Type: Roll & Write (almost!)

Time to play: 45-90 minutes (Teaching: 15 minutes)

Best played with: 3 Players (2-4 Players)

Welcome to the latest iteration in the evolving games category of Roll & Write. Yes okay, it’s like an iPhone – it evolved by taking something away (the writing!). In this game, you will be rolling dice and then marking up a central board with your commitments.

Image courtesy of GMT – this game is as fun and light as the box cover suggests. It’s also got as much richness and depth as the designer (same as Dominant Species suggests. This is a tricky combination but an impressive one and makes it a contender for any modern board game collection.

So, what’s the core of this game? Well it’s two fold – the map and the dice. The map is a rich picture of city planning with four similar purposed zones, a “greenbelt” to be protected and a series of mayor’s offices. This map is the effective writing pad of the players. You will be placing cubes on this map to mark where you are making points / advancements. Some parts of the map, like the greenbelt, just track your own progress for future dice rolls / scoring, however the main centre of the board is the town – four zones of area control.

Now, a few reviewers at the moment have been calling area control a lazy mechanic that gets added to a lot of games. I would agree with a lot of that, but I think that this game has actually really advanced it. The mechanic isn’t a simple case of “who has the most cubes”. In the town there are three rows and one outer space. Each row further out is more points – so it’s not just the most cubes but the total score of those cubes. In a sort of GCSE mathematics, this “moment” of your cubes in the area dictates your score. In other words, the one cube further out could outweigh a lot of cubes on row 1!

This is a really clever mechanic because it combines with the dice. The dice, the second major mechanic, dictate how you lay cubes onto the board. The more valuable the cubes will be, the more dice need to be exactly right! So remember those town spaces – you have to get the right colour dice to the zone marker, and then you need “?” dice to copy the zone. So, to go in the first row (the least points) one die needs to be on a particular side. To go in the third row, you will need three!

The dice though are also really clever because this is not like yatzhee – you don’t just score the best part of the dice roll, you score it all. If you can get two sets of dice that have benefit – you trigger both. So if some dice score for the town zones, and others can get a mayor’s office – you get both!

I love this, because you can re-roll the dice twice (three rolls total) and this can mean that you are picking between pushing for one really good outcome or two mediocre outcomes. You might be trying really hard for a square in the park (really good roll!), but you end up getting some greenbelt and a space in town.

This then becomes a real choice! Especially when you consider that the dice drive the length of the game. Each game can vary in length – the more times you roll the green and black dice the more potential there is for an extra hourglass which pushes on the game. There aren’t actually that many hourglasses required to end the game, but you can come to a sticky end if you are hoping for a lot more turns (and other players roll hourglasses!).

I clearly like this game, but there are things to consider when looking at buying this. It’s a light game – there’s tactical depth but ultimately you are rolling dice and even with extra rolls you can only mitigate so much. The scoring is clever – you get the lower of two tracks that you manager. However, this can lead to a big swing in the last round – those who know the game plan well and keep a good balance while newer players can really struggle to end up with a 20 point or more difference between the two tracks.

Also, I haven’t mentioned it yet but there are secret scoring and disaster events (random seed / timing). When these happen and which players are effected can really impact some games and/or some players. Being set back by a disaster is authentic but it might make the game end frustrating!

Last notes,

  • If you want an easy to carry and teach game, this has got lot’s of potential and still packs a punch
  • If you hate dice, then keep in mind that mitigation only goes so far
  • If you win, try again – the events may pan out differently.