Considering the side of humanity that likes to play games, these are some of our oldest companions. The oldest known boardgame, Senet, didn’t have them, but the early Backgammon variants, just a couple of hundred years younger, used them. And even before that, they were most likely used for gambling and fortune-telling. I’m talking about dice – I guess that surprise was spoiled by the post title, huh?

Before the die there was the knucklebone. Strictly speaking, there was the talus bone, which is closer to the ankle than it is to the knuckle, and which is of the right size and close to tetrahedal in hoofed animals like horses – so the first dice may actually have had four sided, putting them closer to the four-sided dice not used much in boardgames today than to the cubes almost everyone thinks of first when thinking about dice. It’s impossible to say now if they were used first in gambling or divination, but being lucky was a sure sign of divine favour, so those two things needn’t have been separate.

The oldest manufactured dice discovered are part of above-mentioned Backgammon game which was found in Shahr-e Sukhteh (Burnt City) in today’s Iran- and look exactly like modern six-sided dice, except a bit time-worn. Dice are likely to have spread out form one location, at least the traditional designs from Europe to East Asia are similar enough to suggest that.

Today, dice are one of the two most common sources of randomness in games, the other one being cards. Boardgames strongly favour the traditional six-sided die while wargames and role-playing games often employ all the platonic solids: regular shapes with four, six, eight, twelve or twenty sided. Other shapes of dice, while less common, are also available in great variety: seven-sided dice, 100-sided dice – take care with those, they never stop rolling – and that’s just the start of it. And then, of course, there is Dice Age, a game that just tosses everything traditional about dice over board and goes with a whatever-looks-cool approach. And with new ideas like that still available, our old friends will be around for a long time yet.

And that’s the most important bullet points about dice. What would you like to know from the Meeplepedia? Leave us a comment!

The dice photo was taken by James Bowe and shared with a CC-BY license. Thanks, James!

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