While Gamewright’s new release, Rolling America, is simple in concept and process, there’s something of a complex challenge to it. It’s a little like a puzzle. The pieces are all there, and the concept is clear. You just have to figure out how all the pieces fit together to create the right picture. You’ll note in the accompanying photo a crude outline of the United States with precisely 50 boxes. You can ‘see’ Hawaii and Alaska off there to the left, the state of Maine in the upper right corner, and Florida down at the bottom, right. You have seven colored dice in a small cloth bag, on which the pips are stars, which accounts for the game’s sub-title – The Star-Spangled Dice Game. The dice colors match the colors of the six regions on the map, with one clear die extra.
The game can be played with as many people as you want, and each player gets their own map. On a player’s turn, he/she withdraws two dice from the bag and rolls them. All players then write the numbers shown on the thrown die into a state within a region on their own map that matches the die color. The clear die is wild, and the number on it can be played in any region. This is where it gets tricky, and it will take a few turns before you understand why.
First, in what’s called the Neighboring State Rule, all states that border the state that players are filling in with the die number must either be blank, have an X in it, be what’s known as “guarded,” and have a number difference no greater than 1 from the die result (this includes states in bordering regions). This is not going to present a problem immediately because the map is wide open, but trust me on this, you need to start thinking of how this is going to affect you as the game progresses. The sooner, the better.
So, a blank bordering state is pretty simple to understand. When you start, and for a while, there won’t be any states with “X”s in them. That occurs when a player can’t find a place to put a number that doesn’t adhere to any of the Neighboring State Rules. You must fill in a state, each turn. As to the “guarded’ part of the Neighboring State Rule, you will, three times, be able to break the Neighboring State Rule, which will allow you to place a number in a state that does not adhere to the rule. You have to circle the number you’ve written into the box that breaks the rule, and each time you do this, you will mark an X in the box labeled “guard.”
The other two sets of three boxes allow you to place a number twice in the same turn (called “dupe”) and “color change” a die (also three times). You can apply all three options, as long as they’re still available, in a single turn, or on a single die.
When six of the seven dice have been removed from the bag, leaving one, the already rolled dice are placed back into the bag, and an X is placed into the “round” box above the map. Play continues through eight rounds, at which point the number of “X”s that have been placed in players’ maps are counted, and the player with the least, wins the game.
Early and (only) personal analysis of the situation suggests that you use each of the three available options to break the Neighboring State Rule wisely. The “dupe” rule is one that is important early, and can be impossible to use, late in the game. It would also appear that the fringe numbers (1 & 6) should be placed in boxes with the fewest amount of bordering states, while the middle numbers (2, 3, 4, & 5) should be placed more centrally in any given region, providing you with maximum flexibility.
It should also be noted that while in some games (Castles of Burgundy comes to mind) the die numbers “1” and “6” are considered to be only one number apart. Not true in this game. To be “one number apart” within the Neighboring State Rules means precisely that; one number apart.
And remember, everybody’s using the same two dice, every time. It’s more than likely that each member of the group will be making different decisions about where to put the numbers available to them on a given two-dice roll. At the end of the game, the winner will be the player who has taken the same elements of game play as everybody else and used them most effectively.
This game can also be played as a solitaire game. Same rules, with the object of trying for the lowest number of “X”s on your completed map. It’s a great way to learn the game, because you end up encountering some of the mid-game issues, where it becomes harder and harder to place the rolled numbers into available spaces on the map, which gives you just a bit of an edge, going into multi-player games. You could play this game with 99 people. Only eight of them would get to roll dice, though, because the game would be over before the dice got passed to 91 of them.
It’s too new to have garnered any meaningful response from BoardGameGeek, where, at present, it has only been rated twice (8.5 & 7), for a 7.75 average (nobody, to date, has commented). Serious gamers, who make up a large percentage of the community, are likely to find its multi-player solitaire aspect bothersome, not to mention the almost total randomness of the dice rolls. The luck, though, since everybody playing is using the same dice, is perfectly distributed, and it becomes something of a test of each individual in the group’s ability to deal with the space relations inherent in the process. Best man/woman wins.
I like this game, and what’s more, so does the not-always-keen-on-games significant other. It’ll be a while before you really get the hang of Rolling America, but you’ll have a great time trying.
Rolling America, designed by Hisashi Hayashi is published by Gamewright, who graciously sent me a copy to review. It is playable as a solitaire game, and by as many players as you can gather around a game table. The age range starts at 8, though I’d guess that only the smartest 8-year-olds are going to be able to develop the map with any skill. Dependent on the number of players, it takes less than a half hour to play. Technically, since each person playing is performing the same task with the same two dice, the time frame shouldn’t change all that much. But with an increased number of players, you’ll likely be adding time, depending on how quickly each individual can reach a decision and act on it. Retail cost is in the vicinity of $10; a terrific bargain for a game that should last.