In this blog: I explain what ‘roll & write’ means in board gaming.
There are all sorts of terms used within board gaming to describe the mechanics of a game. Familiarity with the jargon helps us to define the types of games we enjoy and find new ones to add to our collections.
I regularly write blogs in which I explain one board-gaming term. Today let’s look at ‘roll & write’, games. As the name suggests, in these games, players roll dice then use the dice rolls to write or draw items on a sheet of paper.
How roll & write games work
There are two key components to every roll & write game – the dice and the paper scoresheet. Each round or turn will begin with the dice being rolled and then players making decisions about how to use their dice rolls on their paper.
For example, you may have three dice that you can use on your turn. You’ll have a choice about how and where to use the values. There will be multiple options. For example, in Rolling Ranch you are putting escaped farm animals back into pens. Your scoresheet is split into fenced fields made up of different sized hexes – each containing a number – in which you have to fill with pigs, sheep or cows. The dice have pictures of animals and numbers on each face. On each round, two dice are rolled. All players choose the number from one die and the animal from the other. Then draw that animal on a hex of the corresponding number on their farm. Other players will make other decisions.
Simultaneous vs. turn-based action
Roll & write games often use simultaneous action. One set of dice is rolled at the start of each turn, then all players use those dice rolls on their own page. These games can be scaled up effortlessly. It doesn’t matter how many people are playing, everyone plays on every turn. Everyone has a completely equal input (the dice rolls), but the choices they make will influence the output (their finished scoresheet).
In Railroad Ink, the four dice contain lengths of road and railway – in straight lines or curves – all faces rolled must be placed on every turn by every player. Players aim to create the most efficient and high scoring network with the dice rolled. The options about where to place each section of track are so extensive that all players will make different decisions and end up with different networks.
Other roll & write games use turn-based action. On your turn, as the active player you roll the dice, then you choose some to use, possibly allowing the remaining dice to be used by other (passive) players.
In Qwixx, your scoresheet contains four different colour rows of numbers. On your turn, you roll all six dice, shouting out the total of the two white dice. All players cross this number box of on any row on their sheet. Now, as the active player, you can combine a white dice with one of the four coloured dice to get a second number that can only be used on the row of the corresponding colour. So each player has the option of crossing one box off on every turn, but the active player may also cross off a second box. Choosing when to cross boxes off is key as once you’ve crossed off a box, you can no longer cross any box to the left of it on the same row. Your aim is to get as many crosses as possible on each row.
Playing Escape on Game Night
Player interaction… or lack thereof
In many roll & write games, particularly those using simultaneous action, there isn’t very much player interaction. You’re focused on your own paper – trying to get as many points as possible through the choices you make. Though in some games, your choice of dice may limit the choices other players have.
One recent notable exception with high player interaction is the fabulous cooperative roll & write game Escape: Roll & Write. In Escape, all players have their own map of a tomb which everyone is exploring. Together, players try to gather treasure, some of which relies on two players being in specific chambers at the same time. Moving around isn’t easy and lots of discussion and cooperation is required in order to work out how to use the dice rolls most effectively.
Flip & Write games
The roll & write genre also includes ‘flip & write’ games. Here cards are used instead of dice. On each turn or round, cards are flipped and players use the cards to determine the possible actions and what players can write or draw on their scoresheets. The advantage of cards over dice is that you can get more information onto a card (should you wish to). The main difference, mechanically is that when cards are flipped they are removed from play, which ensures that a spread of cards will come up each time. With dice rolls, even if you roll three sixes in a row, you may roll another next time – there’s no removal.
In Trails of Tucana, each scoresheet shows an island comprised of hexes and a deck of cards indicates the terrain types that exist on the island. On each turn, two cards are flipped and all players must draw a line connecting adjacent hexes of those types somewhere on their sheet. Players aim to create a network of routes that join villages with key features of the island to score points.
Cartographers also involves mapped terrain. Each player builds up a map during the game. Most explore cards that is flipped contain either two terrains and one polyomino shape or two shapes and one terrain. Players choose from the two options then decide where to draw that a shape of that terrain on their map. There are a number of different scoring conditions, four of which are randomly selected each game.
Trails of Tucana
Why roll & writes are good for families
Roll & writes are a great option for families because:
- They are easily portable and compact – great for a cafe or car trip
- No player is sitting around waiting for their turn for very long (if at all)
- The focus is on your own scoresheet which reduces arguments and tension
- With simultaneous action roll & writes, everyone has the same input, so the game is inherently fair.
- The components are limited, which usually keeps production costs down making the games affordable.
Dark Imp roll & write games
I’ve always loved Roll & Write games and I’ve made a lot of my own. So far, all my roll & write games use standard six sided dice, to make it easy to download them and play at home.
In Mini Town, each player has a scoresheet containing a 5 x 5 grid representing their town.
Play is simultaneous. Each player plays at the same time on their own scoresheet. Each player chooses how to use the two dice. Other players may make other decisions. One die shows the location (row or column) for the construction. Choose from any of the available squares in the row and column. The other die shows the type of construction (road, park, house, library cafe or shop) that can be built in one square. Each player draws their chosen construction type within their chosen location.
For example, if a 2-3 is thrown, you may choose to draw a house in any empty cell in row or column 2 or a park in any empty cell in row or column 3.
When all players have used the dice roll, re-roll for the next turn. Players must use dice rolls if they are able to do so, even if they’d prefer not to. If a player is unable to use a dice roll, they must cross off one of their three ‘No Throw’ boxes.
The game ends when at least one player has crossed off all three ‘No Throw’ boxes or when there are no empty squares in at least one player’s Mini Town. Each type of construction scores differently. You score points for your largest area of parkland, so you want to place parks next to other parks, but houses score double when next to parks too… while cafes score a lot, but only if there are no other cafes on the same row or column.