By Louis Sylvester
Growing up, I played my fair share of a game called Yahtzee (age 6 and older, 30 minutes), one of the original roll-and-write games. To play, you roll five dice up to three times, hoping to earn the best combination of pips. Maybe you want a full house or a large straight or the best possible roll: five-of-a-kind, aka a “Yahtzee.” Then you write down your roll on a score sheet. This process of rolling dice and then marking your sheet, hence the designation.
But I find Yahtzee to be a bit too simplistic and luck-based for my taste. Because of this, I didn’t always think too fondly of roll-and-writes. However, in the last couple of years, gaming has seen an incredible reimagining of just what can be done using the model. More than a dozen top-notch games have been released that outshine Yahtzee in both strategy and fun. Here are a few to check out.
Simple fun in a short time
In the delightful game of Rolling America (age 8 and older, 15 minutes), each player begins with a pencil and small paper map of the United States divided into fifty states which are bunched into six colored areas. In the center of the table, a common bag is filled with seven dice, one matching each color on the map and a clear die that is considered wild. Players take turns drawing two six-sided dice and rolling them. All players write down the numbers rolled in the area that matches the color of the dice. For example, a red three and a green five means you need to write a three in one of your red states and a five in one of your green states. But there is one small rule that makes this process tricky: You cannot write a number in a state if an adjacent state has a number that is more than 1 pip away from your current number. So, if you have previously written a four in Idaho, you can only write a three, four or five in Washington. If you can’t write a number because of bad planning or unlucky rolls, then you mark an X in a state on your map. At the end of the game, whoever has the fewest Xs wins.
This game can handle a large group (the box says 1 to 99 players) and takes less than half an hour. Rolling America is easy to learn and fun to play. It’s a great game to pull out during a game session to kick off the night.
Another one of my favorite new games is the more complex That’s Pretty Clever (age 8 and older, 40 minutes), also known by the German title Ganz Schoen Clever. There is a learning curve to this game, and the rather-involved score sheet can be intimidating. However, after a few rounds the rules click into place and players will find that the game is easy to navigate, even though the strategy can run pretty deep.
Forget the dice
Perhaps you don’t care for the randomness of dice but love the idea of writing on a score sheet. With the game Welcome To … (age 10 and older, 30 minutes) each player has a score sheet that pictures a small suburban neighborhood. Instead of rolling dice, three piles of cards are set up. On each turn, the top card of the three decks is turned over. The various cards allow players to choose from various actions, such as building parks, putting in swimming pools, and setting up fences, all in hopes of creating the highest-scoring neighborhood. Players share the communal cards and take turns simultaneously, which means there is little down time. And because dice aren’t used, players are better able to plan their strategies than in a game that relies on the random rolls.
And many more …
Because roll-and-write games are easy to learn, quick and fun to play and inexpensive, it’s no surprise that so many new titles have been released in the last few years. In addition to those listed above, I recommend checking out Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game, Fleet: The Dice Game, La Granja: No Siesta, Railroad Ink, Roll Through the Ages, Catan Dice Game, Harvest Dice, Roll to the Top and Octodice as wonderful additions to any game night.
Sylvester is an associate professor in the creative writing program at Lewis-Clark State College. He is the co-author of “Legends of the Lost Causes” series, a rip-roaring adventure set in the fantasy West, available now. You can send him your questions about tabletop games at firstname.lastname@example.org.