Roll & Write Railroads

Designer: Kentaro Yazawa (矢沢 賢太郎)
Publisher: Hoy Games
Players: 2-4
Playing Time: 30 minutes
Times Played: 8 times on a purchased copy

There are many spectrums available to talk about how you feel about a game.  We give them a rating, 6 out of 10.  We use words, “I like it”. We say things are family games or party games.  Filler games. Brain-burning. Fun.

What’s a game you think about when it’s over?  That seems like a meaningful spectrum to me – does the game inspire a lot of post-game analysis.  But that’s not quite what I meant. When you play that kind of game with your friends, what do you do next.  Play it again? Go home? Play something else.

What I mean is, what are you thinking about on your way home afterwards.  Or as you’re falling asleep at night. Are there games which at first you didn’t “get”, but can’t knock lose from extra synapse cycles. 

Sometimes those thoughts are optimizing a strategy for next time.  Or recapping the session just completed.  

Are there games for you where your brain is both thinking about the game and also speechless at the same time? Stunned into a “what did I just play” silence, as it recovers from the experience.  At first, you’re still feeling like…that was _work_. I don’t want to do that again.

But as you give the parts of your mind which juggles things a rest, and they start to recover…you realize you want another shot at it, admitting to yourself that while yes, it was work, this time I’m going to do better.  I’m mentally buckling down tighter and want another go.

Roll & Write Railroads is a simple, uh, roll and write game.  Roll a number of dice equal to one more than the number of players.  In turn order, take a dice.  Do the action corresponding to the dice.  Then, once all players have, they each do the action of the left over dice.  Record your score and repeat. At the end of 10 turns, the person with the most points wins.

That’s the rules.

The board depicts a number of different train lines – and has a different setup on the reverse side. Each line is broken down into the square train stations and the horizontal track lines which connect them.  Train lines can be in two states, locked or unlocked. Stations and track can be in two states, filled in or not filled in.  

There are 2 to 3 actions in the game. When I teach it, I say 2, though it’s probably 3 (and really I should say 4).  We’ll go with 2.5. 

You can fill in track – choose an unlocked line, fill in the left-most unfilled track.

You can fill in a station – choose the corresponding line, fill in the left-most station; the line must be unlocked and have filled track connecting to it.  There are rainbow stations; for these, you can choose the line. 

Once you fill in a station, do the action it showed – it will be more track or more stations. Those are the 2 actions; how they recursively build on themselves is the game.

The 0.5 action is the yellow circle.  There are a series of yellow bubbles at the bottom of the sheet, and some stations will show a number in a yellow circle, let’s say 6.  If you fill in such a station, circle the first 6 yellow circles you haven’t yet circled.  If you circled a star, do one of the actions: a track or a station.  (See, not really a full action – just a door to The Two.)

The other thing you could get from a station is a “T”.  These are bonuses which give you two options, either an immediate bonus or permanently upgrade the actions you get for choosing a certain die. (The immediate bonus options and the upgrades are all…fill in a track or a station.)

Some of the stations have yellow pentagons under them and these are the points.  At the end of the round, record the score for the furthest right pentagon you’ve marked the station for on each of your lines.

Rotate the start player, score lots of points, somebody wins.

I’ve gone through the scoresheets in my gamebag and made you these graphs. These are the average points scored per round.  You’re going to score maybe 5 by round 3, and probably 0 in the first two.  By the 10th round, you’re north of 100.

The complexity of the combos in this game seems inexplicable.  If you look at those sheets above, part of the board is devoted to a “memo” space for you to take notes and track what you’ve unlocked because it’s going to snowball! 

But I think the analogy is more a roller coaster – but with one big drop that happens fairly early in the game and lasts the rest of the time. As you plummet, screaming and scribbling, you–

Juggling.  With one hand?  Yeah, let’s try that. It’s like one hand is doing the bookkeeping – filling in tracks and stations – and the other is juggling your remaining actions.  You start with a track, but then you unlocked a station.  “Hey, left hand, add this station ball to what you’re juggling”.  As you think it through, you see that you can use the track and station to unlock two more track and a rainbow station.  “Change of plans. I’ll take those back, now juggle these”.  All while another part of you is thinking about the best way to spend them.

But then somebody tries to ask you a question – somebody not in the game approaches and asks what you’re playing or if you had dinner plans or needed a refill.  Haha all the balls start to feel a little heavier and as you concentrate harder to hold it all together while processing the simplest inquiry. It’s a head’s-down game, a head-lamp game, in a way that usually doesn’t appeal to me. (It helps that it’s over in 30 minutes.)

I’m…not sure the game is fun. It doesn’t make the folks around you want to play. It will only appeal to a small niche. I don’t know that I want to play it over and over. 

But I want to spoil the monster at the end of this book: I love this game.

I want to share it with so many people.

I’m captivated by the design.  At how the designer took these two options and turned it into a game where I need a memo area to keep notes on what I have unlocked – even when it is just “two track and a station”. Where the recursion of these two simple actions can inject such paralysis. And the total concentration blackout it requires.  I have no mental framework for a game that feels like I just did my taxes by hand and want to do it again.  (After a rest, but again.)

That’s why it’s an earworm game, to get back to the intro. I think what stimulates me about the play experience is my admiration for the design. I’m 8 plays in and those feelings have made themselves at home.

The game is available in two versions.  One is around $11, comes with 50 sheets, and, inexplicably, a single die – not enough for any player count.  The second is a PDF you can download for $7.50.  These are the nicer, second edition versions of the game.  Here a link to the publisher’s store.  (And my translation of the rules into English.)

Oh, also it’s about bean farming.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! James Nathan
  • I like it. 
  • Neutral. 
  • Not for me…
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11 Responses to Roll & Write Railroads

  1. Is the die included with that game a special die? It looks like the paper has a key for a d6 (X = action.)

    I went to the web site and there were a few other things that looked like they might be roll & writes or something, but they were crazy complex…. thoughts on any of those?

    • xitoliv says:

      It’s a standard D6.

      I’ve played Gone with the Beans once. It was a more euro-y resource conversion r&w with asymmetric powers. I liked it and still own, but haven’t been compelled to play again.

  2. This is an intriguing game… but it can be a bit overwhelming. If you like roll’n’write games, it’s definitely worth giving it a go.

  3. Karl Fast says:

    Does the PDF version have english rules?

  4. elqor says:

    I just navigated myself through a japanese website (thanks Google translate) to buy this game. The rules are in Japanese…

    Where can I get them in English!?

  5. Brian Hanechak says:

    Thank you for posting your rules translation! A thought about the “5” bonus on the Tokyo map that you called out at the end… It looks like maybe you get the 2-coin bonus when you spend the T token to improve your 5, but the only thing you improve on the 5 itself is the extra TM station. (This also more closely matches what I got from Google translate from the detailed explanation of each T token improvement.)

  6. Richard says:

    This sounded interesting so I picked up a PDF copy. The rules talk about the soybean dice but never talk about how it is used or exactly what it is. I wondeer if it is meant as a joke in that the game is a progression from just having a bean to owning a railway empire. Is that the case?

    • xitoliv says:

      Good question. I think it’s referring to the standard D6 that comes with the printed version of the game – one dice that gets you started towards however many you need to actually play.

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