The COVID-19 lockdown has truly been the best of times and the worst of times for the board game industry. Forced indoors for months, consumer demand for board games has soared as supply chain issues obtain these increasingly hard games. The most popular games to emerge from the pandemic are roll-and-writes, a game genre that lends itself well to socially distanced and even Zoom-based gameplay. That popularity was reflected at this year’s Gen Con, where the presence of these games on many companies’ booths suggested we were entering a new era of innovation for the genre.
Roll-and-writes represent a lot of opportunities for the designer, as they can accommodate more players, flexible asymmetry, and whole new ways to approach cooperative and competitive gameplay. Interestingly, the “writing” part of these games has shifted from notepad and paper setups (like in games like cartographers) to the laminated dry-erase mats (which most new Gen Con games featured). A few years into the craze, every aspect of these games has been tweaked and improved over time. It is certainly not Yahtzee more.
Designer James Kniffen came up with the idea of Twilight Inscription almost by accident – it came to him as part of a series of pitches he was working on for Fantasy Flight. The prospect of condensation Twilight Imperial, a game famous for its complexity and playtime, into something as compact as a roll-and-write was no easy task. It took over a year of work to bring it to its final state, with the key breakthrough being the decision to split the game into four distinct sections: War, Industry, Navigation, and Exploration.
What Kniffen got is a perfect distillation of what people are looking for in a classic game of Twilight Imperium: important choices, space politics and many ways to build your civilization. All of the cultures of the original game are represented along with much of the flavor and setting, all condensed into roughly two hours of gameplay. The goal, Kniffen said, was to get new players more excited. easily for the frame while allowing long-time gamers to get the experience they’ve come to love.
In the same direction is Zombicide: get ready, a flip-and-write from CMON and Guillotine Games that’s meant to be a gateway to the larger world of Zombicide. It’s a co-op variant, another new change to the genre we’ve started to see this year, and it pits survivors against zombies in the norm. Zombicide way. Zombies are defeated by essentially coloring their shapes, with each survivor’s abilities and weapons dictating how you fill out each zombie. Covering certain parts of the zombie can give you ammo, shields, or damage reduction. There are also zombie bosses like the Zombie Cheer Squad that present unique challenges to complete while survivors finish their cover.
Th3rd World Studios is also innovating in the cooperative form of roll-and-write with this new game, which turns four players into a support system for a space mission in danger. Players must work together from their own individual board, each with their own set of challenges, to help save the day in just 20 minutes. Asymmetric and cooperative gameplay allows for plenty of tension and exciting communication-based play, and strain maps help increase the speed at which your games can go.
The fox experience
The roll-and-write genre has become so popular that other games are beginning to borrow elements from it, as seen in Elizabeth Hargrave’s upcoming release: The Fox Experience. The Pandasaurus crowdfunding campaign launches on September 6. Inspired by real-life experiences in Russia to domesticate foxes, this adorable title has you rolling dice to get the right mix of traits to breed into the next generation of foxes, marking those traits on a map as you go. While things like trait tokens and upgrade tracks add more variety to the gameplay, it basically builds on the roll and write model that has been so popular. With new games like The fox experience Already finding new ways to implement the genre, no doubt we’ll see even more of these mechanics in the industry over time.