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Taking Turns

Essays

Roll and Wrong

O Updated
(Photo by Jorge Franganillo on Unsplash)
There Will Be Games

The genre of roll-and-something or something-and-write or whatever else there is these days has really grown in the last few years. To start with, there was a deluge of Yahtzee-style games, but soon the genre added themes and settings to try and draw people in and make them feel like they were exploring a map or fighting monsters. In this article, I want to talk about my experiences with roll-and-write games, as I will call them from here on in for the purpose of simplicity.

I really enjoyed some of the early, more maths-based games, like Qwixx for example. It felt like a nice step away from the original Yahtzee and presented you with a clever little puzzle. These games also introduced the idea that players could all take turns at the same time, using the same dice results as everyone else. It created a feeling of playing together. These games were no longer multiplayer-solitaire.

Of course, it didn't take long for new games in the genre to replace the dice with something else. A deck of cards allowed people to gauge what cards and therefore what numbers were left. It reduced the amount of luck to some degree. Ultimately though, you were still filling in boxes, ticking things off or otherwise writing on a piece of paper or maybe a laminated sheet.

Many of these new something-and-write games tried to inject a setting or a theme. They wanted you to number the houses in a street or to plan a tour around Europe. At the end of the day though, none of these games really conveyed the theme to me and it still all felt like you were doing your accounts. There were only a few games that I genuinely enjoyed playing more than Yahtzee.

Too Much Roll and Write

As the genre grew and more games came onto the market, the situation seemed to get worse. It was clear that publishing a roll-and-write type of game was pretty easy and not very expensive. It was a great way for established and new publishers, or self-publishers, to get their game out there without a huge amount of financial risk. The problem was, as the floodgates opened, it wasn't just a deluge of wonderfully clean water that came through. Unfortunately, a lot of other stuff made its way down the river too.

The more roll-and-write games I tried, the more I felt I was just ticking boxes on one part of the sheet of paper to eventually tick more boxes somewhere else. Playing a roll-and-write game, at least for me, became more and more like filling in a spreadsheet. Most of the games I tried just made me want to play Yahtzee or Qwixx more.

There was a mix of games that just tried too hard and games that were clearly just rushed out without much effort. The genre started to lose its lustre. The potential it had seemed to be washed away by the sheer volume of games forcing its way onto the market.

Roll and Write Maturing

Over time, the roll-and-write genre matured. It became clear that it was time to invest a little more effort in producing good quality games. Designers did what they could to come up with new mechanisms. They did a lot of work to integrate the setting or theme from the start, rather than paste it on afterwards. I think it's really only in the last year or so that roll-and-write games have become fun again. They finally achieved what they seemed to have tried to do at the beginning.

For example, after being hugely sceptical, I was proven very wrong when I played Aquamarine by Matthew Dunstan and Rory Muldoon by Postmark Games at UK Games Expo 2022. I expected yet another game where you roll dice, highlight areas on a piece of paper and then tick off certain special effects or bonuses, which then allow you to tick off other boxes somewhere else and so on.

However, the game is really amazing. You really feel like you're diving down into a reef. You're trying to observe fish and reef plants and maybe spot a sunken ship as well. Sure, you do tick off bits somewhere, for example, to track the amount of oxygen used, but it still feels very thematic. So not only is the diving mechanism really clever, you do get really engrossed in the setting. In my first dive, I really didn't want to go down too deep and was more snorkelling than diving.

Colour Me Pink

There has also been a growth of roll-and-colour games in recent months, probably fuelled by the popularity of colouring books for grown-ups. It's an activity I enjoyed myself and can be really calming and therapeutic. Not only that, but you also end up with a lovely little picture that you could hang on your wall.

Roll-and-colour games scratch a similar sort of itch. They also give your brain a bit of a puzzle to solve at the same time. These games also make great greeting cards, of course. Not only do you give your friend or family member a card that looks nice just in black-and-white, but you also give them a game and by the end of it they have a lovely coloured card to put on their mantlepiece.

As you can see, the genre of roll-and-write games has gone past its teething problems and is now growing and thriving. I'm really excited to see what new games come out in the next few months. I've gained a new respect for the genre and am keeping a keen eye on it.

What About You?

How about you though? Do you like roll-and-write or games from that genre? Did you come across really bad roll-and-write games? What are your favourites and why? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. I'd love to hear from you.

There Will Be Games

Oliver Kinne
Oliver Kinne (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Oliver Kinne aims to publish two new articles every week on his blog, Tabletop Games Blog, and also release both in podcast form. He reviews board games and writes about tabletop games related topics.

Oliver is also the co-host of the Tabletop Inquisition podcast, which releases a new episode every three to four weeks and tackles different issues facing board games, the people who play them and maybe their industry.

Articles by Oliver Kinne

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BackBurnerGames's Avatar
BackBurnerGames replied the topic: #335333 31 Aug 2022 13:21
For the most part, I'm over roll-and-write games. There are a few I've played online that are fun and make sense, and I've found a few print-and-play games that I'll pull out from time to time. One in particular, Roll Estate, is a great cross between Yahtzee and Monopoly, but without the take-that aspect of the latter. It's a challenge that is actually satisfying.

But Welcome To... has kind of overstayed its welcome, as has On Tour. Next Station London has you drawing 4 different colored routes to gain points and complete achievements, but doesn't feel very thematic. Get On Board, however, has all the players playing on the same board, and you could get negative points for drawing a route along the same street as an opponent. That one is VERY thematic and challenging, and I do enjoy it.

I'm waiting for the Next Big Thing in board game design, because [blank]-and-write games seem to be a dime a dozen right now.
Gary Sax's Avatar
Gary Sax replied the topic: #335335 31 Aug 2022 15:47
Just with respect to myself, I think they have a pretty limited and discrete play life even when I enjoy the first few plays.
mads b.'s Avatar
mads b. replied the topic: #335336 31 Aug 2022 16:25
I've played Trails of Tucana quite a lot with the family. In that you draw routes on a nice map of an island, and all players have a slightly different setup. The goal is to connect important landmarks to cities near the coast and to connect some of the cities. It's obviously multiplayer solitaire, even if you can get a connection bonus by being the first player to connect to specific cities. So the core game is about being efficient and getting the right combination of cards at the right time, and in itself nothing special. I like the core gameplay, but I think what makes it good is that the map you draw on is also nice to look at.
SuperflyPete's Avatar
SuperflyPete replied the topic: #335360 01 Sep 2022 16:01
I have quite a few of these and I’m still a fan. Here’s the ones I have/had:

Dice Stars: I still like it.
Qwixx: I still like it.
Truck Off: Sucks and always did.
CLEVER: Was replaced by app.
OctoDice: My fave ever.
Roll..Ages: Bronze: Okay.

And there’s some exploration games that are just stellar:

Pencils and Powers
which led to
Doom Realm
which led to
Saucer Escape

That last one…I’m biased