When is a Die Not a Die
Today I wanted to talk about a whole lot of the new cards that have been spoiled for the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms (and that is indeed coming up) but I realized from a lot of online discussions that a different conversation has to happen first. As some of you may have seen in the spoiler section, there are a lot of cards in the new set that require the roll of a twenty sided die. You may also be thinking "That's ok, I have lots of D20s from attending many prereleases for Magic over the years". This really isn't true in all likelihood though. In most Magic prereleases, as well as in old school Fat Packs, or Bundles as they are now called, the icosahedron that was given was not a die, but a spin down counter, with each number being directly connected to the previous number. These counters are very handy when trying to shift the faces to the next one after taking damage, as it takes very little searching to find the right number, however if you look at one you can see that one half of the shape has all the numbers above 10 and the other half all the numbers below 10. Rolling so as to hit this specific "high" region is not really that hard, and as it can be manipulated, it should be avoided.
I'm certain there will be many people who think a die is a die is a die, but ask yourself this: if it didn't matter if you were rolling a spin down counter, would Wizards of the Coast have made sure to give us proper twenty sided dice for this set? If you insist on rolling a spin down there are precautions you can take to forestall any allegations of impropriety or to ensure fair play. You can bounce the die, it is very hard to control the randomness of a bounce, but this can lead to dice going all over the place, and having gotten too old and brittle to be crawling around the floor looking for lost dice, I don't really recommend this. A better option is to use a deck box as a dice cup, and just like you are playing Yahtzee, roll it around vigorously in the cup and roll it blindly to the table. The lack of control of the die certainly helps to mitigate any qualms with the randomness. You could also use a dice tower, these add some style to your game as they help ensure the die is rolled randomly. I even have a few in stock, whether you are just after a rather plain wooden design or one of the spiffy 3D printed ones I have available through the store.
Regarding the cards themselves which require the rolling, a discussion on their nature and evaluation needs to be had, and I'd rather discuss the basics here before we get to the full review. There are two types of cards I absolutely hate playing with, and I know that is subjective and some people enjoy playing with them, but those cards are the punisher mechanic and cards that focus on randomness. Punisher cards allow my opponent to choose which effect they get hit with, so they are always suboptimal, but random can sometimes be awesome, and when it is it involves things happening that will inspire stories for a long time to come. They will also fail some amount of the time, and sometimes that too will be spectacular and will inspire similar stories, after all we've all had our bad beats stories through the years. These new random cards in the Adventures in the Forgotten Realms set don't seem to follow that progression. There is a lot of dice rolling, but I've only seen two times where the roll can just be straight bad, the Treasure Chest which may just do damage to you on a roll of 1, and the Deck of Many Things which on a roll of less than 1 forces you to discard your hand, and I'm not convinced that you can't build around the Deck of Many Things by having a deck that wants to do a lot of discard. Every other card has an effect on a roll of 1-9, a stronger effect on 10-19, and something really good at 20. This kind of just upside random is actually pretty good in most cases, as it allows for the randomness but minimizes the feel bads from your own card killing you, but how do we evaluate whether the card is worth playing? I think though the odds actually say you will hit a better than lowest effect more than half the time, the evaluation still needs to be based on that lowest result. Ask yourself if the lowest result is rolled was this card worth the mana and card investment in the deck.
I'll discuss individual cards some time next week, but for now leave me a comment below, let me know your stance on the D20 vs Spin Down situation, or on your take on card evaluations with dice involved.