For this month’s edition of The Eleven, I wanted to take a look at what is probably the single most reviled mechanism in our hobby – ROLL-AND-MOVE. I did something similar last year when I talked about Player Elimination Games, but this one is proving to be more of a challenge. The basic definition of roll-and-move is that you roll some dice, then move a piece. It is THE mechanism used in most mass market games, and is widely criticized for requiring no skill at all. The biggest issues are that you often have to move by exact count, and there’s really no choice in what you can do. But, I think I’ve found 11 games that work in spite of (or in some cases because of) the roll-and-move mechanism. See what you think.
Backgammon is one of the oldest games still being played today. It was first mentioned by the ancient Sumerians 5000 years ago. The game is played on a surface with 12 long triangles per side. This area is considered to be in four quadrants, with six triangles per quadrant. The object is to get your fifteen checkers off the board through your home quadrant. On your turn, you roll two dice. These numbers will determine how far you can move. You choose which pieces will be moved, and can either assign a die each to two different pieces, or you can assign both dice to one piece. You move by exact count. If you land on one of your pieces, you add your piece to form a defensive position. If you land on an opponent’s single piece, you move it to the center bar, and they will have to roll to re-enter the board in your home quadrant. If you land on a spot where an opponent has two or more pieces, you can’t do that move. Once all of your pieces are in your home quadrant, you can start moving them off. If you get all of yours off first, you win. If you get them all off before your opponent gets any off, you score a gammon (2 points in match play). A backgammon (4 points) is if you score a gammon and your opponent still has a piece or pieces on the bar. There is a lot of luck in this abstract game, to be sure. But you have a lot of choice when you do roll the dice, having 15 pieces to decide between. You have to make decisions about leaving yourself exposed and how to set up difficult passages for your opponent. Strategy plays a very important role, one that can be missed by newer players. It is a roll-and-move game, but one with a lot of depth.
Can’t Stop (1980, Sid Sackson, Eagle-Gryphon [current edition]) is a classic push-your-luck game that isn’t classified as roll-and-move by BGG. However, I think it fits as a twist on the mechanism. There are 11 columns on a stop sign shaped board, one for each number 2-12. The column lengths are variable based on the probability of that number being rolled on two dice. On your turn, you roll four dice, then pair them up and assign them to pieces in these columns. If you roll 1-3-4-6, you could send them to the 4 and 10, or the 5 and 9, or both to the 7. Then you can stop, or roll again. You can only be moving three columns at a time, and if your roll ever results in you having to move a piece in a fourth column, you lose all progress for your turn and must stop. When you stop after reaching the top of a row, you claim it and no one else can make progress on that column. If you’re the first to claim three columns, you win. I call this a roll-and-move game because you roll, then you move your pieces. The difference between this and a traditional roll-and-move is that the die results don’t tell you how far you can move, but rather which pieces you can move. The choice comes in figuring out how to split your dice, which is most important in the first part of your turn. As the turn proceeds, the choice shifts to deciding which columns will advance if you have an option. This is probably the biggest stretch on this list, but I think it works.
Formula D (2008, Laurent Lavaur/Eric Randall, Asmodee) is a 2-10 player racing game where players are rolling dice to determine how far they go each turn. You begin the game with a car and a certain amount of brakes, tires, transmission, body, engines, and suspension. On your turn, you can choose to shift gears, then roll a die based on the gear you’re currently in. You then move the exact amount shown. When you end your move next to another car, you roll to see if you take damage. When going through a curve, you must stop a certain number of times or you take damage. The first person to cross the finish line wins. This is a game that uses exact count in its roll-and-move mechanism. This is usually not a good thing, but here it works since you have a lot of choice in how you move. The gear you’re in determines which die you use – 1st gear is a d4 that will only move you 1-2 spaces, while sixth is a d30 that will move you 21-30 spaces. This is choice, but you also have to really plan ahead so you don’t get stuck in sixth gear screaming around a curve. There are also different spaces you can move to on the track. So despite the fact that it’s roll-and-move, there is a lot of strategy and planning going on. Yes, luck too, but that’s part of what makes it a very fun game.
HeroQuest (1989, Stephen Baker, Milton Bradley) is not a game that is still in print, though there are copies floating around. There’s a 25th anniversary edition due out sometime this year, but that’s a sticky issue I’ll touch on a little bit later. HeroQuest is a light dungeon crawl game where an overlord controls the forces of evil while other players control heroes trying to conquer different scenarios in a campaign. On a hero’s turn, they get two actions – move and one other action (cast a spell, attack, search, disarm). Movement is done by rolling dice and moving up to the number shown. Monster movement is determined by a speed number. The map is revealed bit by bit according to line of sight by the heroes – they round a corner and see a door, but a monster standing in the way. If the heroes complete the scenario objective, they win. If the heroes all die, the overlord wins. When I first played this game as a kid, I loved it. My parents got me my own copy for Christmas one year, and I still have it. It is a very light game, but one that I enjoyed a lot. It was also probably one of the first successful attempts to bring roleplaying style fantasy games to a mainstream board game format. It uses roll-and-move, but there is choice in movement and you don’t have to move by exact count, so that’s good. It is odd that monsters have a speed but heroes have to roll, but that’s old-school gaming for you. This game has been surpassed by more modern games, but I still think HeroQuest is a great roll-and-move game that can serve as a gateway to games like Descent. I mentioned the 25th Anniversary Edition. This is supposedly being published by Gamezone, a Spanish company who didn’t bother to secure the rights to the game before launching a Kickstarter campaign in 2013. It made a lot of money before being cancelled when the rights holders took offense. Gamezone currently has preorders open for the game, still using the HeroQuest name but claiming it is more of an homage than a remake. It’s all incredibly fishy, and I would suggest you stay far away from it.
Marrakech (2007, Dominique Ehrhard, Gigamic) is a game all about selling rugs. The game was nominated for a Spiel des Jahres in 2008, and comes with 57 awesome rug pieces. On your turn, you determine which direction to point Assam, the market owner. You then roll a die to see how far he moves – 1-4 spaces. If he lands on an opponent’s rug, you must pay them one coin per adjacent square of that color. You then may lay one rug, either over two empty squares, and empty square and an occupied one, or two occupied squares (as long as both are occupied by different rugs). When all rugs have been laid, you get one point per visible rug square and one point per coin. The player with the most points wins. I like this game a lot. The roll-and-move aspect of the game is exact count, and the choice comes before the die roll – once you have rolled, you are locked in to what happens. So you try to set up your rugs in order to score the maximum points and money. It’s really a fun game with some super-cool components. It’s sadly out of print, but you can find copies out there, and I would highly recommend it.
Merchant of Venus (1998, Richard Hamblen, Avalon Hill) is an epic space pick-up-and-deliver game. It was recently republished in 2012 by Fantasy Flight Games. Each player control a race of alien creatures that is flying across the universe, picking up goods and dropping them off in other systems for a profit. On your turn, you roll three dice and move the exact amount shown (that is, unless you land). If you choose to land on a planet or spaceport, that takes two movement points. Planets will generally have goods for you to pick up that need to be delivered to different worlds around the map. Along the way, you may encounter pirates, tolerates, hazards, and other surprises. After a set period of time (30 rounds in the FFG edition), the player who has made the most money wins. The one time I’ve played this game from beginning to end was during my 2013 Extra Life 24-hour marathon, and we made the mistake of thinking we could handle it at 4:00 am. Still, I think it’s a fun game. There’s a lot of luck involved in the game, and the roll-and-move aspect contributes to that. There are plenty of ways to mitigate that luck of the dice, however, with upgrades and throttle. Plus, you’re rolling three dice, which can lead to more impressive results than just rolling 1 or 2. It really is an epic game, both in length and scale, and a good one with some roll-and-move thrown in.
Ninja vs. Ninja (2008, Tushar Gheewala, Out of the Box) is a two-player game all about pitting ninjas against…well…other ninjas. It is essentially an abstract (and in fact, the original version, Foray! was purely an abstract game). You have six ninjas, and the game is played on a 15×6 grid. Your dojo is the 6×6 box on your side, and your opponent’s dojo is the 6×6 box on theirs, leaving a 3×6 box in the middle as neutral ground. Your goal is simple – you want to send ninjas as far as you can into your opponent’s dojo, then sneak out again before getting caught. And if you take out a few of their ninjas in the process, so much the better. On your turn, you roll two four-sided dice and move one of your ninjas that distance. You move in a straight line, and are allowed to make one ninety-degree turn. In your opponent’s dojo, you can instead make one 180-degree turn. If a ninja lands on an opponent by exact count, the opposing ninja is captured. If you sneak into your opponent’s dojo, you have three turns to get your ninja back home. If successful, you score points equal to the distance in you traveled. If you fail, you lose the ninja. The winner is the first one to seven points or the last man standing. This is a really simple game. It’s a very good abstract for kids, and has some REALLY cool plastic ninjas. The dice are rectangular prisms with a katana stuck through them so they become four-sided. The roll-and-move aspect here can be frustrating, but movement is a push-your-luck affair. Some people just try to capture other ninjas, others try for points. You can get into the theme pretty easily – they are ninjas, after all. Rolling and moving helps make it more accessible, and it’s a fun light game.
Rattlebones (2014, Stephen Glenn, Rio Grande) was my inspiration for this list. This is a dice building game where you are changing sides on your dice. On your turn, you roll one of your three dice (you can pay gold to roll more). If you roll Rattlebones, he advances on the score track. If you roll an action, you take it. And if you roll a number, you move one of your three monkeys clockwise around the track the exact value shown. The space you land on will generally give you a new side you can add to the die you used to land there. You are trying to score points as you go, and the first person who meets Rattlebones on the score track is the winner. This is a game with a very weak theme, but very fun gameplay. There are a ton of different ways to score points – a train chugging around a track, stocks, selling stars, rolling a gamble, and so on – and it’s really fun to find different ways to build your dice. Yes, there’s roll-and-move, but I think it’s executed as well as in any game. Having three monkeys means you always have a choice about where to go, and just because you roll doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll need to move. It’s a very light game, there’s no great depth of gameplay here, but it’s still one of my favorite games from last year.
Spurs: A Tale in the Old West (2014, Ole Steiness, Mr. B Games) is a cowboy-themed game where players are trying to earn the most points by doing all kinds of cowboy things. On your turn, you roll 2-3 dice, and use two of them to determine how far you can move. You may encounter outlaws, animals, or desperadoes you need to fight by drawing bullets from a bag. You could also find gold, or be able to collect cattle or horses. If you end up in a town, you can sell your loot, turn in outlaws for the reward money, try to heal yourself, drop in at the saloon, or even rob the bank. Whoever has the most points when bonuses are awarded is the winner. This is a game that is almost pure theme, and thus all of the mechanisms are mostly luck-based. The roll-and-move doesn’t make you go exact count, and there’s plenty of choice about where you want to go. There’s lots of different challenges in the game, and it is fun, though long with the full complement of players.
StreetSoccer (2002, Corné van Moorsel, Cwali) is a sports simulation game. The soccer field is represented by a 10×6 grid, and each player has five players they can spread around the field as they wish (the goalie is in the goal box). On your turn, you roll a die and move one of your pieces. If you reach the ball, you stop and kick it. It travels a distance equal to the unused die pips plus one. If it reaches another player, it can be kicked again. After each player has taken 25 turns, the game is over and the player with the most points wins. This is an interesting sports game. There’s a certain amount of abstraction, but it’s still kind of fun to pretend you’re playing a soccer game. The roll-and-move aspect is interesting because you can use the movement points for moving and kicking, and with clever placement could move the ball all the way down the field in one turn. It may not be the best soccer simulation out there, but it is fun and the roll-and-move works well.
A Touch of Evil (2008, Jason C. Hill, Flying Frog) has often been called Arkham Horror Lite. In the game, 2-8 players can cooperatively or competitively fight supernatural powers in the small town of Shadowbrook at the dawn of the 19th century. In the competitive game, each player gets a hero, and a Villain is also chosen. You then move around the town, rolling a die to see how far you can go. You go up to the number shown, and if you roll a one, you get an event card (these are generally good things). If you end up in the same space as a minion, you fight them. If you win, or don’t have to fight, you can encounter your space, collect investigation tokens, heal, look at an Elder’s secrets, buy a Lair, or start a showdown with the Villain. The first player to defeat the Villain wins. The Villain gets much tougher in the cooperative game, and players have to work together to beat him. The roll-and-move aspect here is that you roll a die and then move up to the number shown (not exact count). And while a one in most roll-and-move games would be devastating, it’s not so bad here due to the event card you get. You can also choose not to move and roll to see if you’re able to linger – if you roll a one, you get attacked, but any other result allows you to stay put safely. The game is a lot of fun, and significantly less complex than Arkham Horror, though with a similar vibe. So I think it’s a roll-and-move game that works well.
If anything, I hope this list proves that you shouldn’t write off a game just because it has roll-and-move as a mechanism. Let me know what I missed, and thanks for reading!