Roll and write games are on the up and up – from the classic Yahtzee, to card based games like Kokoro: Avenue of the Kodama, and even strategy roll & writes like La Granja: No Siesta and Steam Rollers. A lot of the great ones I’ve tried have been developed outside North America — Sunflower Valley, Ganz Schoen Clever, Noch Mal, Twenty-One, Rolling Japan and the like. Two recent(ish) releases that also originated from Europe (France and Germany respectively) are Welcome To… and the Castles of Burgundy dice game. They’ve really scratched an itch for me and I wanted to chat about why they’ve stood out.
Castles of Burgundy is up there as pretty much one of my favourite games. I’m not a die-hard Feld fan, but there’s something very satisfying about the gameplay and building up of CoB. Having played the card game version and been mildly unimpressed, I had hoped the porting to a dice game could be an exciting change – and it’s right up my alley. Taking the spatial parts of the game map, dice faces (colour and value) are chosen by players simultaneously to fill a hex on the game’s map. Points are scored, bonuses are earned, and the game plays out over 3 reasonably short rounds — and because it’s just one set of dice being rolled, it scales extremely well!
The process of gameplay is nice and simple for CoB Dice, but it’s not as straightforward as something like Yahtzee. Due to the variability of where a player chooses to start on their map, the bonuses they earn and use throughout the game, there’s a decent amount of strategy to filling out the map as the game progresses. Being able to mitigate the dice rolls helps with the frustration that might otherwise be found in a regular dice-rolling game, too. So this sits, in my mind, at a similar level to La Granja: No Siesta – doing your own thing just a little bit differently to other players, strategically using dice and sheet bonuses to maximize your success and sitting back at the end to admire the spread of your pen-scratchings across the map. I get a similar satisfaction to the full game, yet get to play this out in about 20 minutes and chat while i’m doing it. It scratches just the right kind of itch.
Branching of similarly from the “shared pool of things to use” idea of a roll and write, Welcome To… also has players with their own sheet, but a combination of types/values on cards that can be used differently by everyone. The vibe of this is not so Euro, but more 50s America, where you’re building up some suburban streets to make the nicest subdivision. While I love CoB dice, it’s got the same fairly innocuous Euro-game art as its parent game; Welcome To… takes some wonderful kitsch and a pleasant palette and lays out your streets on a lovely sheet full of palm trees and quiet parks. Rather than rolling dice, there are three piles of cards that will provide a value and also a type (cleverly done by having the cards flipped to their backside on the discard pile – both piles combined give the player their option!). Each turn a player picks a combination of cards and marks it appropriately on their sheet.
What I have really enjoyed about Welcome To… is the myriad ways you can approach building up your suburb. Because of the multiple combinations of how cards can come up, there’s a good amount of variety within game, as well as from game to game. It’s definitely a way to keep things fresh and allow you to approach with a slightly different strategy each time. Perhaps your streets will have a lot of parklands, or plentiful pools — you might even dabble in some real estate pricing or sub-dividing streets. Welcome To… feels like it could be the roll & write version of some larger game, honestly – a little tile laying perhaps, some worker placement or resource management. Maybe that’s why it’s got the same feeling of satisfaction to me as the Castles of Burgundy dice game – it’s got a bigger feel than what the game actually presents, there’s a place that I get to shape over the course of a reasonably short game, and it’s fun to sit back and look at it when the game is done. Big fun in small, wonderful packages.
I’ve been thinking over how these two game experiences compare to a recent favourite (and KennerSpiel des Jahres nominee) Ganz Schoen Clever. Ganz is incredibly abstracted — bright colourful boxes and numbers and 6-sided dice are involved and it’s a fun light strategy game in roll & write form. It feels so entirely different to the spatial buildout and point/bonus accruing in Welcome To… and Castles of Burgundy dice, but at the same level it’s a fulfilling game where you can mitigate luck, and maximize your moves to get the sweet sweet points. While I grew up playing and loving – like, loving – Yahtzee, I have been so delighted with the more involved and interesting takes on roll and write games that have popped up recently. The creativity people are showing is impressive, and has me excited to learn of new releases going forward – especially a lot of what’s coming out of Japan. I’ll be here warming up my laminator and collecting my dry erase markers ready for it!
Welcome To… was originally published by Blue Cocker Games, and will be coming out in North America through Deep Water Games as of Origins Game Fair. Castles of Burgundy the Dice Game is out through Ravensburger and in stores now.