Dan Blum: Review of Rolling Japan

Rolling Japan

  • Designer: Hisashi Hayashi
  • Publisher: Japon Brand / OZAKU Brand
  • Ages: 8+
  • Players: 1-8 (or more if provide your own pens)
  • Time: 15 minutes

Times played: 8 of the original (all on purchased copies), 2 of Rolling Tokyo

Dice games have been hot recently, for reasons which as usual are murky. The biggest trend has been dice games based on board or card games (anyone interested in my proposal for Diplomacy: The Dice Game, drop me a line), but there have been plenty of original ones as well. Naturally, Sturgeon’s Law applies to dice games as it does to most things, so many of these games are not spectacular. However, just because there’s a glut of dice games doesn’t mean that a new one can’t be good.

Rolling Japan is good. It’s very light, which may seem obvious for a dice game, but a lot of recent dice games have been fairly complex (sometimes too much so for their own good). It’s at the same level as Qwixx, last year’s hit dice game, and is in fact similar to Qwixx in broad outline: on each turn someone rolls dice and each player marks off something on their individual score sheet.

The details are of course different.Here the score sheets are stylized maps of Japan divided into its 47 prefectures. The prefectures are grouped into six colored areas of seven to nine each, which correspond to the usual regional divisions as much as possible (Hokkaido and Tohoku are combined). Seven dice are included, one of each region’s color and one wild die (whether the purple or blue die is wild depends on what you think the color of the northern region is). That’s all the components except for a bag and eight cute little pencils.

The dice are placed in the bag; on each turn someone takes two of them out and rolls them. Everyone has to use the numbers rolled by writing in the numbers in empty spaces in the corresponding regions. However, there’s a placement rule: two adjacent spaces must have the same number or numbers that differ by just one. If you can’t legally enter a number anywhere in the die’s region, you either make an X in a space or change the die to a different color. However, you can only do the latter three times per game, so you’re going to enter some Xs eventually. If you fill up a region you ignore that die from then on.

The final interesting bit is that once six of the dice have been used, they’re all put back in the bag and one round crossed out on everyone’s sheet. Once eight rounds have been played the game is over. At that time any remaining empty spaces get Xed, and the player with the fewest Xs wins.

It’s often hard to tell from a description of simple gameplay like this whether the game is any good; it depends on whether the constraints mesh in an interesting way or not. In this case they do; the combination of the uncertain nature of the dice selection and the number placement rule creates a lot of agonizing choices, and the wild die and the ability to do three color changes allow just enough leeway to get you out of a few really bad spots. You will not maintain your emotional equilibrium while playing this game.

The game is also entirely fair since everyone is using the same rolls and in theory can play any number of people since all play is simultaneous. So what’s not to like? Well, for one thing no extra score pads were made, so frequent players will need to print their own or laminate some before they run out. More seriously, some people have complained that the scores tend to be a bit similar. In a game like this which is really multi-player solitaire, that doesn’t bother me; I’m playing against the game at least as much as against the other players, and would enjoy beating my own personal best score more than beating the people I happen to be playing with. Players who really want a more interactive game might prefer something like Qwixx.

Rolling Tokyo

If you get bored with the original game, the Rolling Tokyo sheet from the recent Tokyo Game Market has been posted to BGG. This is a mini version of the game; it has 23 spaces instead of 47 (the 23 districts of the old city of Tokyo) and lasts four rounds instead of eight. It’s a fine change of pace.

Opinions from the Other Opinionated Gamers:

Dale Yu: I had initially rated the game an “I Like It”, but after a few more plays it has dropped down into the Neutral range.  The main reason for my rating is that there doesn’t seem to be a lot to do in the game to differentiate your play from your opponents.  Perhaps I’m missing something, but in my six or seven plays, you end up locked in by the numbers rolled – in the exact same way that your opponents are.  Yes, I know that you can change colors up to three times, but in the end, the same numbers end up on your piece of paper and there will still eventually be the same mismatches with other numbers later.  Obviously, when and where you choose to change colors will give you a different board than your opponents – but there’s not a lot of discovery past that.

This feeling of not having a lot to do is exacerbated by a recently released promo board “Rolling Japan” which only allows for 4 rounds of play.  This small map, which can be found on the main game’s BGG page, has only 23 regions, and the smallest color (white) only has 2 regions!  Your play is pretty well shoehorned in by the rolls, and because there aren’t that many spaces, even if you switch colors early, you’ll still end up with a lot of numbers you can’t play because they have too many varied neighbors.

At first I was worried that the limited number of sheets in my box would be a problem, but I am not sure that I’ll make it all the way through.  I’ll try it again with some different gamers to see whether or not I’m just missing something here.  Given the high ratings (mostly I like it’s with a few I love it’s) – there is definitely a chance that I’m doing something wrong…

Dan again: I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong, Dale; I alluded to this issue in the body of the review. I think it’s fun to play against the game, as it were, but obviously that’s a matter of taste and other people will definitely prefer dice games with a bit more interaction and aspects which will differentiate one player’s game from another more. And it’s entirely possible that after another half-dozen games my rating will drop.

Ben McJ:  I’ve only played the game three times.  The first two times, we inadvertently played with a variant because we were incorrectly taught that blank spaces at the end of the game do not receive Xs.  While I like both the game as written and the variant, I prefer the variant because it allows for more differentiation among players (a concern Dale raises) and reduces the likelihood of ending with a tied score.  Either way, however, I would be happy to play this little dice game any time we need to kill time between more substantial games.  I certainly prefer it to Doodle City (this year’s other prominent dice filler), and probably to Qwixx as well.

Dan again: The problem with that variant is that I am pretty sure it tends to differentiate the scores entirely due to luck. As noted previously (by Larry, at least) with the variant players have a strong incentive to finish regions as early as possible, since after a region is finished any time its die is drawn that’s a guaranteed non-X (and a bad wild roll can be made a guaranteed non-X, which is less important). So, if I finish the red area at the same time you finish the green one, and the red die comes out once more than the green die after that, I’ll tend to score one better than you. With the actual rules what happens in this case is more complicated. So you could probably get the same score differentiation effect by simply having everyone roll a die and add it to their total.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:

I love it!  Dan Blum (for a dice game – it’s all relative), Joe H

I like it. Lorna, Doug G., Larry, Ben McJ, Luke H, Alan H. Jennifer G, Eric M.

Neutral. Dale Y

Not for me…

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4 Responses to Dan Blum: Review of Rolling Japan

  1. Once again, I forgot to comment on this review… I’ll simply add that my one play made me wish it was an app to play on my iPhone rather than a boardgame. It’s a cute exercise but I’m with Dale… it’s Neutral for me.

  2. Joe Huber says:

    To counter one of Dale’s comments – as I play the game more (I’m currently up to eleven plays), I’m finding more, rather than less, variety in approaches, and in scores.

    But – on the whole, I’m well suited to multiplayer-solitaire games…

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