Monday, February 4, 2019

Dice Notes: Some Friendly and also Unasked-For Advice

There is always a dice project on Kickstarter, it seems, and most often, more than one at a time. If you are dice-happy, or worse, dice-drunk, like some people I know, this can be both heady and frustrating. Mostly because we all have bills to pay, and people to feed. I've tried eating dice, and it just doesn't work.

I am no stranger to buying interesting dice. However, I'm seeing some...trends, let's call them, that are not just making me crazy, but also really dampening my interest in funding an otherwise great idea. In some cases, I think these are poor decisions based on a lack of experience and/or graphic arts training, and in other cases, they are just things that I personally don't like. I'll try to let you know which is which.

In any case, I'm not randomly throwing people under the bus. I really want your project to be a success, to be something interesting to add to the hobby, to be something I can partake in. I'm not being mean for the sake of being mean, nor am I trying to be funny at the expense of someone's hard work. I know these are all labors of love. And having been on the other side of the manufacturing process, maybe I can offer some constructive criticism.

Without any further explanation, here we go:

1. There are other colors to ink dice with than gold (or yellow).

I do not know when or how gold metallic paint became the pip ink color of choice, but it needs to be checked, here and now.

I first noticed it on Infinite Black's second KS project, Elder Dice: Unspeakable Tomes. Their first KS project was a huge success, as it merged two things nearly every gamer likes: Lovecraftian Yog-Sothothery and dice. I backed their campaign, even though I am not a huge fan of swirly-fake-pearlescent dice. I backed them because they had a simple product, easy to recognize, and well-designed. I've talked about them in glowing terms on this very blog, here.

I was so excited when I saw they were doing it again, and using the mythos books as inspiration. I hesitated when I saw their second project, though. It should be a slam-dunk, right? Just more of the same, right? Here's the picture of that second batch of dice. See if you can spot what gave me pause. If you said, "Hey, Mark, I can't see the numbers on their King in Yellow dice," then you're on it.

Lest you think I'm selectively picking a far away picture to make my point, here's another shot, close up. Notice that these dice in this picture have a lot of black in them, but one of the problems with swirly-plastic is that you have no control over how much, and in what concentration, swirl you're going to get. And since these dice are coming from China, and will be bulk shipped, your mileage and mine and everyone else's, including Infinite Black's, will vary greatly.

I was so concerned about it that I even reached out to the creators, who assured me that it's already being addressed by making color adjustments to the inks or the plastics or something like that, at the factory. I looked at their other dice and noticed that all of them were inked in metallic gold. I do not know what the thinking was; it could have been a design choice--the ink is the one unifying feature across all of the dice. It could have been economic--only using one ink color saved a little money and allowed the differently-colored dice to be painted at the same time. Or both. Or neither. I don't know at all.

But I do know this: excited customers are posting pictures of their dice online, having just ripped them out of the boxes, and the King in Yellow dice look exactly, identically, photographically like the sample dice in the ad. Meaning, you can't see the symbol they worked so hard to design.

I will not be one of those happy customers. This KS dropped after True Detective aired on HBO, which is probably why the Yellow Sign was included in the line-up. I love the proto-mythos stories that Robert W. Chambers wrote, and "The King in Yellow" especially. I should be thrilled to get these dice, but make no mistake here, I will very likely not use them at all and that disappoints me. I think of all the dice they've made, these are the flat-out ugliest, when they could have been the prettiest. Everything from the swirly plastic that makes inking the dice a real chore to the fact that they were married to the gold ink. Why yellow and black? Why not black? With gold, that would have been the shit! Or hell, even Tortoise Shell would have been uniformly darker and still given you that "dirty" feel you seemed to want! Aaaargh!

Spirit of...Series 3 follows the same scheme as
Series 1 and 2...every single translucent die is inked
in shiny gold. These are "Shark" dic
There are other companies right now in Kickstarter mode, including this UK-based company, Critit, that is Noah's Arking their way through the Phylum and Genus chart to make animal-themed dice. These dice are etched, rather than silkscreened, which means they are already better in every respect than Koplow's pointless animal dice. It's just that, well, go ahead and scroll through their dice,  all eleven thousand of them. Again, you notice anything unusual? A preponderance of gold ink, perhaps? And on clear acrylic dice with wispy translucent colors, at that. Do you know what happens when you put a not strong ink color (like yellow or gold) on translucent dice with translucent colors? Clarity drops to nil.

The final pictures on the KS page are way better than the pics on their Facebook page, which were on white tables that highlighted the beautiful ethereal color schemes of every animal dice in the menagerie, and also that you couldn't see the numbers because they were all in gold ink. At least their monster dice are solid plastic, which helps the clarity enormously.

But...on the other hand, look at the Dinosaur dice! Bold, striking color combinations, and clearly-inked designs that you can instantly identify! The dinos look like they are outlined in black and then filled in with a second color, but that may just be the camera. So, then, the gold ink was a deliberate choice.

There is another problem with this particular Kickstarter, one that punched me in both eyes when I saw it. And it leads me to the second piece of free advice.

No, see, it's Congorilla! From DC Comics...*sigh* I just can't.
2. If you're naming dice after a thing, you must make sure that the color scheme supports what you have named.

Some of the dice that Critit is fielding in this massive KS campaign are spot-on. Look at the "Spirit of Desolation" dice, for example.  That's all well and good. But this their third "Spirit of" Campaign they have launched, with dice themes that all involve a named symbol or two on the dice to evoke an animal or mythic creature.

So, can someone please tell me what color a gorilla is?

Let me stop you right there and say that, at least insofar as planet Earth is concerned, gorillas aren't green and yellow. I know, I get that the colors are supposed to be green and brown, but remember, wispy, ethereal colors? And with gold ink on them, which informs the value of the wispy colors below it.

Factoring out yellow and brown entirely...Green? Really? Any of the other animal dice have a color scheme that reflects not only their fur but also their environment?

I know, you're giving me the side-eye right now, but look, I WANT gorilla dice! I'm the demographic for Gorilla Dice, okay? If you know nothing else about me, you would know that I am pro-simian, now and forevermore. But I will not buy Green Gorilla dice. I just won't.

Why aren't THESE gorilla dice? I can see these!
I would buy brown gorilla dice, or black, or gray, or some combination of the above, gorilla dice. Because gorillas are brown and black and gray. I will absolutely buy dinosaurs, because like gorillas, they are neat, and I am mentally an eleven-year old boy, despite my gray hair and bad attitude. The Dinosaur Dice look great! And even though the monster dice are all mostly inked in gold, they are all visible, legible, and easy to see. But not the animal dice.

All of the animals are gold. Sharks, Penguins, Otters. I know, the "spirit" part is supposed to be the wispy stuff inside the dice. Like a Djinn bottle. I get it. But, only, you know...I don't. It's stuff like this that makes me buy one set, instead of five sets. Or cancel my pledge altogether.

There's a third piece of advice I have to offer for the few of you that are still reading and have not rage-quit this post yet, and it sounds like more snark, but it's not.

3. Remember what you are making, and also, who you are partnering with.

Dice exist for one reason: they generate random numbers for our games. If your dice are so expensive that they are an object d'arte, then they aren't dice anymore. If they can't be read from a distance of three feet away, then they aren't dice anymore. They are desk toys. Fidget cubes. Play money. I don't know what you want to call them, they just ain't dice. I need to see what I am rolling. I got five players hanging on my every word. I got no time for crazy, unreadable dice.

Contrast  the above with these cubes of hell. 
Not only is there a design to go with the number, 
but also a Viking Rune!Jesus H. Christ. 
Stop them before they make more dice.
There are a lot of fantastic small companies, Artisanal and otherwise, that do great design work. Gorgeous looking dice that are made well, clearly visible, and don't cost an arm and a leg. Well, maybe not an arm. But we know that part going in, right? That's the whole point of Kickstarter. And I certainly don't mind paying for good design. I'd prefer it, to be honest.

But there are also companies know...don't put that level of thought into it. Or any thought, apparently. I'm not speaking of the above companies, mind you. I'm talking about folks who aren't even bothering to come up with a clever name on the color scheme that someone else made.

I've seen more than one dice maker from these Artisinal companies, writing long, admonishing posts online about people ripping off their designs and selling them. Unscrupulous behavior, to be sure, but that's the problem with dealing with Chinese manufacturers. They have a sub-economy propped up on duplicating Intellectual Property and selling it as cheaply as possible. Why wouldn't they take your cool dice design that you sent over there and run with it?

A recent successful campaign from Q-Workshop. 
Some of these designs are great. 
And then there's those purple and red
"Wizard Dice" that make my head hurt 

when I look at them.
Q-Workshop is, without a doubt, 

the most consistently
uneven dice maker in the world, 

So Help Me God.
This is where good design will win out. An original icon on a die, even simply executed, can be copyrighted. They won't pirate a custom mold, so don't give them anything TO pirate. But plastic? They have barrels of that. A mix or a formula or a color scheme? Pfft. Give them a day to do it. They are already doing it, every day. Make a better, more interesting die instead. Something special that I can use in my games.

There are a lot of games that have special dice needs. There are a lot of re-configurable ways to make existing dice interesting or more useful. There's no end to the types and styles of thematic artwork you can adorn dice with. This may not be as sexy as coming up with seven-layer color dice in rainbow stratum, but on the other hand, your dice are your own to sell.

My challenge to any new and existing dice manufacturers, from the small to the tall, is to do what you know best and don't try to be something you are not. Seventeen-color striped dice are great, but opaque dice that no one has ever seen before--or has something on it that makes people slap their heads and go, "Why hasn't someone done THAT before now?" If you can do that...I will sell blood to cover the Kickstarter fees for one of everything.

These gorgeous dice from 
Black Oak Workshop
won't likely be produced, 

but I include them
to illustrate a point: why can't 

you be more like this?
I know I don't speak for everyone. I'm just one consumer. There are plenty of folks who will (and have) back all of the above projects, getting one of everything, or at least a good deal more dice than most people would understand. They are new, they are pretty, they are addictive, I get it. I get it. But I know I'm not the only one who wants readable dice. Attractive dice. Affordable dice. Well-designed dice. A wide variety of dice. These suggestions aren't deal-breakers, by any means. Just think about it, going forward? Please?

If you want to support a small company with great design (and you like yog-sothothery), here's Black Oak's most recent Kickstarter, for Lovecraftian Dice Bags.  I need that King in Yellow pin and dice bag. I just wish I had some cool dice that I want to play with to carry around in that bag...

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