Mechanics Makeover: Dice in a Cup – Introduction


For the record, my complete title for this game mechanic to makeover is “Dice in a Cup,” but for brevity sake, I will often just call it “n Dice” where n is the number of dice rolled. The working title of the game that tests the mechanics in this makeover is called “Challenge Dice.”

5 Dice in a Cup is the primary mechanic of many popular classic games like Yahtzee, Liar’s Dice, Bar or Poker Dice, etc. 1 and 2 Dice are the basis for thousands of games. Although the basic mechanics are old (even ancient) and commonly thought to have been worn out, they are still very popular. Recent adaptations of 5 Dice are King of Tokyo and King of New York, but there are many such examples.


Redesign the traditional mechanic of “Dice in a Cup” to explore alternatives. Let’s see how far I can get with this well-known mechanic.

Why Dice in a Cup?

This is a special discovery for me because it gets to the deepest roots I can remember in my game design history and was the first place I went in my recent game design discovery as a testing ground (October 2013). On the Opie Games About page I talk about taking an interest in game design at an early age and mention specifically a version of Gin that I designed around age 10. Even before I started tinkering with card games, though, I was digging into dice mechanics – not that I knew then what mechanics are.

I loved dice and dice games. As a family we played Yahtzee (and Triple Yahtzee, which was an early variant on the Yahtzee mechanic) frequently and all we kids loved Cootie. May father often worked long and odd shifts so would be trying to sleep when we were playing Yahtzee after dinner and homework. He called it "Rattle, Rattle, Bang!" For one of my birthdays in there I asked for a set of dice or a dice game of my own. I got a Crisloid 5 Game Set that contained 2 dice cups, 5 regular “spot” dice, and some specially printed dice also; 10 bowling pin dice, 5 card faced dice and others, a total of 25 D6s. With my very own set of dice, I set out to make my very own dice games. I still remember a few of the mechanisms that I devised and have incorporated them into this makeover.


First a couple concerns that I need to remind myself occasionally to keep this endeavor in check:

  • Although most of the work on this project came in fall of 2013, I am only writing about it now in January 2015. (In my January reflection on what I have done in game design I was reminded that I never published any of this work and should). I will still try to keep a fresh perspective on the effort and discuss some of the interim decisions.
  • This makeover is all about the mechanics, so it may seem dry. After all, how exciting is it to talk about Yahtzee? That is, unless you disguise it as a fire-breathing monster attacking a heavily populated city.
  • Is there really anything new to discover about this age-old mechanic? Let’s see.

At a Glance

In this first post let’s just take a glance at how the Dice in a Cup mechanism is generally used.

Note: Although, this discovery is a mechanical one, I have incorporated each mechanic into a gamelet and all of the gamelets into a simple filler game. A complete rule set of the game developed to test these mechanics will be posted in the Games section as Challenge Dice.

Description and General Mechanic

The primary mechanic in makeover here is on in which players take turns rolling a number of dice (usually 5 x D6). There are many nuances to this mechanic, but in the interest of not reporting a lot of information you already know, here’s a brief introduction:


  1. Simply put the dice in a cup or cup them in your hands.


  1. Achieve a prescribed set of dice after rolling.
  2. The desired set of dice (the hand) depends on the current objective of the game.


  1. Roll all of the dice once.
  2. Keep/set aside any number of dice that are desirable toward achieving the objective.
  3. Roll the undesirable dice.
  4. Keep any combination of the originally kept dice and the second roll and set these aside.
    1. The player often changes strategies at this point if not making progress on the original objective.
  5. Roll the remaining undesirable dice, if any.
  6. Combine the kept dice with the last roll to form the best hand.

Typical Variants

When this mechanic is incorporated into a game, there are usually other variations to the typical play.

  • Restrict Rerolls:
    • The player cannot reroll specific dice.
    • The player must stop when a specific die or set of dice is rolled.
    • The player has fewer rerolls.
  • Extra Rerolls:
    • The player has additional rerolls.
    • Usually only one per turn or one at a time that can keep firing.
  • Extra Turns:
    • The player can start again if all the dice in one turn met a condition.
    • Usually if all the dice scored and the player risks all points on subsequent rolls.
  • Set a Die Face:
    • The player can set a die to a desired face instead of rolling.

These variations are introduced several ways:

  • A particular die face has an effect on the turn.
  • A player’s power can inhibit another player’s turn.
  • A player’s state (wound, curse) can inhibit that player’s turn.
  • A player can spend the game currency to take the desired action.