Have you ever had one of those moments when you feel like taking a punt on an item or a game just because of the box cover? That is what happened last month when I was looking to spend some Christmas money. Roam by Red Raven games is the game that caught my eye. But did the gamble pay off? Perhaps I would have been better off putting my money on an old nag at the Cheltenham races Read on to see whether I backed a thoroughbred.
Roam was released in 2019. It is set in the world of Arzium. For those familiar with Ryan Laukat, this will be well understood. Above and Below, and Near and Far all inhabit the same “universe”. These two have always held a fascination for me. The strong storytelling element of Near and Far being particularly interesting.
This is a family-friendly game for two to four players. The background story is that each player is in charge of a team of characters. They're searching for individuals who are lost within Arzium. As you find each person so you can recruit them into your search party. This will hopefully make it easier to find others later on.
This game is all about area control. Each player is positioned around a central search area. This is a 6 x 6 grid that is made up of tarot-sized cards. These double-sided cards have a character on one side, but display a landscape with six areas that can be searched, on the opposite side. Each player starts with three available helpers. On each turn, one is selected, and their area of exploration is determined by the configuration of the search area printed on that card.
The orientation of that search area cannot be altered. The player places marker tokens onto the central area showing which parts have been explored. The shape of the search area must fit entirely within the centre of the map. In the base game, if one area is already being occupied by another search token then this square is skipped and no token is placed.
Over several turns, players mark the areas where they have explored. As their characters are used each is flipped so that they no longer become available. Once all the helpers have been used, all individual player cards are turned face up and all searches can be resumed and player areas utilised. This rule forces you to use all of your characters within a few turns.
Some areas in the central 6x6 grid contain coin symbols that may be claimed if that part of the grid is covered by a search token. The amount of money claimed by each player is open information and this money may be used to purchase artefacts (and bonus points). The coins are also used to enhance the search area, by paying additional money searchers could explore further afield.
Once a three by two area card has all six spaces searched (and covered with tokens), the lost character on the other side is revealed. The player who has placed the majority of search tokens in this region claims this individual to join their search posse.
If there is a tie when claiming an area (and that character) then players may bid to win that card. Players may only place one single bid, with no counter offers being allowed. Each area claimed also gives victory points. These are added to determine the overall winner at the end of the game.
Artefacts and Variants
As the game progresses and more tokens cover the central search area, players acquire a number of coins. These can be used also to gain artefacts and special abilities. Some will allow you to search for free in other areas. One or two artefacts might widen your search area or even push other player’s tokens away from yours (this might be used to gain an area majority)
The game continues until one player has 10 cards (including their three starting cards). The final round is finished so that all might have an equal number of turns. The player with the most victory points wins, and if tide the player with the most coins is declared the winner.
The artefacts allow for extra moves and searches. Each in themselves will provide victory points but, more importantly, some will allow you to revise your searches immediately. Other artefacts will allow you to remove other players from the search area or push them to another part of Arzium.
For more advanced play one can have a number of search tokens in each square rather than limiting it to 6 tokens. This will increase the competitive edge for certain key cards.
Thoughts about Roam
What a lovely game. Roam is an absolute gem. I started writing this blog wondering about whether I had wasted my hard-earned cash or if I had found a treasure. I can honestly say this game has given us, as a family, so much more game than we originally expected. If you want to know why read on.
The concept of searching for treasure, characters or relics is not new. However, the mechanic of using the item or person that you have just liberated to then enhance your playing Is very clever. But not all treasures have the same value. Each of the central 6 cards has a different pattern of gold coins available, variable endpoint scoring, but more importantly, different numbers and patterns of search areas when they come into use. This is where the real thinking part of this game comes into its own.
One could aim to gain control (and win) a card that is a high-end point-scoring card. This is valuable but often will allow only one, or perhaps two, areas of searching when used. Alternatively, a player might try to win cards with an extensive search pattern. These will allow for rapid and extensive control of the board - but they are often of low point’ value at the end. This is a classic tortoise and hare conundrum. Having played Roam many times and at all player counts, I can vouch for the fine balance of this dilemma.
A number of times I have tried to reach the end goal of ten cards, and quickly so that other players have few cards in the hand. Despite having more cards, my aggregate score might still be just less than the others. Even those who have more valuable searchers.
Similarly, care is needed in choosing the cards. Each character card has a fixed area where searches can occur. Their orientation cannot be altered (unless using an artefact) and in picking up these cards to lay them in your deck, their arrangement will inevitably change. This means you need some spatial awareness in playing and also ensure that your “new” search card dovetails with existing search areas.
With each player sitting at 90 degrees to each other, the relative use of each card will be different. This means that while others might really hanker after one or two cards, you might not need them at all. This leads to the next challenge in playing. Each card only requires the six search squares to be completed. Often a single spot will remain before the card can be claimed. Even if a player is unable to win that card, they might consider adding one search token just so they can gain a bonus coin. However, in doing so, they will be assisting others in their aim to get ten search cards overall. Perhaps it is better to let someone else “waste” a single search card token just to complete that card.
The auction for cards is an interesting action. Not infrequently, two or even three players may each have played an equal number of search tokens on a card (three or two respectively). The individual who places the last token and completes the search card can place just one bid using their coins. Others will know how much gold they have so could choose to overbid to win. No counterbids are allowed.
In my opinion, this element of the game could be improved. As a family, we prefer to use a hidden bid system. The players who are “competing” for the search card each secretly place their coin bid and together reveal how much they are willing to pay. The highest bidder keeps the card. In the event of a draw, no one claims the card and all search tokens are returned to the players and the entire card is cleared and still needs to be reclaimed and searched again.
Within the game, the outpost variant awards an immediate three-point bonus if a player can completely enclose another with all eight surrounding squares. This is difficult to achieve. However, this provides an interesting distraction. The player might not only gain three points but gain a majority of search tokens over several cards. However, in the meantime, others might be making greater advances in gaining artefacts or better search cards.
Games with multiple competing strategies are extremely satisfying to play. This, coupled with a simple point tally, makes the end game scoring very simple. The appeal of Roam is that with the tiny investment of two or three minutes of setup time, players are rewarded with a clever, 30-minute area-control game. Then, in the end, packing away takes just seconds. Roam gives all of the gain and very little pain.
It was the artwork on the box that drew me in. The same colourful fantasy world is repeated in the character cards. These are lovely representations of the individuals in Arzium. The landscapes and grids are also nicely printed. Each person has their own personality, brought to life in the picture, with a few words explaining where they have been found. This helps with the theme of the search and rescue.
The large tarot-sized cards are perfect for the game. By placing six together this makes a suitably sized playing area. Any larger and they would become unwieldy and difficult to shuffle. The artefacts are printed on thick, high-quality card stock. The iconography is small but clear, making it easy to see the uses of each card. The search tokens are all wooden, nicely coloured, and more than adequate. Anything more fancy would be unnecessary.
Playing Roam is a pleasant 30 minutes. Whether with two, three or four players there is sufficient interaction to keep all players interested. Players can only place one set of tokens at a time and, with just 36 squares available, even the most analytical of minds should actually make a decision.
For a quick set-up game, there is sufficient “meat” to keep most gamers interested. Serious players might consider it a starter or filler game. However, with such simple rules and easy setup, even primary school children could play Roam. Perhaps with a little help from Mum and Dad.
Final thoughts on Roam
This was a gamble that has definitely paid off. Slightly lighter, but quicker games get far more table time than bigger heavyweight Euro games. Therefore, for value for money, Roam is excellent. It is enjoyed by everyone in the family and plays just as well for two players. Having dipped my toe into Arzium, the next question is whether to go a little further with Ryan's other classics such as Above and Below or Near and Far.
Watch this space.