The “roll ‘n write” genre is having a moment. Though the mechanic has existed for quite some time — I’d (perhaps controversially) describe Yahtzee as a roll ‘n write — the number of new title available has exploded in the past couple of years. As a genre, Roll ‘n Writes tend to be easy to learn, inexpensive, and fast paced, all factors that explain their popularity.
Today’s article is the start of a new series that features 10 great games in a given subcategory. I pick a mechanic, theme, publisher, etc. Then we here at the Opinionated Gamers all vote behind the scenes to create a list of 10 great games that meet the criteria. We’ll try to do an article a month, and I’d love your suggestions about future lists. The next article in the series will be 10 Great Knizia Games.
For purposes of this project, I simply asked everybody to vote for 10 great roll ‘n writes. I made no attempt to offer a definition. Each member of the OG was offered the chance to vote for up to 10 games. They could give one game a 15, one game a 14, one game an 13, all the way down to giving one game a 6. We all put our votes into a spreadsheet. Any OG writer could add games, provided that they were willing to give it a vote. We then added up the points for each game and picked the top 10.
We had 16 OG-ers vote, and 38 different games received votes. To get on the list took a minimum of seven writers rating the game decently well. That wasn’t a rule, but rather how the breakdown naturally worked out. There’s actually great consensus towards the top of our list.
Without further ado, here are the 10 great roll ‘n writes!
Honorable Mention (Games That Barely Missed the List):
- Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game
- Metro X
- Noch Mal
- On Tour
- Sunflower Valley
#10 – Railroad Ink!
Designed by Hjalmar Hach & Lorenzo Silva, Published by Horrible Games and CMON
Railroad Ink! made a big splash at Gen Con 2018. Released in two versions (“Deep Blue” and “Blazing Red”), each of which contain the base game plus a different expansion, the game involves drawing rail and road routes across the grid to make connections. Players earn extra points for their longest road and rail, plus additional bonus points for crossing through the center of the board. Many roll ‘n writes use standard dice (albeit often of different colors), but Railroad Ink!’s dice shows the road/track that must be drawn.
Dale Yu wrote our review of Railroad Ink! last year.
#9 – Welcome To . . .
Designed by Benoit Turpin, Published by Deep Water Games
Another 2018 release, players in “Welcome To” take on the role of architects building the best new town in the US in the 1950s. Unlike others in the genre, this is missing the dice, instead using cards. (Like I said in the intro, I didn’t force a definition!)
This game holds the distinction of being the highest-rated roll ‘n write on BGG.
#8 – Mosaix
Designed by Christof Tisch, Published by Schmidt Spiele
Mosaix features four dice with three symbols (circles, triangles, and Xs) and arranges the dice. Players must then draw the shape in the 7×7 grid, attempting to create large areas of 5 or more matching symbols for final scoring.
Mosaix earned a Spiel des Jahres recommendation back in 2010.
#7 – Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age
Designed by Matt Leacock, Published by Eagle-Gryphon Games
Roll Through the Ages is one of the more thematic roll ‘n writes in a genre often occupied by abstract titles. BGG’s description of the game is especially apt: “Players roll dice to obtain commodities and workers to build up their civilizations. Dice can be rerolled twice unless they come up as a hazard. Players use their workers to build infrastructure to support additional works or to build monuments that are worth points. At the same time, commodities are gathered that allow your civilization to develop. Once all monuments or five developments are achieved by a player, the game ends at the end of the round, points are counted, and a victor is declared.”
Roll Through the Ages earned a Spiel des Jahres nomination back in 2010.
#6 – Qwinto
Designed by Bernhard Lach & Uwe Rapp, Published by NSV and Pandasaurus
Players roll up to three dice, and those dice come in three different colors that match the rows on their sheet. All players can write the sum of the thrown dice into one of the rows matching the color of one of the dice. The catch is that values must keep going up from left to write, and no number can be repeated in the vertical column. Marking off is optional on other players’ turns, but the player rolling the dice must mark a misthrow (i.e. a penalty) if they don’t. The game ends when two rows are filled or when one player uses all of their misthrows.
Qwinto earned a Spiel des Jahres recommendation in 2016.
#5 – Let’s Make a Bus Route
Designed by Saashi, Published by Saashi & Saashi
Released in 2018, Let’s Make a Bus Route is unusual in that there is a shared board. Routes are drawn on the shared board, but players track other elements (such as passengers) on their individual boards.
James Nathan wrote our review of Let’s Make a Bus Route last year.
#4 – Qwixx / Qwixx Deluxe
Designed by Steffen Benndorf, Published by NSV and GameWright
Qwixx has different colored rolls: two have ascending numbers, and two have descending numbers. The goal is to mark off as many spaces as you can in a row, but you can never mark off spaces to the left of one you’ve already marked. There are six dice in the game — two white dice and a dice for each color of row — and all players can mark the sum of the white dice, but the active player can also mark the sum of a white dice and a colored dice. If you’re ever not able to mark a row, you take a penalty, and the game ends when two colors are locked (which happens when a player has so many spaces marked off) or a player takes too many penalties.
Qwixx is certainly one of the better-known roll ‘n writes. You can even find it in big box stores such as Target or, as I was once surprised to see, Kohl’s! It was nominated for Spiel des Jahres in 2013.
#3 – Rolling America / Rolling Japan
Designed by Hisashi Hayashi, Published by Okazu Brand (Rolling Japan) and GameWright (Rolling America)
In Rolling Japan, the country is divided into a series of adjacent boxes in different colored regions which correspond to the colors of the dice in the game. (The purple dice is wild.) On a player’s turn, he or she rolls dice, writing a die result in a space matching the color of the dice. The catch is that a number can only be written if it has a difference of 1 or less. If the player doesn’t mark a space, then he or she crosses it off, and the player with the fewest such spaces wins the game.
Rolling Japan was implemented by Rolling America.
Dan Blum wrote our review of Rolling Japan back in 2014.
#2 – Twice as Clever (a.k.a. Doppelt so clever)
Designed by Wolfgang Warsch, Published by Schmidt Spiele & Stronghold Games
Twice as Clever is the sequel to Ganz schön clever, Wolfgang Warsh’s smash hit roll ‘n write from last year. It has much in common with its predecessor, but it is (arguably) the more complex of the two. In our voting, 6 OG-ers ranked Doppelt as better than Ganz. Four OG-ers gave it their highest rank.
Brandon Kempf recently wrote our review of the game here.
#1 – That’s Pretty Clever (a.k.a. Ganz schön clever)
Designed by Wolfgang Warsch, Published by Schmidt Spiele & Stronghold Games
In the end, our voting wasn’t even close. Of the 16 OG-ers voting, 14 voted for schön clever, and it earned materially more votes than its sequel game, Doppelt so clever.
As I wrote in our review last year, “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.” Many roll ‘n writes are a bit lightweight for gamers, but Ganz is heavy enough to draw in the gamer crowd.
The popularity of Ganz seems to be growing, and it seems poised to become a modern classic. It recently got its U.S. release, and it has a mobile app that appears to be popular. The game received a Kennerspiel des Jahres nomination last year.
Thoughts from Opinionated Gamers:
Chris Wray: I voted for a few games that didn’t make the list. My favorites are On Tour, which I think has a devilishly clever central mechanic, and Hex Roller, which is probably the most fast-paced game I’ve played in the genre. Both are excellent, but they are also both relatively new, and I expect them to garner significant interest in coming months.
I don’t know what is causing the recent emphasis on roll ‘n writes in the hobby, but I’m enjoying the trend.
Erik Arneson: What a great bunch of games. Little doubt the current volume of new games in this genre will shrink considerably in the not-too-distant future, but those of us who are fans should enjoy the cornucopia while it lasts.
Joe Huber: I am not a great fan of this genre; in spite of having tried more than 20 such games, there are only three I listed, as they were the only three I enjoy enough to have in my collection. (And yes, I was one of the two folks not to list Ganz schön clever.) Though – there’s actually a fourth roll-and-write I do hope to be able to add to my collection in the not-too-distant future, so I’m clearly not entirely immune to their charms.
James Nathan: I generally like roll and writes, but there aren’t many I love. I used all of my votes, but thought about not using them. I’m of two minds on the definition of the genre, and did not vote for two almost-roll-and-writes that I like: Kribbeln and Römisch Pokern. As Chris said, the genre seems to be having a moment – which I think is telling, as one of my favorites, Corinth, isn’t quite released yet, and I haven’t been able to play two of the ones Chris mentions, On Tour and Hex Roller, as they are also quite new and haven’t become ubiquitous enough yet to reach a quorum.
Brandon Kempf: Roll and Writes have taken up a huge amount of our gaming time over the last few months. It’s a genre of games that is usually easy to explain and quick to play. A lot of them do tend to feel high luck and can tend to feel same-y after just a few plays. Even Ganz in our group has fallen to the same strategy, once you find that optimal strategy everyone does, or attempts to do, the same thing and it boils down to the luck of the dice. But, they tend to be fun and they tend to encourage repeat plays in order to find that dominant strategy. Shame that Yahtzee didn’t get it’s rightful mentions, but I assume that’s the extreme solitary nature of that one. Dizzle may be the next one that you see getting mentions in the future, after playing it a couple times it has been a lot of fun, and it has the added benefit of having a couple different modes of play.
Larry: I’m quite fond of Roll and Writes, but my definition of them might be narrower than some. Unlike Chris, I don’t consider Yahtzee to be a R&W. Yahtzee has been a published game for over 60 years and parlor games similar to it have been around for more than a century. I think when you say “Roll and Write” to most gamers, they think of stuff considerably newer than that. When we did our “The Innovators” article, the definition we used for R&W was a dice game where everyone had a chance to play on every turn (usually because they share the same dice). That’s an important feature, since the problem with many dice games, and particularly the ones out of the Yahtzee mold (one player rolls and rerolls dice until he’s satisfied with it and then records the result), is downtime. Almost all of the popular dice games that have appeared over the past few years include that feature, so it seems like a good requirement for a R&W game. I will note that only one of our top 10 games in this article doesn’t meet that more stringent definition and that’s Roll Through the Ages (which I think is a good and very clever game, just one out of the Yahtzee mold and not the R&W model). I will also note that there are games that don’t involve dice rolling (such as Welcome To…) but which feel like dice are rolled, which quite a few people consider to be R&W games. So as is often the case with game definitions, the reality is more complicated than it may first appear.