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Board Game Components: Consistently Inconsistent
Head in the Clouds
Updated: Wednesday, Sep 7, 2016
Hello, Chaz Marler from Pair Of Dice Paradise here. Sometimes, nothing bothers me more than inconsistency. I’ll often lay awake at night, devising solutions to inconsistencies in our beloved board game hobby that cause confusion and degrade the gaming experience. Okay, no. Actually, I’m usually imagining hat-wearing squirrels.

But, for the sake of argument, as an example of an inconsistency in board game component design that can cause confusion, I present Exhibit A: these custom six-sided dice that include an organization’s logo on one of the sides. Now, I usually enjoy dice as much as I enjoy a tree-dwelling rodent in a chapeau. And these custom dice are nice, featuring a fantastic miniature logo on one side, greeting you like a tiny, half-inch square billboard every time you roll a six. Or was it a one? Actually, on this one it’s a one, and here the logo’s on the six… oh, wait, no it isn’t. But on this one it’s... oh, wait which one was… aaaaugh! Stop making me think, dice! If I wanted to think, I’d stop drinking paint.

When having to stop and think when using an object -- be it a computer interface, an appliance, or even a die -- it introduces a point of potential confusion and error. I just rolled double podcast logos! Great! Now, let me take just a fraction of a second to stop, disconnect from the activity, and mentally look up what that icon on this specific custom dice equates to.

And inconsistencies aren’t caused just by trying something unique, but sometimes from actually trying to make improvements. For example, of all the backer rewards in The Dice Tower’s most recent kickstarter campaign, the one I’ve been looking forward to most is a deck of playing card money. But, instead of using the standard $20 denomination, the designer opted to use $25 instead. This isn’t an inconsistency with board game design canon, but with national monetary currencies, including the US, Canadian and Australian dollars, plus the Euro, all of which use 20s.

This inconsistency can certainly cause confusion, because, in my experience, it already has. Zillions of years ago, I printed my own paper money to use with various games. And, thinking that it would be easier to make change, I used $25 bank notes, instead of the standard $20. And guess what? The $25 bills were consistently mis-calculated, mist-counted, and mis-distributed. The $25 bills were so prone to error, in fact, that, even though it required managing a greater number of bills and doing more math, we soon just stopped using the $25s completely.

It’s an example of how a well-meaning design choice, that technically may even be a logical improvement, can actually cause more confusion than just adhering to the societal norm. Need proof? Just ask a Dvorak keyboard.

But what do you think? Have you encountered non-standard board game designs that have lead to confusion? Or perhaps a different take on things has actually improved your gaming experience? Send me your comments using your favorite bushy-tailed delivery service.
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