This is a big box - and a heavy one. So heavy, in fact, that my kitchen scales maxed out when I tried to check the weight. Roll Player Adventures is the latest in a long line of kitchen sink games (so-called because they have so much included. Although you may argue it is because they are the approximate size and shape of a kitchen sink). Roll Player Adventures sees 1-4 players cooperatively take on a fantasy campaign.
Roll Player Adventures is set in the fantasy world first introduced in Keith Matejka’s excellent game of Roll Player. A game of dice drafting and fantasy character creation, you roll the stats of a hero within the kingdom of Nalos. The world of Roll Player has been further fleshed out. Not only in expansions to the original game but also in standalone titles such as Cartographers and Lockup. Now you can explore that world in an original, narrative-driven campaign.
Given the size of the game, I am sure that the first question on your mind is “what’s in the box?!” So, to clarify, this is not a miniatures-heavy game like Kingdom Death: Monster. Nor does it contain a seemingly endless supply of cardboard map tokens. Or enough cards to build a replica of Buckingham Palace, like in Gloomhaven.
Instead, you will find pads of paper - used for tracking your campaign and your character stats. A few nicely designed insert trays, that hold the modest number of cards, tokens, and cubes that the game uses. Four player boards, and several double-sided paper maps.
You will also find a number of adventure booklets (there are 11 individual adventures in the campaign), a tome of encounters, and of course a rule book. The box is bigger than necessary for the base game. There is space for the expansion - predominantly the massive Backstory tome. The lidded insert trays are designed to keep the decks of cards separate, whilst standing vertically upright. The trays are able to hold sleeved cards.
What is Roll Player Adventures?
The game can probably be best described as an enormous choose-your-own-adventure book. A campaign of Roll Player Adventures consists of 11 individual adventures, played sequentially. To play a game, you either select one of the pre-generated characters or import a character from Roll Player (more on that later). Fill in the stats for the player on a paper sheet that fits into the dual-layered player boards. Take the appropriate trait, skill, weapon, armour, and scroll cards from the various market decks. Set up a campaign sheet based on the number of players, then take the first adventure booklet and map. You set up the map following the directions in the booklet, and then you can start reading.
There are no turns in Roll Player Adventures. One player reads from the booklet until they reach a decision point, then all players make a choice between possibilities. This typically directs the players to a new entry in the adventure booklet. It might see players making a skill check, or entering into combat. Once players have exhausted the options, they are usually directed to move the party location miniature (this is the only mini in the game. If minis are your thing then this game isn’t for you!) to a new location along a dotted path on the map. En route, you may have a randomised encounter, which will prompt you to read from the encounter book. Once resolved, or if there is no encounter, you arrive at your next location. Check the location entry in the journal, and start reading.
The game uses several systems to track your progress, such as keywords and Titles. Save an old woman from falling into a river? You may get the keyword JANICE. And when you reach another location on the map, checking the adventure booklet, it may prompt you to a particular passage when you have the JANICE keyword. (n.b. – to my knowledge, there is no such keyword in the game. I like to imagine that Janice invites you in for some tea and cake. Because adventurers rarely get to eat cake, and that should change).
If you gain the Title HELPER OF JANICE, on the other hand, then maybe she will turn up in a future adventure to offer you tea and cakes. Or, maybe she turns up in the finale and reveals herself to have been the BBEG (big bad evil gal) all along and will mock you for saving her. Classic Game Master stuff, really; it’s the sort of thing my GM pulls in my D&D games all the time.
So what makes the game more than just a big choose-your-own-adventure book? This is where the dice rolling that Roll Player is so pun-tastically named for comes in. You have a bag of dice in six different colours, each relating to the six attributes that every player has. Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma. During the game, you will periodically need to make a skill check or fight combat. Checks vary a little compared to combat, as you only get one attempt to pass, whilst combat takes place over up to three rounds. The setup for each is a little different, but otherwise, they largely function the same.
You will have dice boxes to fill, shaded in various colours, and with a certain number of pips. For example, a box showing a red and green outline with 3 pips inside requires a strength (red) or constitution (green) die of value 3. Dice are drawn randomly. However, players can choose to spend stamina tokens of the matching colour to choose specific colours of dice to add to the pool. It costs two stamina tokens per die, but players can split the cost.
These are then added to the Fatigue box on a player’s character sheet. If a player ever receives fatigue equal to their health limit, they become exhausted. They can no longer contribute to the game (mechanically at least) until they are able to rest and remove some fatigue.
Once you have created the pool, it is rolled. Any dice that immediately match dice slots on the check/combat card can be filled. For the remainder, players pick up their entire hand of cards. These provide dice mitigation abilities (and in some cases allow players to draw more dice from the bag).
For example, the Short Sword lets a player increase the value of a white or red die by up to 2. Cards may allow players to flip dice, increase or decrease values, or allow players to treat a die of one colour as if it were a different colour. Have a red Strength die with a value three, and the final box requires a black Dexterity value three die? If you have a card that lets you treat the red die as another colour, you can use it to fill the box. However, there is a limit on how many cards each player can play, and some cards once used go to a “spent” area. You cannot pick these up again until the party rests.
Once the check/combat is complete, you read the appropriate entry in the encounter tome (or adventure booklet, depending on success or failure). If the party is “killed,” you do not lose. The game instead sees you fail forward. Track the “death” on the campaign sheet, read the appropriate entry for what happened, and move on as instructed.
Overall the game is quite straightforward. Keep reading until you have to make a decision. Move around the map and interact with the world as your actions shape it. And, periodically, roll some dice and play some cards. Once you reach the end of the adventure, you can spend acquired gold and XP to buy new items for players, and level up characters collaboratively. There are no skill trees; levelling up is straightforward.
For gamers looking for a game like Gloomhaven, this ain’t it. Don’t let the similarity in box size fool you. This is very much a narrative-focused game, like Legacy of Dragonholt, although the combat/skill system in this is more interesting. However, a criticism of this game is that, unlike in Legacy of Dragonholt, there is no time track. This means that a party is at their leisure to continue traipsing around a map, even after completing the adventure. Resting is a no-brainer. Resting allows players to recover their spent cards, remove some fatigue, and regain all stamina. The cost is a minimum of just one XP per rest (you can spend more if you want to try and remove more fatigue). There is not a huge amount of threat. When I play a game of D&D, even when I am desperate to recover some HP and class abilities, I often can’t. How often will the dungeon boss let a party of adventurers camp outside their throne room for an hour to take a short rest? Not really an issue in Roll Player Adventures. The dragon on the box cover will presumably enjoy a good snooze at the same time.
Roll Player Adventures is a fun and enjoyable game. The narrative is good and engaging, and the combination of dice rolling and playing cards makes an interesting puzzle. It is not super complex the way Gloomhaven’s play can be. I am playing my campaign with my 10-year-old and 7-year-old, and we are all enjoying it a lot. It offers a really fun narrative RPG experience, blended well with the dice chucking and card playing. The production value is good, and the modular storage trays make setup and tear down a lot quicker and easier than many big-box games.
What I would recommend - if you own a copy of Roll Player - is to first create your characters and then port them over. It is likely that this will result in a slightly more powerful character than the pre-genned ones, and probably a bigger deck of cards. Plus, it gives you more investment in the character! Depending on player count, you can expect anything from 20-35 hours for a full campaign. There is some replayability as you can make different choices at various events, but overall the narrative arc will remain fairly similar given you will be replaying the same adventures. If you’re interested in a lighter (complexity-wise; fair warning to bend with your knees when you pick up the box!), narrative-driven RPG game, then you should pick up a copy of Roll Player Adventures.