I love roll and write games. Lady Luck does control the luck of the dice, and I do love trying to do the best with the dross I have been handed. I also am quite the fan of a couple of Stonemaier Games, you can check out my Viticulture and Red Rising comparison feature piece here. So already this game was on my radar and so when I got a copy upon release I knew the game needed to hit the table that very night. A danger of looking forward to a game though is that there is a lot to live up to. Thankfully as you can see from the score I gave on the left, this did not disappoint. Rolling Realms is great.
Where Our Story Begins
This is a game that was made during the pandemic lockdown as free print and play that Jamey Stegmaier created as a game that could be easily played over video call. As many of us felt the pinch of having our regular in-person board gaming curtailed, some stand up publishers published some versions of our favourites that could be played online. Or as in this case, designed a brand new game based on the IP of our favourite games that we can enjoy whilst the world was on fire.
The aim of the game is your typical point collecting. Highest points wins. The scoring is different for each realm and the way you use numbers on each card is never the same. Each realm has mechanisms that mirror elements of the game they are emulating. For example, in between two castles, you are adding numbers to try and fill up a pair of castles to gain stars (points) and resources.
In Wingspan, you are adding numbers to gain rewards, but whilst trying to hit a target wingspan number. Each realm feels so different. Which is of course quite in keeping with the games being incredibly different thematically. It would be jarring if the dystopian world of Euphoria played and felt the same as the whimsical wine making of Viticulture. Some of the realms I find incredibly challenging, and some combinations feel very different in difficulty to others. But that all adds to the game in my opinion.
Set up is pretty straight forward, one player shuffles up their deck of realm cards and deals out 3. Everyone else finds these cards in their deck and places them out ready with their scorecard tracker and resource cards and that is it. I mean I guess you need to take the lid off the pen too I suppose. It really is as easy as that though! After setting up, the dice are rattle and rolled nine times per round. That gives you 18 numbers to work with, and honestly it is very surprising what you can achieve with so little.
Each round you use one number into one realm and another number in a different realm. By using pumpkins you have collected, you are able to use two numbers into the same realm. This can be incredibly powerful when leveraged just at the right moment. You can also adjust the numbers, using pumpkins which may also help you to maximise your point scoring ability. The heart resource can be used to gain an additional die. You can combine this with pumpkins to use the die in a realm you have already used this turn. This way you can create some combo moves that if nothing else make you feel incredibly smug. Coins are my favourite resource as you can cross these off to get a die of that value, cross off two coins to get an additional 2 value die to use that round.
The iconography of this game is pretty straight forward, there are three resources; coins, pumpkins and hearts. Resources are collected and crossed off on your resource card which also has a handy explanation of how to use the resources too. There is further detail in the rulebook should you need it. The score card gives you space to write down the dice rolls as they come which helps to keep track of the rounds as well as having space for your scores.
So big thumbs up to Jamey for doing what he could to help during the pandemic when our gaming groups were all separated. After the worst of lockdown was over, Jamey decided to produce a retail version of the game, and in true Jamey style, he paid a lot of attention to the components. I am really influenced by the look and feel of a game, ahead of playing a game, if something is ugly or feels cheap then I have been known to prejudge games. So for me the component quality is key.
It is something that would seriously put me off a print and play game. The components of the game are simple in their artwork and design, and this feels perfect for this simply designed crunchy roll and write. The custom dice are huge and chunky. The pips are designed as little hexagons and the dice are marbled acrylic. The marble effect gives each dice an individuality that really gives each dice its own personality.
The dry wipe pens included are sharp pointed and have easy to remove and secure fitting lids. They write well as well as being easily removed. I guess until you review a game with very few components, you don’t realise how much depth you can go into. The main component that you want to be simply great are the dry erase cards. These need to wipe clean easily and without aging or looking grubby like many dry wipe boards do. There was clearly a lot of investigation into how best to achieve this, as these are a dream to play on.
The great thing about a roll and write is that it is always different. The die will never be exactly the same, and the skill in a roll and write is making the best of what you have been given. So for me, more than any other genre of game, the roll and write is king when it comes to replayability. I do realise you can have a bad roll and write that feels tired and dry. But rest assured this simply is not one of them.
I have played well over 30 games now, I don’t feel like I have grown to “know” exactly how to play. I have learned that some of the realms need more attention early on or else I will do very badly, but I haven’t got a cut and dry strategy for all of them and I doubt I ever will. The interaction between the realms is too important.
The game doesn’t just rely on the luck of the dice, but also introduces variation in the combination of three cards that you are playing each round. Some work together to make things easier, some will work against each other, all vying for those high numbered rolls and making your life just that bit more difficult to score well. This is part of the charm I think, you must be nimble in your strategy in order to do well, and sometimes you just have a bit of a mare. But that is games. I can’t think of any game where I don’t occasionally absolutely crash and burn. I guess if I didn’t, then where would the fun be?
In the age of the modern gamer, the solo mode is a key part of many games. Rolling Realms does not disappoint and in fact comes with a solo campaign. This is based on a mini golf and has 18 holes. These all give you which realms need to be played, and different win conditions. For example, you may need to get over 15 points, and also get at least 6 of each resource. So far I have found this campaign fun although quite hard.
I think I play in a particular way and am not so good at switching up my strategy to ensure I play to the exact win conditions. For me, I don’t see this as a bad thing, as I will get a lot of gametime out of the campaign. You get 3 attempts at each hole before you should move on. There is a mechanism where each time you fail you get to start with additional resources, which should make it easier to win. So I don’t feel like I will get stuck at any point and the campaign is completely replayable too.
This is a great time that plays quickly, in under 30 mins for three rounds so each round is over swiftly. The replayability of a roll and write is always high, and this is added to with the combinations of different realms you can draw each game and the ever expanding content, to give you a feeling of almost infinite replayability. If you are looking for a roll and write with a bit of think and a lot of replayability and you enjoy Stonemaier Games then I really suggest giving Rolling Realms a try.