The first decision players need to make in the game On Tour by designer Chad DeShon is to pick a musical genre for the fictional band they will lead on a cross-country tour of the United States. Just to be clear this has zero impact on the game play, but that doesn’t mean people at the table won’t scramble to take their preferred musical genre (Jazz, Country, Hip-Hop or Rock) in the same way people vie for player colour in many other games.
On Tour is part of a surge of roll-and-write games that has taken over the board game world in the past couple of years. Games such as Wolfgang Warsch’s Kennerspiel nominee Ganz Schön Clever, Benoit Turpin’s Welcome To… and Hjalmar Hack and Lorenzo Silva’s Railroad Ink are some of the best known and regarded games of this recent phenomenon.
Most roll-and-writes have wide-ranging player counts (Welcome To… has a listed 1-100 player count), short gaming time and do not require lengthy rules descriptions. This makes them a perfect filler game, whether that means between two longer games or getting a game in on a lunch break, good roll-and-writes offer a quick, exciting gaming experience that can appeal to a wide variety of gamers.
It seems as if many different game designers and publishers saw a niche that was being unfulfilled and one that was ripe with creative possibilities. Whether this wave of roll-and-writes continues to build or slows down to a trickle remains to be seen, either way now is a great time for fans of the genre.
Check out my colleague Nicole’s look at some recent and upcoming roll-and-writes.
The first think that makes On Tour stand out among the crowd of roll-and-writes is the box size. It is not pocket size like Ganz Schön Clever or Railroad Ink. While still being dwarfed by the likes of Twilight Imperium, On Tour’s box is substantial compared with its roll-and-write brethren. Upon opening the box you quickly realize why it is so hefty. The game components are not simply a few six-sided dice and a pad of paper, rather On Tour comes with foldable, dry-eraser-safe game boards and two oversized 10-sided dice, along with the perquisite dry-eraser markers. On Tour comes with 4 games boards, but you can get up to 12 (I opted for 8 myself).
The game board shows a map of the United States with 41 different locations (a few states are merged into one, hello New England and … Mid-Coastal?). There is also a stack of 41 ‘Dixit-sized’ cards for each ‘state.’
The game play of On Tour is pretty simple: Each round you flip over three cards and roll the 10-sided dice. Players will now be putting two numbers on their game board, the high and low of the dice (for example 37 and 73 if a 3 and a 7 are rolled). Where you put those numbers is where the core strategy of the game comes in. You can place the numbers in the states represented on the card, circling those states, or you can place them in the regions (North, South, East, Central, West) represented on the cards. Placing them in the state potentially gives you more points but opting for a region can allow you to better plot out a longer route.
If doubles are ever rolled or all three state cards are from the same region players can place a star on the board, which is essentially a wild number. (I’ve never cheered for doubles more since my childhood days playing monopoly.) If a player cannot place a number (a region is filled for example) they must place an X on a state, meaning your route cannot go through that state. The game ends with all 41 states are filled.
The goal of the game is to create a route that goes from smaller to higher (or equal) numbers. For each state on the route you get one point, for each state you pass through with a circle around it you get another point. Unless you are a mad genius and/or have some magically luck with the dice you will not be able to connect all 41 states.
Early in the game you have to decide whether to prioritize route building vs. getting as many circled states as possible, hoping to connect them later (come on doubles). In On Tour what seems like a good decision early on can cost you later in the game if the dice and cards don’t go your way. For example, say when you finally get that roll of 42 you’ve badly needed to put in Arizona to connect the 39 in California and the 44 in New Mexico, if the cards do not show the right regions you will be forced to put that 42 somewhere else on the board. And what about that backup plan with the route going along the east coast? Do you abandon that and focus on your west coast route or do you keep hedging your bets?
On Tour offers gamers great decisions to make on every turn and the game does not overstay its welcome( games should rarely exceed 30 minutes unless you are playing with people who suffer from severe AP). On Tour plays well with experienced gamers and those new to the hobby, as the core-concept of route building is easy to understand and the rules are not overly complex.
The randomness of the dice rolling – and which cards get flipped up – mean no two games of On Tour will be the same, so any grand strategies one has entering the game can easily go out the window, but that doesn’t mean smarter players who make better decisions will not triumph in the end.
The only major drawback of On Tour is the wonderful components the game comes with. Some people might prefer their roll-and-writes to be more portable, physically light and less expensive than On Tour, luckily they have plenty of options, for those that are looking for something a bit more substantial in the genre, On Tour fills that need.
On Tour is a route-building, roll-and-write game for 1 to 4 players (up to 12 with extra boards) that plays in approximately 20 minutes. Designed by Chad DeShon with art by Anca Gavril it is published by BoardGameTables.com.