Tag Archives: Pickomino

Boardgames in the News: What are “Roll and Write” Games?

In the last few years, “Roll and Write” games have been everywhere, but what defines them and what let to the rise in their popularity?  Well, their roots lie in simple dice games, which are as old as the hills, but arguably the first “Roll and Write” game is Yahtzee, a game that is now a childhood classic.  Although the commercial game dates from the 1950s, the game is based on the older family of traditional games, including Yacht, Generala, Poker Dice etc..

Noch Mal!
– Image by boardGOATS

The idea is that players roll five dice to try to get specific combinations, re-rolling some, all or none up to three times.  These fall into different categories each of which can only be scored once and are crossed off on a scoring sheet.  This roll and re-roll mechanism has been used as the basis of many more modern games like Pickomino (aka Heck Meck), To Court the King and even Roll for the Galaxy, but these are not “Roll and Write” games, they are dice games.  More dice games with a “Writing” element, followed as well though.  These include Reiner Knizia’s Decathalon, the Catan Dice Game, and Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age with its subsequent series of games.

Roll for the Galaxy
– Image by boardGOATS

Perhaps the most influential game of this type, however, is Qwixx.  In this game, each player has their own score-sheet with four rows, numbered two to twelve, each in a different colour.  On their turn, the active player rolls six dice: two white and one of each of the four colours. The active player can mark off the sum of one white die and one coloured die in the row of the same colour, while everyone else can mark off the sum of the two white dice on any one of their four rows.  The catch is that the numbers must be crossed out in order: descending for the blue and green rows, ascending for the red and yellow rows.

– Image by boardGOATS

And that is the core that really makes a “Roll and Write” game:  the decision making.  While there is no industry recognised definition, it is widely understood that games that fall into the “Roll and Write” category have the following key characteristics:

  • A randomiser: traditionally dice, but some games use cards etc.;
  • A key element of decision making;
  • Individual work sheets, which are more than just a score pad.

Qwixx was published seven years ago, and was popular in its own right receiving a nomination for the Spiel des Jahres award in 2013.  Its legacy, however, is the way it helped to open the door for other games in the genre.  Noch Mal! (aka Encore!) followed in 2016 and in 2018, “Roll and Write” games really took off.  Yahtzee, Quixx and Roll Through the Ages have now been followed many other very popular and successful games including, Welcome to…, Ganz Schön Clever! (aka That’s Very Clever!), Railroad Ink, and Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale.  Between them, these games have received two Kennerspiel and two Spiel des Jahres nominations.

Ganz Schön Clever
– Image by boardGOATS

There are now, hundreds of “Roll and Write” games available and new games continue to arrive, each with their own twist: some based round rolling dice, some involving a deck of cards, and there are even games now that involve cutting out!  But what is the appeal, and why the sudden growth in this genre?  For the publisher they are obviously cheap and relatively easy to produce, often needing little in the way of complex or bespoke components.  In a squeezed market this is very important.  For designers they are easy to prototype and many of these games are relatively easy to play-test too.  This is because they can often be played solo, and the mathematics of probability are well understood (by mathematicians at least).

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale
– Image by boardGOATS

For gamers, the low price of these games means financial investment is typically small.  They are usually quick to learn and don’t over-stay their welcome either, which means they are low risk and if they “click” they also can see a lot of table time.  They are easy to play remotely too, because players just need pens and a work-sheet each, and access to a web camera.  And thus, the timing of the rise has been serendipitous: with so many people stuck at home this year, “Roll and Write” games are really coming into their own now.  It remains to be seen whether their popularity will continue into 2021 and beyond.

Noch Mal!
– Image by boardGOATS

19th November 2013

Since we arrived in “dribs and drabs” and one player had to leave early, we started out playing a couple of quick little games.  First up was Pick Picknic.  This is a cute little game where players simultaneously play coloured chicken cards.  If someone plays the only chicken card of a given colour, they get all the grain at that coloured farm.  If multiple players go for the same coloured farm, then players can either agree to share the corn in any way that is mutually agreeable or roll for all of it.  They must beware the foxes though – foxes don’t eat corn, they only eat chickens; if someone plays a fox card, they will eat any chicken cards of that colour.  The first game was a bit of a white-wash, in contrast, however, the second game was a draw.

Pick Picknic

Next up was a game with a similar box and name, but other wise completely different: Pickomino.  This is a strange little dice rolling game with appealing “worm tiles”.  On a their turn, players roll eight dice.  They must keep all the dice of one “type”, i.e. all those with a one, or all those with a two etc., however, they must not have any of that number or type already.  Then they can, if they choose, re-roll the remaining dice and do the same again.  When they decide to “stick”, they can take any “worm tile” available in the pool with a value equal to or less than the total shown on their dice, and place it on the top of their pile.  When the number rolled exactly matches the topmost tile on someone elses pile, then the player may steal that tile if they choose.  The person with the most worms at the end wins.


Unfortunately, since the rules were in French and the English translation was not entirely clear, we didn’t play this quite right, so we’ll have to give it another go sometime. Since new players had arrived and one had to leave, we moved on to something a little deeper in Montego Bay.  This is an unusual little game about loading barrels into boats.

Montego Bay

To do this, each player has two workers, a large one and a smaller one, and a set of 5 cards for each worker which are used to move them.  Simultaneously, all players secretly choose one of the numbered cards from each of their card sets, then the workers are moved one at a time along the path around the outside of the warehouse, according to a prearranged (otherwise random) order.  Thus, when it is a workers turn to to move, the appropriate card is revealed and the worker moved accordingly.  The clever part is what happens if the space is already occupied, as the original worker is pushed to the opposite side of the warehouse.  In some cases, the position opposite side of the warehouse is also already occupied in which case both spaces are blocked and the active worker simply moves as far as he can.  When all workers have moved, the warehouses are checked if there is a worker next to a chamber. If a worker is next to a chamber with barrels, players receive drums in their colour equal to the number of barrels in the room. These drums are placed in one or more of the ships in the harbour; players may decide freely, but when a ship is full, it sails away immediately and players score points depending on who has the most barrels on the ship.  In contrast, if the chamber has broken barrels in it, drums must be removed from ships.  Thus, players are trying to make sure their workers are optimally placed, but since their pieces can be influenced by other players, everyone is trying to anticipate what each other will do.  Because of all the “double think”, the game is very prone to “analysis paralysis”, however, it wasn’t too bad and only really became noticeable in the last rounds of the game when it was all quite tight and moves were critical to the final score.  Green took the honours in the end, a couple of points clear of Blue, but everyone expressed an interest in playing it again sometime.


Montego Bay

Lastly, was the “Feature Game”, Coup.  This is a very quick little card game of bluffing and back-stabbing.  The idea is that each player starts with two cards representing the people they influence.  On their turn they can take a small amount of money or declare who one of their people is and do a more exciting action associated with that character.  The catch is that since the cards are hidden, players only know who they have influence over themselves – everyone else is secret.  Other players then have a choice, one of them can challenge the active player, or one of them can declare they are a character that can block the action (this declaration can also be challenged), or they can do nothing.  When a player is challenged, they must display one card:  if it demonstrates that they were telling the truth then they draw a replacement card, if it indicates they were lying then they lose a card.  The aim is to be the last player with influence (i.e. a hidden card).  The key to the game is to play as a team against the leader to prevent them from building up enough money to carry out a coup (which there is no real protection from), but to play independently when it is your own turn.  Unfortunately, we didn’t really get the team aspect of the game and, because we didn’t play very many hands, players didn’t really have time to work out that if a player tells the truth, that is a powerful tool to be used against them.  For this reason, it seemed more a game of chance (because if you tell the truth you are safe from challenges), than a game of skill.


Learning Outcome:  Sometimes short games are best played repeatedly so that they take as long as “big” games which gives time to play the meta-game.