Sunday, January 14, 2007

Dice Towers Done!

I'll do a full post tomorrow, but I just wanted to say YES! I've finished all eight of the dice towers.

Now it's a matter of finding homes for 6 or 7 of them. I wonder what people will think they are worth?

True cost - in terms of materials and tools, but allowing nothing for labour - probably amounts to about £45 each. Labour-wise, each one probably took about 2-3 hours (including the design work - by the end, I'd got assembly down to under an hour).

One of them squeaks a bit when folding up the dice tray (I'm guessing some glue got into the hinge part), and another just looks a bit scruffy around the joins (better than all my previous dice towers, but not as good as it's 7 siblings - I'll sell it half-price as a "factory second").

But overall I'm very happy with the results.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

A week speeds by ...

Was it really a week since my last post?

Seems like 3 days at the absolute most. Weird.

OK, work was pretty busy this week, and gaming was limited to giving my father a brief kicking at Battlelore, but still - a whole week? Are you sure? Wow.

I'm hoping that tomorrow will remain dry (somewhat optimistically, given the way it's been tipping it down ever since Christmas) so I can take Lauren to Sutton Park. As a thinly-veiled excuse to take some outdoor pictures, obviously. If it manages to stay dry for the requisite amount of time then I'll be back on here sometime later with the results; and I'll also put up a few shots of the finished dice towers (boy will I be glad to see the back of them).

Does anyone know if I can post movie clips here? I'm just thinking that one of the tower "at work" might be a good idea.
No photos today - I've been staring at transparent plastic for hours, and can't face getting the camera out.

The good news is that I have managed to assemble five out of the eight dice towers, and should get the rest done tomorrow - then I need to work out what people will actually pay for these little beauties.

The first one was a little ropey, thanks to poor preparation (fingerprints on the insides) and learning what order, and with what glues, they need assembling (I'll keep it as my "spare"). But I'm very happy with the other four (none of them have been flawless, flawless being defined as "Kohinohr diamond" standard).

I'll take a "family photo" of all eight tomorrow :)

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Here's another pic of the tower

There we are - this photo shows the hinged dice tray.

Dice Towers

I enjoy boardgames. Many boardgames employ dice. Some of the best boardgames employ many dice. And one of my favourite boardgames uses a LOT of dice.

Now it's not the cleverest game in the world, or the most intellectually challenging, or even paticularly "grown-up", but I do like Heroscape. A lot. But I got bored of the dice scattering all over the board every time they were required, so I started to think about dice towers.

Dice towers were invented by the Romans (who knew a thing or two about dice games; in particular they knew that the average Roman legionary would rob his own grandmother, and given half a chance would even cheat at dice). The typical design is a square tower about 8" tall, which contains three slopes inside. Dice are deposited in the top, bounce off these internal slopes, and roll out onto a tray at the bottom properly randomized.

Well. I wanted a dice tower. Except I decided that ordeinary, "start of the first millenium" designs were not for me. I wanted something different.

I also like the visual appeal of pachinko machines. Pachinko is a Japanese gambling game, their equivalent of the slot machine or one-armed bandit (only with even less skill as far as I can tell). The machines look like big bagatelle boards, and work by bouncing lots of ball-bearings off lots of little pins. Visually and sonically appealling or jarring depending upon your point of view.

So I decided to design a dice tower using the same basic idea - instead of slopes it would have pins or rods to bounce the dice off. ANd of course it had to be transparent, to show off the dice as they counced around inside.

The first version I made was from balsa and thin dowel, just to prove that the idea was sound. It took me about 20 minutes, and demonstrated that yes, it would work, but careful placement of the internal rods would be cricial to avoid dice passing straight through the tower without being randomized, or worse, getting stuck.

So next I ordered some 3mm thick acrylic sheet and rods, and some rather expensive plastic welding glue, and made four towers to a carefully thought-out design. The first one was a complete mess (learning to handle the glue, and also what order things had to be stuck together in), but the other three were pretty good. And they had been carefully designed to work extremely well with the dice provided in Heroscape.

Hasbro decided to release a new expansion for the game, with larger dice. Disaster - the new dice would just get stuck in my dice towers - they were too large to fit between the rods. So, it was back to the drawing board.

The basic idea was sound, but it was time for a design that could handle any size of dice, small and large. It had to be stronger and more substantial than the "mark 1". And it needed to look really good. Those factors determined that the new tower would be made from thicker acrylic, with stouter rods. But I couldn't cut thicker plastic (3mm is JUST thin enough that you can score it with a knife, then snap it along a straight edge - most of the time. But it didn't often leave a perfet 90 degree angle).

I drew up some plans and sent them off to be laser cut. I used this place - - and I was very happy with teh service. I might detail here all the tribulations I had getting the design spot-on, and the costly mistakes I made along the way, but the long and short of it is I have a "kit" of parts upstairs to make 8 new dice towers from, and I've just finished gluing the first one together.

Improvements over the "mark 1" is that it's thicker, heavier, handles any size of dice, has a fold-out dice tray, and nice straight edges! I'm still getting the gluing technique right, but this first one was *almost* perfect. The next step is to assemble the other 7, then sell most of them to try and recover some of the material costs.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

OK, Just One More ...

In an effort to break the Blog's bandwidth limit on the first day, here's a full-sized, straight from the camera pic of Lauren plus Polo (the bear, not the mint - hey, she chose the name, I had nothing to do with it).

No post-production at all on this one - you're getting the JPG as the camera intended, all 6 megapixels.

OK, the levels are a little off - blame the photographer (who in turn will blame the harsh, pop-up flash). Of course, I can probably fix this by spending more money.

The colours seem OK (except the oak floor - in reality it doesn't look quite this good), but the background is a little dark. On the other hand, if the shot brought out the detail of the TV cabinet and contents then you might stop looking at Lauren, and as the whole point of the shot is to show off our little stunner (yes, and Lauren), there's not much point in my worrying about the background.

By the way, the polar bear looks miserable because Lauren's right cheek is covered in chocolate spread, and she's in the middle of smearing it all over Polo's face. I look just as unhappy when she tries to do the same to me.

A Photo Of Lauren

If there's a point to this post, it's (i) to see if I CAN actually post a photo without bringing the net to a grinding halt, and (ii) to announce the fact that I now own a DSLR.

WHY I need to own a DSLR is a different matter, given that I only ever take what could politely be described as "snaps", and spending money on a new Nikon is somewhat unlikely to actually improve the objective quality of the snaps. But right now, I am enjoying owning a camera that takes the picture when I press the button, and not a geological age later. And there's all that wonderful "window shopping" that I can do for new lenses (I gather us serious photographers actually call lenses "glass" - helps differentiate us from the snapping oiks, I suppose).

Anyway, here's Lauren on her scooter. Taken with the new Nikon D40. Redeye (I thought that I'd escaped that particular bane of compact cameras, but it still shows up in a small percentage of photos) removed using the in-camera software, then (again, in camera) reduced to 640x480).

One of the things that I rather like about the D40 is the way that I can get away without having to load up Photoshop for simple tasks like this. Of course, no amount of in-camera work or post-production can alleviate the effects of poor composition. So I apologise for the inclusion of the door frame, and the discarded coa in the background that makes Lauren look like she's got some sort of growths sticking out of the top of her head. I have taken better photos, honest, but this was chosen because of the red-eye fix (I thought that the camera handled it really well; I remember back in the day having to use Photoshop to recolour each and every pixel on the pupil - so if you think that reading the Blog is tedious, spare a thought for people who had to retouch digital photos by hand).

So that's me playing with my favourite Christmas present, taking a picture of Lauren playing with hers. After spending the last 7 days zooming round the lounge on the perishing thing, it's now been banished to outdoors.

No harm was done to the skirting boards during the making of this movie.

First Blog Post

Lord knows why I've started a blog - I'd promised never to bother, as no-one will be in the slightest bit interested in what I have to say, and frankly 99.9% of blogs are self-indulgent tosh anyway.

And this blog will not be one of the 0.1% worth reading, I promise you.

So why bother? Well, I thought that it might be a handy page to upload various bits of junk to that would otherwise only clutter up my desktop. Photos that the family might want to see (if ever they manage to use a PC without formatting the HDD). Recipes that Jan has tried that - despite all her best efforts - didn't poison me. Projects that I'm working on (wasting money on, more like). In short, stuff.

I might post self-indulgent blatherings one day, snapshots the next. Memoirs of a games player. A book review. Or more likely I'll forget all about this place. I hope for all your sakes' that it is the latter.