Buzzworthiness: Roll Camera!

Thanks to Keen Bean Studios for providing a review copy of Roll Camera!

There aren’t enough games about making movies (or movies about making games, for that matter). But here’s one, called

image by BGG user mmrempen

Roll Camera! is a 1-4 player cooperative game where you are trying desperately to make a successful movie before your studio collapses. The game was successfully Kickstarted in 2020 and was released earlier this year. At its core, Roll Camera! is a dice placement game with some resource management aspects.

The game comes with a board that shows your possible actions. Each player also gets a player board that gives three more actions, including Refresh (which allows you to discard and draw a new Idea card) and two others that are unique. The player board also has a privilege for the player who controls the character. These privileges are completely unnecessary to gameplay, but they add some flavor. There are several decks of cards, including an Idea deck (each player gets three of these), a Problem deck, a Scene deck (two are placed in their spots with the top of the deck showing a third available card), and a Script deck with a top and bottom half (which are drawn to create your title and give you endgame scoring bonuses). There are 6 dice that will be shared by the players. Additionally, there’s a dial that tracks your budget and shooting schedule, set to the level of challenge you want at the start.

image by BGG user mmrempen

The first thing that happens on your turn is that you draw a Problem card and put it in the Problem Queue, pushing down the ones that were already there. These will negatively affect your production unless you take care of them. Once taken care of, you move them to the Resolved space. Once five of these are collected, you’ll be able to increase your budget or your schedule.

Next, you’ll roll the dice, then decide how to allocate them out. There are five areas on the board where the dice can go, plus three other areas on your player board. The main actions are:

  • THE PROBLEM QUEUE: Put the required dice underneath a Problem to resolve it. Any two dice can go under the first Problem, while two identical dice are needed to resolve the second Problem, and three identical dice are needed for the third Problem. So the longer you let a Problem go unresolved, the harder it is to get rid of it.
  • THE SET: Two identical dice can be used to add a set piece to the set. You’ll draw the top tile of either set stack and place it on the board in the orientation of your choice. You can’t overlap other tiles. This action costs $1 from your budget. Alternately, your two identical dice can be used just to rearrange the set. You can also place dice on the set itself, attempting to match the patterns on one of the scene cards with the icons on the dice. Dice can only be placed on blue spaces. Once a pattern is matched, you’ll be able to move the scene to your Storyboard. Dice can be left on the set from turn to turn, but the next player has fewer dice to roll.
  • PRODUCTION MEETING: Any die can be placed here to trigger a Production meeting. Three idea cards will be pitched (one person won’t pitch in a four-player game, and extras will be drawn from the deck in the 1- or 2-player games).The active player will look at the Ideas and choose one to play, one to add to the To-Do List, and one to discard. The Idea chosen to play is resolved immediately.
  • TO-DO LIST: Unused Ideas will sit here, and 1-2 dice can be placed to use those Ideas when needed. If you only play one die, there’s an additional cost of money or Quality to pay.
  • GET INTERN: Place any die here to turn another die to any face. This sounds great, but interns bring their own issues, so you’ll also have to draw a Problem card.

Once you’ve played all your dice, you clear the dice from the board (though you can leave dice that are on the set). Then you advance the schedule by one day on the dial, and it’s the next player’s turn.

If you ever run out of time or money, you lose. However, if you’ve managed to shoot five scenes, you move on to final scoring. You add any bonuses from your Script cards, then look to see where your Quality meter is. If you’re out of the pink zone, you win! This means your movie is at least Not Bad, and could be all the way up to a Cinematic Masterpiece. You could also shoot for the very bottom of the track, where your movie is So Bad, It’s Good.

the storyboard for “Uh-Oh, Incoming Murder”

The components in this game are all very well done. The board isn’t huge, but it’s not overcrowded either. You’ve got your spots for your dice, as well as little slots for the idea and problems decks to live off the board, not taking up any real estate. There are areas for your script cards, scene cards, and shot scenes, as well as where the set pieces will go. Everything is very clearly marked, and you can tell a lot of thought went into the graphic design. The back side of the board has a much longer storyboard area in case you want to make a bigger movie outside the game – more on that in a bit.

The player boards are all double sided, and while they all basically feature beans as the characters, there’s a male and female side for each so you can choose what to play. There’s no fundamental difference to how the game plays on each side, other than the payer privilege changes. I’m always happy to see game companies be more inclusive in their character choices, so this was nice. Overall, the components in this game are pretty well done, with cute art done by the designer.

Thematically, a lot of thought was put into how to make this game feel like you’re representing a struggling studio and all the problems that go on. There’s little flavor text on every idea and problem card that explains the situation so it’s not so robotic. The storyboard aspect makes it so you’re creating a logical narrative, and you can put together some nice stories. I don’t think this is a game you can just look at mechanically – you really get into your characters and feel like you’re making a movie, though of course with a lot of the intricacies taken out.

In essence, this game is really just about assembling the sets in predetermined patterns. You look at the available scenes and choose one you want to shoot, probably based on your scoring conditions in the script, then go about rearranging the set and putting out dice to fulfill the patterns. The scenes that are available may be less than ideal, and there’s no way to change them without using an Idea. I think I would have liked an action that clears all available scenes to get a new group, or maybe even just discard one. There’s a lot of Idea cards, and if you’re not getting what you need in the scene department, you may never be able to change anything without shooting a less than ideal scene.

The Idea cards are a great addition, and Production Meetings seem to happen often. Not only do they give you ways to break the rules, they also give you stuff you can do in the future. The Problem cards too add some annoyances you need to get rid of, but it’s pretty expensive even when you can use any two dice. Since you only have six dice to begin with, or fewer if some are tied up on the sets, taking care of Problems can use up a lot of dice. So you have to decide which problems you can safely ignore and which need to be taken care of now. The Cinematographer has a special action that can take care of a problem with a single camera die, and I think this is a really good power to have in your game.

Actions in the game are all fairly intuitive, even though they can feel a little expensive with only six dice available. It’s nice to have the extra player actions, but I can imagine it might be frustrating to only use them every fourth turn in a four-player game (I’ve only played with one and two).

One of my favorite things about this game is how it encourages you to to engage in the theme in ways that don’t necessarily impact gameplay. A lot of times, games will do things that I call “forcing the fun.” These are things where it will tell you to roar like a dinosaur when taking a particular action. Is roaring like a dinosaur necessary? No. Would you do it anyway if you weren’t told? Maybe. But overall, I don’t really LIKE the rules telling me how to have fun. I know we have all kinds of traditions with some games in my house – the person who wins Animal Upon Animal gets to knock the stack over, the person playing the mummy in Pyramid of Pengqueen has to make mummy noises when moving around, you do not disrespect the totem in Jungle Speed. These are not spelled out, and if they were, they would feel less fun. To me, anyway.

Here, you’ve got player privileges depending on what role you have. And the rules are pretty clear that you can use them or not, they have no impact on the game. For example, the Star can make people applaud for them. The Cinematographer can have control of any pictures taken during the game. And the Production Designer can dress the other players up however they want. My wife and six-year-old had a lot of fun dressing me up in our first game, but as I was the Cinematographer, no pictures of the outfit exist.

Hey, how did that get there?

I don’t think this game has forced fun. I think the privileges add a little touch of flavor to the game that players can run with. It adds another little element of role playing to the game. And you don’t have to use them at all. The storyboard on the back of the board, too, has nothing to do with the game, but it’s something else you can do in creating stories.

The storytelling element of this game is another thing that is not necessary to gameplay, but makes it all the more fun. You shoot five scenes for the movie, but then you get to interpret what’s happening to make your movie’s story. The game is not about making this story, but it’s something you can narrate to make the game more memorable. A solo game I played was called “Hooray for Skeletons in the Closet”, and it started out pretty dark with a death and a guy weeping in the shower, most likely because of some choices he made (the aformentioned skeletons). But it ended on a positive note, with the guy going out and rebuilding his life, eventually finding love and living happily ever after. It was a nice story, and I enjoyed sharing it with my wife later. I think I prefer this form of storytelling in a game than in games that make that the overall point.

The game overall is pretty light. You’re trying to solve the puzzle of how to use your dice in the best way to get your movie made, but rules aren’t too complicated. Because the game is cooperative, players can work together, and though there is the potential for someone to try to direct everyone, I feel like everyone can have a voice and it really encourages you to do so.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I think Roll Camera! is a very good movie-themed dice game. It’s fun and thematic, with some mental challenge and lots of ways to get into the story. I think this is a great game for people who like movies. I’d recommend you check it out.

Thanks again to Keen Bean Studios for sending me a review copy of Roll Camera!, and thanks to you for reading!

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