Designers Trevor Benjamin and Brett J. Gilbert have kindly provided us with a look into the creation and development of Dice Heist.
In 2014 we began working on a push-your-luck dice and card game. Dice Heist is not that game.
In that other game, players took turns making a run at a single ladder of cards. They would roll dice to move down the ladder, one rung at a time. After each roll, they could call it quits, taking all the cards on all the rungs traversed or — in a classic push-your-luck fashion — they could roll on, with the hope of winning more but at the risk of losing it all. After each run, regardless of its success or failure, a new card was added to each rung and the next player would take their turn.
While it wasn’t without its charm, that game suffered from some pretty severe problems. First, the outcome could be swingy — really swingy. The size of the “pot” increased quickly, and winning a big one could net a ridiculous number of points. And if the player before you won big, you’d be faced with a very small pot — a pot that you were nonetheless forced to make a run at since the game offered you no other choice. And to top it all off, the extended nature of the dice rolling made individual turns too long — and in a short game players got too few of them — all of which made a “bust” feel devastating.
Enter Dice Heist. One evening, on the way home from our weekly playtest session, the spark of a new game emerged from the ether — a spark which, as it turned out, contained a cluster of solutions to the problems we were having with our original game.
First, what if players weren’t forced to make a run if faced with a weak pot? What if they could “pass” instead? And what if “passing” meant they could increase their chances of success on a later turn? This binary choice — to pass or play — became the core, driving mechanic of Dice Heist: each turn you either “recruit a sidekick” (take a dice, adding to the number you can roll in a later turn) or “attempt a heist” (roll your dice).
Second, what if there wasn’t a single pot? In Dice Heist there are four separate museums, accumulating their own separate stocks of exhibits: cards representing paintings, artifacts and gems. When you attempt a heist, you must choose which of the four museums to target. If you succeed, you win only those cards. By splitting the pot in this way, a single good turn doesn’t necessarily sweep the whole board and leave nothing for anyone else. The next player is never left just to fight for the scraps: they can always choose to take another dice and improve their chances for next time.
Finally, what if the gut-wrenching risk-reward decision was condensed into a single moment? A single choice followed by a single roll? In Dice Heist you don’t keep rolling and re-rolling, each time calling it quits or pushing on. Instead you choose your level of risk — which museum to target and how many dice to roll — and then roll those dice once. If at least one of your dice beats the museum’s “security level” (a simple pip value from 2 to 5), you succeed and grab all of that museum’s loot. If none of them do, you fail.
That’s the story of how we made Dice Heist: the happy accident. We didn’t intend for it to replace our original game, but we’re very pleased that it did. And we hope you are too!
– Trevor & Brett