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Roll-and-Writes: History of a Popular Genre

Sep 22, 2022

How’s it hanging, Geekazoids?

Imagine it’s game night.

You’re just about to start (or finish) your evening, and your gaming group needs to pick something to play. What do you decide on? “How about a roll-and-write”, someone suggests?

Smart friends you have. Roll-and-writes are always a quick and perfect solution! But what makes this type of game so popular, and why have so many titles come out recently that use this mechanic?

To find the answer to this question, we need to go on a blast to the past. Seatbelts on!

The History Of Roll-and-Write Games

The roll-and-write genre is not a recent invention by any means. In fact, the idea goes back as far as Yahtzee (1956). Despite the brilliance and simplicity of its idea, the genre didn’t exactly take over the world immediately.

Several years pass before we even stumble on another title that fits the description: The Great Races (1974) was a paper and pencil prototype that would later evolve into a push-your-luck game most of us will know: Can’t Stop (1980).

The Great Races (1974): Image courtesy of Brian Moore

Although roll-and-writes had a slow start, they finally gained some popularity in the 00s. One of the earliest ones I could find was Reiner Knizia’s Decathlon, in which players rolled dice to compete in various Olympic disciplines.

A handful of other games were released after that, such as Würfel Bingo, Catan: the Dice Game and Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age, but it wasn’t until 2012 that a well-known and beloved classic finally launched the genre into the stratosphere: Qwixx.

qwixx board game translations

Since then, the genre has taken the board game community by storm. There’s a near endless number of roll-and-write games available on the market today. The hype first culminated in 2017, at the GenCan’t Roll-and-Write Contest, dedicated solely to this genre. The first edition of the contest was won by Welcome to Dino World (2017).

This begs the question: why are roll-and-write games so popular? Why do so many gamers have at least one of these titles in their collection? There are many reasons that when combined, they offer the perfect blend of ‘fun and easy’, which fills a void that we as gamers never knew we needed.

Easy to Learn and Play, Difficult to Master

Roll-and-write games are very often easy to learn and play. In many instances, the rules fit on a single sheet of paper. As we mentioned already, one of the prime examples is Qwixx.

Its rules are very straightforward: roll dice, check the results, decide which number to cross off, write them down on your score sheet, and probably suffer the consequences of your choices the next time you roll (as you’re unable to cross off the number you so desperately needed).

This takes me to my next point: roll-and-write games may be easy to learn, but that doesn’t mean they’re as easy to master. On every turn, each roll confronts you with a decision that might offer you a step towards victory, or set you on a path to inevitable loss.

Even though players have very similar options available to them, you have to really think carefully before marking down your choice. Whatever you do is permanent – no takesy-backsies!

qwixx board game translator

While it’s true that there’s a certain aspect of randomness to the dice and cards used in roll-and-write games, this is mitigated by their very short play time.

A typical game will last somewhere between 15 and 45 minutes, which means you can string several plays together and the luck factor won’t bother you as much.

You Can Take Them With You Anywhere

Another advantage of roll-and-write games is that they’re portable and usually don’t take up a lot of table space. For example, at The Geeky Pen we recently translated Qwixx Longo, which only contains some scoring sheets, some markers, and 6 dice. You could play it on something as small as an airplane tray!

However, you shouldn’t be deceived by the small size of the box. Because they use such simple components, roll-and-write games often accommodate a large number of players without your group having to resort to a party game. So, whenever you have more than 6 people at your table, why not reach for Cartographers or Welcome To, which both support up to 100 players!

They Don't Break The Bank

Because they are so compact, roll-and-writes often come with a wallet-friendly price tag. Smaller games usually cost between €10 and €25, which won’t have a huge impact on your budget, especially when you realize the vast amounts of fun they offer.

Fun is always the key word. Fun is why we look for and invest in board games. Why we collect them and why games keep returning to our tables. Roll-and-write games are pure brainstorming joy, wrapped in a small box.

Just look at our most recent localization project: Splitter by Nürnberger Spielkarten Verlag. A compact game with only 2 dice, 2 score sheets, and 4 pencils. And yet, you constantly have to make tough choices: where will you choose to write down your numbers? Because in the end, only clusters of the same numbers give you points.

But there’s a twist! You must always write down the both numbers you rolled symmetrically to the center axis. All players have the exact same numbers available to them, but the challenging part lies in deciding where to write them down.

Will you come out on top in this clever puzzle? Or will the unpredictable fate of the dice and your mistakes end in bitter defeat? If so, you can simply demand a rematch! After all, a game of Splitter only lasts 15 minutes.

And the best part about roll-and-writes? You get to keep the score sheet and frame it as a memento of your amazing victory! If you manage to beat those 99 other players, that is…

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