Playing With Games: Cards versus Dice

What a nice day for a launch.

Homelands is here (part 2)

Homelands is here (part 1)

Coming soooooon

Review Time...

I waited four months for the blog to update and al...

It's Dawn.

Playing With Games: Cards versus Dice
Posted by Billy Pilgrim at 10:02 Monday, 30 April 2012 (permalink)

We're pleased to introduce what will hopefully become a regular feature on the site - our fearless leader, Father Jackal, has started a gaming blog named Playing With Games, which we're going to repost here. The original blog can be found here.

Cards or dice?

This is a dilemma that I keep coming back to whenever I sit down to design or tweak a game. A lot of games want a random element. I'd actually go so far to say as almost every game wants one, for a number of reasons (it flattens out the difficulty curve a little, it means experienced players don't always win, and so on, but that's really another post waiting for later). So when I'm adding randomness to a game, or tweaking a random element, that same question keeps rearing its head. Does the game want to use cards here, or does it want to use dice?


Cards are really neat. I love them to pieces- there's enough space on a card for you to put some fairly complex rules stuff, and a deck of cards is essentially an X-sided dice and a lookup table, at least for the first draw. Cards work brilliantly if you want to have one of a great number of possible outcomes, and especially if you want inevitability. What do I mean by that? Well, if you shuffle the deck after every draw and reveal of a card, then the deck DOES work exactly like a dX, where X is the number of cards in it. Arkham Horror uses its location cards in exactly this way.

If you reveal a card and it goes to a discard pile, though, then if there's a great card in the deck? Every draw that's not that card makes it more likely to turn up next draw. The same's true if there's one really nasty card. That inevitability- waiting for the card that wins you the game or ruins everything- can make for some really great moments of play.

Cards can be held in hand, too- unlike dice, it's really easy to keep track of which cards you've drawn. Just hold onto them. That makes them perfect for resources- draw a gun from the gun deck, draw armour from the armour deck, draw blackmail material from the scandal deck. It's a really easy way to randomly hand out things to be used later, to get a delayed reaction from a lucky moment.

Finally, cards feel set in stone. This may be a personal thing, but I've come across it in a lot of people- there's no sense of personal responsibility for drawing a bad card. It was just a bad thing that was going to happen, and it happened to you. This can be used very cleverly within games- sometimes it's important that a big negative moment feels like nobody's fault, for example.


Dice are fun to roll. Every time you roll a die, you create a great moment of narrative tension- is it a good roll or a bad one, as it ricochets off someone's glass and spins in the middle of the table? There are always going to be a few seconds where you don't know. Dice work fantastically for quick moments of personal action in the game, but they require clarity. By that, I mean that I should ideally know before I roll the dice what numbers or symbols are good for me, and which ones are bad. That doesn't have to be the case on the very first roll of a die- for example, if there's a lookup table, or an unknown target number- but I should roughly know what's good. High numbers bad, for example. Or the game Ghost Stories, which has an example of the curse die; a die which has a bad result unless you roll a blank face. If a symbol shows up, even if it's my first time playing the game and I need to look up exactly what that symbol means, I know it's bad news. That's clarity.

One great thing dice do is that they make good results and bad results very personal. If you roll a great result, or a terible one, it feels like your victory; or your fault. in a very visceral way, they tie the player personally to the results.

So which to use?

While there are other randomisation methods, like tiles or a random number generator, they all essentially tie into cards or dice for me. so what does the game want? I've started using a basic rule- if it's an environment or a villainous action controlled by the game, I like to use cards. If it's a player controlled action, I like to use dice. It's a clean way to start getting the feel of a game right.

That's not to say that ends the discussion though- I can think of a bunch of examples of play in which I'd want it the other way round. But it's a good starting point for a discussion with the other designers or yourself. Consider whether you want inevitability, or a moment of tension. Decide whether you can boil things down enough for clarity of dice, or whether you want the space and memory of cards. What you shouldn't do is pick because of a limitation; if a design wants that moment of tension, say to quickly resolve a combat, then it wants dice. Don't go for cards just because your combat design is too wordy or complex- take a look at what your game needs, maybe redesign combat and put it into a later design. There are very few bad designs, but there are certainly places in games where a good design fits terribly.

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What a nice day for a launch.
Posted by Billy Pilgrim at 06:26 Monday, 16 April 2012 (permalink)

Wow. What a fantastic response. Back from the 2012 Student Nationals and the launch of Homelands and BEES!, and it was AMAZING. Thank you so much to everyone who supported indie gamesby buying our books - we actually managed to sell out of our initial order by the end of the weekend, making Homelands our biggest-selling launch so far. Homelands and BEES! will both appear in our online shop within hours.

Those people who bought copies, I can confirm they have arrived now, so they'll be winging their way over to you in the next few days. We'll be updating here soon with what to expect - hope you'll all join us then!

Also, congratulations to Sheffield for winning the nationals, and bringing next year's back to Jackal Pack Games' home city!

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Homelands is here (part 2)
Posted by Billy Pilgrim at 06:23 (permalink)

Ladies and gentlemen, for your delight and delectation, the thrilling conclusion of The Secret Of The Hundred!

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Homelands is here (part 1)
Posted by Billy Pilgrim at 06:57 Friday, 30 March 2012 (permalink)

I'm just going to leave this here. It's a bit of comic we've developed to announce the launch of Homelands on the 14th of April 2012. Enjoy!

Look out for the final part tomorrow!

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Coming soooooon
Posted by Father Jackal at 04:57 Tuesday, 1 November 2011 (permalink)

There's a whole world of development going on here at JPG, so I thought I'd let you foalks under the hood for a second so you can see what's coming. The next big thing is Homelands, but you'll have to ask the esteemed Mr. Hallam about that- all I know is that I've not been this excited about a post-apocalyptic game in years. I'm tired of corrugated steel and crappy guns and big scary mutants that want to eat your bones. I'm not going to get tired of Homelands any time soon. That's likely showing up around this April.

A year later, I should be able to present something rather dear to me, which is currently under the title of Whitechapel Particulars; pulp superheroes versus Lovecraftian cults in 1910s London. It's the first project I've fully helmed since Edgewalkers, and it's an awfully big chunk of creepy, old-school science fiction fun. I was getting bored of Lovecraftian horror, and wanted to focus on the sci-fi; expect brains in jars, drugs that send you through time and space, Nikolai Tesla's Marvellous Electrostatic Cannon (Sends enemies reeling at higher settings! Cures all manner of ailments at lower settings!) and a real, genuine attempt to take some old horror tropes back to where they belong- being scary.

On top of that, I'm very excited about Jackal Pack's newest plan: we're having Cubs. Keep your eyes peeled for announcements.

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Review Time...
Posted by Billy Pilgrim at 03:53 Monday, 29 August 2011 (permalink)

StarStorm has been reviewed on, who called it " excellent combat-heavy fantasy game with a unique setting which avoids many of the pitfalls and bad tropes of the genre."

Hurrah! Congratulations to the dev team. The full review can be read here.

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I waited four months for the blog to update and all I got was this lousy release announcement...
Posted by Billy Pilgrim at 03:48 (permalink)

Okay, so there's not been a lot on the blog recently. But it's not for lack of work - the Jackal Pack have not been resting on their laurels, oh no. We've been planning out our yearly releases, and working on a whole new generation of Jackal Pack Games for y'all to play. So, what's been happening?

Jackal Pack Games is pleased to announce its 2012 release, Homeland. It's another full-size, 3d10 system RPG, set in a post-apocalyptic past.

"Once, cities thrived here. This was before the Burn, and before Primals like you and I, or the Tribe in the forest, even existed - this was in the day of old Hyperion. This whole plain was studded with towns, all connected and virtually glowing with the ether that powered them. Hyperion was a shimmering light which could be seen from Forgotten City to the Long Forest, or so the Archaeologists' Guild tells us.

"The Burn changed it all. Now, those towns have sunk beneath the plain, buried in dust and in memory, nameless and forgotten. Oh, New Hyperion thrives by our standards, but it is a shadow of its former self. And the thing which led us here, the Burn which destroyed the old world, which changed our bodies and made the races we know, which formed our world around us and us within it? Nobody even knows what caused it. Not even a clue.

"Your etheric training is impressive, don't get me wrong, but the big city lights have given you delusions of grandeur. You come back to your clan after all this time, you show me your sword and rifle and the complicated device on your wrist, and you perform tricks, saying that with these you'll change the world. Your etheric abilities are indeed impressive, but you forget the lesson of these cities on the plain. Everything fades and everyone forgets. You say you'll change the world and maybe you will, but in time your name will become as faded and forgotten as these poor lost towns.

"Nephew, I am your shaman, and the bonds of your family are tight here - you will always be welcome. But please, please, look after yourself out there, and for all that is good don't get yourself killed just to become a famous name.

"We don't need any heroes."

Homeland will be available from April 2012. More information later!

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