Buzzworthiness: Roll Player

I’m finally getting around to writing a review of my favorite new-to-me game from last year:

image by BGG user kmatejka

Roll Player is a 1-4 player game designed by Keith Matejka and published by Thunderworks Games. The game takes the act of character creation from role playing games and turns it into a game of its own. The game also has two expansions at this point (Monsters and Minions, Fiends and Familiars), but this review is focusing only on the base game.

To start, each player gets one of the six races that comes in the box – a human, a dwarf, an elf, an orc, a halfling, or a dragonkin. Pretty standard fantasy stuff. The boards for these have a male and female side, which are no different except for the art. They also have three spaces on each of six lines for dice that will buff up the different attributes – STR (strength), DEX (dexterity), CON (constitution), INT (intelligence), WIS (wisdom), and CHA (charisma). Some of these lines also have modifiers on them. The boards also have a space for your alignment card, your class, and your backstory.

Your alignment tracks where you fall on the classic RPG spectrum – good or evil, lawful or chaotic. Your backstory gives you points based on where you place dice, and your class gives you a special ability, as well as target scores for each attribute. You’ll begin the game with at least 5 money, as well as some dice already out on your board – 6, 7, or 8, depending on player count. These will be placed as you want them to be, you just don’t get any benefits for placing them in certain spots. A market deck is created, and some initiative cards are also placed out.

At the start of a round, the first player draws as many dice as there are players plus one, and rolls them. They are then arranged on the initiative cards, with the lowest on 1 and the highest on the highest number. The first player gets to decide the placement of any tied numbers. Then, each player gets to choose one die and place it on their character board in one of the attribute rows, which triggers its (optional) action. Whoever chose the die from the earliest initiative card gets first crack at the market, where they can buy a card or discard a card for two coins.

There are four different types of cards you can buy. First, weapons, which generally help you to break some rules and get more of an advantage for certain actions. Next, armor, which is collected in sets and earns more points the more you have. Skills can be used once a round, but alter your alignment when used and become exhausted. You’ll need to refresh them to use them again, and you can refresh one Skill after each round. And finally, Traits affect your alignment when purchased and give you additional scoring opportunities for the end of the game.

After each player has placed dice and visited the market, any unused dice are returned to the bag, and any unpurchased cards are discarded. The new starting player will draw dice for the next round. When all spaces on all player boards are filled in, the game is over. You score for your attributes, dice that are of your class color, you alignment, your backstory, your armor, and your traits. The player with the high score wins.

To demonstrate, here’s a character I rolled up in solo play:

This is Scrovon Silverfinger, known the kingdom over as Scrovon the Scoundrel. After a plague wiped out his village when he was a child, he learned to fend for himself. Despite a natural tendency towards evil, his compassion for others has kept him from falling too deeply into the dark side. He tends to keep to himself, mostly out of a fear of losing more people from his life. He has picked up a number of skills over the years that have helped him out of numerous tough situation – he is very skilled at climbing and acrobatics, though when on flat ground he is surprisingly clumsy. He has learned the fine art of negotiation, and is skilled at curing wounds. He carries three mementos from his life before the plague – a heavy crossbow that has proved quite an adept haggling tool, as well as a mystic cloak and leather greaves that have been in his family for generations.

game in progress – image by BGG user xoopams

I’ll start my thoughts with the components, and I don’t have many complaints here. The “insert” is just a cardboard divider. It’s not going to keep anything sorted, except it might keep your dice away from your cards. If you don’t care about that, throw it out. If you do care about insert, you’ll have to work out your own solution – make your own, or get one from a third party.

Other than that, I have no complaints about the components. The art in the game is fantastic, and everything is really well laid out on the cards and player boards. The player boards themselves are great as they have perfect spots for the dice; clearly notated spots for your class, alignment, and backstory; and marked spaces on the edges for the cards you acquire. The punchouts for the dice slots are marked with a trash symbol if you need to throw them out, and that’s a lot of wasted real estate. I would have preferred if they had put the money there so I didn’t have to throw out so many cardboard chits, and then also punch out all the money. The charisma tokens are the only things in the player boards, and there are only six of those. Still, it was nice to clearly mark which ones were not needed.

One more note – it was an absolutely brilliant move to have a male and female side on each player board. They’re not different in any other way, it’s just a small gesture to be inclusive. You can play whichever side you want, and that’s something I wish more publishers would do.

Thematically, I don’t really find myself engaging with any kind of story with this game. I’m building a character, sure, but I find myself more concerned with numbers and colors than I am with any kind of role playing. I think where the theme can really shine is at the end of the game, after you score, when you can took a look at the character you have built and create a story around them. Sadly, this is something I rarely do.

In terms of gameplay, this is a dice drafting puzzle game at its heart. I know there are people who shy away from dice games because of the randomness, but it’s handled very well here. There is the luck of the draw on die values in the roll, where it is at least possible you will get exactly what you need when you need it. But then you have lots of ways to mitigate the initial dice roll, and the fun of the game is trying to figure out ways to get the dice where and how you want them. The different attributes allow you to manipulate right away, but then there are skills that can be used to do more. Plus, you want to try to manipulate your alignment into the right place, as well as to find the best combination of traits and armor to get you maximum points. There are a bunch of moving parts going on at once, but when you can get everything to click into place as they should, it is immensely satisfying.

Let me talk about the Charisma tokens for a minute. Each attribute does something pretty beneficial overall – STR allows you to flip a die over to its opposite side; DEX allows you to swap the position of two dice; CON lets you increase or decrease a single die; INT lets you reroll a die; WIS allows you to shift your alignment; and CHA gives you a $1 discount in the market. You want to use all these at the proper time, but the Charisma power seems like it’s the least useful of all these. Especially since the discount tokens must be used in the round acquired. They really feel anticlimactic, and I tend to fill my Charisma row early (usually during setup) so the other actions are more readily available later. But this means that the tokens mostly seem to just take up space rather than do anything helpful. I understand that if you got to hoard CHA tokens, you might as well be getting money. But why not? Why not just give me a coin for each CHA action? I think I’d like that better. (I will note that this complaint is addressed in the expansions, but as this review is for the base game, I’m going to keep my initial feelings here.)

Other than that, there really isn’t anything I dislike about the play of this game. I like how the dice draft works. I like the variety of market cards. I like how your character builds and the puzzle of figuring out how to manipulate stuff. It’s a very fun game.

Roll Player is for 1-4 players, and it scales by taking out cards from the market, as well as by increasing the number of dice you start with. Actually, the dice scaling is a rule I’ve never actually played with. You’re supposed to start with eight dice in a four-player game, but I’ve always started with six. This isn’t any weird house rule, I just messed up the teaching. But even though it makes things longer, and means you’ll have to reshuffle the market discards, I still like it with six dice.

The solo game works pretty well, though it’s pretty much just shooting for a target score. I don’t mind – having a target score is at least better than trying to beat your high score, but it’s not as good as, say, taking your character into a final battle to see how well you did.

The game has a lot of replayability right in the box. Not only can you be a different character with different modifiers, but having a different class, alignment, and backstory means your puzzle will almost never be the same. Plus, the market cards you get will change things further. So, don’t worry about this game feeling the same every time because it won’t be.

The game is not tremendously complicated, but the number of moving parts means that it will probably be a challenge to people who are not general hobbyists. I’m not a role player myself, but I’m familiar enough with the tropes of the genre that I can enjoy this. A person who doesn’t really know the importance of the six attributes or alignment might not get much out of this.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Well, this game was my favorite new-to-me game of last year, so it’s pretty obvious that I really like it. The next time I do my Top 11 rankings, this is likely to make an appearance on the list. I think it’s an incredibly fun game of dice manipulation that works well with all player counts, and has the potential create some good stories. I highly recommend it.

That’s it for today, but that’s not it for my coverage of Roll Player – my next post is going to be a review of the Fiends and Familiars expansion. Stay safe out there, and thanks for reading!

One comment

  1. Wow, I did a review of a game before you did? I feel like I’ve arrived. 🙂 I like how the Charisma tokens now have a use in the Fiends & Familiars expansion.

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