Dale/JaNate: Roll With It – the Opinionated Gamers’ Roll and Write Decathlon

As some of you may have seen on Twitter, this past weekend, Dale and James Nathan brought together a wacky idea that actually ended up with a pretty darn good result…  James Nathan had been toying with the idea of combining games or playing them simultaneously. He posted a mysterious picture of Patchwork pieces with Bamboleo on social media earlier in the week.  That picture got me thinking – what else could we mash up?

By Friday morning, I came up with the idea of playing simultaneous roll-and-writes.  I had just received my review copy of Corinth in the mail from Days of Wonder, and I had just chatted with Brandon Kempf about his roll-and-write review series.  Anyways, my brain is totally about rolling dice. I started to consider all the games in my Roll-and-Write travel kit, and I realized that many of them used the same dice.  So… what if we set up a system where you could roll the dice and then use the results across multiple games? This could be the ultimate challenge for dice chucking and dry erase markering!

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Dale Yu: Review of Narabi


  • Designer: Daniel Fehr
  • Publisher: Z-Man
  • Players: 3-5
  • Ages: 10+
  • Times: 10-15 minutes
  • Times played: 6, with review copy provided by Asmodee NA

Narabi is a pocket sized cooperative game where players work together to “Create tranquility out of disorder”.  There are 15 stone cards, with ten of them numbered from 0-9 – and 15 limit cards, each with a rule printed on them.  There are also 15 card sleeves in the game, and to set up each game, a restriction card is randomly paired up with a stone card and placed in a sleeve so that you can read the restriction text on one side and see the stone on the other.  Try not to read the restriction text as you place the cards in the sleeves.

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Voices in Board Gaming: Interview with James & Sheila Davis

About Today’s Guests: This is the sixth interview in our “Voices in Board Gaming” series here on The Opinionated Gamers.  Today’s guests, Sheila & James Davis, are among the kindest people you’ll ever meet in the hobby. A husband and wife duo, Sheila and James have been doing this for decades, and they’re perhaps best known for their prolific game collection, which as we discuss below, tops 13,000 games. I met them for the first time at the Gathering of Friends, and I was excited to meet them after seeing them on the documentary Going Cardboard being interviewed about their acquisitions over the years. They’ve both answered questions below: paragraphs with “SD” are by Sheila, and paragraphs with “JD” are by James. Without further ado, here are 11 questions for two amazing gamers! 

(1) How did you both you get into the hobby?  What’s kept you in it for so long?

SD: I’ve been playing games since I was a kid.  My mom used to tease that I was a game collector since I had so many games (numbered in the dozens when I was living at home).  It wasn’t until I moved away with my first real job (about 30 years ago) that I learned that there really was such a thing as a game collector.  That’s when I began collecting in earnest.

SD: I like collecting and I like playing games, so it’s a perfect match.  And unlike many other types of collecting, I get to play with my collection.

JD: I agree. Having a game collection is the best of both worlds. Although having so many games does tend to lengthen the time our friends and I spend deciding what to play.

JD: My first clear memory of playing games was Pinochle with my grandpa and dad when I was probably around 10. But I got into the gaming hobby with high school friends. And I’ve never left because of the people. The folks in this hobby are amazing.

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Brandon Kempf: Three Games – Roll and Writes

I have a lot of games. A lot of games that are on my shelves, or on my table being played, that I have told myself that I want to review at some point, but for one reason or another, this doesn’t always happen. My goal here on The Opinionated Gamers is that I want to get at least one review out per week, but I would like to write about more games. So I’m taking a page out of Patrick Brennan’s playbook, and I’m going to start writing about games in threes, in snapshot form. This should be a good way for readers to get to know me and my gaming tastes a bit better, and also another way for me to talk about games that I maybe don’t really want to dedicate two thousand words to. Welcome to Three Games.

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Doppelt so Clever (Game Review by Brandon Kempf)

  • Designer: Wolfgang Warsch
  • Artist: Leon Schiffer
  • Publishers: Schmidt Spiele & Stronghold Games
  • Players: 1-4
  • Time: 30
  • Times Played: 6 (face to face) 105 (app, Average score 193, highest score 312)

The roll and write trend is going to calm down sooner or later, right? I mean it has to, we can’t just keep creating games with dice, where you write things on a piece of paper or dry erase board, that would be ridiculous. Until that dreary day comes though, I just hope that Wolfgang Warsch continues to be the most clever roll and write designer.

Doppelt So Clever is the follow up to last year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres nominated Ganz Schön Clever. Doppelt uses the same premise as Ganz, six dice, six different colors, six different scoring areas. How you score points has changed dramatically though.

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Jonathan Franklin – Notes from T5 (That Terrific Trick Taking Thing)

T5 Notes

I spent an incredible weekend in Covington, KY playing over 30 different trick-taking games.  Instead of rehashing them all and repeating what James Nathan has covered in his wonderful daily diary, The major elements were the location, a grand house on a grand street with lots of bedrooms and lots of locals. The event had a wonderfully communal feel, partly from the house, partly from the great people, and partly from all the work of the organizer(s) in getting snacks and drinks in advance.

picture of the mansion from the airbnb page

I thought I would talk a bit more about the games I particularly enjoyed for one reason or another.

Games that stood out

Bridge – Bridge stands the test of time, even with foggy memories and outdated bidding conventions older than the players.  We had a good run with a tremendously fun foursome of Joe, James, and Dale. Given the number of players whose names began with J, we really should start calling him Jale.  This game inspired me to try to get back into more regular bridge, even if not duplicate. My secret hope is the DeepMind takes a look at Bridge and re-envisions bidding, so the rest of us mortals can see the game through a fresh take.  Anyway, the emperor of tt definitely has the finest clothes.

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Twin Tin Bots

Designer: Philippe Keyaerts
Artist: Kwanchai Moriya
Publisher: Flatlined Games
Players: 2-6
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 50 minutes
Times Played: 25 with purchased copies
Previously Covered: https://opinionatedgamers.com/2013/10/17/dale-yu-essen-preview-twin-tin-bots-flatlined-games/

This is one of my favorite intersections.  It’s got it all: a roundabout, a fountain, and a tram that goes _through_ the fountain while simultaneously ignoring the roundabout pattern. And no lights.

Traffic patterns are fascinating to me. I don’t have some in-depth reason _why_ that I feel confident in, but they do. Part of it is probably related to an interest in unintuitive, but “better” ways to do things.  There are trade offs. If we do the intersection this way, we gain this benefit at the cost of that thing. I live much of my life this way. I don’t want to do things “by default”; I want to do things with intention and re-examine if I’m doing things the “best” way for me or am I doing them the way they’ve always been done without thoughtful inspection?

Here are some new traffic patterns. There’s a lot of potential.

As someone whose interests run counter to much of the board game coverage and publisher output that exists, there are times I feel compelled to cover games that I want to champion, and that we’ve only previously given a preview or first impression or not covered at all. Or I strongly differ from the opinions previously provided.  The games may not be new. But I want to tell you how great they are. This is one of those reviews.

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Dale Yu: First Impressions of Bad Maps

Bad Maps

  • Designer: Tim Armstrong
  • Publisher: Floodgate Games
  • Players: 3-5
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 30-40 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Floodgate Games

Bad Maps is a programming game where players try to get their Minions to find the hidden treasure.  In this game, the mostly square island is placed on the center of the table. The four Minions each start in a different corner of the island.  There is a Red X in the center of the island that is usually the goal of the Minions. Each player gets their own player board and a set of 9 Map cards which match their color.  There are two versions of the game. In the Basic game, all Captains has identical powers, while in the Advanced game, the reverse side of the player board is used and each Captain now has a unique power.

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Dale Yu: First Impressions of Cosmic Factory

Cosmic Factory

  • Designer: Kane Klenko
  • Publisher: Gigamic
  • Players: 2-6
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Times played: 2, with review copy provided by Gigamic

Cosmic Factory is a real time race game where players work to make the best galaxy in front of them in accordance to a constantly changing set of rules.  When the game was pitched to me for review, I thought it sounded familiar – and once the game arrived, I discovered that this is a reboot of a game that I had reviewed a few years back called Mad City…

In Cosmic Factory, each player gets their own scoreboard and four scoring markers.  The 54 tiles are placed in the bag and shuffled. Five Kaos cards are drawn at random from the deck, and one will be revealed at the start of each of the five rounds of the game.  These cards all have rules or conditions on them which will be in effect for the round in which it is in play.

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Designers:  Al Leduc and Yves Tourigny
Publisher: Ludonova
Players: 2-4
Ages: 10+
Time: 45 – 60 minutes
Times played: 5, with a copy I purchased

When thinking about games to play or purchase I normally like to keep my non-boardgaming interests separate from my board games; anyone who has suffered through a terrible TV-themed game knows exactly what I am talking about.  However, I must admit that when I read the title “Cupcake Empire” I was immediately interested, since if I had a secret plan to take over the world it would definitely involve baking cupcakes – one cupcake at a time until it’s too late to resist and well, I’ve said too much already. Let’s get back to the game.

In Cupcake Empire players are bakers trying to expand their small bakery into a chain to serve customers all around the region, developing the best network of cupcake shops to outsell your competitors.

Customer Board

There is a main board that is shared by all players; it is on this board that players build their retail outlets and bakeries and find customers for their cupcakes. The income track is on the edge of the board.

Each player has a personal board where they manage their dice and track various things like their production and sales levels as well as add improvements to help their sales. Players also have 6 retail outlets and 3 bakeries in their color, as well as discs and cubes that are used to track various levels.

There are also all the components you need to make cupcakes.  There are simple bases in chocolate and vanilla as well as a mixed base and simple one-flavor frostings and mixed dual-flavor frosting.

Customers are randomly distributed on the main board and in reverse player order players build one simple cupcake ; they cannot build the exact same combo as a player before them.  Each player also gets 1 randomly-distributed improvement that they can place in the designated spot of their choice on their board; improvements give you a bonus or let you take an additional action when you utilize a column.

Dice start on the board in the column matching their color; each player also has 3 gray dice that are rolled and placed in the column matching their number.

On your turn you choose one of the 5 columns on your personal board and perform an action in that column. You may perform any action for which you are at the activation level – meaning you have dice in the square next to the action. However, if you have a dice of the color matching that column you can take the next listed action – so everyone starts the game able to take at least the first action in each column.

The purple column lets you make cupcake bases; the options improve as you go farther down the column.

The yellow column lets you make frostings, and the options improve the farther you are able to go down the column.

Once you have a base and a frosting you can – at any time on your turn or on a future turn – assemble them.  Once assembled they stay that way, but since you now know the recipe you can continue to make that flavor cupcake. If I put a chocolate base with a chocolate frosting I can serve as many customers as there are with that flavor for the rest of the game. If I put a mixed base with a mixed frosting I can serve any combination of those flavors for the rest of the game.

The orange column lets you build retail outlets, first in the less-profitable green section of the board and later in the more profitable peach section of the board.

The green column lets you sell cupcakes. Everyone starts with one bakery on the board, and you can sell to a customer up to 2 streets away from any of your retail outlets or bakeries on the board. If a customer has light brown pants and a red shirt she wants a vanilla cupcake with strawberry frosting, so if I have that combo I can sell to her. You take that customer and put them in the customer spot on your board and increase your sales and/or income based on the space the customer came from (bonuses are printed on the board).

The pink column lets you hire more staff and build more bakeries. You can add an additional die from the reserve (until they are gone), take additional improvements and eventually build bakeries. Pink dice are also considered wild and count as the color of the column they end up in.

In any column you may use any improvement you have built in that column as long as you are reaching the level it is at.

At the end of the turn you move your income marker the number of spaces equal to the lower number on your sales and production track (production goes up by assembling cupcakes and building bakeries;  sales goes up by building retail outlets and bakeries and selling cupcakes).

After you move your income marker you roll all the dice in the column you activated and reassign them based on the number that you rolled. Any sixes are set into a special space on your board. The first six you roll gets you a bright idea token,; additional sixes move you along your bright ideas track and when you hit the green square you get another bright idea (limit of 3). All other players move on their bright idea track the number of sixes you rolled.  Bright ideas can be used as a special action on your turn to take an improvement, move some or all of your sixes from your reserve to one column or move a die from one column to another.

There are also 4 bonus tiles that vary by game; they are available to all players and as soon as player meets the requirements (have 4 simple frostings, have 4 retail outlets, sell to certain customers etc) they put one of their discs on the tile and take the indicated income.

Play continues until a player hits 70 on the income track; you finish the round and then the game is over. The player with the highest income is the winner.


The box art is cute, and I think it might lead some to think there’s a lighter game in the box than there actually is.  Don’t let that fool you; this is more of a medium-weight game than a light game based on the number of actions, options and strategies available to you.

The rules are very clear and well-written, and it’s easy enough to learn the game from the rules. There are plenty of examples and graphics, and everything matches up so there is no confusion. Set-up is different for different numbers of players and there is a handy chart that helps with that.

The components are well-made. The player pieces are wooden and the rest are sturdy cardboard (except the dice, of course). The retail outlets are fairly small, but you aren’t moving them around so it isn’t a problem. The income markers are also small, so anyone with dexterity issues might need help moving their marker at the end of their turn.

The theme is fun for me, since I like to bake, but it is not essential to the game – you could be selling fish and chips or cars or anything else, but why would you want to when you could be selling cupcakes?

The game play itself is very interesting. At first glance you may think this is just a luck-based dice game, but there’s a lot more to it. You need to develop a plan to get your cupcakes on the market, and how you build each column with improvements, add dice and sell at just the right time to get the best customers before another player does is key. Your plan might be affected by your die roll, so you need to have some flexibility in your strategy, but you can also spend your bright ideas to manipulate your dice, and the bright ideas are free-flowing enough that you generally have at least one.  There are potential different ways to get to the selling, and it doesn’t seem that there is one clear path to victory – I’ve seen victors build lots and lots of outlets and sell to the less discerning customers and victors only build a couple of bakeries in the fancy neighborhood and win selling only there.

When playing with people who know how to play already this game can finish in as little as 30 minutes, but most games seem to go for about 45 minutes.

I love this game; the length and balance hit a sweet spot for me (pun intended) and I look forward to many more plays.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you about a house rule one of the designers told me about – loser makes cupcakes. I did pre-emptively bring cupcakes to my last game day. . . .


Joe Huber (1 play): I also picked up a copy of Cupcake Empire; as Tery notes, the components are quite nice – and also quite evocative.  My biggest concern is that “middleweight” economic games often end up being neither fish nor fowl for me – too light to be compelling economic games, and too heavy to be enjoyable with a light economic aspect.  I didn’t hate the game – but I also didn’t find it fun, which helped move it quickly to my trade pile. The good news is that if this type of game appeals to you – the theme and presentation here are significant positives.

Dan Blum (2 plays): I liked it better than Joe did but it felt a bit rough to me – there a few too many fiddly aspects for the weight. And, while I agree with Tery that it’s not hugely random, a bad roll late in the game can definitely hurt. If I played it again it would be with three players; with four it definitely outstayed its welcome.


I Love It!  Tery

I Like It.

Neutral: Dan Blum

Not for Me: Joe H.

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