Thursday, February 6, 2020

The range of Roll and Writes

The other day, I learned Goko no Sakoro and Gryphon Delivery Service back to back. While I already knew that there was a striking difference between an abstract Roll and Write and a thematic Roll and Write, I was struck by how I view them on completely different terms.

Naturally enough, I view abstract W&Rs through a completely mechanical standpoint. And it tends to be a very stringent standpoint. An abstract game in general has no place to hide its flaws. (And, yes, a rule being a certain way because it’s thematic is a valid reason for a rule to be that way.’) A pure abstract R&W, simply put, has to completely work.

One of the big questions every abstract R&W has to answer for me is ‘Would I rather be playing Yahtzee?’ For better or worse, Yahtzee is the measuring stick for nothing but dice and numbers. It’s a common touchstone for just about everyone, particularly for non-gamers. Yahtzee is a better than game than it often gets credit for being but there’s a lot of R&W games I’d rather go play.

Thematic R&Ws are an interesting beast. They can be more complicated because a theme can help us process for complicated rules easier. Gryphon Delivery Service, which is a pretty simple game, has you track three separate inventories and has two different sets of special powers. For me, they  are a bridge between the world of R&Ws and, well, other games.

And, for me, one of the questions a thematic R&W really has to answer is ‘How does this compare to a game with the same theme but isn’t a R&W?’ Roll and Write games literally don’t have a lot of moving parts which creates limitations. (Note: I’m specifically talking about R&W, not all dice games. Games like Kingsburg or Castles of Burgundy have a lot going on)

Of course, you also have to balance the benefits of the R&W format as well. Set up being grab dice and writing utensils, smaller footprint, shorter play time, those can all be major pluses. I don’t expect a Roll and Write to replace a larger game but it is nice for the trade offs to balance out.

It isn’t that Roll and Write games have come this far that interests me. It’s what the next stage will be.

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