Dale Yu: Review of Rolling Heights

Rolling Heights

  • Designer: John D Clair
  • Publisher: AEG
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: 60 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by publisher

Says AEG: “Roll Your Meeples, Build the City.”

It’s the 1920’s and your career as a general contractor is about to take off. You have just started your business in a rapidly expanding city.  In Rolling Heights, players roll workers in the form of meeples. Standing meeples work hard that day and provide special actions and building materials, while face-down meeples provide nothing. You can always push your luck for better rolls, but you might lose valuable materials you need to construct new buildings. Completing buildings gains you prestige, as well as new workers to help you construct even larger buildings, including skyscrapers.  Will you construct the next famous landmark?

The board is constructed from six Neighborhood boards; with the player count determining how many are on the A side and how many are on the B side.  These tiles are randomized into a 2×3 grid on the table, and the Scoreboard is placed nearby.  The two market strips are now placed on the two long sides – the Level 1 tiles and Level 2 tiles each have their own market with 9 face up tiles to start the game.  

Cubes are used to represent the building materials in the game, and the size of the cube pool is determined by player count.  Three objective tiles are drawn and placed on the scoreboard. These scoring goals are in effect for all players.  Additionally, each player gets two individual Target tiles to give them personal options – only one of these will be chosen to be scored at the end of the game.  Each player also gets a rolling box and some starting meeples.

To finish setup, choose a starting player, and then in reverse turn order, players draft a starting building plan tile from the Level 1 market, play it in a space (not within 2 orthogonal spaces of any other player) and take any benefits from their chosen starting space.  Place an ownership marker on it.  The Level 1 Market is refilled and the game begins.

There are four phases in each player’s turn: Prep, Risk, Main, Cleanup.  All but the Main phase can essentially be done on your own (while others are taking their turn).

Prep – choose up to 10 of your meeples to roll this turn (your active meeple pool), and then roll them into your rolling box.  They will end up on one of three orientations:  Upright on their feet = “working hard”, on their side = “working steady”, or flat on their back = “exhausted”.  Remove any working hard or working steady meeples and set them aside.  If fewer than half of your active meeple pool is working, re-roll all the exhausted meeples until you get half or more working.

Risk – Decide to push your luck.  If so, take all of your exhausted meeples in your box and re-roll them.  If at least one ends up working, add it to the pool of working meeples and decide again.  If they all end up exhausted, your workers go on strike.  Take half of your workers (rounded down) that are working and put them back in your box.  As consolation, you at least get a Wild token.

Main – Now you use your working meeples.  In general, you can consider working steady (on their side) as giving 1 thing, and working hard (on their feet) as giving 2 things.  You can use your meeples in any order.  As you use them, place them exhausted back in your box so you don’t use them again.  

In the midst of your turn, you may buy up to 1 Building Plan Tile from the market, though you can add cubes to any number of Building Plan tiles.  When you buy a Building Plan tile, you must pay the cost shown on the market (in cubes and/or spending power). At any time during your turn, you can also trade cubes as shown on the chart on the score board. There may also be costs on the board for your chosen placement, you must also play that.  Place an ownership marker on the tile when placed.  Depending on which tile you buy, Wild Tokens might be placed on tiles at the end of the market.  Whenever that tile is bought, the buyer will also gain the Wild Tokens on it.

The meeple actions (briefly):

  • Brown, black, blue, white – provide 1 or 2 cubes of matching color
  • Yellow – provides 1 or 2 VP
  • Magenta – provides 2 or 4 buying power
  • Purple – powers completed buildings
  • Green – gives one or two upgrades to an exhausted meeple in your box (exhausted to steady or steady to hard)
  • Pink – Steady: reroll all exhausted meeples, Hard: take and build a Building plan tile for free (does not count towards plan limit)

At any point in your turn, you can add cubes to your Building tiles – match the type of cube shown on the tile.  Again, you can convert at any time per the chart on the score board. Once placed, the cubes can never be moved.   If all of the spaces are filled appropriately, then the building is built.  Score the VPs for it, and gain any meeples depicted on it – it can be used in any later turn if you choose to roll it.  Move your ownership marker to the top of the tallest stack to show that it is complete.

Cleanup – Return all unused cubes and spending power to the supply, slide tiles down in the Market to fill in spaces and refill from the top.  The next player can start their turn.  Ideally, the next player would have already done his Prep and Risk phases to be ready to move right into the Main Phase.  (NB: I’d recommend not doing this for your first turn or three so that all players can see how the rolling works and so that things aren’t missed; but once players know the flow of the game, you can totally do this on your own)

When  the supply of one of the cubes is exhausted, the miscellaneous cubes are added to the supply. Players can gain the orange miscellaneous cubes instead, which work as wild cubes of sorts.  They can be used as replacements for any color not currently available in the supply.  The game will end when all cubes of at least one color are in constructed buildings.  The current round ends and one more full round is played.  All players will have the same number of turns.

The scoring of the game is fairly simple:

  • Each player scores all 3 of the Ad tiles
  • Each player chooses 1 of the 2 personal Target tiles they were dealt and scores it
  • 1VP per wild token left over

The player with the most points wins.  Ties broken in favor of the player with the most total meeples.

My thoughts on the game

Rolling Heights is a surprisingly complex game – when I first read the description, I thought this might turn out to be a lighthearted game where the focus was on rolling the meeples.  My first few plays have proven that assumption wrong.  There is a lot going on here – trying to figure out which tiles to acquire and then where to place them and then how/when to complete them.  

Yes, rolling the meeples does decide what sorts of resources and actions you have available to you – but the rules are nicely designed to level things out a bit.  As you get to freely re-roll until at least half of your meeples are working, there is a known minimum to get each round.  If you have a lot of meeples and you are unlucky to just hit the halfway point; the ability to risk it and re-roll is a nice feature.  You can generally risk at least one roll and end up with a decent final result.  Though I have no real stats to report; I would say that I feel comfortable rolling 3 meeples and mildly nervous with 2.  In any event, players usually end up with around two-thirds of their meeples doing stuff, and that feels right.  You start with 4 meeples, and part of the early game is building your meeple engine – the re-rolling helps keep things feeling equitable while still allowing some luck based variation.

There is a bit of bag building going on as well as you have the ability to pick which tiles you want to buy and complete; and this in turn directly influences the composition of your meeple pool.  The tile composition of the two rows is well thought out; the Level 1 tiles are a bit easier and therefore more likely to be done first – these tend to provide you with more cube producing meeples.  The Level 2 tiles are a bit harder to fulfill; and the advanced action meeples that they provide enter your meeple pool at the right time.  It should also be noted that you only get a purple meeple when you finish a tile that can use it; so you’ll not ever have a meeple in your pool that can’t do anything.

I personally like the way that the scoring works – you score for some buildings as you complete them, and you have the three shared goals and then one personal goal that you get to decide upon at the end.  In my most recent game, I was surprised as I was working towards personal goal A for much of the game, and then in the last two rounds figured out that I could actually score better for goal B based on the way the board had developed.  I’m glad that I didn’t have to discard one of the tiles at the start of the game as is common with games we play.

The artwork/design is nice and thematic.  The tiles (up close) were well organized, and the symbols were easy to understand.  However, the tiles are quite small, and the older eyes in our group had a pretty hard time seeing all of the details from the other side of the table.  There was a fair amount of standing up and walking to see the tiles on the row furthest from the player.   However, with so many tiles on display, and with the number of tiles that need to be played, I’m not sure that it would have been possible to make the tiles any larger.  (Also, not being able to see small things well is a known shortcoming of my group, so this could be an “us” problem and not a game problem). The player aid is found on the scoring board, and all the information is there – though the background art makes it a bit hard to focus on at times.   

Game length was a bit longer than I expected, and longer than the time suggested on the box.  Our first game was closer to 2 hours, and I doubt that experience with the game would cut that time in half.  Using the cubes as a timer is a nice mechanism, and the map is not overly full when the cube supply runs out – so I think that the cube count is appropriate – it just took us a lot longer to play than the rules estimate.  The game is fairly engaging throughout though – with choosing and rolling meeples each turn, and the constant examination of the tiles in the display – so it’s not like it was a long two hours.  But I think this might be more better estimated at 90 minutes than 60 minutes based on my initial plays of the game.

Rolling Heights is a surprisingly complex game that is lightened up a bit with the randomness inherent in the rolling of the meeples.  You certainly have plenty of game space to plan and execute a long term strategy, but the fickleness of the meeple rolling will keep you constantly re-evaluating your options – possibly changing which tiles you buy or where you build them.  The multiple goals at the end of the game keep the outcome in doubt until the reckoning (well, at least it does for us because none of our group is going to try to count it out while we play).  

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it.  Dale Y
  • Neutral. John P
  • Not for me…

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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1 Response to Dale Yu: Review of Rolling Heights

  1. zidane says:

    thank you for the article

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