Dale Yu: Review of On Tour

On Tour

  • Designer: Chad DeShon
  • Publisher: Boardgametables.com
  • Players: 2-8
  • Ages: 12+
  • Time: 20-30 minutes
  • Times played: 4, with review copy provided by Boardgametables.com

On Tour was a game that first caught my eye when I saw it on Kickstarter; but it came up at a seriously busy time of the year for me, and while I had plans to go back and look at it and possibly back it, I never did.  It is the first, and thus far, only game that I have played from the publisher; a company better known for… it’s boardgametables. It appears that they also have plans to re-publish Q.E., an economic game that a few of the other Opinionated Gamers have gushed about in the past.

In this roll and write, players try to make the best tour of the United States over the course of the game.  Players will score points for the number of states that they are able to visit on their tour as well as getting bonus points for going through specific circled states.

At the start of the game, each player has a blank stylized map of the US.  It only has the continental US pictured, and the small states of New England are compressed into a single area as are the small states in the Mid-Atlantic region.  The result is a 41-state map, with each state being assigned as being in the North or South. Each state is additionally categorized as East, Central, or West. Thus, each state is considered as part of two different regions; i.e. Georgia is both South and East.  There is a deck of 41 cards, each with the name a state/region in the game as well as one of the two corresponding regions to the named state. This deck is shuffled to start the game. The other main component are two d10 of unusual size.

In the setup for the game, the boards are all seeded with the same four starting values.  The d10 are rolled, and two two-digit numbers are created from the dice (doubles are re-rolled here).  The top card of the deck is drawn and all players write the lower number in that state and circle the value.  Then another card is drawn, and all players write the higher number in that state and circle the value. This entire process is repeated so that all players have the same four circled numbers in the same four states to start the game.  After this setup, players will be free to write numbers where they please on their map.

the BIG red dice. next to some standard d10 I found laying around the basement

The game will now be played over a series of turns until the maps are completely filled in.  The dice are given to the chosen starting player, and the dice are rolled. Three cards are flipped up from the deck and placed in a display in the center of the table where all players can view them.  If they all show the same region, skip the rest of this paragraph… As long as doubles have NOT been rolled, players make the two different two-digit numbers from the dice, and then players individually (and simultaneously) assign each number to a different face up card from the display.  The cards can be used for the state printed on the card; if a card is used this way, the number chosen for that card is written in the denoted state AND then the number is circled. If the card is used for the region printed on it, the player can choose any state in the designated region to write the assigned number in.  However, this number is not circled. Once all players have written their two numbers down, the three face up cards are placed in the discard pile, and the dice are passed to the next player for the next round.

The rules are a little different if doubles are rolled or if all three cards show the same region.  In these cases, players will only write a single star down on their map for the turn. The star must be in a state/region as seen on one of the faceup cards.  If the star is written in a state printed on one of the cards, it is circled. When it comes time to score, any number value can be assigned to a star.

It may turn out that you are unable to legally write a number in a state (only near the very end of the game).  If this occurs, you must write an X in any empty state on your map. This X has no numerical value, and this state cannot be used as part of your tour in the scoring phase of the game.

This pattern continues until only one or two empty states remain.  There is a special final round to finish off the map. In this final round, cards are not flipped up.  Instead, the dice are rolled, and players use the numbers on the dice to fill in the remaining states using the usual rules.  As no cards are flipped up, no numbers can be circled in this round.

When the maps are filled, players now look at their map to figure out their best tour.  The rules here are simple. You may start your tour in any state, and you travel from state to state so long as you move into an adjacent state with an equal or higher number in it.  Stars can have any number assigned to them, so you can always move into a state with a star in it. You can only visit each state once on your tour. You will score one point for each state visited and an additional point for each state on your tour that has a circled number in it.  There is no tiebreaker, and despite there being a FAQ, there is no rule about what to do with the Four Corners area.

A winning board. My band’s name was created partially because I am from O-HI-O, and partially because the night we were playing this particular game, my alma mater (Vanderbilt) was whooping Michigan’s butt in the College Baseball World Series final.

My thoughts on the game

My interest in Roll and Write (RAW) games has been waning over the past twelve months.  Maybe it was overload from Essen 2018, or maybe my tastes have moved on from this genre, but I had been mostly unsatisfied with the recent games in this genre.  I’m glad to say that On Tour has been very well received here and has rekindled interest in the RAW games.

At first glance, the game idea seems quite simple.  Write down a number and trace out a path. But, in reality, there is a lot going on in the game, and the depth of strategy has been pleasingly challenging.  Given the multitude of adjacencies provided by the map, as well as the individual choice of cards from the display, the player’s maps diverge from each other almost immediately.  

The scoring system gives people the chance to try to use the more flexible region parts of the card to make a longer path or to take a riskier strategy of using the state written on the card to allow for double scoring for a particular state so long as you can get your path to go through it.  I have yet to figure out the right balance here, and I suspect that it would really be impossible to predict given the vagaries of the DOUS (dice of unusual size).

It’s a difficult challenge to try to predict how long your path will be.  For instance, if you get a “03” early on, that’s probably going to be the lowest number on your board.  Do you choose to put it in the Pacific Northwest to give yourself the longest possible path? Or maybe you’ll place it in the plains so that you have the most possible branches/possible directions to go?  Who knows. I am pretty sure that whichever I decide in a game, it’ll end up being the wrong move 😉

I do try to remember which states have already come up in the deck.  Most games go through the deck one and a half times, but in the first pass, I try to not write down numbers in states that I haven’t seen yet to give myself the option of putting a circled number down on my map. Of course, there is risk in this as well, because sometimes you get the right number and you just have to give up on future potential double scoring to lock in a leg for your upcoming tour.

The game moves along in fits and spurts.  Some rounds are super quick, with all players finishing within 20 to 30 seconds, while other numbers cause players to moan and groan and have to spend a bunch of time figuring out where to write them down.

The components are beautifully done.  Unlike many other RAWs, players can a sturdy folio as their board.  Sure, this makes the game eminently unportable, but it does feel better in my hands than a tearoff scoresheet.  I also like the fact that this game can be played by as many people as you have maps for. There is no active player advantage, and realistically, the same player can roll the dice and flip over the cards.  Boardgametables.com does sell extra packs of maps, and I have already had a nice 8-player game of this, and this may turn into one of my go-to games for large numbers, parties, or conventions.

Here’s one of their tables. You could buy this, or you could buy 400 copies on On Tour!

On Tour has been a great find this summer, and as I write this review while taking a long roadtrip, I find myself looking forward to the next chance I will have to play this game.

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Alan H: I backed the Kickstarter and it turned in reasonable time So that was good. It received several plays when it first came out but it wouldn’t be in my top echelon of roll and writes. The box allowed for multiple boards to be added to the base set that were included in the game so that was a good idea. Except I didn’t get those extra four boards as I thought I’d never play with that many people and so now it has more space than I need.

I like the game fine but would only play occasionally now.

Joe Huber (1 play): I played this once, back in April, and it was – OK.  It’s a bit long for what it does, with no obvious way to shorten the game as it stands, and – I prefer tear-off score sheets, so the production is actually less to my taste than a simpler production would have been.  I might play again if requested, but this isn’t a game I’d ask for. The one caveat I’d note is that the roll-and-write genre was never a particularly great fit for me – I have only found three such games I’ve enjoyed enough to have in my collection for any meaningful time – so some of my take is undoubtedly a reflection upon my rather neutral feelings for the genre as a whole.

Larry (1 play):  This looked promising, but it went on longer than I’d like for a roll and write.  There’s quite a bit to consider each turn, so things can drag a bit. The good news is, good decisions will usually yield good results.  Unfortunately, there’s no defense if the dice don’t choose to favor you, so the game length may not support the high-ish luck factor. OTOH, just about everyone else in my one game enjoyed it more than me, so I’m perfectly willing to give it another chance, to see if my rating could rise.

Patrick Brennan: You start with a general approach and try and work the rolled numbers into it as best you can, as they come, being malleable where you have to. Some solo games should never be played multi-player though. This is one of them. Good simultaneous-turn games feature quick turns but here there are a ton of options to consider. You have to place two die rolls, and each can be placed in one of the three provided locations (for potential bonus) or, if not, where’s the best placement across the allowed regions. To play well you want to sit and ponder ideal route options, but this is death to those who want to play at a faster pace with a more laissez faire approach; they’re waiting for you every turn. As such, it’s not a satisfactory experience when playing it at pace because you know you’re playing sub-optimally, but it drawls horribly when anyone is overly playing to win. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to roll dice for half an hour playing it solo either though.

Matt C:  I tend to play with lightweight gamers so roll & writes are often a good fit.  I gave this a shot with some newbie gamers and they were pretty much lost the entire game.  I found it interesting, but need to play more to make an actual rating. It loses some points in my eyes as I think there are other roll & writes out there more suitable for casual gamers (that also have enough there to keep me interested.)  As an example of friendlier but still somewhat meaty roll & writes, I’ve played Railroad Ink with a number of newbie gamer groups and I’m still occasionally asked if I brought it along.

Lorna: I just have lots of roll’n’writes I’d rather play more than this one, plus the box was waaayyy too big.

Dan Blum: I like a fair number of roll & writes and was interested in this one because the route-building seemed like an interesting approach that would feel different from other R&W games. And it is and it does. But. I agree with everyone who said that the game was too long. That was the opinion of everyone at the table when I played, and no one was taking particularly long to make decisions – there are just too many turns. Another problem is that determining your best route at the end of the game is non-trivial – we had a lot of “if I go here I get fewer states but more circles, oh wait if I go an entirely different direction I get one more state,” etc. If players want to play more seriously this could make the later turns of the game take a very, very long time as they optimize. All of this could have been fixed by simply having fewer spaces on the board – at most two-thirds of the actual number although I would vote for half.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Dale Y
  • I like it. Alan H, Brandon K, Craig V
  • Neutral. Joe H, Larry, John P, Dan Blum
  • Not for me… Patrick Brennan, Lorna

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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