Starting around 2010, Gamewright started to create a number of simple roll and write games in compact little boxes. Probably the standout of the series was Qwixx, but there have been quite a few games launched in the series over the years (we also checked out Bloom). I normally don’t have strong feelings towards the dice genre as I enjoy dice games but I also wouldn’t consider them to be one of my favorites. I generally enjoy the newer roll and write genre quite a bit though as it tends to add more strategy to a genre that usually relies pretty heavily on luck. While not as popular as Qwixx, today’s game Rolling America was one of the other standouts of the Gamewright line of roll and write games. Rolling America is a complicated game with some truly unique and interesting ideas that also tends to rely on quite a bit of luck.
How to Play Rolling America
- Each player will take a map sheet and something to write with.
- Put all of the dice in the bag.
- The player who most recently visited another state will start the game. Play will proceed left/clockwise throughout the game.
Playing the Game
Each turn begins with the current player randomly drawing two dice from the bag. They will then roll the dice and announce the color and number of each rolled die.
All of the players will then use the color and number of each rolled die to fill in one of the states on their map sheet. The clear/white die is a wild and can be used as any color. For each of the dice you will fill in a corresponding colored state with the number rolled on the die. For example if you roll a green two, you will write a two on one of the green states.
You can write the number on any of the corresponding colored states with one caveat. The number on each state must be within one of all of its neighboring states. This applies even if the neighboring states are a different color.
If there is a state that you can legally write the number on, you must write it on a state. If there are blank states in the color but the number can’t legally be written on any of them, you will place an X in one of the blank states in the rolled color. If all of the states in the rolled color are filled in, you will do nothing with the die (unless you choose to use one of the special abilities).
After everyone has used both dice, the next player clockwise will take the bag of dice. If less than six dice are out on the table, the next player will take two dice and the same process will be followed. If there are six dice out on the table, the current round has ended. Cross off the current round number and place all of the dice back into the bag. The next round will begin with the player who holds the dice bag taking out two dice and rolling them.
During the game each player will have access to three special abilities. These special abilities will allow players to alter the dice that were rolled in order to make it easier to write numbers on their sheet. Each ability can be used up to three times during the game and multiple abilities can be used on the same die. When you choose to use an ability, you will cross off one of the boxes in the corresponding section of the sheet.
When you use this ability you can basically treat one of the rolled dice as it if was any color.
When you write a number on your sheet you can use the guard ability to basically ignore the neighboring state rule. To indicate you used this ability on a state, circle the number.
The dupe ability allows a player to use the number on one of the rolled dice twice. If this ability is used on the wild die, the number can be used in two different colors.
End of Game
The game ends after the eighth round is completed.
Each player will place an X in any state that doesn’t have a number on it.
Players will then pass their sheet to the player on their left. Each player will look at their neighbor’s sheet to make sure they followed the neighboring state rule. For each time that a player made a mistake, the state’s number will be crossed off with an X.
Each player will count up all of the Xs on their scoresheet and write the total in the corresponding spot on their sheet.
The player who had the least Xs on their sheet will win the game. If there is a tie, the tied player that used the least special abilities will win the game.
My Thoughts on Rolling America
I am going to come right out and say that I don’t know exactly how to express what I thought of Rolling America. I don’t know if I would consider it a great game or a flawed game. There are some things that I thought were really good and clever, and yet there are other things about the game that really frustrated me.
Lets begin with the game’s concept. This is one of the game’s greatest strengths in my opinion. The game is basically a re-implementation of Rolling Japan which is not surprising as the game was made by the same designer. I have played a lot of dice games and yet I can’t recall ever playing a game quite like Rolling America before. In a way it is actually kind of hard to explain what the game plays like. At its core it is a roll and write game as players roll dice and then write the numbers they rolled on different states. The dice rolling feels like more of a supporting mechanic though as the game plays like more of a spatial puzzle. You have the whole country to write numbers on and you need to figure out how to write the numbers so you are able to connect states with numbers that are within one of each other.
This is arguably the element of the game that I was most intrigued by. Initially the game may feel like any other game as you just roll and write down numbers. To do well in the game though, there is much more to consider. Basically you need to form a strategy for where you are going to place certain numbers on your sheet. You need to create groups of similar numbers while making sure you keep enough states between your groups so you can eventually connect them together. There is actually quite a bit of planning that goes into this as you will likely fail miserably if you just randomly choose where you want to place numbers. You obviously want to group similar numbers together, but there is much more to it than that if you want to be successful.
I was surprised by the amount of strategy the game has as when you first look at the game it looks so simple. The gameplay itself is quite simple. You basically just roll the dice and write down the rolled numbers in the corresponding sections of the map. The only somewhat complicated elements of the game are the neighboring states rule and the special abilities. These aren’t even that difficult, but they could take new players a couple turns to get used to. While the game may be a little more complicated than a game like Yahtzee, I really don’t see anyone having too much trouble playing the game. This is a good thing as Rolling America is the type of game that you can just sit back and enjoy without having to put too much thought into what you are doing. Some players will want to over analyze every single option which could lead to some analysis paralysis, but the game will probably be most enjoyable if you just sit back and relax without worrying about the final score.
The game has the framework in place to be a great roll and write game. Yet for some reason it never really reached that level in my opinion. The game is far from bad as I still enjoyed it, but it fails to reach its full potential for some reason.
I think a lot of this can be attributed to the game still relying on quite a bit of luck despite the amount of strategy that the game potentially has. Planning is important as you will likely fail miserably if you don’t have a strategy behind where you place the numbers. With how everyone uses the same rolled numbers you wouldn’t think the game would have a lot of luck as everyone is stuck in the same situation. Yet it still feels like the game relies on more luck than you would like. Basically you have to create your early game strategy, and then just hope the rolls later in the game will work in your favor. Some players will get rolls that will work with what they are trying to do, and others will get the absolute worst rolls that ruin everything that they were trying to do.
After a while there is only so much you can do. Unless you make terrible decisions the first couple of rounds should go pretty well for you as you shouldn’t encounter situations where you can’t place each number somewhere on your sheet. You then hit a point in the game where you just have to sit there and hope the right numbers get rolled. Things could be going really well for you, and then one or two rolls can destroy everything. It is almost impossible to fill in all of the states unless you have great luck so you should expect at least a few Xs. Things can go sideways quickly though where you will be getting X after X without a way to avoid it. This can be kind of frustrating as you could think you are doing a good job, and then everything falls apart.
While the basic strategy of Rolling America is pretty obvious, the fact that you can sometimes build yourself into a no-win situation without even knowing it makes me believe that it might be the type of game that you need to play a decent number of times before you truly understand how you should place the numbers. Rolling America is the type of game where a more experienced player is likely to do quite a bit better as they have a better idea of how to place the numbers. I haven’t played the game enough to verify this, but I am kind of curious if experience with the game will fix some of the reliance on luck. The luck will never be totally eliminated from the game, but you should be able to mitigate it more if you know how you should approach the game.
As for Rolling America’s components, I liked them for the most part. While some people will probably wish the map sheets were larger, I thought they were pretty good. There are a couple of areas where it wasn’t totally clear which states were considered neighbors. Otherwise I wish the game used dry erase boards instead of game sheets as I have never liked game sheets as I worry about running out and then having a problem getting more sheets. The game does come with quite a few sheets though so you should be able to play quite a few games before you have to start worrying about running out. The dice are pretty nice as the normal dots on the sides have been replaced with stars. All of this comes in a small box which is really compact as there is no wasted space. This is great for the space conscious and also makes the game work well as a travel game as you can easily bring it along with you.
Should You Buy Rolling America?
I honestly had some mixed feelings about Rolling America. There is a lot to like about the game, and yet something feels a little off as well. On the positive side, I can’t recall ever playing a game quite like Rolling America before. The game is a roll and write game, but in a way feels like a spatial puzzle as well. The game is quite simple at first glance making it easy to play. Yet the game actually has a decent amount of strategy as you need to plan ahead or you are going to have troubles later. The problem with the game is that it just seems like luck plays too big of a role in the game. You could have a good strategy, and then the dice rolls just don’t cooperate with what you are trying to do. Experience with the game may help with this issue, but luck will still play a significant role in the game’s outcome.
My recommendation comes down to your feelings towards Rolling America’s premise. If the game doesn’t sound that interesting to you, the game may not be for you. Those that generally like roll and write games and think the premise sounds interesting though should enjoy Rolling America and should consider picking it up.