Buzzworthiness: Roll Estate

Thanks to designer Chris Michaud for providing a review copy of this game.

One of my favorite podcasts was Flip the Table. In each episode from 2012 to 2017, they would pick a weird, cheesy, obscure game (usually something terribly mass market) and pick it apart, giving it as much time and consideration as many “serious” reviewers would to the latest hobby hotness. So we got to hear about games like The McDonald’s Game, Heartthrob, Ice Cube, the 24 DVD Board Game, Justin Bieber: Backstage Pass, and many more. It was an immensely entertaining show, and if you’ve never heard it, I highly recommend that you go check out their backlog of episodes.

Anyway, one of the hosts of the show (Moderator Chris) has recently designed a game called

Roll Estate is a 1-5 player game designed by Chris Michaud that is currently available as a print-and-play through PNPArcade. In the game, you’re trying to become the richest entrepreneur through developing rental properties and opening businesses, as well as making investments and trying to win the lottery.

As a print-and-play game, you only need to print out one score sheet per player (and laminate them if you want to keep reusing them – I tend to use those plastic sheet protectors for my PNPs, and that’s a cheap way to do it if you don’t have a laminator). You’ll then need to provide a pen or pencil for each player, as well as five six-sided dice.

image by BGG user FlipTheTableChris

Roll Estate is a turn-based game. On your turn, you will roll all five dice. After this, you can keep some and roll again up to two more times. You know, like in Yahtzee. After this, you can acquire an asset, which is assign a value to one of the boxes around the board. There are four types of boxes you can assign values to:

  • Rental Properties. These are the green boxes you see above. Each row has a certain requirement for placing in the box – sum of all 1s, sum of any 3 or 4 matched dice, etc. You can put a value in the boxes in any order, but they should be in ascending order at the end of the day. So if you put a 12 in the third box of the “sum of a 4s” line, then the first box will have to be a 4 and the second box will have to be an 8.
  • Mass Transit. There are four routes that can be claimed by getting a sequence of four numbers in a row. Only one person can claim a route, however, so if you get one, all other players will have to cross it off.
  • Stock Portfolio. For the Liquid Assets space, you can write down the sum of all five of your dice. You can check off either one of the Darrow Index spaces by getting a sequence of five numbers in a row. These will work together to increase your score at the end of the game.
  • Pick 5 Lotto. If you roll five of a kind, you won the lottery and get to mark this space, which is worth $150 at the end of the game.

If you ever cannot write a value anywhere, you’ll need to cross off any unclaimed rental spaces in a neighborhood, as well as the associated businesses (since they can no longer be claimed).

After writing your value down, if you have completed a neighborhood by filling in all the rental properties, you can claim an available business. As the first player to fill in the row, you get the more valuable business, but the second person will get the second place business (not available in 1-2 player games). If there are no businesses available, you can still claim the rental properties, but you won’t get that speed bonus.

The game ends after the round when a player opens a third business, or when one player has no more rental properties left to claim. The player with the most money wins.

image by BGG user FlipTheTableChris

So, let’s get this out of the way right away – this is Yahtzee meets Monopoly. The game is billed as “a love letter to the classics”, and those are the classics they’re talking about. I mean you’re using the tri-roll system of rolling dice, you’re looking for different combinations, writing values in the appropriate spots, acquiring properties, and gaining benefits for getting a “monopoly” in different neighborhoods. The influences are clear.

Yahtzee and Monopoly are popular punching bags in the board gaming hobby, but they both have some redeeming qualities. Yahtzee in particular is a game I like, though I think it’s a terrible multiplayer game. The biggest issue with that game is that it is a solitaire game – there’s absolutely no way to influence any one else’s game. I mean, sure, someone could try to shoot for a higher value than you got in something, but in a game where the object is just to get as high a score as you can, that’s not necessary.

Roll Estate fixes that issue by making the game more into a race. Rather than being over when everyone has filled in their sheet, players are trying to fill in neighborhoods in order to get the most profitable businesses, and the game’s end is not fixed – it’s over when someone gets their third business, or fills in their last neighborhood. By adding this incentive to work on stuff before the others, the game becomes that much more interactive. It’s also interesting that you have to fill in numbers in ascending order – whether you put one 6 or four 6s in a box, you’re still going to get $35 towards your score, but if you put four 6s in the first box, you’ll never complete the neighborhood and score the business. Even putting three 6s there would be a risk as the next boxes would have to contain four 6s and five 6s.

The thematic angle of the game also makes this game more interesting than standard Yahtzee. Rather than just making combinations, you’re working towards filling neighborhoods (each with names that include references to a lot of the retro stuff Flip the Table was known for). Those neighborhoods are all concerned with getting identical dice, while the straight all go in the investment area. Only one person can get each of the mass transit lines with a straight of four, and the more lines you have, the higher your reward (like Railroads in Monopoly). Extra weight is placed on the space where you can just fill in the total of your dice by offering the possibility of gaining multipliers with straights of five. And of course, that’s the only spot in the game where the total on your dice actually matters to your score – everywhere else has a set score for filling in a box.

Downtime in the game can be an issue – it increases with the number of players. The only real scaling in multiplayer games comes with the two player game, where you don’t get to use the second place businesses and you need four to end the game. It’s still better than Yahtzee because you should probably pay attention during your downtime to get an idea of what your opponents are doing.

The solo game is interesting – you have to claim all businesses and as much money as you can from investments. However, the rules say you should choose your difficulty beforehand, then you win if you meet the requirement for the difficulty (which is to claim all businesses with an increasing amount of money from investments). There’s nothing else to make the game more difficult, so you might as well just play the game and see how well you did. I like that there’s a winning condition – it’s much better than just giving you a target score. However, it seems silly to say you might not win if you don’t predict what your score will be. I’d rather say you win if you get all the businesses, and then you check to see what level of win it was.

Another strange thing about this game is the lack of emphasis on the Yahtzee. One of the best moments from the original game is not only getting that first Yahtzee, but getting a second for the 100 point bonus. Here, if you get a second one, it does nothing for you other than let you fill in something. Also, I found it weird that there was nothing to do with my full houses. Probably neither of these would have bothered me if hadn’t played Yahtzee before, however.

The game can be played all on one sheet of paper per person, and that sheet of paper could be in color or black and white, as well as all on one page or an economy size that outs two player boards on one page. It’s highly portable, and cheap – PNP Arcade has it for $3.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I think this game is a lot of fun, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a light print-and-play game they can introduce to people who aren’t necessarily immersed in the hobby. It has all the familiarity of classic games, but takes the primary mechanisms the next step farther. The whole thing makes me think of how Flip the Table would make suggestions of how to improve some of the more terrible games they would play, and it’s good to see Moderator Chris putting that into practice in the real world.

Thanks again to Chris Michaud for providing the review copy of Roll Estate, and thanks to you for reading!

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