As I’ve written previously, I’ve been enjoying the rise of roll & write games of all sorts recently – be they themed, or just dicey good times. The nature of many of these games relies on making paths or trails, which means that railways tend to lend themselves nicely as a theme. I’ve enjoyed a number of them, and thought I’d take a look at two that overlap a little today: SteamRollers and Sunflower Valley.
Not unlike Kokoro and Welcome To, these games both have a base map for players to work on throughout the game. Both Sunflower Valley and SteamRollers offer a map divided into colourful regions – the former with mountains dotted throughout, and the latter with die faces representing cities and dots representing towns. Both games have players rolling 6-sided dice to draft, and using those to fill out all of their hexes – and also, in the case of SteamRollers, making adjustments to your train, grabbing player powers or delivering goods.
At its heart, Sunflower Valley is a much more straightforward game – it does have a variety of ways to score, like SteamRollers – but there’s only one choice you’ll have on your turn: what die to take and where to use it. It might not be a simple choice, as your map fills up, but the options are limited – especially if you are later in the drafting of dice. Looking for optimal ways to score at game end means planning your placements as best as possible – but there is no way to mitigate bad luck in the game. I do really like the various things you can do, however – not just route building to connect sheep to farm houses, but dotting sunflowers around the mountains (and hoping to have majorities in regions). It doesn’t hurt that you get to draw quaint little pictures throughout the game, either – it’s a small map but as all players have to finish to trigger game end, it does take some time (although it can drag a little more at its highest player count).
SteamRollers is, to me, very much a train game in roll & write form. The train route building and pick up and deliver aspects are key – and there’s not a sheep or sunflower in sight. I really like how this one bends my brain a little more – a larger map with a lot more to plan enriches the strategic experience, and there’s also various ways to score in this game as there is in Sunflower Valley, allowing you to spread yourself around if necessary. Because this game’s somewhat more complex than most other roll & writes I’ve played, I’m happy there’s a decent amount of ways to mitigate luck – by allowing players to spend a turn taking one time/ongoing player powers to mess with their dice rolls in certain ways. With the strategy involved and the longer play-time, it would be maddening to not have some control.
With roll & writes, it’s ideal to have a game that’s puzzly enough you’re going to want to play and replay it (especially if on the shorter side!). It’s nice to have some variety as complexity bumps up, however – Sunflower Valley offers this with 8 differently-laid-out maps, which will change things up a little (say, like the different sheets in Noch Mal). SteamRollers keeps its maps the same, but offers players the chance to draw on borders for a medium or hard game – a little like adding mountain ranges you have to work around. In addition, there’s a couple of “mini-expansions” – really, just a couple of variants you can add in – some goals for the pick up and deliver part of the game, and starting player powers. I think the idea of mixing and matching these things based on what players are interested in/their experience with with game is great, and I’m happy it’s included.
Sunflower Valley is built to play with others, and compare your little world to theirs. SteamRollers has figured in a solo variant that incorporates an “artificial intelligence” to play against, which is a lot more than a lot of other roll and writes that just offer you trying to beat your own score. Mark Gerrits has put a lot into this game, and I really think you get bang for your buck.
I will admit that, 100%, I love the look of Sunflower Valley with its wonderfully quaint art and how colourful it is all over. The version I have even came with the best markers ever (Staedtler Lumocolor Correctable, you’re welcome), and all of the components are great quality (I can’t speak to the version releasing at Essen this year, but I look forward to it). Seeing as SteamRollers was self-published before being picked up by Stronghold Games, it’s got a great and clear ruleset (unlike some of the other games they import) – and this printing is excellent quality (dice, punchboard, etc). I’m not a fan of the art style, but it’s suited to the game and the palette works.
So, which of these is best for your collection? Or more to the point, why not both? I may not be the best person to consult over this, but I do generally think that more roll & writes is better! I like having both of these as options for the different folks I play with – so, if you get a feel for the games from the above, you’ll likely decide. At any rate, I continue to be pleased as punch with the roll & writes coming onto the market and hope to see more – trains or not! – soon.
SteamRollers is a game for 1 – 5 players, designed by Mark Gerrits with art by Benjamin Benéteau. It plays in approximately 30-45 minutes and the current version is published by Stronghold Games. Sunflower Valley is a game for 2 – 5 players, designed by Wouter van Strien, with art by Weberson Santiago. It plays in approximately 30-45 minutes, and the version detailed in this review was originally released by Fully Analog Games. A new version with different art will be released at Essen Spiele this year by Gigamic.