Type: Dice / Race

Time to play: 30 minutes (Teaching: 5 minutes)

Best played with: 2-4 players (Best with 4)

So you have played Yahtzee and you thought that was about all you could do with the basic concept of rolling dice and scoring poker style hands – time to go back to the drawing board on that one! I am amazed at just how many dice games came out in 2017 – Nations / Istanbul / Castles of Burgundy just to mention three that converted from larger “big brother” board games to the quick and simple roll & write style.

In this growing group of games, my interest (having never played it’s larger version!) went to Istanbul, the famed game of trading in the famous merchant city. The game picks up on this theme with players rushing to buy a number of rubies (number dependent on player count). The race to the set number is made more complex by the 7 ways to achieve those crystals! However, one thing is central – the dice that you role every turn.

Those dice then, can offer you 6 things: 4 different commodities, money or a lucky card draw! The combinations of these options allow you to take actions; money allows you to gain money, while cards allow you to draw a number of cards and keep one. The most important dice faces are the commodities – they are trade-able for rubies (directly), for commodity tokens that can be spent in future rounds, diamonds (which can be used for re-rolls) or for Mosques (which can given you benefits in all following turns).

So if you can start to build up tokens or benefits to get extra commodities or build up lots of cash, then you will have the means to buy a crystal. One of each commodity, or a sum of one type, or just money will allow you to buy those pesky rubies. Even four of those expensive mosque buildings will give you the added bonus of a ruby. So in a game where you may be racing to just four rubies the exciting trick in this game is that the winner is rarely the player edging to the game end condition.

Once one player reaches the winning condition the round completes – back to the starting player – and you have the chance to get one OR MORE rubies! The trick of getting two in that last round to win really makes this game.

Short and sweet then – no complex rules, rich iconography throughout and it takes less than 30 minutes to play it even after about 100 attempts and with everyone trying to finesse their options!

However, balancing this up the game has two big downsides. It’s only a filler game – yes that’s a good thing too, but don’t expect too much when you open the box. This game is quick to learn and quick to play, but there is no subtlety and little real agency / autonomy. You will have a choice of (a) or (b) and little strategy available to you – just tactics.

Part of the reason for tactics over strategy is that you can’t real build a strategy when every round is driven by the dice. Their are some light strategies (see the tips) but the dice will drive this more than your choices – reacting to the dice is your challenge and your agency. If you get frustrated with the randomness of dice rolls though, then this will lead to much frustration.

Nonetheless, that’s what you buy into with a dice game – random rolls and a simple and short game. So in that respect, the downside for a player seeking out a roll & write game would probably find very few complaints.

Last notes;

  • If you like or want to try a new style roll & write game – I would highly recommend this fits in the collection
  • If you want a filler that gives meaty challenges in short time frames – look elsewhere for those brain burners
  • If you win, give it another go and switch the starting player!