Saturday, May 18, 2024

Roll Crawl: Yahtzee and Fantasy Combat pared down to the bone

I went into Roll Crawl assuming it would be a dungeon crawl. I mean, the word crawl is in the title. But it is really just a line of monsters that you have to fight. Which is all some dungeon crawls end up being but there's usually a little flavor text to hint at exploration and setting. Roll Crawl cuts right to the chase.

Roll Crawl consists of eighteen cards, plus some tokens to keep track of health and dice to make things happen. There is a selection of heroes, companions, and monsters, including boss monsters. Each game consists of two heroes, one companion and five monsters that always includes one boss monster.

The game really comes down to Yahtzee. And, while Yahtzee in and of itself is dry, it makes for a good base to build mechanics off of. Each hero has a pool of three dice. Their abilities are keyed off specific combinations of dice like sets or straights. And the heroes can combine dice to activate the companion. Monsters roll dice to do damage but they have some automatic special powers. Kill all the monsters, you win. They wipe out the party, you lose.

A long time ago, I played a game called God Dice that was fantasy combat based on Yahtzee. I felt that it ultimately failed because it took too long and it was too easy to have turns where nothing happened. Later on, I played a game called Delve that used Yahtzee as a dungeon crawl that worked much better by having a much tighter design.

Roll Crawl falls more into the Delve camp. It is a very short and simple game but your decisions matter. That comes down to getting to reroll the dice, the ability to work towards a specific goal. It does exist in a design space where I feel you can find better games but Roll Crawl works. And that can be a tougher standard than you or I would like to think.

The biggest weakness the game has is that the deck is too small. In particular, the pool of monsters is sparce. You end up seeing the same monsters over and over again over multiple games. Heck, there are only two boss monsters. So, while the mechanics do hold up , the content isn't enough to encourage a lot of replay.

I like how Roll Crawl gives you some actual agency, even if the whole game comes down to rolling dice a whole bunch. As I've said, Yahtzee is a good foundation. However, it really needs at least twice as many cards.

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