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Zombie Dice: now requiring even more brains!

So I bought Zombie Dice at Con of the North, S and I have been playing it regularly, and it was a relative hit when we brought it out at game night, too. It’s a well-thought-out game: it’s quick, it’s fun, it scales reasonably well, there’s a nice tension while playing, it’s easy to teach, and it’s certainly not brainless.

Being a designer, however, I’m always thinking of ways to tweak things a bit, always trying to find ways to improve games (or at least make them more to my liking). And if I had one complaint with Zombie Dice, it was that, once one player gets to 13, there aren’t any meaningful choices to make: players roll until they either win or get killed. There’s no advantage to coming in second.

This is, of course, easy to fix: just play more than one game, and keep a running tally. Or award points for coming in first, second, and third, and then play to a fixed number of points.

But I was thinking of something a little more ambitious than that.

One of my favorite games is Gin Rummy, mainly because it’s so quick and portable. There’s a surprising amount to the game, however, as anyone who plays it for money will likely tell you.

What makes Gin Rummy really tick is that you don’t just play one hand, you play to 100 points. And then, if you’re serious about it, you keep track of your game scores, too — with bonuses for winning, for the number of hands won, and for shutouts, too. Even within a given hand there are bonuses for undercutting your opponent and for going gin.

These bonuses add texture and interest to the game, and playing more than one game means that every hand counts. Heck, if playing for money, every point counts.

So this is what I was thinking of doing with Zombie Dice: play not just one hand to 13, but rather play a series of hands to, say, 50. The first to 50 wins the game, but then bonuses are awarded both for the game (say 50) and for the number of hands won (say 10 points per hand). I toyed with the idea of also awarding bonuses for “undercutting” another player (by winning a hand when they were the first to get to 13), but that seemed to encourage players to get to 12 and try to poach.

So how will this work? Say there are four players: Bob, Jenny, Mike, and Laura. The scores in the first hand are 8, 10, 14, and 15. The scores in the second hand are 12, 13, 4, and 18. Then 6, 12, 16, and 7. And finally 9, 11, 14, and 10. The final scores are 35 for Bob, 46 for Jenny, 48 for Mike, and 50 for Laura. So Laura wins the game.

How would this all count toward some larger “match”? Bob and Jenny wouldn’t get any bonuses, Mike would get 20 for winning two hands, and Laura would get 70 (20 for winning two hands and 50 for winning the game). Match score would then be 35 for Bob, 46 for Jenny, 68 for Mike, and 120 for Laura.

Players could play to a fixed number of points, for a fixed amount of time, or maybe a fixed number of games. However they wanted to do it.

And all of this of course works well, but there’s still one big issue remaining: any time there are too many people playing Zombie Dice, the downtime is considerable.

And so the wheels again begin turning, and I think of Incan Gold, and how all players play simultaneously, and how there’s never any downtime, and how clever all those little gems are….

Which I guess is all a way of leading up to … the announcement of … drum roll please … the upcoming release of … Danger Dice (working title).

In “Danger Dice,” players simultaneously decide whether or not they want to risk one more roll of the die. It plays with standard dice and also incorporates elements of Poker. I’m building it as a gambling game from the ground up, where chips change hands both at the end of every hand and at the end of the game. I’m also building in a lot of tough choices and tension, too. :-)

The basic idea is that you want to stay in as long as you can, since that’s how you make the big points. Every time a die is rolled, it is set aside and grouped with other dice of the same number. The more dice there are, the more points there are to be earned — but as soon as there are three dice of any given number, then any players who haven’t yet opted out lose all their points.

There’s a bit more to it than that (an ante, bonus points in various situations, etc.), but that’s the gist of it.

So far I’ve tried it with four players and it has worked quite well, but I want to trot it out at our next game night to see how it works with six or seven.

I’ll be releasing it as a print-and-play here sometime in the not-too-distant future. As always, I’ll keep you posted. =^..^=

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