Roll & Write Games
In the mid 1950’s American toymaker and game designer Edwin S. Lowe was approached by an anonymous couple form Canada…
They designed a game that they called ‘Yacht’ simply because they enjoyed playing it on their yacht with friends (don’t we all?). They asked Lowe if he would be able to make up some sets that they could give as gifts to their friends who enjoyed the game. ‘Yacht’ was similar to the Latin American game ‘Generala’, the English game of ‘Poker Dice’ and the Scandinavian ‘Yatzy’ and dated back to at least 1938. The object of ‘Yacht’ was to score points by rolling five dice up to three times to make certain combinations. The game lasted 12 rounds. Each round the player had to choose which scoring category was to be used for that round. Once a category was chosen is could not be used again. Each scoring category had different point values which were in relationship to the value of the dice used. A ‘Yacht’ was a five-of-a-kind combination and scored the highest value of any category: 50 points. The winner was the player who got the most total points at the end of the game.
Lowe saw great potential in marketing this game and bought the rights from the couple in exchange for 1,000 gift sets of the game. Even though the basic game remained the same, Lowe added some significant modifications: He included a bonus for the upper section, a three-of-a-kind category as well as 4-straight and various other bonuses. He filed a trademark for it in April of 1956 with its new name – Yahtzee.
According to Lowe the game did not do well commercially at first, as the idea of the game was not easily explained simply by advertising. So, he came up with a different marketing strategy: He would organize Yahtzee parties where people would be able to play the game and thereby gain first-hand experience of it. The plan was successful, and the game quickly became popular simply by word-of-mouth from its growing number of fans.
Lowe’s company sold around 40 million copies of Yahtzee during 1956 and 1973 at which time he sold his business to the Milton Bradley Company. The game is currently owned by Hasbro who reports yearly Yahtzee game sales of 50 million copies. Based on these numbers we can conclude that the game is still vastly popular despite of its more than 80 years of age.
So, what then makes a game like ‘Yahtzee’ so unique? Lowe classified the game as a Poker Dice Game.Today, in modern board gaming lingo, we would call it a Roll & Write Game. The explanation for this classification appears painfully simple: You roll one or more dice and then you write something on a paper based on the results that were rolled. Some versions of Roll & Write games use cards instead of dice, or a movable marker on a wooden board instead of a pad of paper but essentially, they include a set of dice and a custom pad for individual scoring. Writing down scores is common in many game genres but what makes Roll & Write games special is the feeling that you get when you fill in areas on your play sheet with your results.
Over the last decade the board gaming industry has seen a growing demand for new Roll & Write games. We now have a vast number of newer titles to choose from that take the basic concept of Yahtzee and develop it further into new and exciting gaming experiences.
This newfound enthusiasm likely began with the popularity of ‘Qwixx’ which was first released in 2012 and became a nominee for the 2013 prestigious German ‘Spiel Des Jahres’ awards. But the evolution did not stop there. Today we see new titles of Roll & Write games appear on the market on a regular basis. Themes vary from building a civilization in “Roll through the ages,’ designing a suburban neighbourhood in ‘Welcome to…” to building a train network in ‘Railroad Ink’.
Even though the development of the genre beyond Yahtzee if a fairly new and is constantly evolving, there are some characteristics that are common in all Roll & Write Games:
- Something in the game is providing random results. Most likely dice, custom or otherwise.
- Something that is tracking the individual scoring results of a player. Most commonly that is a pad of customized scoring sheets but can also be a peg board or cardboard trackers.
- The game plays rather quickly. Most Roll & Write Games last about 15-30 minutes.
- The game is usually small and portable as it does not require any large boards.
Because player interaction is often secondary in Roll & Write games, they also make an excellent solo play experience in many cases.
If you love Yahtzee (or even if you don’t) there is a wealth of new titles out there that are absolutely worth exploring. Here are my personal favourites:
GANZ SCHON CLEVER (Aka: That’s Pretty Clever)
1-4 players, ages 8 and up
Choose your dice well and enter them into the matching colored area, put together tricky chain-scoring opportunities, and rack up the points. The dice you don’t use are as important as what you do because every die that’s smaller than the chosen one can be used by the other players, keeping everyone in the game at all times. The game is also available as a sequel called ‘Twice as clever’
2-6 players, ages 8 and up
Each turn a player rolls 1–3 dice, with the dice being the same colors as the rows on the individual score sheets: orange, yellow, purple. Each player can place whatever sum is rolled into an empty shape in a row that matches the color of one of the dice as long as they follow a couple of ingenious rules. Like most roll-n-writes, it ends at completion or a certain number of misfires. A very satisfying game for any Roll & Write lover.
1-6 players, ages 8 and up
In this multiplayer track-building puzzle game, your goal is to connect as many exits on your board as possible. Each round, a set of dice are rolled in the middle of the table, determining which kind of road and railway routes are available to all players. You have to draw these routes on your erasable boards to create transport lines and connect your exits, trying to optimize the available symbols better than your opponents. The game is available as a blue or red edition but is essentially the same game.
1-100 players, ages 10 and up
Set in 1059’s suburbia this is a roll-and-write dice game in which you mark results on a score-sheet…but without dice. Instead you flip cards from three piles to make three different action sets with both a house number and a corresponding action from which everyone chooses one. You use the number to fill in a house on your street in numerical order. Then you take the action to increase the point value of estates you build or score points at the end for building parks and pools. Players also have the option of taking actions to alter or duplicate their house numbers. And everyone is racing to be the first to complete public goals. There’s lots to do and many paths to becoming the best suburban architect!
2-4 players, ages 8 and up
Under a blazing sun in 4th century BCE, traders come from all corners of the Mediterranean Sea to Corinth to sell their goods. In each round a handful of dice are rolled and players take turns selecting groups of dice to deliver goods to shops, purchase herds of goats or visit the market, recording their progress on their notepads. In this game, you will need to pay close attention to what your opponents are doing and choose between taking the best option for you or making sure your opponents don’t get theirs.
Are you intrigued to try a roll & write game? Here are my top suggestions:
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