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Thursday, July 18, 2019

5 Great Roll-and-Move Games That Aren’t Snakes and Ladders

by | published Monday, April 29, 2019

Today, if you tell a gamer that a game is “roll-and-move” you’re probably rolling your eyes at the same time, as in: “That game? Ick, it’s basically just a roll-and-move.” Of all mechanics, roll-and-move is among the most denigrated, implying randomness, lack of interesting decisions, and linearity.

The ur-game of this genre is The Game of Goose, which BGG sources as coming out of Italy in the late 16th century. It was an instant hit from the beginning, used as a teaching tool as much as an amusement. The moral it taught was that virtue was rewarded and sin and vice were punished. Worked real well, I see..

Now, true story: I never played Candyland as a kid. I did, however, have a copy of Uncle Wiggily, and of course umpteen versions of Snakes & Ladders–which, by the way, according to BGG, was invented in India in the 2nd century BCE and was brought to the UK (along with tea, rubber, and paisley cloth) in the late Victorian Era.

Like most kids, I quickly grew bored of these games that had literally no decisions to make: just roll the die and move. Parcheesi, Sorry!, and Trouble were slightly more strategic/fun. And yet I can still recite the words to the classic Trouble commercial by heart. The power of advertising.

But brave man that I am, I present to you five games that have beaten the odds to become good-to-great games where rolling (or playing a card) and moving is the central mechanic. Clear out the cobwebs of your prejudiced minds, spielpeople, and open your minds to the possibilities:

Hare & Tortoise (1973): Almost fifty years old, Hare & Tortoise looks like a traditional Game of Goose but beneath that veneer is a game of strategy that even kids can understand and play. Carrots and lettuce are the fuels which move you forward, in the form of cards and certain spaces on the board when you land on them. But victory goes not to the swiftest but she who reaches the finish line with fewest carrot cards remaining. Frustratingly, the main way to acquire carrots is to move backwards. So it’s a delicate balancing act where you’re literally moving three steps forward and a step-and-a-half back. There are plenty of editions and rules variations, but any one will do, as you can always find the other possibilities on BGG.

Dog (1977) is what you’d expect if the Germans had invented Sorry!. In other words, you’re racing to get your four dudes round the map and home again by playing cards from hand, but there are twists. First of all, it’s played in teams, with partners sitting across from each other (to be fair, some versions of Parcheesi do this as well). Next, instead of dice, players have hands of cards, so you have a choice of how far to move each turn (this is also a way to improve Sorry! Without extra components, btw). Finally, à la Wizard, players get different numbers of cards each rounds. Try it, you’ll like it!

That’s Life (2005) was designed by Kiesling and Kramer, the duo who brought you Torres, Tikal, and more recently Porta Nigra, and you know these guys wouldn’t steer you wrong. In That’s Life each player has three tokens of their colour which they’re trying to get from Start to Finish along a path of randomly-distributed tiles. There are also eight Guards of a neutral colour. The winner isn’t the first one to get there–instead players score points for tiles they pick up along the way. On your turn you can move one of your pieces or a Guard–as long as the Guard isn’t abandoning an empty tile.

If your pawn is the last to leave a tile, though, you get to pick it up for its point value. Oh, did I mention that most of the points in this game are actually negative? Although, there are some tiles which let you flip the sign of another tile, turning a potentially-disastrous “-15” to a thunderously-tubthumping “+15”. Every turn presents tantalizing choices, often choosing the least-bad from a range of bad ones. And the real d**k move is to move a guard sharing a tile with one of your opponents, forcing them to take the hit on their turn. Oh well…That’s Life!! 

Camel Up (2014) finally resolved one of the great mysteries of life when it was re-released this year with new box art: was it called “Camel Up” or “Camel Cup”? Even with what you would think was a fundamental question mark hanging over its head, Camel Up won the coveted Spiel des Jahres with its fun mix of racing and betting. Two to eight players take turns around a four-sided track. On their turn they can either make bet on that particular leg of the race, roll a die and move a camel, add some desert to the course, or make a long-term bet on the winner of the overall race. Camel Up’s hook is that camels stack, so moving the camel at the bottom of a stack brings all its passengers with it. 

Deep Sea Adventure (2014) is one of several cute little boxes from Japanese publishers Oink Games. It is also the only game I know that comes with a little blue submarine. The game is playable with from two to six players, but I would advise at least four. Over three “dives” (rounds) the players will roll two dice numbered 1-3 each to descend into the ocean for treasure. The deeper you go, the better the swag, of course–though how much you get exactly is hidden knowledge until the moment you excavate it. There a few thematic and effective twists: for one, the more treaure tokens you’re holding, the slower you move, which makes getting back to the surface agonizing–should you drop a treasure to move faster, or hold on and risk running out of O2? For another, there are only 25 units of oxygen to share between all the players each round. On your turn you use up a number of oxygen units equal to the number of treasure’s you’re holding–not a problem on the day down, somewhat more of a problem on the way up. If you don’t make it back to the sub in time, you survive, but your treasures drop to the bottom in piles of three–making the last round potentially VERY lucrative.

Any of these five games would make a great gateway game, and put the lie to the assertion that roll-and-move makes for a weak game. So go roll them bones!

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One thought on “5 Great Roll-and-Move Games That Aren’t Snakes and Ladders

  1. Avatar Steve Tassie says:

    That’s Life is a favourite roll & move of mine. So are Backgammon and Marrakech.
    Cartagena is not quite a roll & move (like Dog, Sorry!, and Candyland, it uses cards), but it’s another excellent addition to this kind of game.

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