03 December 2021

BattleDice - A Decade On

BattleDice - A Decade On

It’s been four years since we last released new BattleDice. A lot has happened in the interim. Rather than dwell on the past, I thought I’d look ahead to 2022. Over the years, we’ve received requests to produce a host of new designs, not all of them for ASL. But this post is about ASL. Specifically, it’s about the prospect of new 16mm designs.

As we’ve explained in our KitShop catalogue, and on the 12.5mm page, we have no plans to produce additional designs in 12.5mm, largely due to the higher production costs for this size (and 14mm). This is not to say that we would never design any new BattleDice in these smaller formats, only that a design would have to warrant the higher outlay. Those lobbying for a set of 12.5mm die for the Korean War are therefore out of luck. Cost, however, is not the only factor. A recurring theme throughout this post is that some designs are simply impractical in light of the tiny amount of real estate to work with on the face of a die and the complexity of some designs. I can, and do, take liberties when creating artwork for a die. But there are limits.

Past as prologue 

From our standpoint, a new design succeeds if a 100 units are sold. This is a break-even equation based on initial start up and production costs. Time spent in the design, packaging, and marketing of new BattleDice is rarely recouped. And although 100 is not a big number, some designs released more than five years ago have yet to reach this target. 

For example, in 2016, we released D-Day sets for the US landing beaches code-named Omaha and Utah. These BattleDice were in anticipation of Multi-Man Publishing (MMP) releasing a historical module (HASL) centred on actions immediately beyond the beachhead. The set containing the “Big Red One” and the 29th US Infantry Divisions have sold quite well. Not so the rest. It’s a shame, as even without the Normandy HASL, there are heaps of scenarios where these BattleDice will be at home. A scenario published in ASL Starter Kit Bonus Pack 2 earlier this year illustrates the point. “Going Commando” features elements of Infanterie-Division 709 and the US 9th Infantry Division. Then again, one could simply use our US Army pair together with a German pair of your choosing.

16mm Operation Overlord (D-Day) Series

Additions to our Europa Series of 16mm BattleDice are the most recent examples of this trend. The Belgian pair is a personal fave. But it, like the Romanian pair, has not reached that important benchmark. In fairness, the Romanian pair has done a little better of late. And in time, we expect to sell out of all of these newer designs. In the meantime, however, this “excess” inventory ties up capital for future projects.

16mm Europa Series - Belgian Pair

Could less be more?

So where does that leave us? Well, with the release of a new and expanded Hollow Legions, especially the updated rules for North Africa, there is a purported demand for something with a desert theme. And what could be more Sahara-like than a palm tree and a jerboa, or desert rat?

I’m not convinced of the demand for such BattleDice, as attractive as they might be. But I’ve had at least six people urging me to take on the project. Not one for half measures, I came up with eight prospective designs. With the exception of the Italian and Afrika Korps set, these beauties could be used in Europe, primarily on the Italian mainland. The designs below aren’t final, but should provide you with an idea for what’s possible. Of course, we could simply release one die, the black Afrika Korps die with the gold palm on display at the beginning of this post, and call it done. What do you think?

16mm Africa Series (tentative)

Some have been clamouring for a Fallschirmjäger (FJ) die too. It’s a tricky subject given the amount of detail and overlapping elements. A die for the Großdeutschland Division would be an easier ask, but I’ve received less interest in it. An FJ die, moreover, has an added advantage in that it could be used to represent any number of Luftwaffe parachute divisions. If we only produced a single DAK die, why not a single FJ die too? Both could be paired with one of the dice from our ASL 30th Anniversary German pair, or with the German white die from our Operation Market-Garden Series. Yes? No? 

16mm Afrika Korps Die (optional)

Dave Johannsen has suggested we take things one step farther. In May 2018 he made his case for a “generic” set of 16mm ASL dice. Despite owning a fistful of BattleDice, he noted that there always will be situations where he won’t have dice that match the side he’s playing. Think Ethiopian, Estonian, or for fans of something a little different, the Russian Civil War, or the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Dave made a couple of specific suggestions including an iconic silhouette of a Landser tossing a potato masher for the colored die and an “ASL” logo for the white die. This would be his go-to pair for playing Anarchists in the Spanish Civil War, or the Indian National Army in Burma. He argued that the set would be an ideal “gateway pair of dice,” an introduction to our BattleDice.

It’s an interesting idea, although I think the ASL Anniversary sets do a good job of filling this role already. Indeed sales of the German pair suggest that it is the default pair for many players. Or is Dave on to something?

Specialized BattleDice

In June 2014, I solicited ideas for future BattleDice. I received much thoughtful feedback, and acted on a great deal of it. For instance, Dave Marteinson asked if we could produce 16mm versions of our Sniper-Effects and Heretical Rate-of-Fire specialty dice. Given that I preferred the ROF die to be either bigger or smaller than the other dice it’s rolled with, I didn’t dwell on this suggestion. I did, however, like the idea of a bigger Sniper die. And when Mike Peebles inquired about a wound die, I decided to incorporate both ideas into one, dual-purpose specialty die.

16mm Sniper-Effects and Wound-Severity Die

Other suggestions included a proposal by Brian Martuzas for a set of Offboard Artillery (OBA) dice: an accuracy die, a second “scatter direction” die, and a third extent-of-error die. He foresaw the accuracy die featuring appropriate national logos for those whose OBA is also accurate on a two. (That would be American, Commonwealth, Free French, and German, in case you were wondering.) I didn’t see the need for a separate direction-of-error die per se, reasoning that the accuracy die could fulfil this function too. The deal breaker was the extent-of-error die. An ordinary, unadorned backgammon die would suffice for this task when initially placing an Artillery Request (AR). But how could a die account for the fact that, when Correcting a SR, the Extent of Error is limited to a maximum of one hex for each multiple of three hexes, with any fractions rounded up (FRU)? If you know, let me know. 

Jackson Kwan was the most prolific in offering up ideas for specialized BattleDice. His pair of dice for determining whether a unit Strayed at night (E1.53), or in an Interior dense-jungle or bamboo hex during the day (G2.22; 3.21), was a relatively straightforward concept that was unfortunately expensive to produce as suggested. The six-spot of the color die would sport a “straying” figure. Not sure what that looks like. Regardless, if this face was rolled when making a Movement Dice Roll (DR), a Lax unit would automatically Stray.1 Jack’s plan for the white die involved different coloured pips that would indicate when a Normal or Stealthy unit Strayed. There would be black pips on the one- and two-spots, silver pips on the three- and four-spots, and gold pips on the five- and six-spots. A Normal unit would Stray when a “strayer” was rolled on the color die and the pips of the white die were metallic. Similarly, a Stealthy unit would Stray when a “strayer” was rolled with the color die and the pips of the white die were gold. The concept is not without merit. And it is possible by substituting colour pips for metallic-foil ones. But give many players fear of the dark, I don’t think the demand is there. 

Perhaps the most original of Jack’s ideas was for a set of two concealment-gain dice, one for a squad and another for a Half-Squad (HS). Playing ASL in a bubble in the late 80s and early 90s, my sole opponent and I never thought to roll for concealment gain. So in one respect, concealment-gain dice could be a boon to new players, if only to prompt them to undertake this important step at the end of the Close Combat Phase (CCPh). What made Jack’s proposal intriguing though was the use of different pip colours to factor in the ability of Stealthy Infantry, and Japanese Infantry in particular, to gain concealment more readily. For example, a regular British squad gains concealment on a die roll (dr) of 2 or less, while a Gurkha squad would do so on a dr of 3 or less, because Gurkhas receive a -1 die roll modifier (drm) for being Stealthy. However, all Japanese Infantry are entitled to a -2 drm to their Concealment dr (G1.63). Moreover, this drm is in addition to any drm for being Stealthy (or Lax).

Although it sounds cool on paper, the trouble with a concealment-gain die as proposed is that ignores other drm that may be applicable. A place could be found on a die for a reminder that a Lax unit suffers a +1 drm. More difficult would be reminder regarding Leadership. However, the Y-variable on the A12.122 Concealment drm Table is arguably the biggest challenge to incorporate on the die. I don’t see an easy solution other than to ignore this drm and trust players to factor it in on those rare occasions that it matters.

A12.122 Concealment Gain Table

I haven’t shut the door on the idea. But I’d need convincing before I’d devote more time to developing the concept.

That said, Jack’s use of red pips for Japanese Infantry did prompt me to reflect on just how apropos a red “meatball” is on a die dedicated to the Emperor’s finest. Although it took time to germinate, the seed that Jack planted grew not into a bean stalk but into a very specialized die. 

From the moment they first appeared in Code of Bushido in 1991, the Japanese have occupied a unique place in ASL. Among their numerous special capabilities is their ability to generate “suicide” heroes (G1.42). The raison d’être of one type is in the name: Tank-Hunter (T-H) Hero. Admittedly, this hero has a little more latitude and may attack any Armored Fighting Vehicle (AFV), not just tanks. On his way to meet his maker, a T-H Hero may Check for Anti-Tank Magnetic Mines (ATMM), or occasionally grab a Demolition Charge (DC) before making his suicidal charge. A DC Hero has even more freedom when it comes to what he may attack. Both may be rolled for using the ATMM and T-H/DC Hero die that I came up with below.

16mm ATMM and T-H/DC Hero Die

When we released the Japanese ATMM and T-H/DC Hero die in 2017, MMP had yet to publish Forgotten War, a module dedicated to the Korean War. Once I had a chance to peruse Chapter W, I was pleased to find that rules for creating South Korean Human Bullet (H-B) Heroes (W3.23) and North Korean Suicide Heroes (W6.4) are effectively the same as those used to generate a Japanese suicide hero. The "Japanese" die above is therefore no longer limited to use by Japanese units.

Jack’s other suggestion was for a set of two Starshell dice, one of which would serve as a Starshell Placement die. As it happened, I had begun work on a 19mm design a year earlier. I was under the mistaken impression that it was possible to produce a ball-cornered version of a “craps” die. The bigger die didn’t pan out. In 2015, we released a 16mm Starshell Usage die. It’s ideal when playing night scenarios of certain Campaign Games (CG).

16mm Starshell Usage Die

Mark Watson expressed a familiar lament. Every time he rolls double-ones on a Wind-Change DR (B25.65) he has to make a “rules dive” in order to figure out what to do next, if in fact anything. “It’d be nice,” he added, “if the dice also reminded me to make it start raining when it was overcast.” Well, there’s no easy way to indicate when rain (or snow) would begin, let alone increase or stop, using dice. (Don’t get me started on Civilian Interrogation [E2.4], which occurs on a Wind Change DR of 3 or 4). I thought about these things. A lot. But I couldn’t see how it could be done. 

The direction and the strength of the wind is another matter. The former is complicated by the fact that a change in direction is ignored if there’s no wind. Wind Force isn’t straightforward either. A force decrease, for example, will actually result in a force increase if there’s currently no wind, while a force increase could result in a decrease in wind force if Heavy Wind is in effect, becoming Mild Breeze as a consequence. In other words, those of you still capable of reading the tiny text on the back for the wind-direction counter may still find yourself scratching your head after making a change dr. It’s certainly possible to design a die that takes most of this into account. However, the cost is prohibitive for a die that’s unlikely to see use during the course of most scenarios.

Finally, Steve Slunt asked that I consider an Infantry Smoke Placement die. Reflecting on it now, it’s a pretty neat idea. Considering that many newer or infrequent players don’t use SMOKE nearly enough, such a die might prompt some to smoke ‘em if you got ’em more often. A white die with green pips on the one-, two- and three-spots would work for regular squads that have a Smoke Exponent. Satchel charges on the four- and five-spots could signify availability for Assault Engineers packing extra SMOKE. Finally, the six-spot could feature reminders that there is +1 drm for White Phosphorus (WP) grenades, and more important, that rolling a six ends the squad’s Movement Phase (MPh).

What, if any, specialized BattleDice do you think would make a good player aid?

Report Card

The 2014 wish list was a long one. Of close to 50 suggestions, almost 30 had made the cut by 2017. If we discount seven of the nine requests related to the Spanish Civil War, roughly 70 percent of the asks resulted in new BattleDice. This figure includes a few dice that are related to a specific request but may be considered substitutes. For example, the British “Red Devils” die with a Pegasus on the ace works well for the British 6th Airborne Division. The same die works equally well for the glider-borne “Oxs and Bucks” who were part of the same division. The table below summarizes the requests for new BattleDice and what became of them.

BattleDice Report Card 2017

What now?

I’d really like to produce a 16mm Dutch pair for our Europa Series. To date I’ve failed to come up with a compelling design. What about that orange triangle thingy, you ask? It’s simple enough. No orange foil though. And no orange dice. Granted I did use a simplified version of this symbol on a 12.5mm die. Only that seems like a cop out for a larger format.   Think you have what it takes? Submit a design for a pair of 16mm Dutch BattleDice. If we use your design, we’ll gift you a pair, along with every other pair in the Europa Series.

Dutch Dilemma - For want of a compelling design.

There is no shortage of outstanding requests for new designs. Some, such as a Slovak pair for the Europa Series, offer the promise of interesting and colourful dice. Others like Canadian divisional dice are downright dull. The only pair in the Empire Series dazzles in comparison. There are those who would snap up any new Waffen-SS designs and those who would turn their noses up at another die of a military formation be it divisional, corps, or army. And yet much territory remains unexplored. 

Strange bedfellows - Slovaks and Canucks

The Korean War is a case in point. A South Korean die would be stunning, a die for the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (CPVA) not so much. Below are a few examples that I threw together over the course of a couple days. I’m not satisfied with any of them, except perhaps the last die. The “sturm und stoss”  die could see a lot of use when playing Campaign Games I, III, and IV of Red Barricades.

Anything jump out at you? ;-)

So what do you think? Are we done yet? Or are there certain subjects still in need of some love? Let me know in the comments below. 

Free stuff

If you comment as a Squad Leader—a Follower of Sitrep—you’ll be entered automatically in our New Year’s raffle. Up for grabs is a copy of Bounding Fire Productions’ Onslaught to Orsha 2 and a set of our ASL at 30 BattleDice. Feel free to submit your two cents after 31 December. However, only those who comment before 1 January 2022 will be eligible to win on New Year’s Day.

New Year's Prize: Onslaught to Orsha 2 - Enter today!

In other news, I’ve got two posts in the Bishop Pointers series raring to go. The second article is complete. However, it’s on hold pending completion of the first article, which is waiting on feedback from MMP regarding some interpretations of the rules.

Thanks for reading. Merry Christmas!


1. As per E1.53, a Lax unit/stack automatically Strays if the colored dr of the Movement DR is a 6, a Normal unit/stack Strays only if the white dr of the Movement DR is ≥ 3, and a Stealthy unit/stack Strays only if the white dr of the Movement DR is ≥ 5.