Roll Write Daifugo
- Designer: Chikasuzu (ちかすず)
- Publisher: Ponkotsu Farm
- Players: 2-6
- Time: 10 minutes
- Times played: 7, with a friend’s copy.
Every now and then, a game comes along that is so unexpected that it captures my attention and won’t let go. Dominion was the biggest example in my gaming life, and the most recent example is probably James Nathan’s experimental games such as the Roll and Write Pentathlon and Patcholeo (a mash up of Bamboleo and Patchwork). Just this month, I have found out about Roll Write Daifugo, another game that I’ve been trying to wrap my head around since learning the rules.
Admittedly, I’ve only played the game three times thus far, but each time, I’ve constantly replayed the game in my head, trying to figure out where things went wrong or what I could have done better. It’s one of the few games that I’ve spent way more time thinking about than actually playing.
The game has two phases. The first feels like a traditional roll and write game. The second is a single hand of a climbing game, like Tichu, the Great Dalmuti or President. What? How are those two things combined? Read on my friend…
Each player gets a score sheet. They are all identical (thus far I haven’t seen any variations on it). There is a vaguely diamond shaped array of circles, split up into twelve groups of 3 (notified by color). There are 14 arrows that go thru this array, and each circle is only part of a single arrow. Each arrow points at a white card shape, and as you might expect, as you fill in the circles, you’ll add up the numbers on an arrow to generate a number. There is a grid of 14 cards in the bottom right, which you’ll fill in with the same numbers as you have put in the individual card spaces. Finally, in the upper right, there is an area with three +/- 1 spaces.
On a turn, any player takes the 3d6 and rolls them, announcing the numbers out loud. Players then use these three numbers to fill in any one colored grouping of circles. At any point in this phase, you can modify a die roll by +/- 1, so long as you check off one of the +/- 1 spaces in the upper right of your sheet. You can even modify the same die more than once as long as you have enough changes left. This is repeated twelve times until the grid is full. Now, each of the 14 arrows on the board is summed and the number placed in the card shape that the arrow points to. Players can then transpose these numbers into their card grid in the lower left, taking the time to organize them.
In the second phase, you now use your hand of 14 cards to play a climbing card game. It’s a version of the common Japanese game, Daifugo. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daifug%C5%8D) In this climbing game, players can only play sets – that is single cards, pairs, three-of-a-kinds, four-of-a-kinds, etc. It is not allowed to play runs. The first lead goes to the player who has the lowest number in the left most circle on their diamond array; this could be as low as -2 (if a 1 was rolled and then modified by -1 three times). That player states what card combination he is playing, then crosses those cards off of his hand. The next player can either pass (and be out for the rest of the trick) or play a higher combination of cards that match the type led. That is, if the lead is a pair, all combinations played this trick must also be a pair.
Once all players but one have passed, the player left (who played the highest combination) “wins” the trick and then leads the next trick – again being free to choose whatever size set to play. The game continues until one player has played all 14 cards from his hand, and that player is the winner! That’s it. There is no tiebreaker needed as only one player can go out first.
My thoughts on the game
I have been fascinated by this little game since I first had it explained to me. For me, it is a great combination of two of my favorite genres/mechanisms – and I can’t stop thinking about how to play it better.
In the first phase, there are all sorts of different ways to play it. Do you go for the highest possible singles and pairs to make sure that you have winning combinations of the most commonly led sets? Do you try to get as many cards of a single number as possible? (Once I had eight “7”s…). When do you choose to use your +/- 1s? Early on to ensure the max repetitions of a certain number? Or do you try to save them for the end to protect against a disastrous roll? Having the lead is always a powerful thing in a climbing game, but can you afford to wait until the last roll to fill in that spot? Do you put a 1 in that space and hope it’s enough? There are so many ways to try to play it, and so many ways that your plan can fall apart because the dice don’t go your way.
Once you get into the climbing game, there are fewer decision points. Like most climbing games, the trick is figuring out when you want to play, how to get rid of your losers and how to gain control of the lead and then have cards left that will let you get out of the hand. The trickiest thing for me is that you can really not be certain of what other people have. There’s no set distribution of cards! I guess you know that the highest possible single is a 33, the highest possible pair or trips would be a 31. But, there is an art trying to figure out if your pair of 18s is going to be good enough to win a trick or not – especially near the start of the game.
As far as the components, there’s not much to mention. There’s a pad of scoresheets, three generic d6 and some cool Japanese pencils. It’s functional, but that’s really about all that could or should be said about it.
I have only played it with 3 or 4 players so far, and I don’t know how I’d feel about it at 6. The climbing part of the game is quite unpredictable, and with a larger player count, you might not even be able to participate in half of the tricks. At that count, the game seems like it would be more of a random crapshoot about the timing of when someone gets the lead, and it’s much harder to predict that with six players. (Well, at least that’s what I think based on my many many internal thought experiments about it).
The best thing for me, the whole game is over in under 15 minutes – which gives you time for a five minute discussion about what you could have done better, and then everyone gets a new scoresheet and does it again! Despite the low number of plays, this is one of my favorite games of the year. I still can’t stop thinking about it, and I really hope that someone helps get this into some wider distribution.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
James Nathan: This game grows on me each time we play it. Heck, even just thinking about it to add my thoughts just now, I have a new plan to try next game -at least until the dice rolls start coming in. Climbing games have always been tricky to me, as I never know how to get rid of the last 2 or 3 or 4 cards in my hand, and try to be proud of how I get rid of the other 80%. But this time…it’s at least partially my fault, as I had some control over what is in there.
Not knowing the card distribution or rank range is interesting. If you _gasp_ when I play my single 18, what are you going to think when I play a pair of 26s! Too much strategy discussion is spoilers, I think, but my initial focus on as-many-as-I-can-of-one-number-because-it-is-a-climbing-game has fallen aside. Maybe it isn’t a climbing game so much as it is a game about keeping the lead, and to that end, is a bit of this and a bit of that, but higher values, more important than ten 7s?
(I just thought of another strategy for next game.)
PS: I hope Dale’s bus pass is ready for when the pandemic has subsided, as I’m full of nonsense plans that hopefully he’ll love.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! Dale Y; James Nathan
- I like it. John P
- Not for me…