Posted by: markfender | June 3, 2014

Game Symmetry

Finding a good game can be an elusive hunt that most often just comes down to feel.

Denzel_Washington-1Attractiveness is an unconscious thing in humans. We can’t necessarily put our finger on what leads us to find some people attractive and others not. Scientists have posited that facial symmetry is one common characteristic that determines attractiveness. Denzel Washington is considered an attractive man and, apparently, he has the most symmetrical face amongst celebrities. Likewise, I think symmetry in the dice of a game can contribute to whether I like it or not.

I prefer games that use the same sided dice for all their functions. Whether it be a single d6, 2d6 added together, or a dice pool of d6s, the game will just be more pleasing to me since it sticks to one platonic solid. The game can use any sized die, as long as it tends to only use the same type. But games like Savage Worlds or Earthdawn, which use every different-sided die, just don’t feel right to me.

That isn’t to say that games that do use multiple sided dice can’t be elegant and even fun. I think the Cortex system uses those multiple-sided dice in a smart way with both the number results and the side of the die itself factoring into the resolution mechanic. Likewise, I think the Sanguine house system manages to use all the die types in a decent way. I can admire the mechanical rigor of how Alternity makes use of the myriad die types available, even if I don’t particularly care for that system.

One thing I really don’t like is when multiple-sided dice are used seemingly arbitrarily in a game. D&D manages to use the d20 for everything, until you get to damage. That has always felt clunky to me (especially when you consider older D&D versions used the d6 exclusively for damage). Numenara has a central resolution mechanic that uses a d20 exclusively, except occasionally when it uses a d6. In most of these cases, you can see why the decision to use differently-abled dice was made from a math standpoint. But it’s not an elegant solution and detracts from the game.

I’m much happier rolling four Fudge dice for Fate. Or bunches of d6s for Shadowrun. Or even the somewhat more cumbersome d10 pools of White Wolf games (White Wolf is a particularly interesting example because it’s old WoD system was mechanically clunky and sort of a disaster from a math standpoint. And yet, it still “felt” pretty good to me because of the symmetry of the dice. L5R managed to do d10 dice pools in a far more satisfying mechanical manner). The symmetry can fall apart in dice pool games when the dice pools grow to large to hold in your hands, though. That leads to a physical uncomfortableness that can also weigh on a game’s feel.

It may be an elusive thing that can’t quite be pinned down in words. And, granted, it’s just as arbitrary as any other subjective taste thing. But I definitely consider how many different-sided dice a game uses when I form an opinion. I’m gonna need some pretty hard core mechanical reasons to support using multiple *hedrons when only one *hedron type will do.

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