Game Design Friday

Magic Numbers


Magic Numbers

a dice game about bluffing, addition, and sorcery
Game Design © 2007 by Scott Jon Siegel
[email protected] |


At least two.


    1 six-sided die.
    at least 1 pen or pencil.
    1 index card per player.

Setting up:


Players should hold or position their index cards in such a way that no other players can see what they’re writing down.

Before beginning the game, each player rolls the die twice, making sure no other player can see what he rolls. The first number rolled is the player’s “Good Number,” and the second is the player’s “Evil Number” (these can not be the same number, so re-roll if you rolled the same number twice). These numbers should be written down and kept secret. It’s important!

The player whose birthday is closest goes first, and play moves in a clockwise fashion.

How to play:

The object of the game is to be the first player to reach a score of 30.

In order to do this, players take turns rolling the die and adding the number rolled to their score (which at the beginning of the game is zero). Although every roll is done publicly, players should keep their scores to themselves (you’ll see why in a bit). Each player’s turn consists of rolling the die and adding to his score. The next player then takes his turn, and the game continues in this fashion.

Players must get to exactly 30 points to win. Any roll which puts a player over 30 should not be added to that player’s score.

About magic:

The Good and Evil numbers assigned to each player are those player’s magic numbers, which can either help or harm his score. If a player rolls his Good number, that player adds 10 to his score instead of the number’s value. If a player rolls his Evil number, however, their score resets to zero.

About giving:

Any player can choose to give a number he rolled to any other player. In order to do so, he must state that he’s giving the number instead of taking it himself and announce who he’s giving it to. The player he gives it to must accept the number and act accordingly.

(This means if a player is given his Good number, he adds 10 to his score instead of the value. But this also means if a player is given his Evil number, his score resets to zero. Any other number he simply adds to his score as normal.)

Giving a number does not affect the play order, however, and gameplay continues clockwise from the last player who rolled.



You can be a better player! Follow these helpful tips to victory!

  • Don’t let them know your magic numbers: Don’t look disappointed when you roll your Evil number, or excited when you roll your Good one. The second a player finds out your Evil number, he’ll give it to you every chance he gets.
  • Bluff: Try to trick other players into giving you your Good number. Consider keeping your Evil number at least once to throw players off the scent.
  • Draw a scary face on your index card: It’ll intimidate your opponents and show them you’re hardcore.
  • Pay attention to what other players keep and give away: Look for patterns and try to figure out everyone’s magic numbers.
  • Don’t let yourself get stuck: If you reach a score of 19, and 1 is your Good number, your only hope of winning is either rolling or being given your Evil number and starting over. Keep track of how far you are from 30, and strategize the numbers you give and keep accordingly.

Good luck, and may the magic numbers be with you!


Next page: Designing Magic Numbers …

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Designing Magic Numbers

When designing Magic Numbers, I opted to focus less on technical complexity and more on approachability. I wanted a dice game based around uncertainty (not knowing the results of your roll), but also around hidden information (your opponents not knowing how your roll affects you).

Approachability meant giving players simple tools to work with, and not a whole lot of them. I based the game around a single six-sided die and started with a simple addition mechanic, where competing players would take turns rolling the die to add to their score: First player to x wins. With no decisions being made by the players, the game certainly wasn’t fun, but the uncertainty introduced by the die kept things unpredictable, which was definitely desirable and a good start.

I then layered additional rules on top of this basic mechanic. Knowing I wanted players to have a sense of agency in the game, I introduced the abstract idea of “giving” a number, where an undesirable roll could literally be handed to another player.

The question then became, why would any number be undesirable? From this, I decided that at the beginning of the game, each player would roll to determine an “Evil Number” – a value that, when rolled, would revert the score to zero. A player could then give away his Evil Number if he rolled it, but other players could give that player his evil number if/when they determine what it is. To contrast this, I came up with the “Good Number” concept. A surprisingly deep bluffing element emerges from the intersection of these two rules, as players can try and psych out their opponents, while at the same time trying to learn their magic numbers.

The only additional rule to be revised at this point was the goal of reaching a score of 30. After some play testing, it became apparent that players should have to add to 30 exactly, and not go over that number. This slowed down the endgame and in some instances forced players who got stuck to take their evil numbers and start over – a desirable player behavior and one that complicated the inherently simple game.

Does it work? Try playing Magic Numbers with one opponent. Try playing it with five. Some matches end in four turns; some go on for 15 minutes. Strategically, it’s not a particularly deep game, but it is, I feel, a fun one, and certainly approachable by anyone with an extra die and a little free time.

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