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!

To step back for a second – I have a habit of shrinking and portabilizing games.  Roll and Writes are amongst my favorites. All you have to do is laminate a few sheets with a handy pouch laminator – cutting them up with a simple rotary cutter, throw in a few inexpensive dry erase markers in a box with the needed dice, and you have an instant game night in a box.  I looked through my collection and I found that there were a few games which just use a simple pair of d6. Rolling Japan uses 2d6 chosen from a set of 7. Interestingly enough, the color selection in Rolling Japan matches the dice used in one of my favorite R+W’s, Ganz Schoen Clever.  And plenty of games need the usual gamer combination of red, blue, green and yellow. (If want to see examples, the links above in this paragraph show you Amazon pages for such things)

Rolling Japan is the key to the initial decathlon as it has almost all of the needed dice

I set out making a spreadsheet of which games used which dice and tried to find a way to put it all together.  One of my goals was to have each main die be used at least twice. It wouldn’t be that awesome if we took 50 dice, rolled them once and then apportioned the requisite dice to the particular games… the fun here is using a set of results and then applying them to multiple games.  Second, a lot of roll and write games involve re-rolling – and that’s gonna be something difficult to deal with here as we’re trying to use the same results over a number of games. Thus, I’d have to figure something out with re-rolls or simply avoid those games which needed them.  In the end, I made a compromise and only used two games which offer re-rolls, and they are placed at either end of the series.

The other rule I wanted to stick with for now is that I didn’t want to have any proxy faces. There are plenty of games which require special faces on a regular d6 – take Penny Papers for instance.  It uses dice in 3 colors, but the “6” side is replaced with a special icon. I didn’t want people to have to remember to convert the number to a face… So, for the time being, all of those games were out.  I did not have an issue though using variants of games, where possible, that could use simple d6. For example, there is a print-and-play variant of Zooloretto the dice game which uses regular d6 instead of the special dice – and with the new sheets, it would be possible to include this game.  Also, Criss Cross can be played by simply using the numbers instead of the symbols as the special dice in that game have a 1:1 substitution with the numerals 1-6. Similarly, I didn’t want to have to substitute colors – I wanted to use the dice that matched the “normal” colors so that you didn’t have to remember that white for Doppelt so Clever was really the pink die, etc.

In the end, I ended up needing 9 main dice:  2 white (one pipped, one with numerals), and one each of: black, red, yellow, orange, purple, blue, green.  Essentially, this was the Rolling Japan dice set and then a white die with numerals and an orange die added in.  All the dice nicely fit in the bag that came in Rolling Japan. I also scrounged around my game bit toolkit and found seven small wooden cubes that matched the colors in Rolling Japan.  Finally, on a whim, I threw in the three yellow dice from Corinth – they are distinctive as they have diamond shaped pips – so that won’t be confused with the yellow main die above. I realized that with 9 main dice, this was the same number of white dice as needed in Corinth – and the color really didn’t matter!

So, in my try at this, I had EIGHT games included in the set…

·         Wuerfel Bingo

·         Qwixx

·         Qwinto

·         Rolling Japan

·         Ganz Schoen Clever

·         Knapp Daneben

·         Corinth

·         Criss Cross

I already own all of these, and Corinth just arrived in the mail this week, so it was time to heat up the laminator anyways…

Other games that were considered, but just missed the cut were –

·         Knaster (I couldn’t find my copy)

·         Rolling America (felt too much like Rolling Japan)

·         Twenty-One ( has too many re-rolls)

·         Zooloretto PnP with normal numbers (didn’t have time to find it/print/laminate)

·         Penny Papers (needs special faces)

·         Steam Rollers (too many other bits)

·         Doodle City (didn’t have 1 white/3 blue)

Games that should have been considered, but I didn’t think of them until too late – I really only had about two hours at home on Friday night to conceive of the idea, put it together and get it in a box…

·         Sunflower Valley

·         Cootie

So, I fit all eight of these games, the 12 dice needed in the Rolling Japan pouch, 4 markers and miniaturized rules for all of them in a single 5×7 photo box.  I also printed up a mock instruction sheet as well as a score card. I wasn’t sure whether we’d be able to talk other people into our crazy idea, and I realized that if I had a laminated card with all the rules, we could easily hack games off the list and then cross of the rules for them as needed.  

When devising the rules, I needed to come up with a way to roll the dice as few times as possible to allow for the different games to happen.  It seemed easiest to have the person rolling the die be the active player for each of the different games (if there were choosing or re-rolling to be done).  Here’s what I came up with.

1.       Collect the 9 main dice.  The three extra Corinth yellow dice remain at the side

2.       Active player decides if he is buying any Corinth yellow dice; if so, add them to the pool.

3.       Active player chooses the dice (yellow, purple, orange) he wants to use for Qwinto, play Qwinto, re-roll once if desired per Qwinto rules.

4.       Draw two colored cubes from the bag for Rolling Japan.

5.       Roll rest of dice not used in Qwinto, including any purchased Corinth dice

6.       Play Corinth.  The nine main dice are organized on the Corinth dice sheet.

7.       Play Qwixx.  Use 2 white, red, blue, green, yellow.

8.       Play Criss Cross.  Use the 2 white dice

9.       Play Wuerfel Bingo. Use the 2 white dice

10.   Discard the pipped white d6.

11.   Play rolling Japan using the dice which colors match the cubes drawn in step 4. If you need to refill the bag of cubes, everyone should mark the end of a round on their RJ board.

12.   Play Knapp Daneben. Use Black, Red, Yellow, Blue, Green.

13.   Play Ganz Schoen Clever.  Use White, Purple, Blue, Green, Orange, Blue.  The active player uses the current faces shown.  Reroll as needed/normal. Use the instruction sheet as the silver plate.

14.   Periodically check that players have the same quantity of filled in cells in Criss Cross, Wuerfel Bingo, Knapp Daneben.

So, that tells you how to get through a round… But how do you score?  As each game has a vastly different scoring system, it seemed best to use a ranking system.  As each game finishes, calculate your score for the game and then award points based on rank: 1 point for finishing first, 2 pt for 2nd, 3 pt for 3rd, and 4pt for 4th.  At the end of all the games, the player with the lowest total score is the winner.

So how does it play?

Well, as the pictures on Twitter show, we ended up playing the Septathlon for our initial foray into this new genre of R&W&R&W&W&W&W&W&R&W.  As two of the volunteers had not yet played Corinth, it seemed like a lot to ask to try to add that into mix. Everyone had already played Ganz Schoen Clever – as this is the other complex game in the set – so no rules were needed for that.  Otherwise, a quick 60 second primer for the other six games were given and we were ready to go.

Honestly, it was not as confusing as I thought. It really helped to have a printout with the turn sequence on the table.  By the middle of the game, we figured out that we should move the active dice for each particular game onto the rule page – to make it easier to focus on what we were doing.  In the future, I’d like to add in colored squares on the sheet to put the dice on to prevent confusion. I’d also like little spaces for the Rolling Japan cubes to go. I also found it much easier to organize my separate laminated sheets in a vaguely left-to-right order so that I could make sure that I didn’t miss a game in a round.

There is actually an interesting tempo to the game.  Like many roll and writes, the initial turns in many of the games are super quick as you’re just filling in spaces and the real decision making comes later.

I put the two games with re-rolls at the start and end of the round.  I had actually thought of axing Qwinto due to the re-rolls, but it did actually give an interesting meta-game decision to make as well – would players decide on which dice to re-roll based on numbers they might need down the road for the three colors in that game?  I don’t think that I ever saw that – but it was an interesting thought and something that I didn’t see as a negative. It does make the round somewhat less elegant though as there is not a single roll of all dice. Depending on my mood, and which other R&W I find to add to the set, Qwinto might disappear to remove the re-roll at the beginning….

Most of the rounds went pretty fast, and like I said, we got into a rhythm.  James Nathan was great at organizing the dice onto the rule sheet for each of the games.  And then each round would have a bit of slowdown as the active player then got to take a full Ganz Schoen Clever turn.  This was a nice break to catch your breath and look over your boards.

One of the things I found most interesting about this experiment was that it was quite hard to keep a focus on all the games.  Normally, you’re constantly staring at a single sheet, always calculating the probabilities of getting a certain roll or plotting out possible long term strategies.  This series of games never allows you to focus on one game continuously, and it adds some challenge to Ganz Schoen Clever. I also found that I made a few errors in Rolling Japan as I lost track of what I wanted to do…

The overall tempo was also nice.  As you continue through the games, players may get a bit fatigued.  Criss Cross is the first game to end, after only 12 rolls, and then you get the satisfaction of crossing a rule off the sheet.  However, once Ganz Schoen Clever ends after the sixteenth roll, then it feels like the game is seriously moving downhill. Rolling Japan finishes in 24 rolls, and then Wuerfel Bingo and Knapp Daneben end on 25.  And, as also happens in the real game, the dregs of a Qwixx game happen, awaiting someone to roll 2/12 or for someone to finally bust out.

The whole septathlon, including rules and whatnot, took just over two hours.  In essence, no extra time than playing the seven games serially, but with the added fun/shenanigans of doing it all at once.  We were surprisingly on target, only finding at the end of the game that somehow one of us had an extra 8 on Wuerfel Bingo, and the birthday boy had somehow missed a Knapp Daneben turn.    It wasn’t too hard to check number of spaces filled in on these games, and I ended up adding a new step to the rules to check this.

We had a well fought battle, and our final scores were:  Dale (16), James Nathan (17), Zach (17), Patrick (20).

the winning sheets

What I liked most about the septathlon idea is that it added a bit of freshness and fun to games that individually probably wouldn’t make it to the table much any more (Knapp Daneben, Wuerfel Bingo, Criss Cross).  

Thoughts for the future –

I could definitely add in more games now – my reservation about colors could be fixed with simple updating of the instruction sheet.   If I could give an easy reference to the dice needed for each game, maybe it would be ok to use slightly different colors than the usual game – i.e. for something like doodle city which needs one white and three blue (but the blue don’t really mean anything other than distinguishing them from white), I could probably get away with 1 white and then use a trio of dark colors (blue, black, purple) as the other three dice.

If it weren’t for portability, Cootie definitely needs to added to the mix.  Though no one recognizes it as such, it is very possibly the first roll and write (I mean roll and build a bug).  It would clearly work here.

I would also like to look through my Roll and Write box and see if there are enough games which use the standard color dot die (Wuerfeland, Castles of Burgundy, maybe Noch Mal) – and throw those into the mix.  But I haven’t had the time nor energy to do that quite yet.

The system definitely seems like it works, and the best part is that games can be added or removed with ease. Ideally, I think I’ll end up with a box with 12-15 roll and writes that work in the system, and then  based on the length of time we want to play and likely which games people feel comfortable playing – we can pick and choose the ones we want. Really, just making sure there aren’t more than 2 games with re-rolls is key.  Otherwise, all the dice and sheets will be ready to go.

I have also devised the lineup for my second attempt…  For this one, I wanted there to be a single roll – so all games with re-rolls were removed.  After careful examination (and the help of a spreadsheet), I found a set of games that use only 8 dice, and each die is used at least 4 times over the course of a full round!  There is a little bit of color chicanery – twice I had to replace a trio of blue dice with three dark dice (blue, purple, black) – but it should work out OK. I also feel OK doing this because the color doesn’t necessarily matter; it’s just to separate them from the white die.  Also, I like the fact that this subset of four dice is used for two different games.

Using the spreadsheet, I have been able to give a nice flow to the dice in play which should also make it easier to transition from one game to the next.

Thoughts from James Nathan

I can date my desire to play games simultaneously back to June 20, 2009. I was playing something I wasn’t especially enjoying.  My friend Mike was playing something he wasn’t especially enjoying. Both games had some downtime, and we discussed the 2 of us playing a game of Dominion during other players’ turns of our respective games. I think it would’ve worked and I’ve never been able to get it out of my head.

Maybe it started when I learned about turducken –no, I’ll save that one.

I got a box in the mail from Zappos one day –no, we’ll save that one too.

Anyway, at HeavyCon last year, Rand and I played a game of New York Central and Don Buriko in a simultaneously-ish way.  It was more that we played Don Buriko at certain breaks in New York Central. It occured to me later that it would be fun to use BGGCON this year as an arena for fun ways to experience games we love.  

Simultaneous is what I’m shooting for, but I’ve had difficulty coming up with ideas.  There is the Patchwork and Bamboleo thing (which I’ll tell you about more after I work some things out), but that’s more of a mashup. I have an idea for a way to play Let’s Make a Bus Route solo, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there (it’s simultaneous in a different way.)

Then Corinth arrived in the mail, and as we were discussing things about it, I mentioned that I wondered if we could play Yspahan and Corinth with a shared die roll.  Then, a little while later, my inbox has the Roll and Write Decathlon in it!

Dale’s quick development really brought it together.  It worked well, but only because of how he structured it with the mild Qwinto re-roll at the beginning, GSC at the end, not needing to mentally adjust for special die faces, etc. It was the right mix of games in the right order.

I made some cookies for a competition at a yoga studio the other day –nope.

The point is, when we first got the dice out and I saw that it was a mix of numeral faces and pip faces -including that the two white die were one of each- I knew that it was going to work.  I don’t like to do things by default; I like to have a reason for the things I do, and so when something is out of sync -like the two white dice being different- I’m comforted knowing that there is a reason for it -that Dale has really thought through the logistics of the ‘thlon. (In this case, we need two white dice for several earlier ones in the series, but only one towards the end: how do you know which white dice to include for GSC?)

Regardless of the order, it also works well because of how the games phase out.  In so many games, each player’s turn (and subsequently each round) takes longer and longer as the game progresses, but here, the rounds accelerate towards the end of the game as the titles wrap up in a different order. That’s nice.

I hope to being able to bring this to a family event over the Summer and to BGGCON in the fall.  It’s a pleasant way to spend some time with your friends.

(Also, uh, that was a lot of erasing when it was all over!)

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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8 Responses to Dale/JaNate: Roll With It – the Opinionated Gamers’ Roll and Write Decathlon

  1. Ippokratis says:

    i just wanna say there is roll n write game with the name Decathlon by Reiner Knizia. The rules are available for print n play.

    • Dale Yu says:

      Oh, I’m well aware of the Good Doctor’s roll and write. I’ve been playing it for years. But in this case, we use the term decathlon simply because we have ten games included. But, it can be modified based on your needs/wishes (And what games you own)

  2. This is wonderful, wild, creative and I love it. Well done.

  3. Sounds like a good time! We need to find all the roll and writes that use dice sorting and mash those together and see what happens. That way you can throw Corinth in as well. :)

  4. leemc13 says:

    Excellent idea and great work bringing it to fruition! That sounded like a lot of fun.

  5. Pingback: Dale Yu: Review of Corinth | The Opinionated Gamers

  6. It is amazing, wonderful, wild, creative. I really love it. Well done.

  7. Pingback: Our Favorite Games of 2019 | The Opinionated Gamers

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