The goal of this series is to create a resource for game designers segmented by game mechanisms. Mechanics First Board Game Design. This particular article is about Roll and Write Board Game Design.
What is it? – Criteria of a Roll and Write game:
- Components consist of dice(or some way to provide randomness), a writing utensil, and medium to write on.
- Gameplay includes rolling dice and choosing something to write based on the results of the dice.
- Popular mechanisms to use within include push your luck and dice mitigation.
Why design it a Roll and Write Board Game? (Pros/Cons)
- PRO – They’re trendy (2017-present)
- PRO – Low cost to produce and prototype!
- PRO – Easy to find playtesters. Just print it out!
- PRO – Potential for a large player count. Examples of 1-99 players exist.
- PRO – Often simultaneous play.
- PRO – Easy to teach and learn.
- PRO – Easy to pitch an existing game as a Roll and Write.
- PRO – Possible to implement on digital.
- CON – Themes can often feel themeless.
- CON – Components do not last forever.
- CON – Market competition is increasing.
Publishers with 2+ titles ranked lower than 3000 on BGG:
- Gamewright – Sushi Roll, Quixx, Rolling America
- Deep Water Games – Welcome To series
- Stronghold Games – That’s Pretty Clever, Steam Rollers, La Granja: Dice game
- CMON – Railroad Ink (two versions)
- Ravensburger – Castles of Burgundy dice game and Saint Malo
- Eagle-Gryphon Games – Roll Through the Ages series, Fleet Dice
- Roll and Write Family on BGG
Unique Roll and Write Game Trends:
- 1+ Player. Includes solo play and no limit to the number of players.
- Punny Titles
- Pre-lamination on components
- Digital implementations
Roll and Write Game Design Resources:
- Pencil Park Design and Development by Daniel Solis
- Go Forth and Game – The Roll and Write Revolution – with Odin Phong and Benny Sperling
Game Genre Articles:
- Board Game Step Laddeer by Meeple Mountain.
- Game Informer – Digital Board Game Spotlight – Three Rad Roll and Write Games.
Old Game Design Contets to draw inspiration from:
Link to fan groups (FB / PnP site etc)
Links to sites to prototype it (Gamecrafter, Vista print, etc)
How? – Examples, finding the fun, an example myself
Let’s design a roll and write game together!
Without previous experience, it’s good to do little design experiments. This helps me find the fun parts quicker and also understand why something should or should not be part of the game.
Rolling dice is physical activity that just fun… but you don’t see people sitting in excel pushing F9 (recalculate) on the equation =RANDBETWEEN(1,6) for fun do you? Why not? Because you don’t care about the result.
You should care about the result of the dice.
Let’s say you get a reward when the result is 3, so the more results you achieve, the more rewards you get… having fun yet? I’m not, but I pressed F9 (recalculate) about 10 times just now. I would have gotten four rewards woohoo! I might still be pressing F9 if that reward was even $0.01 per reward. But I stopped because I think we’re missing a key ingredient…
Key Ingredient #1: Non-obvious player choice.
Okay, we need to come up with a sometimes non-obvious choice for the player. To create a system like this, let’s change the rules a bit. The goal for the player is now to write a 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 in an ascending series. To write the 1, the player has one roll. They can choose that they will find it or will not find it. If they are correct in their choice, then they write a one. If they are not correct then they lose. If they are able to write the 1, then they move onto the 2. They can choose if they will or will not find the result of 2 in two die rolls. And so on. Let’s see how we do!
Okay, this was harder than expected. I succeeded after about 15 tries. My strategy was to stick to probabilities and choose no for the first three numbers, then yes for the final three numbers. I changed my strategy on the number three as the randomness kept failing me. When I changed, then I started passing beyond 3. Was this fun? Not yet, but we’re close, and yet something is missing.
It felt good to succeed, but bad to endure the failed attempts.
The above system has potential, but I think it would turn off a lot of players due to the harsh nature of the RNG. Let’s add some flexibility and forgiveness to the system. Let’s allow players to bank a future number they see at the cost of one more / less roll at their current number. So for example… we’re rolling for a 3 and we said we would not find a 3. We roll a 4 though… so we bank it, which means we must roll one more time at the level 3 as the cost for banking the future 4. Let’s see how it goes! Okay, I banked a 4 when trying to write a 3. I quickly got to write in my 5. I failed to write a 6 two times in a row and then succeeded.
I felt that my choices were leading toward my success and I was more excited when I found success.
Okay, but how do we ramp up these feelings? Time for the final two ingredients: Scarcity and Press your Luck. Let’s limit your resources and give you the option to bank partial credit along the way. If you fail, now you do not score partial credit. You need to determine how much you want to risk a few more points. Let’s say you only get to make 10 total attempts. Now the max you can score is 60. How well can you do?
To up the tension, limit resources and build in a luck pressing system.
Experiment results will help solidify your hypothesis. Here is what I have found as some key ingredients to a fun roll and write game:
- Present players with a non-obvious choice more often than not. Present players with a challenging goal to prevent the game from feeling predictable or even solvable.
- Allow them the flexibility to make decisions and explore the game mechanics.
- Restrict resources to build tension (rolls or other) and present players with a system to press their luck.
Notice some of the things that we did not talk about player interaction or player agency above. There is often player agency baked into a player writing on their own medium. Keep in mind this is an experiment I created on the fly to help inform a hypothesis. My goal is to design a Roll and Write game this month and come back with my results and see if the hypothesis holds true.
Help us determine the 4th player color for the Pond Life Expansion!
Coral and Neutral will be in the base game. White and Charcoal are players 2 and 3 added to the Pond Life. We need help picking the 4th player color for the Pond Life!
- Blue 44%, 48 votes48 votes 44%48 votes - 44% of all votes
- Green 30%, 33 votes33 votes 30%33 votes - 30% of all votes
- Maroon 14%, 15 votes15 votes 14%15 votes - 14% of all votes
- Yellow 13%, 14 votes14 votes 13%14 votes - 13% of all votes
Should you delay your kickstarter?
When I woke up today and read my inbox, there was a message from my manufacturer with a new quote attached. The cost of the game went way up. I’m still trying to understand the reason for this. After a few hours, I decided to push out the Thrive Kickstarter by one week. This got me thinking… how do you know if you’re ready? Well there are tons of resources and checklists available. But readiness comes down to confidence. Instead of using checklists, you should use your objective logic and answer these five questions.
If you answer no to any of these questions, I would advise you to reschedule you KS launch date.
- Am I 100% confident that what I have on my KS page is what I can make?
- Do I trust my manufacturing quote?
- Have I reminded my reviewers / previewers of the latest launch date?
- Did I spread the word enough?
- Am I confident in my product, enough to withstand strangers poking holes in my work?
I answered no to two of the above five questions… so we pushed the date out a week. External and Internal forces were at play here. With Thrive, new information was presented to me just today Feb 21st. The project was supposed to be live Feb 26th. It’s bad timing, but honestly better now than during a live project. Quotes came back from our go-to manufacturer and they were wildly different from the initial game quotes. This news was a red flag and it came just 5 days before the intended launch date. It caused me to answer no.
What is the risk?
Anytime you change your schedule there are risks. I announced this publicly with friends and the press awaiting content publication. There is a risk that some press misses rescheduling their content. There is a risk that people excited about the game show up and it’s not there so I will send a newsletter to keep people updated. But I need to be 100% sure that I can pull off the components that the game requires before going live and making promises. It’s not the end of the world, and I would rather be confident going in that pulling my hair out because of a rush job.
The new tentative date is March 5th. If my confidence is not at 100% then that date will push out as well. Aside from the hard truths above, there are some line items I would consider grey areas and it’s much more normal if there is still some change during your project.
Okay to to have some flux:
- Stretch goals – If you’re doing stretch goals, do you have at least 3-5 of these planned at the start? Do you have one “pie in the sky” idea just in case?
- Community Feedback – Hopefully your game design is complete, but it’s always cool to ask the crowd for inspiration or feedback with your choices. Be prepared to create at least one more quote to quantify the cost of the ideas or feedback.
- Events – Is you calendar slammed or open for invitations? You might find some local backers excited to meet up at a FLGS and check out the game.
- Media – Do you have any more prototypes to send? There might be a key influencer or media person looking to try out your game once they find you live.
- Marketing / Ads – Do you have some FB / BGG ads up? It’s smart to check on them during the campaign to optimize your spend for the highest ROI. Notice I did not say lowest price per click.
Delaying the date was a big relief. These crowdfunding events eat up a lot of brain space and can cause a lot of stress. So for today, we won’t let that get the best of us. But we will be prepared when we launch. Until then!
If you’re interested in learning more about the game Thrive, see the games page on the menu!
Have you felt like your stomach was in a knot and this decision was tough? Did you delay or not? Did you regret it or not?
Adam’s Apple Games is exhibiting at Essen Spiel 2018 and will be located at Hall 2 Booth C109. They will be selling Swordcrafters Expanded Edition as well as demoing future titles.
For Sale: Swordcrafters Expanded Edition – 45 EUR.
Swordcrafters Expanded Edition inclues the Swordcrafters base game and expands on the game with three exciting new modules that can be played singly or combined. The sword of protection has broken again. The king has opened up the forgotten tomb granting you access to Sword Mastery, Sword Relics, and Sword Tips.
The Expanded Edition layers in three exciting new modules: Relics, Tips, and Mastery. Relics add new tiles to the grid creating more importance on your set collection expertise. Tips grant players two additional goals that score based on their sword. Mastery challenges players to complete mini-goals throughout the game.
In Swordcrafters, players compete to forge the best sword scoring based on length, quality, and magic. Each round, each player makes one cut in a grid of sword tiles to create a separation. After the separations phase, each player selects one grouping of sword tiles and assembles them into their sword. When there are not enough sword tiles to form a new grid, scoring occurs.
Players hold their swords in the center of the table to score based on length. Sword quality is based on the highest number of adjacent matching gems on each side of the sword. Sword magic scoring is based on the relevant gems required by each of three sword magic cards.
For Demo: Brewin’ USA: Taproom Takeover
The brewing industry in the USA is flourishing and taprooms are leading the way by attracting customers to the site of creation for the ambitious new ales hitting the market.
Players compete to brew craft beer and fill their taproom with the best lineup of liquid gold. Taproom Takeover brings dice drafting to the world of Brewin’ USA and adding new Breweries and beer cards that can play with the original Brewin’ USA.
I love building things so engine-builder games generally leave me very satisfied. I’m currently designing an engine-builder called Brewin’ USA: Taproom Takeover. Since I’ve been playing a lot of these games, I am writing down some thoughts on favorite and popular games with this mechanic. I plan to start a design diary on Taproom Takeover so constructuing an informed written opinion will be helpful to me. I hope it’s helpful to you as well if you’re going to design an Engine-Builder game.
Splendor – Your resources are your engine which definitely allows you to get points faster.
- What I liked: Simple and easy to learn.
- What I disliked: Splendor is so streamlined and tight that it results in an intense play experience even for new players.
- Other comments: Personally didn’t feel like I was builder an engine but rather an infinite resource discount. This intensity lessens the enthusiasm to play this game.
Race for the Galaxy – Your tableau provides your engine and VP. Your tableau allows you upgraded actions and production.
- What I liked: This is my first exposure to engine builder with nice level of interaction via role selection.
- What I disliked: There is a lot going on, and a lot of stuff to remember but it can feel very satisfying. Learning the icon soup and turn-to-turn upkeep can be “feature” barriers to getting this game to the table.
Roll for the Galaxy – Race but with dice so it must be good.
- What I liked: The components were very nice.
- What I disliked: I was expecting to like this more than Race hearing that it was more streamlined and better components. The dice present randomness to the roles which takes some of the role selection depth out of the game. It wasn’t different enough to add to my collection and the hidden player screen is a big component turn-off for me.
Orleans – My favorite on the list. The engine is the tokens in your bag that you will play on your player board and spend back to the bag only to draw them again later.
- What I liked: The player had control to keep this game really tight or to acquire a large bag of tokens. There was a fair bit of center game board interaction in addition to the engine. There additional to this game that I have not yet explored, but information was compartmentalized pretty well so I was not overwhelmed.
- What I disliked: Players having access to all upgrades (I think). Going that route allows players to optimize additional token placement options for their player mat. I never really utilized this aspect of the game and still had a great time so I wonder if it is adding value or not.
Terraforming Mars – Your engine is somewhat already established and your goal is to make it more efficient. Each round you get a boat load of credits and your goal is to improve this and convert it to VP later.
- What I liked: The theme just works. It was fresh and executed in a way that you could tell the publisher / designer was excited about terraforming. Layering in co-op, semi co-op, and competitive parts of the game is neat. The end scoring is a clever design.
- What I disliked: I felt that the loosey-goosey rules deterred me from enjoying the game altogether. My main gripes were about players taking one action or two actions on a players turn both slowing the game down and rarely adding strategic significance. The entire game I kept asking myself why this was not a simultaneous action selection game. The game components were a bit of a letdown.
- Other comments: This game is very expandable. The combination of cards driving with a strong resource conversion backbone and shared game board interaction was impressive.
Imperial Settlers – Your tableau is your engine and it’s cool to have the choice of production, features, and actions that are either common or faction specific.
- What I liked: The engine aspect was very neat and the tableau placement a welcomed layer of depth. I liked drafting cards because I felt like I was interacting with other players.
- What I disliked: One small gripe was not really being able to see other people’s engines and making draft choices lacking this information.
Dominion – Mostly commonly referred to as a deck-builder, but your deck is your engine.
- What I liked: A mechanism distilled down to its core. Combos are all over the place which adds a lot of depth.
- What I disliked: Not being able to read cards on the table. Variety is really only added by different sets of cards. Player interaction is very little.
Gizmos – Your tableau triggers free actions when you do a particular action allowing you to generate combos.
- What I liked: The marbles were cool and the engine you built was a challenging project to make something efficient.
- What I disliked: It didn’t feel like this game did anything interesting in terms of player interaction. The randomness of the marble draw was pretty painful if you’re only drawing one marble at a time. A player’s engine can ramp up much quicker than another player’s engine.
Scythe – If only this game were pitched as an engine builder game.
- What I liked: There is a lot of awesome stuff here. The simple action selection system builds a lot of depth into your turn. The game flows really well. The end-game scoring is pretty dynamic and the goal system is charming. I think the most innovative part of the game is how you move resources around with you on the map.
- What I disliked: The theme makes me want to fight with mechs dudes on a map style, but the game caps its incentives to fight. Some player boards and starting location combos can feel disadvantaged.
A few observations of this list:
- There are not a lot of light games on this list. I would say Splendor, Dominion, and maybe Gizmos are the lightest of the bunch.
- The heavier games tend to involve a central play area that creates more interaction.
- Many of these games have a lot of resource types (avg is 5+). The games with less resources or an underlying money resource have much more combo flexibility (terraforming / dominion).
- Not many dice games on my list. Let me know if I am missing some.
- Asymmetry is somewhat popular.
- Not many engine-builder games have an elegant slow down mechanic. The one solid example here is dominion and VP cards that slow your deck down.
- Randomness is not used too often.
- A lot of these games could also be classified as a race game. Splendor, scythe, gizmos, dominion, both race and roll.
- Not that many options for solo or co-op on this list.
- No craft beer games on the list…
My next article on engine-builder games will start to dive into the game design for Brewin’ USA: Taproom Takeover.