- Designer: Wolfgang Warsch
- Publisher: Schmidt Spiele
- Players: 1 – 4
- Ages: 8 and Up
- Time: 30 Minutes
- Times Played: > 15
Roll ‘n Writes: love ‘em or hate ‘em, the throw-some-dice-and-mark-something-off mechanic has been popular in recent years. Though most of us played Yahtzee as kids, new titles like Qwixx, Qwinto, Dice Stars, and Rolling Japan have dominated the current conversation among game enthusiasts. As a genre, Roll ‘n Writes tend to be easy to learn, inexpensive, and fast paced, all factors that explain their popularity, at least among those of us that can overlook that ever-depleting stack of score sheets.
Of course, among a certain segment of gamers, Roll ‘n Writes tend to be scoffed at. They aren’t thought of as strategic: indeed, they’re often more of a luck fest. They also aren’t thought of as interactive: by design, we each toil on our own little score sheet. But most of all — if we’re being really blunt — most Roll ‘n Writes are just kinda… the same. It’s a genre ripe for something new, innovative, and …. clever.
Enter Ganz schön clever (English translation: “Pretty Clever”), a new title from Schmidt Spiele and breakout designer Wolfgang Warsch. The game was nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres recently, along another of Warsch’s games, Die Quacksalber von Quedlinburg. A third title of his, The Mind, was nominated for Spiel des Jahres.
Ganz schön clever is a game that turns the Roll ‘n Write genre on its end. It’s think-y, interactive, innovative, and most importantly, combo-licious. I’ve played it more than 15 times since April, and me and my game groups have fallen in love with it.
On a player’s turn, he rolls six-sided dice in six colors: yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, and white. The player then picks one of these dice to use, marking the corresponding space on his score sheet. But the choice of dice isn’t without consequences: any dice showing fewer pips must be set aside on a silver platter, and the player won’t be able to use them for the rest of his turn. He or she then rerolls the remaining available dice and repeats the process until either (a) the player has used three dice, or (b) no available dice remain.
The twist is that the players who are off turn are keenly interested in what makes it onto the silver platter, because they can each use one of those dice. It’s a simple way to add interactivity, but an effective one. It also adds tension for the player on turn: if they take a high dice, they’re likely shifting better dice over to the silver platter.
The interesting part of the game, however, is in choosing where and what to mark on the score sheet. Unlike in other Roll n’ Writes, the choice here isn’t necessary obvious, and there are plenty of options.
(Note: You can see a copy of the score sheet at https://boardgamegeek.com/image/3941962/ganz-schon-clever)
Each color of dice has its own grid on the score sheet, each with its own way earn points and bonuses.
- The yellow section has a pre-numbered 4×4 grid, and you mark off a space with the number equal to the pips on your yellow dice. You get bonuses for completing rows, and points for completing columns.
- The green section has boxes in a row which must be marked off in order, and you get points for how far along the row you get, plus bonuses at certain points along the row. The catch is that while the first box can use any green die, the second box requires one greater than 1, the third box one greater than 2, and so on, such that going further down the row becomes more and more challenging. Fortunately, the pattern restarts after requiring a green dice of 5 or higher.
- The orange section has boxes in a row in which you fill in the number of pips on the die, and at the end of the game you get points for the sum of all the pips you’ve written down. You also get bonuses at certain points along the row, and some pre-set spaces give you double or triple the number of pips showing on the dice.
- The purple section — like the orange section — has boxes in a row in which you fill in the number of pips on the die, and you get points for the sum of all the pips you’ve written down. You also get bonuses at certain points along the row, and in fact there are more bonuses on the purple section than on the orange one. The catch here is that each dice must be greater than the previous one, though a 6 can be followed by any number.
- The blue section has a grid of boxes from 2-12, and you get progressively more points for each of these that you mark off. You can also earn bonuses for completing rows and columns. Whereas with the other colors you simply look at the color of the die in question, with blue, you can only mark off the total of the blue die and the white die.
The white die has two functions: (1) as noted above, it affects which space is marked off in the blue section, and (2) it can also be used as a die of any color.
The game is all about setting up combinations by taking advantage of the bonuses. In the game, you can earn re-rolls, the ability to mark off a space of your choosing in the yellow/blue/green sections, or the ability to write a large number in the orange/purple spaces. You can also earn a “+1”, which allows you, at the end of any player’s turn, the right to use an additional die of your choosing, be it one the player used or one on the silver platter. Finally, you can earn “foxes,” which can add greatly to your score as discussed below.
Play continues around the table for 4, 5, or 6 rounds, depending on player count. At that point, players tally up their scores. Each player scores the five colored areas per the rules above. But players also score their foxes, multiplying the number of them earned times the lowest score from the five colored areas. All six subtotals (the five areas plus the foxes) then equal the final score. In our games, a good score tends to be over 200. But it ultimately depends on how the dice come out: we’ve had a couple of games where nobody hit 200, and one game where a player hit 300.
My Thoughts on the Game
I’ve taught Ganz schön clever to three different groups, and it has taken all three groups by storm. Whereas typical Roll ‘n Writes suffer from an over-abundance of luck, I find Ganz schön clever to be fairly think-y and strategic. The game has built-in ways to mitigate the effects of the dice. Re-rolls are plentiful — players often end the game with one or two still available — and ultimately you can be weak in an area or two if you’re earning enough bonuses in the other areas.
Ganz schön clever is a bit more involved than the rest of its genre, but it is still streamlined and approachable. It takes less than five minutes to teach the rules, and thanks to a well-designed scorepad, gameplay is decently intuitive. Games can last from 30-45 minutes, but there’s little downtime: even on other player’s turns, dice await your judgement on the silver platter.
Overall, I’m highly impressed. Ganz schön clever is my new favorite Roll ‘n Write, and I’d dare call it addictive. There are always interesting choices to make — both on your turn and the turns of other players — and that keeps gameplay exciting. The game is combo-licious, and setting yourself up for big moves can make you — and the game — feel pretty clever.
Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers
Doug G.: Fantastic dice game. Shelley absolutely loves it and I’ve played it solo and with other more than 30 times and will continue to get this one to the table.
Matt C.: I was ecstatic when I got a chance to play, as I typically only see games well after SdJ awards. I’ve mostly played two player games, a few solo, and a couple three and four player games. Probably a few dozen games in total. The game moves very fast with two, but manages to keep things interesting even with four. My first impressions (first dozen plays) were very much “I love it!” However, my rating has dropped a bit over time. One reason is the game’s complexity (yes, I know it’s not all that complex.) Most of my roll and write games are fairly lightweight – Quizz, Rolling America, etc… so they work great as a travel game. (Like Dale, I have a bag of them I can grab and go.) GSC is a much higher level, so needs a gamer to truly appreciate, limiting when I can bring it out. It isn’t much more complex, but the many (and cool) combos can be a bit much for less experienced gamers to handle. The second reservation I have about the game is my concern about replayability. With so many point-gathering ways to explore the game, it seems like there should be many possibilities. However, either I’m a slave to habit and keep harping after certain scoring opportunities, or the scoring strategies are not as broad as they first seem. I’ve yet to see a good yellow strategy win, and I’ve done my best work simply scoring the 20pt column (for a 20pt minimum score for foxes) and moving on to other categories. To a lesser extent, I have concerns about the blue scoring. I’ve almost always done extremely well when pushing hard for blue. Sure, I hit up all the other tracks while doing so, but the more I play the less diverse my games have become. As a result, my initial “I love it!” is now dipping closer to “I like it.” I need a few more experienced gamers to clean my clock with overlooked strategies to ramp it back up into “I love it!” territory again.
Mitchell T: This is a wonderful and original game. I’ve played it over fifty times now, exclusively as two player or solitaire. It’s interesting and relaxing. It’s a superb travel game and absolutely ideal when you want something quick and engaging. Now that I’ve played it a bunch of times solitaire I am convinced that there is no single best strategy, but I do find a pattern that I lean towards. Indeed, as opposed to Matt (see above) I’m finding that when I fill yellow and blue spaces in the early rounds I am well positioned for the later ones. Whenever possible I go for +1 dice bonuses, and then +6 purple bonuses. As long as the other columns fill up at a reasonable pace I’ll score over 200 with my high score at 265. I think the key is to have as many opportunities to fill in the sheet as possible. That seems obvious, but there are many ways to accomplish that!
Patrick Brennan: It has some nice decisions on your turn on what to use after each of your three rolls, because using a high dice burns all the lower dice, which you then can’t use for the remainder of your turn. Roll well and it’s not an issue, because then it’s just a decision on which scoring method to focus on so as to get to the “clever” reward levels (advancing enough in each colour leads to bonus advances in others). You get a minor decision on other player’s turns as well with one of their unused dice, but otherwise your opponents’ turns feel long waiting for them to determine which dice won’t be used, and the downtime seems to make the game go on and on, much longer than I want a roll & write game to go.
Fraser: It’s nice enough, plenty going on and things to think about and some decisions to be made on other players turns too. I have played it predominantly three or four player and my biggest issue is that it takes 30-40 minutes to finish at the higher player counts which just feels too long for a roll and write. My feel is once it gets over the initial popularity it will come out much less often than shorter roll and writes.
Craig M.: The game is relaxing and yet stimulates thinking. It is extremely portable and is just as engaging as a solo exercise as it is with two, three, or four players. Hard to imagine this not in regular rotation.
Tery: Addicted is a good way to describe it; I couldn’t stop thinking about it after my first play and it has held up well on my subsequent plays. It’s easy to explain, but your choices are important and require some thought to chain bonuses to maximize your score. We play Qwixx a fair amount as a filler or pub game, but I think this is likely to replace that as it is more strategic.
Joe Huber (9 plays): I – am not so taken with this game as my compatriots. I like the game, and acquired a copy – but then sold it fairly soon thereafter. It’s a fine game, but after 9 plays – I’m not driven to play it further. I still like it, and will be happy to play when others request it, but I won’t be the one suggesting it.
Jeff L.: Chris summed up the game nicely–it takes this genre to another level, which hopefully will serve as an example for future games. I would love to see this kind of combo-work taken to a roll-and-write game with theme, something like a better Roll Through the Ages. It’s a great design.
Dan Blum: The added complexity definitely puts it in a different category from most roll-and-writes, which is good, but does mean I don’t plan to introduce it to non-gamers. I’m still enjoying it and am happy to play it with others, but the solitaire version on Brettspielwelt is addictive and much faster, so face-to-face play may pall after a while. (The game can also be played solitaire with a physical copy.)
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Chris Wray, Eric M., Doug G., Mitchell T., James Nathan, Craig M., Tery, Dan Blum (online)
- I like it. Matt Carlson, Fraser, Nathan Beeler, Joe H, Jeff L., Dan Blum (physical)
- Neutral. Patrick Brennan
- Not for me…
Author’s Note: This review originally appeared on the WDYPTW blog, another blog to which I contribute.