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Deck of Dice, a startup with a product of the same name, has created a new parlor game by putting an entire deck of 54 playing cards (jokers included) on a set of nine six-sided dice. The Cleveland-based company has been pushing the game forward since 2011, and this year, the company has high hopes that it can take off.

Tom Donelan, CEO of Deck of Dice, said in an interview with GamesBeat that the company has licensed its first gambling game to a major casino game company, which is launching an electronic table based on the game this year. And it recently launched a Facebook Messenger Instant Game in a player-versus-player format. That game is dubbed Shake It Up! Poker Dice, and players can easily share it via their Messenger accounts.

The goal is to build a brand new entry among the 100-year-old casino games that collectively make up a $480 billion gambling business worldwide. Donelan hopes to disrupt the industry with the new title, which is the brainchild of Carmelyn Calvert, an empty-nest grandmother in rural Illinois. Calvert, who passed away in 2015, loved games and had a great idea one night to combine two of her favorites. She began cutting some wood dice and figured out the right combinations of the playing cards to put on each die. For instance, she decided that any time you need an ace of spades, you don’t also need a six of spades. So, she put those on the same die.

Deck of Dice

Above: Deck of Dice.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

By doing it just right, she was able to preserve the ability to get all 40 different kinds of straight hands in a game of poker. That is, if you roll the nine dice, you will be able to get every kind of straight or royal flush possible in poker. She assigned the rights to Deck of Dice, and the company has patented the game system. The company has a licensing deal with one of the biggest casino game companies.


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“When you first saw this, it was a pack of dice in a pouch,” Donelan said. “We’ve done this with a drip feed of money. We’ve proved we could license this to one of the global leaders.”

Since 2011, Deck of Dice sold more than 250,000 physical dice at $10 per package in retail stores across the country like Wal-Mart, Walgreens, and Target. And that was with zero promotion. The founders also went to the Gen Con tabletop gaming conference, where they asked attendees to create their own versions of games using the dice. They came up with more than 100 different games.

“The board game demonstrated that players loved the idea of rolling dice for poker hands,” said Donelan. “Cards and dice are history’s most popular game platforms — by combining them into a functional new platform, Carmelyn created the most overdue game invention in history.”

Donelan knows there’s precedent for new games. Slingo was a combination of slots and bingo that saw great success after in was invented in 1995 by businessman Sal Falciglia. He created the game during his 60s by thinking about two favorite pastimes: slot machines and bingo. He conceived Slingo in his head and played it over and over again. In 17 years, players spent more than $1 billion on Slingo, and Real Networks bought the company for $15.6 million.

Above: Shake It Up! Poker Dice

Image Credit: Deck of Dice

Donelan has had to move gradually, as he has operated the leanest of startups with just eight employees. Along the way, he received help from game designer Steve Cartwright and Activision cofounder David Crane. Donelan described the Facebook game as a “Yahtzee-meets-poker” game.

Players roll dice up to three times to achieve a goal, winning points if they succeed. The game delivers authentic poker outcomes and capitalizes on this feature by awarding bonus points to the player who has the higher-ranking poker hand for each assigned goal. The first version of the game includes basic leaderboards and head-to-head match history. Additional features and content are planned for future versions.

“We have adaptability in terms of licensing deals, HTML5, and Unity-based games,” Donelan said. “I have shown I can take a punch, keep my vision, and make things happen. We hope the Messenger platform leads to new things.”

The Messenger game is a cute one, with the sounds and imagery that you expect from a social casino game. Donelan wants to develop a whole family of electronic and physical games, which map to the big trends in casino games, which means new games and thrills. His persistence has been appealing to me, and that’s why we’re writing about it once again. The game will eventually monetize through a combination of ads and in-app purchases.

Donelan said the reaction so far has been excellent — from players to potential trade partners.

“It’s been a long journey, but I’m excited that we found a way to be part of a key industry trend,” Donelan said. “And certainly also excited to see our real gambling version in casinos sometime soon.”

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