Old-School Unboxing: TSR’s Dragon Dice circa 1995

Not to long ago I came in to a neat find (and by ‘came in to’ I mean Chris Hopper sent ’em to me).  Eleven still sealed boxes of TSR’s collectible dice game and answer to Wizards of the Coast’s Magic: The GatheringDragon Dice.  These eleven boxes were still factory sealed in slightly dusty cellophane and pretty sharp looking.  Also with these were three Firewalker “Kicker Packs” (i.e. boosters).

Being the gaming fiend I am, I couldn’t resist opening at least one box of these collectible dice from 15 years in my past.  I’d never gotten in to them when I was 15 years younger and here was my chance.  Of course I took a few pictures along the way.

Still sealed in original, slightly dusty plastic

Dragon Dice

Wondering what Dragon Dice are? Here’s the entry from Wikipedia:

Dragon Dice is a collectible dice game originally made by TSR, Inc., and is published today by SFR, Inc. It is one of only a handful of collectible dice games produced in the early 1990s. In 1995, Dragon Dice won the Origins Award for Best Fantasy or Science-Fiction Board Game. The races and monsters in Dragon Dice were created by Lester Smith and include some creatures unique to a fantasy setting and others familiar to the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game.

The game simulates combat between armies of fantasy races for control of a young world named Esfah. Dragon Dice classifies magical power by element: air, earth, fire, water, and death. Nearly every race in the game is composed of two of these elements. In the original edition, dragons and dragon-related dice (Dragonkin) were all composed of a single element each.

The box, once I removed it’s shrink wrap exoskeleton, was a tad flimsy.   The cardboard still had that “I just sauntered out of the factory and I’m full of addictive collectible items” smell, which is always a plus.  15 years hadn’t dampened the smell of lust and hope for rare dice.  Or was that just fresh plastic?

On the back, is the inscription: Dwarf marksmen cock their crossbows in anticipation of the coral elf troopers, who whet their cutlasses.  Goblin death mages prepare to cast their vile spells on the lava elf knights, who are mounted on their fearsome scorpion steeds.  And high overhead, elemental dragons circle above the field. . . .The fate of a young world hangs in the balance!  Are you ready for the call to battle?

The back of the box. Feel the urge to collect stuff yet?

As you can see, there are also a number of dice shown, 12, 6 and 8 sided.  Listed was a bit of info on what’s inside, including 18 randomly assorted, polyhedral dice – fifteen 6-siders of varying rarity (small is common, medium is uncommon and large are rare) plus two 8-sided terrain dice and a 12-sided dragon die.  Oh TSR!  You had me at polyhedral!

also included are an 18 page rule book with a 16 page reference guide (More on that later), with lastly, a nice pleather dice bag, emblazoned with the TSR logo.

On opening the box, I took a moment to gaze into it and see the neatly created, tri-compartmentalized dice and rules storage facility that had rolled out of TSR’s production factory, in China.

Tri-Compartmentalized is corporate speak for 3 thingies.

Enough of this, I upended the box above my counter and watched as the components fell out and self assembled into a neat little pile, like so:

Here's the guts of the box, strewn about my counter

The Dice themselves

The dice came sealed in their own plastic bag, which I feel compelled to add, resisted any attempt to open them easily, even with my teeth.  I finally succumbed to the inevitable and opened them potato-chip-bag style, which resulted in a fountain of spraying dice and a few frenzied moments as I battled with my cats for ownership.  Digging the last die out from under the couch, this is what my first batch came up with.  I’ll be honest and say, I took a look at the list of dice included with the game, sorted these suckers out by size, and ran out of time to figure out exactly what I had handy.

Them Bones

The Alternative to the Crown Royal Bag

It’s pleather construction, nicely stamped TSR logo and red faux velvet mini-divider rope, bag closer thing go a long way towards substantial dice management.  Of course, this bag never held any kind of liquor whatsoever, which counts against it slightly in my view.

It's not a sack, it's a bag

The Rules

On the rules – they are a bit on the complicated side and I get the feeling I’d have to play a few games before I really got the hang of things.  The size of the dice are important, as are the colors, and each face represents a different event in the game.  Their placement on the table is also important.  The big 12 sided die is my dragon.  The two 8 sided dice are terrains.  All the six sided dice are members of my polyhedral army.   That’s pretty much what I got out of it after a first read.  I’m fairly certain you roll them all to determine who deals damage, who saves against it and other things, like casting spells.  I’m almost positive you don’t throw them at anyone during the game as well, but I wouldn’t take the stand on it.

To assist with my interpretation of the rules, I found helpful community tips like this which made me fear just a bit for my sanity:

Dragonmasters come in the 5 elemental colors of the Dragon Dice game. Black, Blue, Gold, Green, and Red. Some of the colors are hard to tell apart. The Blues are often purple looking. The rule is: if it has any blue in it, it’s blue. The Red has got to be all red (and white mixed in). The Gold is a muddy brown more often than not. Sometimes the die is clear, or nearly black, and you can’t see any color until you hold it up to a light. If it looks black, but shows a different color when held up to the light, the color seen in the light is it’s color. (From Chuck Pint’s Dice Pages).  Chuck has put a lot of work into this page, despite it’s late 90’s look.


Dragon Dice never quite captured the same audience as Magic: The Gathering and other CCGs.  For one, it’s just not as straight-forward a game. Another point against it, it’s really easy to wander around with a bunch of magic cards in sleeves.  Try carting around a few hundred dragon dice.  I would imagine building your armies would be a bit harder as well – unless you had the storage capacity to keep all of your dice separated by type, race, and rarity. Perhaps another nail in the old coffin was the fact that I’ve never had to hold my Magic cards up to the light to see if it really wasn’t black, but was more sort of bluish-purple, with hints of chartreuse.

Alas, Dragon Dice didn’t work out as well as TSR was planning, despite the now sadly hopeful reviews by fans.  It still does live on though, and is even gaining some of it’s former popularity back, through the auspices of SFR Inc., who’ve gone so far as to keep producing dice.  Good on them I say, because as quirky as this game seems to be, you can bet I’ll open up at least a few more packs and try my luck on it.

[tags]dragon dice, unboxing, old school, rpg, role playing games, TSR, dice[/tags]

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