The biggest barrier to board game fun is often getting a group to learn a new game in the first place. As such, games based on well-worn classics often find a much smoother path to the table – and even more so if both classics and spin-offs are quick to learn and play. The perennial classic Yahtzee was ignored in this regard for years, but now it has spawned an entire genre of more strategic and engaging titles known as “roll and write” games. Roll the dice, hope for the best and when they land, use the results to build up a pattern of points on your score sheet.
Modern versions have amplified this formula to the max and have sheets that range from building maps, to tracking a pinball game around a table, to emulating a fast-paced martial art. With a variety of themes and depths to choose from, and most of them cheap, easy to learn, and play well as solo board games, there’s never been a better time to join the scrolling and typing craze.
The fashion for roll and write started with a German game called Ganz Schön Clever, which translates as That’s Pretty Clever. It had a score sheet like Yahtzee where you crossed off different dice combinations to get points, but had two clever innovations. First, the dice were colored, which gave a whole new dimension to the scoring. Second, you could re-roll dice three times like in Yahtzee, but you then chose a die to score and on the second and third rolls you lost lower value dice from the pool, adding strategy to the choice. It was a huge hit and spawned two sequels, the more complex Doppelt So Clever (Twice as Clever) and our selection, Clever Hoch Drei (Clever Times Three or Clever Cubed), which stripped back the overhead rules while adding some fun new concepts to challenge players.
Super Skill Pinball: Ramp It Up
Most roll-and-write games don’t offer much in the way of conjuring up a theme, but Super Skill Pinball recreates a pinball game with nothing more than a pen and some dice. You choose one of four included tables to play, enter on top and then drop down by choosing to hit different bumpers and targets depending on your roll. It’s the same deal when it drops to the flippers, but the kicker is that you can’t reuse a box twice, so your ball will eventually run out of targets and drop. It’s up to you to use the specific combination and the special game rules for your table to maximize your score, creating a puzzle game that is equal parts fascinating and exciting. There are a number of sets available, including a Star Trek–theme, but Ramp It Up is the favorite and even includes a co-op table.
Welcome To is not strictly a roll and write game: it belongs to a closely related genre called flip and write, which replaces the dice with cards. This gives you many more options to work with. Here they are pressed into the service of urban planning when you select pairs of house numbers and building effect cards to create three suburban streets. It’s a tough ask as you have to get houses in numerical order while balancing your score across various bonuses like pools, parks and racing to be the first to fulfill town plans that require specific layouts. It’s super satisfying when you do, and there’s a surprising amount of strategy, but players who want even more can opt for its more complex sci-fi cousin Welcome To The Moon.
Railroad Ink: Deep Blue Edition
Instead of filling out a score sheet, Railroad Ink asks you to draw a transportation network on a grid, based on the tracks and intersections thrown up by the custom dice. You are rewarded by connecting as many outputs as possible to the same network, which quickly becomes a difficult task as you balance the need to minimize dead ends with the desire to leave things open in hopes of connecting them later. Combining risk versus reward gameplay with spatial thinking makes this scroll and writing quite unusual, but there are different editions to add to the variety. Deep Blue, which lets you add rivers and lakes to the map along with potential ferry routes, is the favorite of the bunch, but you can go for volcanoes in blazing red, forests in lush green, or deserts in shimmering yellow.
Next station: London
Another train-based game, but this time a turn and write, Next Station: London offers the new twist of making pencil colors a central part of the game. Each suit ties to a starting station on the player’s map, which is where you begin drawing your network based on the station symbol on the drawn card. You can extend in both directions and even branch your line as you try to cross as many districts as possible, take in tourist spots, join other lines and cross the river on the way. But beware as you can’t cross lines except as stations, meaning a sprawling, high-scoring first turn can set up your extension for later lines. Then all players switch pencils and start over. It’s a simple concept that reveals surprising nuances over repeated playthroughs, giving it an additive puzzle edge while resulting in fun multi-colored maps.
Dinosaur Island: Rawr N Write
Part of the appeal of roll and write games is their speed and simplicity, but Rawr N Write was the first of a new breed in the genre to use the concept as a stepping stone to more complexity and depth. The roll of the dice gives players a choice of resources such as money and DNA that they need to build their own Jurassic World-style dinosaur theme park. You have to outline your park with both attractions and concessions on a mini-grid, while also bringing in employees, special buildings and taking care of security. Then, at the end of each of the three turns, you drive an actual tour route through your facility to score points while hoping no one gets eaten. With so many different aspects to juggle, planning the park is a rich, brain-burning challenge while driving the ride brings the numbers to life with a thematic kick. Read our Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write review for more details.
Games in this genre often play well with large groups because there is a central roll or flip and everyone tries to make the most of the results. That means a lack of player interaction, something cartographers came to challenge. This is a turn and write where the idea is to use the cards to map the terrain of a fantasy realm, and try to fulfill some variable score challenges. The fun twist is that occasionally there is a monster card, then you give your map to your neighbor and they have to figure out the most annoying place to draw the negative monster icons in your kingdom. Not only does this make the cartographers feel much more personal, but the maps you’re left with at the end have an engaging sense of world-building to them, evoking a theme. The sequel, Cartographers: Heroes, added more dynamic monsters and new hero cards to ride and save your kingdom from their oppression.
Long Shot: The Dice Game
The horse racing game Long Shot was fine, but this roll-and-write spin-off has proven to be a huge hit with players. Unusually for the genre, there is an actual board for the track that the horses race around, based on a roll of the dice, but some horses are more likely to move than others. Your job is to watch the unfolding race and bet sensibly on the odds as the proceedings draw to a close. However, you can also use your money to buy horses to access a special power and a hefty bonus if it wins, as well as take different options to tweak the odds in favor of your chosen horses. Since everyone is free to bet on any horse, this creates a fascinating web of dependencies between players as the race progresses, as horses you’ve backed can pay off better than your opponents. With interaction, excitement and a heavy dose of theme, Long Shot: The Dice Game satisfies in areas other rolls and types cannot.
Vengeance: Roll and Fight
Most games in this genre follow a certain, relatively stable pattern with a random seed to offer all players a choice, which they mark on their sheet. In its attempt to recreate the frantic pace of a martial arts film, Vengeance: Roll and Fight turns these expectations upside down. This is a fast-paced real-time game where players generate actions for their turn by trying to take dice and roll combinations faster than the other players. When the dice pool is empty, you can use your actions to plot a route through a warehouse full of goons, moving, fighting and looting your way to a showdown with the boss. With variable characters, each with a unique list of abilities and items, plus plenty of maps to work your way through, the quick gameplay and variety means you can keep scrolling and fighting over and over in the wee hours.
It’s common for roll-and-write games to reward players who achieve a particular combination of rolls or points, but Three Sisters takes this concept to the extreme. Your score sheet here is a garden where you grow a variety of crops and flowers and buy different tools based on the results of dice rolls that make a round of actions available. However, when you complete certain actions, the reward is often a bonus action that you can then use to get another bonus action and so on. In fact, the action chaining becomes so intense that the score sheet has a special space to record and rub out your bonuses as you collect and use them during a turn. Making full use of these chains requires more strategic planning than most games in this genre offer, making this a tactical treat. See our Three Sisters board game review for more info.
Fleet: The Dice Game
This is another combo game that tries to capture players more with a plethora of linked options. As the owner of a fishing fleet, you must decide whether to use the dice to purchase licenses for the depicted type of seafood or to send out a boat to catch it. The further you go down each tree, the bigger the rewards. Boats will later return to the harbor where you can sell your catch and build buildings that offer additional benefits during the 10 rounds of play. It’s about using the dice as random seeds and finding the best set of linked benefits you can get from each tree of potential options. Fast, fun and with a themed set of fake dice, Fleet: The Dice Game is a lot less dangerous and a lot less smelly than real high seas fishing.
Rajas of the Ganges: The Dice Charmers
Avid gamers among you may have noticed that many scroll-and-write games are stripped-down transformations of larger, more complex fare that often outshine the originals. This is also the case with Rajas of the Ganges: The Dice Charmers, which repackages the experience of ruling a province in India from the 16th century into a faster and more accessible box. You use symbols rolled on the pastel colored dice to create goods and roads, sail up the Ganges or call in favors from influential subjects. These checkboxes and maps on your score sheet, which cross over at various points for extra bonuses, bring an engaging spatial element to building your kingdom. The game even comes with a 3D cardboard elephant.
For more ideas, be sure to check out our list of the best board games of all time.