Roll and Write games are currently very hot in some gaming circles. It’s not a new idea, but there has been an explosion in creative ways to roll dice and mark something on a page. I haven’t played all of them, or even very many of the latest games, but I wanted to wander down memory lane with this style of game. I’m going to do most of this from memory of how to play the games, so while I’ll do my best to fact check, I may mess up some details.
Let’s start with the one we all know. Yahtzee is one of the games that nearly everyone has played at one time or another. You roll dice, and mark off certain criteria. You lock some dice, and re-roll the others, eventually marking off parts of the page like straights, full house, 2’s, etc. The mechanics are very similar to the newer R&W’s today, and I still enjoy the game from time to time. It can go on a tad long for my tastes though. Like Monopoly, there seem to be a billion different themed versions of this now. I currently own a Dr. Who version with the cup/box being the Tardis.
The first modern version of a R & W I can think of is Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age. At this time it was kind of becoming vogue to make card or dice themed games of well-known board games. This was based on Through the Ages, which was probably in the BGG Top 10 at the time. It took the set collection aspects of Yahtzee, and made it so you were earning and spending resources on a board based on the die faces. One interesting thing it did was created a way to earn additional dice, but at the cost of requiring more food every turn, or else you lose points. You got to build wonders and buy additional abilities/bonuses. It was a bit of a revelation for me into what you can do with a simple idea of just rolling dice.
The next one that caught my eye was Qwixx. I’m pretty sure I first noticed it when it got nominated for the 2013 Spiel des Jahres, eventually losing to another game I enjoy a lot, Hanabi. Once Gamewright came out with a US version, I rushed to get it. It was deceptively simple, but the die rolls were used in a completely different way than the previous 2 games. First off, everyone was involved on every die roll, regardless of who rolled them. You’d roll 6 dice, everyone can use the sum of the white dice, and the active player can add a white die to one of the 4 colored dice, and cross off something on their sheet in a row. The trick is you must cross off numbers from left to right, so if you skip a number, you can’t go back and cross it off later. 2 of the colors go from 2-12, and 2 go from 12-2. Once a couple of rows have been completed, the game ends, and you get points based on how many numbers you crossed off in each row. It’s simple, but has some tough decisions. It’s also cheap and very simple to teach non-gamers.
The past couple of years has seen many of these types of games coming out. I won’t go into detail for all of them, but I’ll mention which one is my current favorite, Ganz schön clever. This was nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres this year, which is the “Gamer” Game of the Year award in Germany. It’s simple, but has some legitimately tough decisions to make each turn. You roll 6 six-sided dice, and you lock one. The trick to locking one is that you then lose any dice that you rolled that are lower than what you took, and those dice become available to your opponents after you are done rolling. You repeat the process two more times, and whatever dice that are left over are also set on the tray for your opponents to use. So your opponents are actively using some of the dice you rolled. Now, I’m not going to get into specifics, but the other trick is the brilliant use of the colored dice and the sheet to write on. Each color does something different, and can score you points at the end of the game in different ways, so while the numbers matter, the color also means something. And you gain bonuses by filling out your sheet, which can range from additional dice to use on your turn, re-rolls, bonuses for other colored sections on the sheet, and foxes. The foxes are often the difference between a big score or not, because once you add up your total scores in each color, you then take the lowest score and multiply the number of foxes. So it rewards you for trying to balance out your usage of each color, not just maxing out a couple of them. It all sounds complicated, but once you’ve played it, it makes sense, although it’s not easy to do well.
I’ll stop here. I have played many others over the past year, and I really enjoy the genre. Some of the mechanics are getting really interesting, and it will be exciting to see what comes out next.
What Roll & Writes do you enjoy? I know I am missing several above, but I could have doubled the size of this post easily if I would have mentioned them all. Feel free to mention more in the comments, I am really loving them right now.