In this article, I take a detailed look at dice trays including why people use them and what to look for when picking one to buy for yourself or your group.
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A Question about Dice Trays
This article is inspired by a question I received from long time Tabletop Bellhop fan Emmit O’Brian, who wrote in to ask:
Anyone here use dice trays for rolling? My wife wants me to make some for the group. My question is, Is there a difference in usability or transportability in the different sizes and shapes of trays? I’ve seen square and hexagon trays, my brother in-law has a narrow tray that seems like it would be easier to transport. What’s the difference?
Check out Episode 133 of the Tabletop Bellhop Gaming Podcast to hear Sean and I talk all about this topic, including what dice randomizers we use, why we use them and what we look for in a randomizer. We also get into a discussion on dice towers as well as dice trays, something I won’t be covering here.
What I will be doing in this article is trying to distil our conversation down, with a focus on what features you will want from a dice tray and what I look for when buying one of these dice rolling tools.
Reasons for using a Dice Tray
Here are some reasons you may want to use a dice tray.
Managing big pools of dice – While you probably don’t need a dice tray for a game where you are only rolling one or two dice, or even a small handful, they can really come in handy when you are rolling a big pool of dice (say five dice or more being rolled at once).
Using a tray for managing pools of dice is mostly about keeping the dice contained into one small area so you can quickly look at the tray and see your results instead of having to find dice scattered all over the table.
Keeping the dice away from the other stuff on the table – Even when rolling smaller sets of dice you may want to make sure the dice being rolled don’t interfere with other stuff on the table. This could be helpful when you’re playing a euro game with lots of cubes out on the table or a miniature game with delicate figures that you spent hours painting.
Using a tray when you have a crowded table makes sure that the dice don’t knock anything over or cause any damage.
Sharing dice – There are a growing number of games out there that use custom dice. Along with that, most board games only come with one set of dice that you are expected to share among the players. Using a dice tray is a great way to share dice at the table, rolling them into the tray and then passing the tray with the dice onto the next player who needs them.
I’ve found that dice trays that feature a staging area are great for sharing dice.
Keeping things in your own space – Some gamers and game groups like to have an unofficial player area or dice rolling area for each player. This is meant to keep one player’s stuff from touching another player’s stuff for whatever reason (often superstition based but also important for stopping the spread of germs).
Dice trays can be a great way of keeping your dice in your own personal playing area.
Transporting dice – In addition to providing a place to roll your dice, many dice trays can also be used to transport your dice as well. I personally do this for many games that feature custom dice when I’m going to a public play event. If, for example. I’m running Edge of the Empire at the FLGS, I just stuff my dice tray full of Star Wars dice and off I go.
Protecting both your dice and the table – Metal dice are becoming more and more popular. While often very beautiful, many of these dice are heavy and feature sharp edges and can easily damage whatever surface you are gaming on. Similarly, I’ve seen more and more people picking up very expensive gemstone dice. These are way more fragile than you would think and you don’t want to take the chance of rolling them on a hard surface.
For both of these deluxe die types, a dice tray can provide a softer, safer, place to roll.
Dice roll better in a tray – While I don’t personally believe in this superstition a number of people do. Some gamers I know even have more than one dice tray which they use for different types of rolls.
Increased randomness – While I haven’t seen any actual studies that verify this, I know people who believe that rolling in a tray is more random. Except for people trying to cheat by doing some kind of fancy roll on a table, I don’t think they are actually any more random.
If you are that worried about randomness you probably want to look into purchasing a dice tower and not a dice tray or some kind of product that combines both.
If the problem is cheating you’ve got an issue at your table that needs to be addressed and a dice rolling tool probably isn’t going to help.
What are the disadvantages of using a dice tray?
It’s something else you need to grab – One of the main things that keeps me from using my personal dice tray is that I never actually think to grab it on game night. This is true when playing at home, but much more so when gaming at a friend’s or in public.
Dice trays take up space – Depending on the type of tray you have you will need to find somewhere to store it. If you are anything like me you’ve run out of space on your gaming shelves a long time ago and a dice tray may be taking up space that could be filled with another game.
Can make rolls harder to see – Depending on how high the edges are on your dice tray and how big your gaming table is, dice trays can make die results harder to see, especially for people on the other side of the table.
Many dice trays are loud – Dice trays can be loud, especially ones made of wood such as the many popular laser-cut birch trays that are out there. When using one of these trays you need to be aware of the people around you. This can also be a problem with you are live streaming as you don’t want the sound of the dice to be louder than the people talking.
Dice trays are not free – In general, you don’t need a dice tray. They are a luxury item that’s not needed to be able to play games. As a luxury item, they can really range in cost from cheap to ridiculously expensive. Many of the benefits of a dice tray can be easily accomplished by just grabbing a box lid. Personally, I would generally rather save my budget for more games.
What to watch for when buying a dice tray?
There are all kinds of Dice Trays out there; wood, lined wood, plastic, square, hexagonal, round, silicone, PU leather, folding, magnetic, snap together and more.
Just search for “Dice Tray” on Etsy and you will find a huge range of handmade trays. Checking Amazon for dice trays, or even just stopping by your FLGS, you will also find many companies out there that specialize in dice and dice trays. One of my personal favourites is Easy Roller Dice (who gave me my favourite tray).
Things to avoid when shopping for a dice tray:
While deluxe homemade wooden trays look great, you have to worry about damaging that art with your dice. Especially if you use metal dice. Similarly, they are hard, and you don’t want to take the chance of using gemstone dice in a wooden tray. As far as the surface goes, they aren’t really better than rolling on a table.
Along with that, and perhaps more importantly, wooden trays are loud. Wooden trays with a padded bottom are better, but often these use felt that can get damaged. Most handmade trays I’ve seen that actually use padding only feature it on the bottom, the rolling surface, and not the sides of the tray, so you still have dice hitting wood.
Square dice trays – Many of the dice trays out there are square. I suggest avoiding these for four reasons, the four corners. Dice don’t bounce out of corners well and can also get stuck there. Getting dice out of corners can be a pain. While I said square, the same goes for rectangular trays as well.
Heavy dice trays – This is another issue with trays made of real wood. Depending on the wood and the hardware used to assemble them, some of these trays can get rather heavy. Now if you only play at home this may not be much of a problem but if you will be transporting your tray regularly or carrying it around at a con you probably want something lighter. It’s important to balance visual appeal with actually getting the tray to the table and using it.
Big dice trays – While a big tray may be great for games with tons of dice you don’t really need a large tray to roll a handful of dice. Big trays are similar to heavy trays in that they aren’t easy to transport but they also have the added disadvantage of not being easy to store, and of potentially taking up too much table space.
Small dice trays – On the opposite side of this you have trays that are too small.
I’ve seen some really tiny dice trays and while these may work for rolling a single D20 in a D&D game they aren’t going to work for most board games. You probably want something that will work with as many of your games as possible and not just for one or two specific, low die count, games.
Soft plastic, fabric and/or silicon dice trays – While I strongly recommend using silicon component bowls and snap-together trays for component organization, I can’t recommend the same material for a dice tray. The one dice tray I tried made of silicon didn’t work that well, due to the fact that the sides weren’t solid enough. They were floppy and occasionally dice would just roll right over the sides and out of the tray.
Dice trays that are too deep or too shallow – In general, we play games where everyone should be able to see the results of the dice, so you want a tray whose sides aren’t too high as to obscure the results. On the opposite end, you want the tray to actually contain the dice. If the walls are too low, dice are going to be popping out all over the place.
What features do you want in a dice tray?
Dice trays that will protect your dice – Look for dice trays that are padded in some way. This can include PU leather, velvet, felt, foam, etc. You want a soft surface to roll on. Be sure to check that all surfaces the dice will hit are covered and not just the bottom of the tray.
Hexagonal dice trays – I strongly recommend finding a hexagon-shaped dice tray. These feature no sharp corners where dice can get stuck or obscured. In addition, they are designed so that the sides are at angles that will bounce the dice towards the centre of the rolling area.
Easy to transport dice trays – You want a tray that is light and small enough that you can bring it and use it anywhere. You may also want to find one that serves as a way to store and transport your dice, so that it’s more than just a rolling surface.
Dice trays that feature a staging area – Speaking of storing dice, you may want to find a tray with a dice staging area as well as a rolling area. This is what I have and it’s great for games where you need to pass sets of dice around and share them with the group. This style is also great for transporting your dice.
Collapsible dice trays – There are a number of dice trays out there that have been made to collapse. I’ve seen trays that you roll around an included dice tower other unique designs, but the most popular collapsible trays use either snaps or magnets in the corners.
These trays are easy to transport and to store. Some people even like to store them right in their game boxes. These trays also have the advantage of being able to be found for surprisingly cheap prices.
Personally, the dice tray I own, and get the most use out of, comes from Easy Roller Dice. It features a tribal-looking wolf pattern on the lid, has a staging area and two different dice-rolling surfaces.
I find this tray great for at-home use and will also sometimes pack it with me when heading to the local game store or a friends house to play. I do this the most often when I know I will be playing a game that requires custom dice, and in that case, I will use the tray to transport those dice.
I also got a lot of use out of this tray when playing Star Wars Edge of the Empire as it was a great way to pass the custom dice needed for that game between the players.
While this tray works great for me, it may not be the best for you, which is why I tried to list suggestions on what to look for in a dice tray. While it’s my favourite, this particular tray may not match what you are looking for.
I’d love to hear about your favourite dice tray styles, and what you look for in a tray, in the comments below!