Roll Player is a dice placement game in which players compete to build a RPG character by completing their strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom and charisma attributes, while trying to also fulfill their backstory and alignment goals.
In the box you will find...
Gold Coins & Charisma Tokens
6 Hero Boards
4 Player Aids
6 Class Cards
16 Backstory Cards
17 Alignment Cards
53 Market Cards
5 Initiative Cards
12 Wooden Cubes
Roll Player, almost by design, resides in a generic dungeons & dragons esque world. It wants to emulate that setting without infringing on any copyrighted material and its art style and graphic design reflect this ethos. I’m not saying that's a bad thing either, John Ariosa’s art on all the cards is beautiful and pulls me back in time to my teenage years spent in short trousers playing D&D after school with my mates.
And if you come from an old school D&D background then so much of what this game is about is going to be familiar, the stats, the races, the equipment it’s all old school nostalgia.
In terms of graphic design, the game is well laid out and for the most part is pretty clear on how things work. Certainly roleplayers will have a leg up understanding the mechanics through the theme but the game is not impenetrable for those not from that subset of the gaming community.
The game is rather text heavy, with a small amount of iconography thrown in, but there are many different translations available for your region. Colour-blind players will struggle with this one though as the game is very reliant on colour, although, at least with the cards, the colours are spelt out, so it will only be the dice that cause problems.
Overall the components are really nice, thick chunky boards, good art and well laid out. As a side note when you punch out the game you will have some pieces left over with a Trash symbol on them. I kept mine and I use them to mark off which attribute rows I have completed, this way I don’t have to keep adding up all my dice.
A Quick Overview
Roll Player is a game about building a character to go on a role playing adventure. However, if we put that aside for a second we could say that Roll Player, at its core, is a dice placement game in which you are attempting to meet certain goals set out by your Class and Background cards. Your class card will show a certain number or range of numbers, in each of the six rows you need to meet in order to earn a specified number of victory points. Your background card will score you points for having certain colour dice in specified slots at the end of the game.
During the game players will roll dice and add them to one of the six Attribute Rows, trying to meet their numerical goals. The dice must be placed into a row from left to right. Adding a die to a row allows you to take a special action, such as flipping a die, moving a die, increasing or decreasing its value etc.
Each round a number of dice equal to the number of players, plus one, is rolled and arranged from lowest to highest. The player taking the lowest dice will buy first in the market phase and choose first in the next round. Any player not taking the highest or lowest will earn a gold coin from the bank.
After all players have taken and placed a die the players move on to the market phase. Here players can buy cards from a face up display containing cards equal to the number of players, plus one. Starting with the player who took the lowest die and continuing to the player who took the highest, players may spend gold to acquire cards or discard a face up card and take two gold from the bank.
Play continues in this way until all the dice slots on the players boards have been filled. At this point players score points for meeting their attribute goals, backstory and alignment cards, dice matching their class colour and any market cards they have bought during the game. The player with the most points is the winner.
Roll Player is a love letter to the role playing games genre. The attributes, races and classes are plucked right from the Player Handbook. Many of the skills and items too have their origins in the world of D&D. Skills like Cure Wounds and Move Silently are not just generic card names, they evoke in me a memory of scouring the pages of the PHB as I built my character and eeked out every last penny on rope and iron spikes. And yet, despite the game oozing with theme you cannot buy a ten foot pole!
Min-Maxing vs. Character Driven Creation
In traditional Role Playing games there are two primary schools of thought when it comes to crafting a character. Character Driven creation is the process by which the player creates their character through storytelling, explaining away a character's low strength value by revealing he grew up on the streets scavenging for food and so was not well nourished. This is the process that most modern RPG’s push. And in Roleplayer you can follow this, buying trait cards like Weak or Foolish to help mitigate low stats.
Min-Maxing, however, takes a more meta-look at the whole experience. A player who creates a character with a Min-Maxing approach is not necessarily looking to tell a good story, they are looking to create a character that can win. The process of Min-Maxing is to minimise your weakness and maximise your strengths. For example, dual wielding weapons often allows a character to make more attacks than other characters, dealing more damage but at a penalty of being less accurate, unless you take the ambidextrous skill. The player in this instance is looking only to increase their damage potential and not to weave an interesting narrative about how their character came to be so skillful in combat.
In Roll Player you are creating a character, however some things are pre-generated for you. For example you can choose your Race and Gender but your Class, Alignment and Backstory are random. You certainly can play the game acquiring items and abilities that you think would best suit your idea for a Devoted Hermit Dwarf Cleric but you probably won't win. Roll Player rewards players for designing a character to order, you are attempting to manipulate everything to fit as perfectly as possible into the class, alignment and backstory you have been assigned. So while the game is dripping with theme, it is also highly mechanical.
Roll Player is a puzzle game, more so than anything else. At the beginning of the game you are set a series of goals and the entire game is working out how best to meet those. If you can score all of your attributes, alignment and backstory goals you’ll score 18 points. That won't win you the game though so you’re also going to need to know how to manipulate the market.
None of the market cards will score you tons of points, perhaps between 2 and 6, with some major exceptions such as suits of armour but those require multiple purchases so other cards may have been more profitable. Drafting low value dice during the draft phase will give you first dibs at the market so it can often be worth doing so to ensure you get the cards you need or even to get rid of a card another player needs before they can buy it.
The final part of the puzzle is being able to manipulate your dice. Knowing when to trigger your attribute abilities, or when to activate a skill card in order to get the results or colours you need. Familiarity with the game will help here, knowing which market cards can come up means you can prepare for them.
The game obviously has luck baked in, it’s a dice game, but there are so many ways to mitigate this. Firstly players draft dice, so you are choosing which colours and numbers you want, even if you’re last in turn order. Secondly the Attribute abilities give you a lot of control, Strength allows you to flip dice, Constitution to adjust them up or down and Intelligence allows you to reroll and choose whether or not to keep the new result. Finally, many of the market cards allow you to adjust the face values, colours and even positions of dice.
The only time I feel like luck is a factor is during the last two turns of the game, as you narrow down your options of where dice can be placed and what numbers you can feasibly make use of. Here, if the dice don’t come out that you need you may be a little powerless to do anything about it.
This game gives you so much choice. Six different races and 12 different classes give you 72 different play experiences out of the box before you even start to buy different market cards. Talking of market cards, there are so many strategies to try. Do you concentrate on building a suit of armour? Perhaps you should focus on traits or skills? Or do you try a more balanced approach and have a little of everything?
Skill Cards, in particular, offer an interesting mini-game. These cards are activated by manipulating your alignment. In game this means moving a cube around a 3 x 3 grid. Each skill has an arrow showing the direction you need to move the cube in order to activate the skill, meaning that if your cube is all the way to the right and your skill moves it to the left you could, at most, use that skill twice. However, placing a die in the Wisdom attribute row allows you to move the cube too, giving you additional usage of your skills. And what if you can get a different skill that moves the cube right? Now you can activate the skills on alternate turn indefinitely.
Certainly no two games of Roll Player need ever be the same and there are no bad choices to be made, less economical maybe, but every card has a use. The only problem may be that the amount of choice could be overwhelming for new players and players who know the contents of the market deck are likely to do better than those that don't.
Roll Player is going to appeal to players who love solving puzzles or that have a nostalgia for games like Dungeons and Dragons. The puzzly nature of the game, combined with a large number of options could however cause some players to suffer from analysis paralysis or simply overwhelm new players. For me though, it’s a great game that feeds my nostalgia and gets better with every play.