Really, the only reason I made and tried out Riot was because it was by the same guys who designed Grunts. Grunts is a solaitire game that uses Roll and Move mashed together with a 70s British WW II comic. (Go ahead and try it. Print out one sheet and add dice and pawns.)
Riot is a game about the 2011 London Riots, the riots that happened after the death of Mark Duggan. And you score points by looting. Man, there’s a lot to unpack between those two sentences.
The actual game consists of eighteen cards and four dice. Six of the cards are locations and the rest are events. You pick out one location and then you shuffle the rest.
Each turn, you roll those dice. Every location has a list of die results. Cops will lock dice on the card. Clash will unlock a die on that card. Stand-off does nothing. Loot let’s you draw a card as loot. Regroup let’s you unlock any card.
And then there’s text.
The 2011 London Riots were one of the first major riots where social media played a major role. It was used to help mobilize and organize rioters. And then it was used as evidence afterwards.
The text action lets you draw cards from the deck. That’s how events happen and locations get added. And, in the next turn, you Can live to any location on the tableau.
The game ends after six rounds, all dice are locked or you run out of cards. The rules don’t actually include winning or losing conditions. Interesting design choice.
Commenting on choices, Riot doesn’t have too many. Choose a location and the dice do the rest of the work. Since every location is different and can be modified by events, that choice isn’t meaningless but the weight of the game falls on what the dice say.
But I think the point of Riot isn’t it winning or losing or exerting your own agency. Riot is making some kind of commentary about an event.
The fact that the goal of the game isn’t political but looting as much as you can makes me make certain assumptions about the agenda of the designers. But I don’t know if those are fair assumptions. Using the Death of the Author theory, you can easily choose your own interpretation of what Riot means.
For all I know, the game may just be a way of expressing how the 2011 London Riots used social media and cell phones in a whole new way.
Riot isn’t a good game. You roll dice and they make all the decisions. But it did make me think.
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