Remember the fun of making your character in games like Skyrim?
“Hey you, you’re finally awake; You were trying to cross the border right? Walked right into that Imperial ambush same as us, and that thief over there.” ~ Raloff, from Skyrim.
And then five and half minutes later, you finally get to pick your race! Grr… Well, forget loading times and movie sequences. Fairway’s skipping all that frustration and is going play Roll Player, a recent Kickstarter delivery from by Keith Matejka and Thunderworks Games, instead.
Let me start here: I almost didn’t back Roll Player on Kickstarter. In retrospect, that would have been a huge mistake. The idea of Roll Player is to bring all of the fun and joy of building your role-playing character to board game form. The game makes creative use of dice-rolling and set-collection and is playable from one to four players and is chock full of so many dice!
- The dice! There are so many big dice. It feels like there’s three pounds of dice in the game alone.
- The components, including the character boards and punch outs, are all top notch.
- The art is spot on for this theme. It uses great pieces with all the unique items, traits and skills. Incredible.
- The game play is compelling in its own right.
- The resulting characters are often hilarious and fun just to talk about.
- While the game is mostly dice rolling, there’s plenty of mitigation opportunities via the skills and bonuses that it didn’t feel like luck determined the winner of any of the games.
- The solo play works as well as the multiplayer games.
Roll Player offers both both multiplayer and solo, but the rules are basically the same so I’ll mostly describe the multiplayer option. At the start, each player selects one of the six races and choose either the male or female character board. There is a corresponding tracking board for each race. Most importantly, the middle of the tracker board has cut outs for dice and will be where the player adds to the standard RPG stats: strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom and charisma. Each of the races has some variation on the perks or penalties for these statistics.
Players are the given three modifiers: class, back story, and alignment. The first of these, class is something like barbarian, thief, druid, cleric, bard, or wizard. There are also six alternatives on the back. Each class is associated with a color, but more importantly defines your dice objectives for each of the characteristics. If at the end of the game, your characteristics meets the objectives, you’ll score the number of points.
Second, players are given a “back story.” Beyond providing nice flavor text, the back story gives you dice-color objectives. These objectives show you a point-awarding color placement for each characteristic. The more matching dice colors you get in the right spots, the more points at the end of the game you can win.
Third, players get an alignment. Players’ characters start with a neutral alignment (in the middle), but as they later take actions, use traits and abilities, that alignment will move up, down, left and right. The location of the alignment at the end of the game, can either grant the player more points or lose them.
Depending on player count, players then draw starting number of dice, roll them, and assign them to the dice to their character’s statistics. Now it’s time for the game to actually begin.
How to play
Once the starting character is created, the game is played over a series of rounds until everyone’s character has a complete set of dice for each of the attributes.
Each round has three basic phases:
First, the first player rolls the dice for the round. He or she draws colored dice from the bag equal to the number of players plus one and then rolls them. The dice are arranged from lowest to highest on a set of initiative cards. These initiative cards serve two purposes in later parts of the round. First, players selecting dice from initiatives in the middle will also collect a gold. Second, during the buying phase, the initiative order also determines the order in which you can buy things. Selecting the lowest value die roll means you get to buy first. Note, in solo, one change is a player’s selection of higher level initiative will trigger a die roll that can remove items randomly from the market.
Second, after the die roll and in player order, players select one of those initiative dice and place the dice somewhere in one of their attributes. When selecting and placing the dice, players are making several calculated options. In addition to selecting the initiative space, players consider whether the value itself is useful. Each attribute has a value goal specified by their class. The sum of the dice (plus any modifiers) must match that goal to score the victory points at the end. Whether the die color is useful? The back story indicates specific locations for specifc colors. The more matches at the end of the game, the more points. And, if there’s a gold die out there, whether the player needs the extra coints since gold dice give you two gold. And, whether placing the die in a specific attribute is useful for the special ability. Placing a die in the various attribute locations garners some other action such as: flipping one placed die (strength), rerolling one placed die (intellect), reducing your next market purchase (charisma), changing your alignment (wisdom), and so on.
Third, after everyone has selected and placed their dice, players go to the market to buy equipment (weapons and armor), skills, and traits. Starting with the lowest initiative and going up, players can either purchase goods from a market or discard and item and take gold instead. This latter ability is useful for interrupting another player’s acquisition strategy and can influence things early in the round at the die selection stage.
Skills give you various abilities that are usable, and often changing your alignment, in various places during the game. Skills are incredibly powerful for altering your attributes. Weapons and traits give you more generalized bonus or points at the end of the game.
Armor is an interesting mechanism. The game rewards points for collecting sets of armor. The more complete your armor set, the more points. And, certain armor has certain preferred classes which means that if you have an aligned piece of armor you get even more points.
Finally, the round ends. The market is cleaned up and reset, players can reset a single used skill, first player passes clockwise, and the new rounds begins.
On the green
The list of things that this game does right is really long.
The Races. Let’s start with the very first thing players encounter: six different races. Not only does the game provide human, orc, dwarf, elf, halfing, and dragons, but also male and female options on reversible sides of the card. That’s very welcome.
So many nice, big dice. This fact alone is super surprising: these are good size dice. I think lots of publishers and designers might think twice about including 70+ big dice in a game. Roll Player didn’t. And that clearly represents a massive commitment to producing a high quality game.
High quality other components. Each of the player mats is made of nice thick cardboard. The cards have a nice linen finish and shuffle well. Like the inclusion of large dice, these are all very nice appointments.
Character Creation. The whole mechanism of creating your characters is so perfect. There is a huge number of classes and back stories as well as alignments. This brings so much interesting variety to the game. What’s more the way these elements are integrated into the game is fantastic. There’s a lot of fun in picking dice numbers and colors to match your character’s objectives.
Perhaps the most amazing thing is how well balanced all the characters felt. Especially given the number of variations in which the game could become unbalanced: powers, scoring, etc.
The characters often have hilarious results: like a Paladin Orc Patrician who is honorable, honest and steadfast, but who has no problems moving silently and picking pockets! Ha. Best Orc ever. He also happened to wear a lot of mystic armor and carry a mace. That Orc nearly beat my beast of an acrobatic, Monk Dragon.
Art. I don’t think this would be the same game without the amazing visuals. The game’s card art is nicely detailed and calls to mind the great role playing games.
Luck mitigation. Probably surprising some, this isn’t really a “get lucky with dice” game. Instead, the idea is to maximize the die rolls you get. And, to the extent those die rolls aren’t helpful, the game does an amazing job of giving players a lot of opportunity to “use” them. Between the skills and attribute ability, players can counteract a lot of the effects of just being bad with dice. And most importantly, while those skills and abilities are powerful, they do not fully correct. That leaves the dice game in tact.
Simple to teach, strategically deep. The game is a rare blend of simple mechanics and meaningful choices. The game itself is pretty “simple”: roll dice, select dice, do a few things, buy a a thing, rinse and repeat. But strategically, there’s a lot buried in those steps. The game provides players meaningful choices at almost every step in that process. The consequences of choices are maintained throughout the game and impact your final scores.
Nice range of player counts. We’ve played solo, duel, and four players. The game plays well through the entire range. The solo game even gives you the same feel of meaningful decision making and preserves the fun of character creation. At the higher player counts, there isn’t a lot of down time, which is nice.
Where it comes up short
I’ve got nothing. If there’s anything this game does wrong, I can’t really find it.
In the hole
Roll Player is a must have game for anyone who enjoys dice games. It’s especially so for those that enjoy setting up their characters in role playing games (that’s everyone right?). Roll Player captures the fun and allure of all that in a streamlined, balanced and beautiful game. Roll Player will probably be on my short list of games to recommend to people looking for something a bit different.
Roll Player is in the hole for an Eagle!