Annals Of Miscellany

Weird dice

What the hell are these dice?

By John Teti • September 5, 2013

Here’s an afternoon puzzler for you: What are these dice? We discovered them here at Gameological HQ today. Matt Kodner, one of the site’s intrepid editorial assistants, was opening a “mystery bag” of little tchotchkes that I picked up for him during a recent visit to Uncle Fun in Chicago. We’re mystified, and we wonder if any Gameological readers might be able to figure it out.

Weird dice, part two

This is what we know. The two dice are the same. Five faces of each die are taken up with the numbers 6 through 10. The sixth face of each die reads “10–1”. Also, underneath the “6” on each die, it reads “W. GERMANY”.

We Googled around for 10 minutes or so, and we couldn’t come up with anything—not that we have much to go on. The first commenter to explain these dice (with some evidence, if possible) gets a Gameological pin!

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97 Responses to “What the hell are these dice?”

  1. ItsTheShadsy says:

    Here’s a clue they appear to be part of a set of some sort. Someone is selling accompanying alphabet dice on Etsy, though no clue to their identification other than that they come from the same woodworker that adds “W. Germany” to one side of the dice.

  2. HobbesMkii says:

    They made me think of the Backgammon doubling cube. Maybe they’re used in a variant or for a similar purpose?

  3. Enkidum says:

    It’s the Jews.

  4. Effigy_Power says:

    I have a set of old dice that have W. Germany written on them, they belonged to a game by the company “Ravensburger”, which it said on one of them, so I am wondering if they’re not by the same company…
    The search continues.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      My initial guess is that these are not labelled 10 minus 1, but that they count as both 10 and 1, similar to an ace in Blackjack.

    • ItsTheShadsy says:

      Ravensburger is based in what was once West Germany. Given that so many companies seem to have dice of these types, have we yet considered that Ravensburger was a dice wholesaler back in the day? (50s-60s)

      Still, that only explains where they came from, not why there’s one that’s 10-1.

    • HobbesMkii says:
      The company (which makes euro-game stalwarts like Puerto Rico and Ra) had 800 products made before World War I.

      They also made some of my favorite games as a child–Labyrinth and Enchanted Forest!

      • His_Space_Holiness says:

        Ravensburger could always be counted on for more whimsical alternatives to the Darwinian, win-at-all-costs style of the Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley catalogs. Or at least it seemed that way.

    • ChicaneryTheYounger says:

       Had a look through every Ravensburger game publish 1949-1990. Found nothing.

    • Aurora Boreanaz says:

      They also do a great job with jigsaw puzzles.

  5. vinnybushes says:

    they appear to be manufactured by the schowanek wooden toy company in west germany, good luck finding out anything about them in English.
    they made a bunch of  board games so these could be from any number of games, though it looks like these might be part of a poker dice game.

  6. Sam_Barsanti says:

    “What The Hell Are These Dice?” is my favorite recurring Gameological feature.

  7. Andy Tuttle says:

    Have you contacted Uncle Fun, maybe they know something about them? I’m assuming its some kind of store.

    • John Teti says:

      It’s a store that sells all manner of kitschy bric-a-brac, and the dice were in a grab bag full of third-rate action figures, ultra-cheap plastic doodads, a lone playing-card joker, and a huge pile of other stuff. Novelty junk, basically. So alas, they’re pretty unlikely to have any more info.

  8. HobbesMkii says:
    This list has 35 pages of dice games, with photos of the dice (and a waitlist of games without dice photos). I can’t rifle through all of them (because I’m at work, keep that on the down-low), but I’d wager they, or a close equivalent that would explain what they’re for, are in either the list itself or the waitlist

  9. Xtracurlyfries says:

    There’s a game called “Phase 10,” but the dice usually have numbers from 5-10 and from 1-4 with wilds.  I suppose it could be an alternate set with 1-5+wild and 6-10+wild, where the “10-1” is wild?  I’m reaching.  I’m not up on my Wurfelspiel, clearly.

  10. Effigy_Power says:

    I have spent the last hour looking, even went through Koplow Games 92 page catalogue:
    I’ve seen more dice than a Companion Cube manufacturer at a Cubed Cheese and Ham dinner during the Yahtzee Championships, but I can’t find this specific die.
    Shame. On the other side, I really want to play tabletop now. Thanks a lot, GS.

  11. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    Well, here’s the issue.  They’re not dice at all.

    • HobbesMkii says:

      I wonder why it didn’t persist as a species?

      • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

        Hunted to extinction by stone-age Teutonic game designers.
           They were easy to catch, as they were already weakened by their alpha male headbutting courtship rituals.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          It’s pretty impressive that nature uses the Latin alphabet, too, by the by. Or that it would specifically reference West Germany.

        • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

          @HobbesMkii:disqus You’re dangerously close to positing irreducible complexity, Mr. Texas Board of Education.
             It’s just fantastic coincidence.

  12. Andy Tuttle says:

    Oh shit, I might have found it:

    edit: No, I don’t think so. Damn.

    • HobbesMkii says:

      Too square, though. And the dice have separate dice for the operators, so it’d be weird to have a “10-1” on one of those faces.

      • Andy Tuttle says:

        Yeah, the more I looked at them and researched the game I realized that it was wrong. They’re still making it BTW, apparently it’s a best seller for that company.

  13. Fluka says:

    When you roll the dice, do they summon an unspeakable ancient evil from the Planes of Chaos?  And if so, did you at least get a free frogurt?

  14. Bad Horse says:

    It looks like it could be from some edition of TUF, the 60s math game from Avalon Hill:

    • Andy Tuttle says:

      This has the same problem as my suggestion of Equation. The dice are shaped differently and they don’t have the 10-1 face or say West Germany. I wouldn’t be surprised though if they did come from some kind of math game.

      • George_Liquor says:

        I’m thinking Eff was right, and that 10-1 face is something akin to aces high or low in Blackjack. 

  15. CNightwing says:

    I’m stumped. I’ve found a reference in ‘Maths Teaching’ magazine, from Germany 1990 to a dice game featuring 10-1, but that’s it..

    • Effigy_Power says:

      Too recent, maybe? I don’t know if a game that came out in 1990 would still feature dice labelled as W. Germany, unless they had been commissioned a while before.

  16. George_Liquor says:

    I gotta cry uncle here. The best I can muster is an agreement with @ItsTheShadsy:disqus that they’re related to those Roll-A-Word dice; maybe they’re made by the same company, but for a different game.

  17. Mike P says:

    As soon as I saw them, I assumed they were props to the new American Horror Story.
    Witches love Dice

  18. Naked Man Holding A Fudgesicle says:

    These dice are from the board game version of the huge German TV hit Stackenblochen. The numbers on the dice represent degrees, the goal of the game is to roll the dice and subtract one number from another to have the lowest degree angle deviating from zero. Obvious, really.

  19. vinnybushes says:

    this page may very well hold the answer to what game these dice are for but I also happen to be terrible with numbers.

    • HobbesMkii says:

       That’s the page that lead me to the Boardgamegeek list I posted above, actually. Unfortunately, no similar dice are listed or shown there. And a google search of the face notation “6,7,8,9,10,10-1” turns up nothing.

  20. boardgameguy says:

    I think this is all backwards….aren’t we supposed to ask the AV Club?

  21. caspiancomic says:

    Why the numbers 6 through 10, with a 10-1 face? My first theory was that these die were meant to supplement a traditional D6 for games that required rolls to potentially go as high as 10, but since this set of die starts counting from six that would mean having a six on both die. If there are die that are meant to complete this set, I’m willing to bet they’d be numbered 1-5 with an additional 10-1 side instead of a six. Probably the faces of the die would represent each number with arabic numerals rather than the pip design we’re more familiar with.

  22. Chalkdust says:

    That’s Numberwang!

  23. Merve says:

    Have you considered that maybe this is all just an elaborate prank?

  24. ItsTheShadsy says:

    Alright, based on the research we’ve done (including pouring over the 35-page dice list), the best guess I have is…

    They’re generic dice from the late 50s or early 60s. Not associated with any game in particular, but made by a company that also made similar dice for other board games. The company may have been either Schowanek or Ravensburger, though it doesn’t seem to come from a proper game that either company sold. (Here’s an example of the type of dice Ravensburger made at the time, with a very similar shape and typeface.)

    The 10-1 side was likely intended as a wild card of sorts; these dice were probably supposed to be used alongside other dice with lower numbers (0-5?).

    • Merve says:

      I know we have a couple of German commenters on this site. Maybe one of them would be so kind as to contact Schowanek or Ravensburger on Gameological’s behalf. International sleuthing!

      • Effigy_Power says:

        I read German pretty well and didn’t find anything. I also searched on and some other pages. Zip.

        • Merve says:

          Well, if they made these dice somebody at those companies might know something we don’t know. In all likelihood, though, they’re just as clueless as us. It’s a long shot.

  25. Bowen Kerins says:

    Here’s my 

  26. Captain_Apathy says:

    Looks like dice from a game called “Roll-a-Sum.”

    Based on the title, I’m guessing that it was made by the same people who created “Roll-a-Word,” like Aurora Boreanaz mentioned quite awhile ago.

    EDIT: One caveat… I’m not sure exactly how the included instructions actually relate to the dice….

    • Roswulf says:

       *Claps enthusiastically*

    • stepped_pyramids says:

      Yeah, the instructions seem completely different than the dice — the 10-1 isn’t mentioned at all, and the colors are wrong. It’s clearly the same type of dice, though.

      • HobbesMkii says:

        The instructions mention red or black cubic dice, though. The link from @Captain_Apathy:disqus shows a blue die with 3 red ones, so it’s possible Matt’s dice were in a first run, while the pictured die was included in a second run where they had more blue then black. Given that the goal of the instructions is to make 21 (as in Blackjack, like @Effigy_Power:disqus suggested) I would bet the 10-1 is the Ace in Blackjack–it’s either a 10 or 1.

        So, there are two players, Red and Black (or blue, in the photo). They each roll the three dice in their color, each with the face listing 6,7,8,9,10,10-1, attempting not to bust. If they’re over 15, they can choose to hit once by rolling the 4-9 “bonus cube” (not included in Matt’s dice. He’s also missing a third regular cubic die). The player closest to 21 without going over wins.

        It’s basically Dicejack.

        • ItsTheShadsy says:

          Based on this picture, it looks like the full version might’ve had six dice, black and red.

          So… where did the lone blue die come from? It’s possible it was an early edition, but I’m still sticking to my notion that some outsourced German entity was making the dice for American companies, including whoever was responsible for Roll-A-Word and Roll-A-Dice.

          But yeah I think this is the best explanation we’ve got! Mystery solved!

        • John Teti says:

          The only trouble with the “ace” theory is that in blackjack, an ace is either 11 or 1, not 10 or 1. It’s the 11 in the ace that makes a blackjack 21.

        • HobbesMkii says:

          @ItsTheShadsy:disqus That picture clears it up. Hands of two with a bonus 4-9 die. And only one die has the  6,7,8,9,10,10-1 face. And the last die has the numbers 2 & 3 on it (perhaps its a standard 1-6 cubic die? That would make a 15 far less likely on the first roll, encouraging use of the bonus die).

          @JohnTeti:disqus I would hazard that it’s a 10-1 instead of 11-1 due to the difference in the probability of getting over 15 in two dice and over 21 in three dice versus the probability of getting 15+ in two cards and over 21 in three. It’s hard to know without without being able to figure out what the other sides of the third die have marked on them. I’ve also forgotten most of my statistics to back that theory up with any credible numbers. I’m sure some smarter person could tell us what the probability for a standard 52 card deck versus the above dice (assuming the second of the first two dice is a 1-6) in achieving either of those outcomes are.

    • ItsTheShadsy says:

      I’ve found another picture that has the right colors, but yeah, it almost seems like it’s talking about completely different dice (4-9? What?)

      Roll-A-Sum seems to be by Knight Toy & Novelty, a very non-German company, which might support my theory that the dice were just made by somebody else. Definitely the same people who did Roll-A-Word though, so it makes sense that they’re the same time type.

      This is probably the closest we’ll get without knowing who’s smuggling in all these dice from Western Germany.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      I think that’s it. Or as close as we’ll ever get. And it explains why a bunch of German-made wooden dice would be in a shop in New York. And those 10-1 dice just don’t show up anywhere else.

    • John Teti says:

      Wow, that’s closer than I ever thought we’d get. Well done!

    • boardgameguy says:

      Incredible. I thought this would be a mystery for the ages.

    • Andy Tuttle says:

      There’s a reason he’s called the Captain.

      • Captain_Apathy says:

        Yes, I have undergone intense training so that I can hunt down obscure items on the internet.

  27. ItsTheShadsy says:

    [oops this was supposed to be a reply]

  28. JokersNuts says:

    Hey there Gameological Gameorinos!

    …sorry I just like saying that and miss the videos

    • John Teti says:

      We took August off because a lot of the staff went on vacation at times, so schedules were tough to manage, and also because the games released in July were pretty dire. We just didn’t think there was enough to talk about. Back to normal this month!