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Designer Diary: Roll to the Top!, or Climbing to Publication

Corné van Moorsel
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Board Game: Roll to the Top!
Editor's note: This designer diary was written by Roll to the Top! co-designer Peter Joustra in Dutch, then translated into English by the game's other co-designer, Corné van Moorsel. —WEM


As a child I loved games, and I wanted to become an inventor, so I tried to invent games, tabletop games, and outdoor children's games. At a later age I made several prototype games. With a prototype in 1998, I went to the biggest Dutch games fair for information about publishing. There I visited Corné van Moorsel's Cwali booth, not knowing that he lived in Maastricht, too. I never published that game, whether because of my full-time job or because I liked only to invent the games, I can't say for sure.

Many years later, I played a badminton competition match against another team in Maastricht. I recognized my opponent somehow and finally remembered Corné from the games fair. I played board games in a local group named "Slimbo" and invited Corné to join.

Then my wife and I played his prototypes regularly, which encouraged me to work at my game ideas again. Once in a while, we played my newest prototype and Corné gave his opinions. Normally the prototype ended back in a box forever — until we played my prototype with the working title "Seven Summits" in 2016, which became Roll to the Top! in the end.

The First Ideas

It was a game about mountaineering. I loved documentaries about mountaineers, and the aspects of the climbing sport seemed ideal to make a game about. I wanted to include all the famous mountains. The aim of the game was similar to the final Roll To The Top!: Different mountains with different difficulty levels had to be climbed to the top by rolling (six-sided) dice and placing them above other dice if the number newly rolled was equal or higher.

An inspiration for this design was Reiner Knizia's Pinguin-Party in which you place matching color cards above each other to build a pyramid. (Great game!) I tried to make a build-up mechanism with dice, which was the birth of Roll To The Top! Players could improve "skills" in the game and choose mountains that they wanted to climb, with the dice being used to either climb or improve skills, but not both.

From gallery of cwali

In the first prototypes, mountains of about 6 to 12 squares were climbed for victory points and to improve different skills, too. The more skilled you were, the better you could climb higher and more difficult mountains.

From gallery of cwali

Players rolled individually as the design had no simultaneous turns at first, then they placed dice in the squares.
The number of dice you rolled depended on your level at a certain skill.

From gallery of cwali

Each player had their own tableau on which their skills were tracked, with the skills being things like re-rolling dice, rolling extra dice, or adjusting a rolled number down or up.

The First Attempts

When I had a first playable prototype, I asked Corné to play it with me and my wife, and this time I saw a smile on Corné's face. "This is interesting", he said, and he wanted to help to improve it. After trying several versions, we knew that:

• Bigger mountains made the tactics more interesting.
• But if you were climbing several mountains, it was hard to have an acceptable playing time.
• Rolling dice individually took much time and made the luck factor high.

So we took new directions with the design:

• We added many more squares to the mountain sheets.
• All players would now climb the same mountain.
• All players would use the same dice, so they would play simultaneously (still using six-sided dice at this time).

In the photos above, you can see that the game had many more rules — about mountain heights, climber equipment, sherpas, snow — but in the end we liked the build-up mechanism the most.

From gallery of cwali

Adding Up Numbers and Adding in Dice

A problem with the design was that once you placed a 6, you needed to wait for other 6s to fill in higher spaces, especially now that the mountains were much larger. Letting players add up dice was a good solution for this. I wanted to keep the rules easy, but this still worked easy and the freedom to combine dice made the choices more interesting.

For more variation, we tried using different dice, and in the end we decided that using four-sided dice up to twenty-sided dice worked well. These different dice now made it possible for players to choose which dice would get rolled, so we added the custom die to the game to determine whether the next dice-roller had to add or remove (or swap) a die before rolling. This added variation and a good flow of turns.

The last rule we changed was suggested by my wife Marja: Forcing players to swap different dice when the custom die showed the swap symbol (instead of allowing them to "swap" dice with the same number of sides). This change made the swap choice easier and quicker, and the rules were final!

We created many different sheets, later named "challenges", first designing only mountains, but soon many other shapes. Several crazy shapes were surprisingly interesting. We wanted to make challenges with things you can "climb" in or on: a tree, buildings, the neck of a giraffe. It was fun to try out several strange shapes: a cocktail glass, a dinosaur, the Colosseum, the bottom of a lake. We had our favorites, and that's what you find in the final game.

Playing Online

The online version of Roll to the Top!, programmed fabulously by Josh Riley, was made so that we could playtest many different sheets well without always arranging meetings. I played more than five hundred games online during this preparation phase, most with Corné, who played even more than me until he suffered a mouse-arm...

Final Prototypes

We got addicted and still liked it after so many games. That's a good sign. Corné was at least as enthusiastic as me and started preparing a Kickstarter campaign. Then we played many of the known dice games, to estimate the competition, and decided that this game must get made!

The rules were very easy, allowing people to start and play quickly and intuitively. The test games now were fast, fun, and often nerve-breaking. In our games with new groups, Corné and I always won the first games, which confirmed that the game has an interesting learning curve.

The Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign succeeded, then the production process started and a half-year later, roughly one thousand copies were sent to backers.

From gallery of cwali
Special Challenges Pack along with the RTTT base game

I'm very proud of the final game, and it's great to read all the comments on it! It's a dice game while I first wanted to make a board game, but it has much depth in making smart choices and keeping good options during the whole game, something I miss in many other dice games. After playing it so often over two years, I still change and improve my tactics!

I hope that you have the chance to try it at SPIEL '18 or elsewhere, perhaps even after climbing the neck of a giraffe...

Peter Joustra
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