Roll and Write Board Game Design

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 higher 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

Link to all Roll and Write games 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:

Game Genre Articles:

Old Game Design Contets to draw inspiration from:

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: 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 set a goal.  The player’s goal is now to string together consecutive dice rolls in ascending or descending order.  They can choose to continue rolling or they can stop rolling and challenge the next player to beat their string of consecutive in ascending or descending.  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.   Let’s see how we do!

I rolled a two, then a three, and chose to roll again and I rolled a two to break my string of two consecutive rolls.  This is a pretty harsh punishment to press your luck, although it is definitely a player choice.  It felt good to string together a consecutive roll ascending, but bad to find failure so easily.

It felt good to succeed, but bad to find failure so easily.

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 rolled a two, we could choose to bank it for a future turn.  This avoids an instant failure and a potentially meaningful choice to add more power or flexibility to a future turn.

I felt that my choices were leading toward my success instead of instant failure 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 achieve partial credit along the way.  If you choose to stop rolling, you can receive partial credit and if you fail you do receive zero credit. You need to determine how much you value points now versus the incremental points for succeeding while pushing your luck.

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 plenty of player agency baked into a player writing on their own medium, but there’s also a lot of room to explore game designwise outside of your 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.

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