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Shake, Rattle and Roll (and Write)

Roll and Write Games

Roll and Write Games are increasing in popularity. Things have certainly developed since the days of playing Yahtzee and shaking five dice in the hope of getting them all the same. There is such variety of themes, but they all have things in common (apart from the dice). They are usually quick to play, simple to learn, and hard to master. There may be an element of luck, but they can be played almost anywhere. They all have a solo variant too.

Five Zatu bloggers have sharpened their pencils and dug out some Roll and Write classics. Together they'll explain what they love about this genre of game.

Matt Thomasson says Welcome to DinoWorld

Roll and Write games are known for being lightweight, quick-to-play fillers (a generalisation, I know). However, Welcome to DinoWorld from Alley Cat Games breaks this mould. It is by no means a ‘heavy’ game, but it is heavier than your average Roll and Write. In Welcome to DinoWorld, you build your very own dinosaur park. All players use the same rolled dice, drawing a dinosaur pen, adding buildings and drawing connecting paths into their very own park. Dino pens must be powered by a generator. Each pen requires a certain die number for it to be drawn and must cover a certain number of squares. Some of the dinosaurs are herbivores and some are carnivores. There are also objectives between you and your adjacent player(s) which you are racing to complete.

The game comes with a ‘standard’ mode and a ‘danger’ mode. The danger mode adds in potential damage to your pens with the possibility of them malfunctioning and the dinos escaping.

I am a fan of Roll and Write games. I think they offer a lot of versatility and are accessible for a larger number of people. However, they do sometimes leave me wanting a bit more. This is where Welcome to DinoWorld comes in. There is a fair amount of planning and strategy involved in the game and it offers a level of depth that is not often seen in this genre.

Replayability is decent too, with the different buildings and varying objectives. I also like how there are two different sheets of paper; one for the standard mode and one for the danger mode, so you can vary the type of game to the audience you have. You are, to some degree, at the mercy of the dice, but there are ways to mitigate this. You can also combine dice if you really need to. This is a piece on Roll and Write games, so luck of the dice will always be a factor. Everyone uses the same dice pool so any bad rolls will be equally bad for everyone.

I always have a good time with Welcome to DinoWorld; it’s ‘thinky’, it’s ‘puzzly’ and you get to draw cute (or in my case, terrible) dino pictures. A fantastic Roll and Write if you are after something with a bit more bite.

Nathan Coombs rides Railroad Ink

As a kid, I used to enjoy making road networks on the beach, or creating a sprawling Lego train-set across the lounge. I don’t think these creative urges ever went away. Railroad Ink lets me return to my youth in a Roll and Write game for anyone. This game (in its standard form) revolves around four D6 dice. Each face shows roads, tracks, junctions, crossings and stations in various combinations. By drawing the routes from the dice, each player aims to create an extensive transportation network.

The great thing about Railroad Ink is that everyone plays at the same time, with the same rolled dice. There’s no complaining about having unlucky rolls. You all start with the same 7x7 blank grid. Points are scored for linked exits, along with the longest road and railway. Try not to end up with dead-ends.

Everyone can enjoy Railroad Ink. The game has wipe-clean boards, markers and a set of dice. The Blue Edition adds rivers and lakes (my preference) and Blazing Red has lava and meteorites. If more people want to play, just grab pens, paper, make a grid and away you go.

As a solo challenge, you can try to beat your own high-score. It’s a wonderful distraction; last year I used it to pass the time when waiting for a boat to take me off an island and back to the African mainland. The beauty of Railroad Ink is that it’s portable, quick, simply taught and it really can be played anywhere.

Callum Price drinks in the Cat Café

I’m not extensively versed in Roll and Write games, and that's to my own deficit. Of the ones I've played, I've always had a fantastically fun experience and rated them highly! Of the ones I own, Cat Café is the one I am most likely to introduce to friends and family. It's as lightweight as lightweight gets, with some interesting scoring that doesn't bog down the end game.

The concept is simple: you're at a café, and there are cats. Dice are rolled and players take turns to draft dice, with one shared die. Each result is associated to a different item a cat may enjoy, which is good, because you want to attract the most cats. You'll do this by decorating your area with assorted items cats find irresistible. Cat beds, toy mice, food bowls, the whole shebang! Each item scores slightly differently based on placement, making it important to claim the right amount and place them appropriately too. What's more, the columns filled give a score based on who does it first, so there's a time element to this game too.

Cat Café has a real air of chill about it. It's surprising how mindful the game can be. For a game about drawing cat accessories, you'll really get into it! It only takes one person to take a bit of care and attention to trigger the chain reaction of everyone adding stripes, pompoms and other decorative items to all the cat beds. We've even gone as far as whipping out the crayons and going the whole hog! But that doesn't detract from the competitive nature of the game. You still plan every placement tactically and focus heavily on ensuring you can make the most of what you draft. It's a great feeling to put chain reactions together and earn some big scores. Despite this competition, it's got a really lovely ambience to it. Cat Café has just the right amount of tactics available to make it continually engaging!

John Hunt joins the Cartographers

I have been really impressed with Cartographers – from the slew of Roll and Write games recently published, this one has stood out for me. Strictly speaking, this is a ‘Flip and Write’: you will play though four seasons of gradually shortening length, flipping a card each turn. These depict two polyominos of various terrain types - one you will correspond to your blank map grid. And so it continues, until the total of values on the terrain cards exceed the season limit, at which point the season scores.

There are four public scoring cards visible from the outset. Each season, two of these will score in a pre-determined rota. The choice of where to draw your polyominos is informed partly by the scoring cards, partly by restrictions on some terrain cards and partly by some bonus scoring on the map. All this makes for a crunchy puzzle.

The originality of Cartographers comes from the monster card, which is shuffled into the terrain deck each season. If one appears, everyone passes their map to an adjacent player who inserts this polyomino. If placed in the most inconvenient location they can identify, it will score you negative points in following scoring phases. This welcome “take that!” breathes fresh air into the genre; it is funny and frustrating, but the charm is that everyone is doing the same thing to one another. Then you have the puzzle of how much effort to put into reversing the negative impact of the monster, versus just ploughing on with your original plan.

Cartographers is well designed and produced. It plays well with a range of player counts (including a strong solo mode) at a cracking pace, delivers an engaging puzzle, welcome interaction and is timed to end whilst everyone still wants a little bit more.

Jonny Foster says Welcome to Your Perfect Home

Just like Cartographers, Welcome To Your Perfect Home (often shortened to just 'Welcome To...') is actually a ‘Flip and Write’. Rather than rolling dice, you'll be flipping over three numbered cards each round and selecting one to write down on your sheet.

Each number represents a house in the idyllic 1950s American neighbourhood that you're trying to construct in Welcome To..., and each comes with an accompanying power to score you more points. Some let you fill in pools in specific gardens, while others increase the value of parks on a street or add fences so that you can section off individual estates for even more points. Similar to Ganz Schön Clever, this can lead to a cascade of points at the end of the game, albeit in a calmer fashion than the explosive ending of GSC.

While there is a very solid solo variant to Welcome To Your Perfect Home, one of the best parts of planning your perfect neighbourhood is being able to do it faster than your friends. All players are competing to complete the three randomly chosen objectives first in order to score bonus points. The game ends when someone can achieve all three. This accentuates one of the best aspects of the Roll and Write genre: hubris. Thinking you can plan out the perfect row of houses and holding out for the ideal numbers to turn up can leave you stranded if your friends are taking sub-optimal moves to finish first.

This race is engaging and delightful. Combined with the unique aspect of everyone choosing from three options each turn, it leads to some truly unique games. Welcome To Your Perfect Home has a special place in my collection. We enjoy it so much that my partner and I have laminated some sheets to make it endlessly replayable!