out of the specialty dice (in this case, the airship Corsair). These will be affixed to 1″ wooden blocks. Ideally I’d get these from a craft store, but I ended up having to order them. Click to see larger picture.

So I decided to give it a try.  The cubes I wanted to affix labels to were 1″ wooden cubes (see source in “related”, below).  I thought 1″ wooden cubes would be an easy find at a Michaels or A.C. Moore, but I had no luck at all, and ended up ordering them– not for very much moolah at all, but you have to consider shipping as well.   I painted the three sets of airship blocks different colors.  Then I printed the dice labels out and glued them to the blocks.  I probably should have used a paper cutter to make the cuts, but I just eyeballed it reasonably carefully with a pair of scissors.  Cut lines are in the original graphic as you can see above.

(The Airship in the base game is Dauntless (natural wood).. in the followup expansions, there are also the larger airship Dominion (pale blue), the smaller Ship Corsair (orange), and several enemy single dice aircraft representing pirates, as well as a small 3 dice pirate craft (black).  These were all constructed, printed and and glued to various dice)

There are also some cardboard counters that I improvised mounting on cardboard..

Improvised Revenant pirate counters, another variant.. click to enlarge

The results were the Dauntless, Dominion and Corsair, The Pirate Cruiser, Revenant boarding crews and a bunch of single pirate aircraft. It all fits in one small cigar box nicely.

Voila! It stores like a champ. Click to enlarge

How does it play? Pretty simple stuff, really. In the Basic game you place the Dauntless in the center grid of the playing mat (provided in your printout stuff). Roll to see what kind of pirate single craft are coming in to attack you, and what part of the craft they are hitting:

the Dauntless fights off some Aether Pirates. Two of them are stacked up on each other. Click to enlarge

They roll to attack you, you roll to attack them. If they get a hit in, you rotate your airship dice to the next damaged side. It rotates (you guessed it) four times before destroying. An Airship can’t survive Zero point sections, and will crash on you sooner or later.

I find this a fun little diversion.. my first Print and Play game!! It was a amusing to build, though I made some mistakes. The color scheme is rather bland, and when I tried to apply sealer to keep the ink from running, I ended up ruining several cubes by overspraying that I had to fix later. That accounts for the distinctly darker labels on some of the cube stickers.

The game design is simple enough and quite enjoyable. My only criticism is that this game seems WAY too easy. I will have to tinker with the design a little to make it more competitive. Good show, Todd Sanders. You can find the files for this game on BoardGamgeek, HERE.


Nuclear Gaming: Depleted Uranium Dice

Depleted Uranium Dice.

The item above is a pair of (seemingly unique) dice made out of depleted uranium from an early nuclear pile. They are covered by nickel. This is a display at the Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) Health Physics Historical Instrumentation Museum Collection, whose purpose is to chronicle the scientific and commercial history of radioactivity and radiation. The museum is the official repository for historical radiological instruments and historical collections related to the use of radiation and radiological medicine in the United States (mostly). You can visit their website HERE, and I assure you it is worth a visit!

The supporting descriptive text for the dice state that there is no doubt about the material– depleted Uranium is heavier than lead. Depleted uranium, in this case uranium metal, has less uranium-234 and uranium-235, and more uranium-238 than the uranium found in nature. By weight, natural uranium is approximately 99.3% U-238, 0.7% U-235 and 0.006% U-234.

One wonders what actually throwing dice like these would be like. Obviously they wouldn’t roll very far…

repost: DIY Saga Dice

Another fine DIY Saga Dice blog post.  I’m reposting this one from STRICTLY COME WARGAMING.

“Saga dice are an important part of Gripping Beast’s excellent Dark Age skirmish game, but you may have noticed that they are fairly expensive and frequently out of stock on the online store. Never fear, I have a simple, cost effective solution!

First, you will need to order yourself some blank dice. There are loads of suppliers on the internet and they wont cost you very much. I recommend getting some nice big chunky ones (e.g 25mm) as they’re really satisfying to roll.

Next, download the PDF of Saga symbols. You can get them here.

Here you have options:

If you have some of that fancy printer paper for doing sticky labels, simply print off on that, cut out the symbols and stick them straight on.

If (like me) you don’t, print it off on normal paper and cut out the symbols you need. Then, take some clear sticky tape and cut off little squares big enough to overlap the symbol but small enough to fit on the face of the dice. Then stick them to the dice.

The dice in the photo too me about 20 minutes to make and cost a grand total of about £6.50


This might be the easiest approach yet, and probably will be the one I adopt.


Neil from Meeples and Miniatures demonstrates how to save 12 pounds on SAGA dice. Nice!

Meeples & Miniatures

Unfortunately, Gripping Beast are currently out-of-stock of their rather nice custom-etched Saga dice.

With a game coming up this week, I was forced to improvise…

First, download the ‘Saga Symbols for Custom Dice’ PDF from the Saga forum.

Next, order 8 ‘Blank Dice’ from EM4 Miniatures

Finally, spend some time with scissors, glue & gloss varnish…et voila…

They don’t look too bad – and because they have only cost £1.25 to make, it means that the change you have saved from the £12 you would have spent is enough to buy another pack of Crusader Normans – sorted!

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A History of Dice (external blog)

A brief perusal on Boardgamegeek provided this great link to a timeline of the history of dice, posted to the Awesome Dice blog. You should really visit the site to get the full up article, but I couldn’t help but post the timeline graphic, which shows some research was done! Did you know that the first recorded dice were four siders? That the 20 sided dice goes back to 100 AD or earlier? I didn’t! Check out the main article to learn more about the ubiquitous cubes we play games with.

History of Dice Graphic, from, 2012. Permission for reuse with credit link

A very nice effort, I’m bookmarking this blog.

1000D6 Tribute: Remembering artist Tobias Wong using dice.

Canadian artist and designer Tobias Wong died last year at the young age of 35, or more specifically, 13,138 days. In tribute, his friend Frederick McSwain created this immense portrait of Wong entitled Die using 13,138 dice as part of the BrokenOff BrokenOff exhibition at Gallery R’Pure in New York City.

Wong 1

Tobias Wong

Wong 2

Tobias Wong, from DIE exhibit

Wong 3

Tobias Wong tribute, from DIE exhibit

Dice as art medium, DIE exhibit, tribute to T. Wong

Dice as art medium, DIE exhibit, tribute to T. Wong

Images: Colossal Art and Design
On Tobias Wong: “The Mysteries of Tobias Wong” New York Times 6/27/10.

“DIE” Frederick McSwain Installation Time Lapse on VIMEO

Lou Zocchi and the Reality of Dice

Apparently this video has been kicking around since 2008, and probably has been posted elsewhere several times (I found it on the excellent Greyhawk Grognard blog, myself– tip o’ the chapeau to those chaps).   Still, I love dice and I found this little series of videos fascinating.  Who knew this subject was this complex?  And Zocchi is right– maybe his stuff is expensive but I know for a fact that Gamescience dice I bought in the late 1980s are still sharp edged and random, and dice I got from Pacific Rim manufacturers get tossed out every year or so.    Fascinating stuff!

Part 1 of 2:

Part 2 of 2:

Man, we’re all going to miss Lou Zocchi..

I have a LEGO building assignment for Garrett

… a Self Loading Dice Tower. Get on it, boy!

Now that’s a project.

A Zombie Dice Lexicon

Every game picks up its little quirky terms for events during play, like “being skunked”

Zombie Dice

Zombie Dice in cup

or playing “His Nibs” in Cribbage.  My son Garrett is a natural for this kind of thing, and while we were playing ZOMBIE DICE by Steve Jackson Games last night, I started to write them down.

“More Brainzzzzz” when you roll a footprint (run away result) and decide to add one or two more dice to roll again.

“Zombie Wussout” When you can roll a More Brainzz (as above) but opt not to because you don’t wish to jeopardize your score.

“Triple Pwn” Rolling three brains in one roll.

“Double Pwn” Rolling two brains.

“Triple Fail” Rolling three shotgun blasts in one throw.

“Epic Fail” Rolling three shotgun blasts when you already had two reserved.

That’s all we’ve come up with for this game. Have fun!

Dicebag of the Elder Gods

What?  You mean YOU don’t have a dice bag with the evil visage of the Elder God inscribed upon it like a set of blasphemous runes?

Well, of course not.  My friend Glynis Irwin knitted this for me.  I love it.  We’re storing CTHULHU DICE inside it at the moment, thought it could handle a lot more than that.

Cthulhu Dice Bag

Cthulhu Dice Bag The Elder God is sending hypnotic messages to crash my car.

Glynis used THIS PATTERN, which is open source, so she’s pretty adamant and respectful about not charging for it.  However, she might be considering making her own (sellable) version of cthulhu dice bags, so check this space, I’ll advertise it when it becomes more than a consideration.

Thank you, Glynis of the Needles (once Glynis of the Knives)

Steve Jackson Games’ ZOMBIE DICE reviewed

While at Balticon scooping up old Mageknight chariots for a dollar each, I noticed the vendor had ZOMBIE DICE.  Now, you may recall I just reviewed CTHULHU DICE last week.  I described CTHULHU dice as being fairly mindless, essentially PICK AND TAKE with a nifty Cthulhu dice instead of a Pick and Take top.  That’s still true, it IS pretty mindless (the only decision you make is whom to attack in a turn.  With that said, the theme really makes the game in that instance, and it certainly is an amusing diversion for five dollars.  (Besides, Glynis is making me a Cthulhu dice bag for it, so why not?).

Zombie Dice Parts

Zombie Dice Parts. This is all there is for 13.00 and change.

ZOMBIE DICE cane out about the same time trying to occupy the same “fast filler game” niche.   It is not as cheap as the Cthulhu Dice game, but it is still eminently reasonable for 14 dollars (and a lot less online).  This game costs more because there are more components– 13  dice in three colors and a dice rolling cup, for starters, and the same sized rulebook as Cthulhu dice.

In Zombie Dice, you are playing a zombie, which is nice departure from current games, most of whom have you in the role of someone running away from zombies.  You are trying to score the highest brain score and to be the last Zombie shuffling.  Essentially the sum total of the game is the combination of red, yellow and green symbols on the dice.  There are three symbols: Shotgun blasts, feet (for: he ran away!) and brains.  On your turn, shake the cup and reach in for three dice without looking.  Slap them down, then uncover.  The various colors have different mixes of colored pips on them.. more brains than shotguns on the green dice, more shotgun blasts than brains on the red dice.  The yellow dice is somewhere between.  This mixes up the odds a bit.

After you pull three dice out, If you have a brain, you put that to your left and score it.  If you have a shotgun blast, that counts as a hit, and you can’t save yourself from taking it.  Three shotgun blasts and you’re dead.

If you have  a set of footprints, the victim has run away.  Save this and you can roll it again if you dare.

If you have a BRAIN, save it and write down your score, but only if you haven’t been killed by shotgun blasts this turn yet.  So you have to stop trying to reroll “runaway” results at some point.

Here’s a tutorial.

There’s not much more than that.. you might enjoy it if you like horror themes in games.  Mechanics-wise it’s a tad more interesting than Cthulhu dice because you have more choices and a bluffing/bettering element.  I liked it.  Pretty good filler fun for a very cheap price.

Cthulhu Dice

Put and Take Top

So I’m sitting here at the local coffee house playing a new Steve Jackson Games product, CTHULHU DICE.  Right off the bat, I’m going to give Steve Jackson some props for the idea of a nice, low cost mindless (madness inducing?) game like this.  The bits are extremely low cost, low impact, and he doesn’t gouge us by adding a big expensive game box to what, essentially, can fit into a small ziploc bag, which is exactly how it is sold.  You get a specialty green 12 sider dice with a set of symbols inscribed on them– Great Cthulhu, Elder Sign, the Tentacle, The Yellow Sign, and the Eye of Horus.  You get a bunch of green stones that represent sanity points, and the rule book, which is a glossy foldable half-sheet.  And all in a ziploc bag, which I like.

The mechanics seemed very familiar to me.  And why not?  They are essentially the old British pub game, PUT AND TAKE.  Put and take is a game that is played with a gambling “Top” that looks very similar to a dredel.  The sides of the top have variations of “PUT” (put a coin or chip in to a common pot) or “TAKE” (take a coin or chip from either other players or a common area).  Whether through accident or design, that is exactly how CTHULHU DICE plays.  The sides of the dice map to the Put and Take “Put 1” “Take 1” “Take ALL”  (& etc.) sides of the Put and Take top. There’s some them chrome to the game– the player who has run out of little sanity stones becomes “Mad” which limits his actions.  It’s not the most original game, nor particularly complicated.  It does have its virtues.. it can easily be played through in about 20 minutes, it’s only five bucks, and it fits in a pocket nicely.  I liked it.

PS: If anyone out there knows how to knit, I’d love to commission THIS CTHULHU DICE BAG to hold this game in!

Roll through the Ages, a fun little game


Gar and I broke this one out for Chinese Food and Games night. The basic theme of Roll Through the Ages is building civilizations. Thematically, it is not very different from Avalon Hill‘s game of CIVILIZATION in this respect. However, where Francis Tresham‘s boardgame is a classic of its kind that takes skill and strategy to master, ROLL THROUGH THE AGES is a dice game that can be played in about a fourth of the time.

Roll Through the Ages

Roll Through the Ages, set up for dinner

I’m quite impressed with the physical components. For a very affordable price (about 28 bucks), the game provides four nifty little pegboards which track your civilization’s current status in various goods (pottery, wood, stone, etc) as well as the current food store.  These will go up and down as you roll the dice every turn and feed your cities.  In additon, the game provides a pad of paper with status sheets for your individual civilization– these track your progress in buying developments (scientific leaps forward that help your people to survive– such as agriculture, medicine, currency, caravans. Sound familiar?). The sheets also track your score in building monuments and building new cities.

RTTA Components

Roll Through the Ages Components

Every turn the players trade off turns rolling as many special dice as they have live cities. The dice are imprinted with symbols for Food, People (workers), Goods, Currency (coins), Food OR Workers, and a Skull (bad things). Various combinations of these rolls do different things.

Rolling Food is a good thing. A player needs to generate AS LEAST as much food units as he has cities (one for each).

Rolling Workers is a very good thing– they are required to build new cities and monuments. Cities don’t earn points in the final tally, but monuments do.

Rolling Coins is a good thing– you use coins to purchase DEVELOPMENTS, those scientific leaps forward. These start off cheap (10 coins) and can go way up to 60 or 70 coins for being an Empire, which gives you tons of victory points.

Rolling Goods is a good thing, too– you can SELL goods to make more coins to invest in developments.

Rolling Skulls is a bad thing. Rolling 1 is bad, but it doesn’t do any lasting harm. Rolling 2 skulls is a disaster (Drought) which subtracts points from your score. Rolling 3 skulls is a worse disaster (Pestilence), Rolling 4 is even worse (an Invasion), etc. Some of the Developments prevent the disasters from happening. I recommend Agriculture for avoiding Famine– rolling three or more skulls happens, but not that often. Rolling 2 happens more often than I would like.

Roll Through the Ages resolves itself quickly and relatively painlessly. Our first game was tonight. Garrett (age 11) played the Civilization of the Volcano God, which built five cities ultimately. I built the Grand Empire of Bongotania which built seven cities. Rolling more city dice is good for more resources, but it increases your chances for getting really bad results (more than two skulls) as well. In the end, we played it to conclusion in about an hour, and ended when one of the two victory conditions were met– the Bongotanians had built five Developments. After factoring out negative scores for disasters and scoring points for monuments and developments, the Bongotanians scored 28 points and the Volcano people scored 23. Close enough of a game. We felt it was heavily luck dependent (being based on dice) but that would be a bit of a cop-out as a conclusion, since players are ALWAYS making decisions that have lasting consequences… go for a score here, or make more cities? Invest in developments or save my goods for the big payoff later?

I really liked Roll through the Ages, and here’s an interesting phenomenon– Garrett (age 11)  loved it and picked up on it easily! The Game is on the market right now and about 25 to 30 dollars retail. I paid a bit more because I bought it from a FNGS, but I really feel like a purchaser gets his or her money’s worth out of this game.

Note: the publishers have web-published a nifty Late Bronze Age variant that changes some rules and adds new developments.  Basically, the only new component you need would be the new scoresheet, as the rules are virtually the same.


BGG PAGE for Roll Through The Ages
Roll Through the Ages LATE BRONZE AGE variant

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