Starting in 2019, Chessex Dice have been testing out a new approach to test sets. Previously, experimental sets were released at various gaming conventions to test their popularity, but this new approach sees Chessex releasing “Lab Dice” to all their usual market channels. Lab Dice sets have a limited print run and have, so far, only been available in 7-pc polyhedral sets; Chessex will decide which sets get to live on as ongoing products based on their popularity with customers as Lab Dice.
The first full release of former Lab Dice into regular production happened last week, and featured a number of sets from previous Lab Dice waves:
Wave 1, June 2019
- Nebula Nocturne
Wave 2, September 2019
- Nebula Oceanic
- Nebula Red
- Nebula Spring
- Nebula Wisteria
- Nebula Primary
There’s no news yet about whether any other Lab Dice sets will get a full release – I’m hoping so, for that 10d10 love. There are also more Lab Dice releases planned in 2021; no word yet as to what will be in them.
Let’s take a look at the different sets. All of my sets are 10d10 sets, purchased from Behold Games, my favourite online Aussie dice store.
Nocturne was massively popular when it was released as a Lab set, and has probably been the most popular Lab set released to date. It’s got a good swirl and mix of colours. The downside, in my opinion, is that Chessex have changed the ink colour – in its Lab release, it was inked in a light duck-egg blue. That didn’t necessarily match the set very well, but it was very readable. The full release features a much darker stronger blue ink, which is also the colour of the blue swirl in the dice – so blue-heavy pieces are almost unreadable.
Oceanic was the most popular of the Lab Dice Wave 2 releases. It’s a really pretty blend of sea blues and sea greens, and is one of my favourites. In my opinion the gold ink does it no favours, and I think it would have done better with white ink, or the duck-egg blue that Nocturne was originally inked with.
Spring was a lovely set in its Lab Dice release – delicate swirls of several different greens, with white ink. For some reason, Chessex decided what it needed was a healthy splash of pumpkin orange – which isn’t very Spring-like, and often blends with the green to leave the die somewhat muddy-looking. The dice without much orange do look good though, and I like what I think is a darker, stronger green element compared with the original release.
Now here’s a nice palate-cleanser: Wisteria. This was one of my favourite Lab Dice sets so I was very happy it scored a full release, and I think the new version does it justice. I do prefer the Lab Release marginally; the colours didn’t seem so strong, giving it more of a pastel feel, which suited it better. That said, there’s so much variation that other sets might look a lot more delicate.
This feels very simple – one colour, in clear resin. But it’s well executed and I think the results are fantastic. I suspect it’ll also look great in red-based palettes, for those who theme their dice by colour; this would suit blood, fire or even fruit-based themes. This is one set where I think the huge variation between dice is a good thing – having a set with equal saturation across all the dice would probably look quite dull. I’m not sure about the silver ink, though – if I were Chessex, I’d have done this one in white. (Then again, “if I were Chessex I’d make very different ink choices” is a constant refrain around these parts.)
And then came Primary. This set was all-new for this release, having not been previously tested out through the Lab Dice releases, and it makes you wonder why they have a test system if it can’t stop stuff like this getting through.
Look, I was all prepared to love Primary. I like swampy greens and cola browns. I love the old D&G Gem Blitz/Crystal Caste Firefly look. I genuinely love Kraken’s Prawject:26 “old bruise” aesthetic.
I am sad to report that I don’t love Primary. The colours are overmixed, the wisps look unpleasantly… biological, and the overall aesthetic is just a bit of a mess. And they feature the same blue ink as Nebula Nocturne, and it does them no favours at all. (I hold out some hope that they might look a lot better with a reink, perhaps in white or a dark bronze.)
Good for Curators
All six of the new releases have at least some variation between the dice; that’s going to be inevitable with an effect like Nebula. However, the degree of variation in some of these sets may lead to disappointment if you buy sight-unseen; you may prefer to buy in person, where you can select a set with a mix you prefer. Here’s a look at the variation in all these sets.
Nocturne: pieces without the purple can be very hard to read, but the overall colour density is similar.
Primary: there’s significant difference in colour between the dice, but because there’s so much pigment in the dice, the intensity is fairly consistent.
Spring: as with Nocturne and Primary, variation mostly means a different colour mix rather than huge changes in saturation.
Wisteria: this is a huge variation; a few pieces had hardly any colour, while others were verging on opaque.
Oceanic: similar to Wisteria, the least-coloured die has a single wisp of pigment in it. This was the variation I was most disappointed in, as I’d hoped it would be more like Spring or Nocturne in its variation. The pigment here is also much more transparent, like the Red and Nocturne pigments, where Spring and Wisteria have quite opaque colours.
Red: significant variation, as mentioned above, but I think that actually stands this set in good stead, and helps keep it interesting.
As you can see above, the variation is much more pronounced in some sets. If you’re happy to curate, you should be able to put together some really different sets based on the wide variance of colour and pigmentation in each style.
Glow in the Dark – the Luminary Situation
All six of these sets feature Luminary particles – Chessex seems to absolutely love these lately, and have recently discontinued all but one of their entire Borealis range and reissued them with Luminary particles, which was a controversial move to say the least.
Luminary particles look like pale yellow-green flecks in normal lighting, and glow blue-green in darkness. They can be charged under normal lights and don’t require UV to activate the glow. They’re visible in the dice to a greater or lesser degree depending on the opacity of each die.
This is not a traditional Glow in the Dark effect, as you’ll see below. These dice were charged in my lightbox for about an hour, and then photographed in very dim light; you can see the effect below. (They don’t need charging for that long – I just got distracted.)
Overall, I was happy with my purchases. Red and Primary were the two speculative purchases for me here – I probably wouldn’t buy Primary again, but I was pleasantly surprised by Red. Nocturne’s ink woes can be fixed with a reink, and Spring will be nice if I can curate away the orange. At some point I’ll also try to curate my sets of Wisteria, and Oceanic for better colour mixes, but in the meantime they’re pretty sets that will definitely go into my rotation of d10 sets for gaming.
What about you – are you going to pick up anything from this release? What do you think of Chessex’s approach to testing new sets? Let me know in the comments!