Quarantine Games: Roll and write games

A recent trend in the board game industry has been a huge influx of so called roll & write games. The most common example of this sort of game that everyone knows is Yahtzee. Essentially there is a set of dice and a score sheet, and players are tasked with rolling the dice and filling out the score sheet as best they can. More modern roll and write games have a lot more going on, but the concept is similar. The game consists of a set of dice (or cards in the case of a flip and write) and a score pad, which makes it easy to set up and play and low on the fiddliness (there aren’t a bunch of cardboard or wood tokens to set up/clean up). It also makes it a perfect candidate for remote quarantine gaming. All people need is a view of the dice/cards and a score pad of their own and they are good to go. 

One criticism of these types of games is that they are essentially multiplayer solitaire. In other words there is minimal or no interaction between players, as everyone is filling out their own score sheet and not able to affect what another player does. However this again in times like these can be a benefit. A lack of player interaction makes setting these up for distance gaming much simpler. And since the games can usually be played solitaire, if you are bored but want a non-screen based activity to keep yourself occupied during lock down these can be a perfect distraction. I’d like to highlight a couple of my favorite roll & write games and then give some suggestions for others that can be freely printed for play at home. 

Railroad Ink has players drawing rail and road networks to connect to the edges of the board.

One recent hit is Railroad Ink. Here players roll a set of four dice that show different configurations of roads and rails on each of their sides. All players then draw these four results somewhere on their board, which is a 9×9 grid of squares. Players must start from the edges of the grid and endeavor to connect as many different exits to each other as possible. The more connections for each network of rails and roads the more points they score. However, this is easier said than done. Three of the dice show curves, straightaways and a three way connection of roads and rails respectively. The fourth die shows places where there are rail stations that convert a road into rail as a curve or straight connection, or an overpass where a road goes over a railway piece. Each turn players are dealt the same puzzle pieces, but how they solve the puzzle can be radically different. Players also get points for their longest road and rail, and negative points for connections to nowhere. This is a very spatial puzzle to solve. It is a delight to see your network come together, but if you don’t plan well or if you don’t get the dice you need based on what you’ve drawn so far you can get stuck in quite a pickle. I personally find the game relaxing, but I have been informed by a lot of friends who have played it that they find it incredibly stressful. There are currently two versions of the game, red and blue, and each has different expansion dice for adding volcanoes and meteors, or rivers and lakes respectively. Additionally there is a kickstarter for green and yellow versions that address forest and desert dice as well as some new rules and objectives for players to chase after.

Game board, scoring sheet and work of art all in one.

Another favorite of mine is the flip and write game Welcome To. Here players are building neighborhoods by filling in house numbers on one of three streets. Each turn there are three numbers to choose from three different stacks of cards and each stack also has a corresponding power, cleverly printed on the back of each card. In this way the face up card is the number you can play and the remaining deck’s top card indicates the power.The goal of the game is to build neighborhoods, groups of houses that all have a house number filled in and a fence on the left and right side of the group. This is easier said than done however, as numbers have to be sequential like a real street however the distribution of the numbers 1-15 are not even in the deck. You can’t always rely on getting the next number you need on a street so there is a push and pull on when to skip a number.. The various powers let you spruce up the neighborhoods by adding parks and pools for extra points, increase the real estate value for neighborhoods of a certain size, or bend the rules to repeat house numbers or manipulate a house number up or down. 

The face up cards show house numbers and the back of each card that makes up the deck shows a corresponding power.

You wouldn’t think there’d be a lot to a game that just amounts to filling in house numbers on a score sheet, but there is something immensely satisfying about building your neighborhood. As is often the case with roll & write games the tactile nature of filling out the sheet feels like a sort of fun kind of work. Almost like the feeling of paint by numbers. At the end of the game you have your solution to the puzzle drawn in front of you, and each player’s solution is wildly different despite having the same options. The game encourages some interaction between players by having goals that players race to achieve, but otherwise continues the common trend of players doing their own thing.

Corinth is available as a free print and play file.

A lot of companies are offering free print and play versions of these games to keep folks entertained during quarantine. So if you have a printer and some dice you are good to go. Days of Wonder has shared Corinth which is a Roll & Write version of a favorite of mine, Ysphan. In the game players roll a set of dice and then organize them on a selection board based on the values rolled. Each player takes a set of dice to do the corresponding action working on trade routes or selling goods of different types. While the theme is pretty dry the dice selection mechanic is a lot of fun. Check it out here. Stonemaier games has put out a free roll and write game that celebrates all of their different titles called Rolling Realms. The game has simple rules and a free app so you just need a set of dice and you’re good to go.

Roll & write games are incredibly popular and it seems like every publisher is printing one or two. They are easy to produce since they are usually just some dice or cards and a score pad. While they are not all great, and some players don’t enjoy the solitaire nature of these games. However, during a time when a lot of people are isolated they can be a great way to keep your mind busy and solve a puzzle. If you’ve got a set of dice lying around they are well worth a try!

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