- The WitcherlorianAustralia
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Game Type - Roll and Write (Dice) Game
Play Time: 10-15 Minutes
Number of Players: 1-8 (Best 2+)
Mechanics - Dice Rolling, Score Management
Difficulty - Pick-up & Play (Can be learned in under 10 minutes)
Components - Very Good
Release - 2014
Designer - Hisashi Hayashi (Sail to India, String Railway, Trains, Trains: Rising Sun)
Dice have long fascinated the human mind, well mine anyway, and been used as a driving force for all manner of games over the ages. Rolling Japan is the latest offering in a new breed of dice game, one where the rolling is only a part of the challenge.
It is also as simple as it is innovative. Throw in a scoresheet that also serves as the map/board and the theme and what we have here is a simple idea executed very well. If one aspect could summarise what to expect of Japanese Game Design between 2000-2020...that would be about it.
Welcome to Rolling Japan...
Rolling Japan comes in a small box and that immediately implies that it has relatively few components.
Scoresheet/Map – The game comes with a tear-away pad of scoresheets that comprise 4 key elements.
Each sheet is dominated by a map of Japan, which is somewhat compartmentalised into a series of regular and irregular rectangles. These shapes are then grouped into regions by way of various colours. It's certainly abstract in nature but the 3 main islands of Japan are clearly defined.
Each sheet also has an area dedicated to tracking the round of play, if any colour changes have been made and a player’s final score.
It's all very well designed and makes the player feel at ease with what is in front of them.
Of course the nature of sheets is that they will eventually run out, and perhaps with this game, they will run out faster than some other games will due to how many can play in a sitting. But photocopies are always an option I guess.
Dice - The game makes use of 7 dice in all. They are wooden with rounded corners and remind me of the dice used in Kingsburg. Six of these dice are coloured to match the regions of Japan as printed on the sheets and an additional purple dice is also provided.
Pencils - As soon as I saw the writing implements provided, I thought back to my days of golfing as they come in that plastic wedge form so often used in that frustrating sport.
Rules and Cloth Bag - The rules of the game are really straight forward and are fully outlined on one side of a two-fold format. This allows the rules to cover 4 languages quite easily.
Because it is important to draw dice at random during play, a smallish but just big enough cloth bag is provided to hold those dice.
There is nothing spectacular in relation to components here but what is provided is well done, doesn't act as a barrier to getting started or affect the flow of the game.
Hmm...let me see. Give each player a scoresheet from the pad, each player takes a pencil and a start player is determined and takes the cloth bag with its 7 dice inside. The game is ready to begin.
Should take about 30 seconds. Too onerous? Go watch TV.
I'm really quite surprised that this is the first review of the game for BGG. Perhaps that is due to access issues or perhaps most felt the game was so easy to grasp that it didn't need a review. If the latter is the case...well...I'm happy to state the bleedin' obvious.
The aim of the game is really quite simple...fill up your map of Japan with values from 1-6 and try to minimise how many X results you have. The player with the lowest number of X results will be the winner.
What we don't know yet are the rules that govern how to place values.
A single round plays out as follows :-
Select and Roll Dice - The active player must delve into the cloth bag and select 2 dice, sight unseen. They then roll these dice to create two separate values, which should be announced or be visible to all players. The dice are uniform six-sided affairs so all results will range from 1-6.
Simultaneous Score Placement – All players must then place each of those values into the relevant region. The map of Japan is structured into regions of 7 different colours and each coloured region is made up of locations of various shapes and sizes. These locations are referred to as Prefectures, which is the term that Japan uses and supports the theme nicely. Honestly though, during play people are just going to refer to them as spaces in most parts of the world.
The players can place the two values in any order they like. A value must be placed in its corresponding region and in a Prefecture that is empty (thus each location can only hold one value during a single game).
Then there are a few more situations to cover for the placement of dice values and how those X results are earned/inflicted :-
If a value is placed into a Prefecture that is adjoining another one that contains a value...it can only differ by at most +1 or -1. It doesn't matter what coloured region the adjoining Prefecture is either, this rule always stands.
Therefore a 5 and a 1, 2 or 3 can never sit side by side. However a 4, 5 or 6 can adjoin a 5 no problem.
A newly placed value can also adjoin a box marked with an X and indeed, whilst X's are not desirable, X results can serve as a buffer between high and low values.
If a player cannot legally place a value in the required region then they must place an X in one of the empty Prefectures of that region. A player cannot opt to simply record nothing if they have an empty Prefecture in a region that has been rolled.
If a player has already filled an entire region and that coloured dice is rolled again, they simply ignore that result and do not need to place it. This is possible due to the purple dice and colour change abilities...read below.
The Purple Dice – If the purple dice is drawn and rolled its value can be placed in any location. So in essence the purple dice acts as a wild.
Colour Change - Each player has the ability to use a value but change the colour of a dice to another if it is more helpful. Each scoresheet has 3 colour change boxes and a player simply needs to declare that they are making a colour change and cross one of these boxes out when doing so. Once all three are used there is no more safety net.
Ending a Round - After the 5th and 6th dice have been drawn from the bag, rolled and scored by all players the round comes to an end. Each player should cross off the next round on their scoresheet to signify this.
All dice are then returned to the bag, it is shaken to mix them around and the next player takes the bag and starts all over again by drawing 2 dice.
In this way all but 1 dice is used in every round of the game.
Ending the Game and Scoring - The game comes to an end at the end of the 8th round or when all players no longer have any valid moves. Usually the former is the trigger.
At this point any unfilled Prefectures are filled with an X to complete scoresheets.
Scoring is as simple as counting up the number of X results on a player's page and recording that in the box provided. The player with the lowest number of X results has been the most efficient and is declared the winner. In the event of a tie the win is shared.
It is often a good idea for the players to check the sheets of one another to make sure that none of the placement rules were violated. If an error is found it must be replaced with an X.
The Final Word
Rolling Japan is similar to another successful dice roller of recent times in Qwixx. It's not that they play the same but they do require 'score management'. How those scores are derived though are quite different.
The main differentiating point is that Rolling Japan allows for simultaneous placement of values and all players must make their moves based on the one roll...which is not dissimilar to Take it Easy. This speeds up the play greatly and allows the game to cater for up to 8 people in one play, which not many games can do.
For me these are elements that make Rolling Japan just that little bit more engaging than Qwixx, although both are excellent designs in this sub-genre of gaming.
Where Qwixx perhaps has an edge over Rolling Japan is that a greater variation in scores is possible and therefore some players may feel they get better rewarded for good play in Qwixx. The logical counter-argument however would be that Rolling Japan allows for scores that are tighter and therefore more tension can be derived.
Personally I like them both a lot for what they are - simple games executed well. Rolling Japan is the harder of the two games to conceptually grasp and identify how to do well. The visual/spatial element is a factor but I think what really sets the good players apart from the average (of which I am one) is in using some of those X results to quarantine sections of the map from each other in order to minimise your X results overall.
I am 7 plays in and I am yet to really have a coherent strategy. Of course like any dice game, the rolls can simply screw you at times...but the decisions that are made as the game unfolds can certainly help to mitigate the pain.
The final point I'd like to make is that I really enjoy the flow of Rolling Japan. It starts out all nice and innocent, with plenty of room to place values and you can start to formulate a 'best case scenario' plan for how things could pan out. By the mid-game things start to go a little wonky...but the odd colour change here and there can help with that. Then you enter the end-game...those last 2-3 rounds, and things really start going sour very quickly.
That's another point worth noting too. The colour change mechanism is vitally important in allowing the players to generate maps of Japan that look vastly different by the end of the game. Combine that with the random factor of drawing only 6 of the 7 dice each round and Rolling Japan manages to create a similar but varied experience with each play.
If that is the kind of gameplay that you enjoy and you only have 10-20 minutes, Rolling Japan is a title you should look out for.
On that note the game can be rather hard to find, or at least it was for a period of time. I need to thank BGG for making this game available through the Geekstore because I would have had trouble getting a hold of it otherwise.
Oh the game can be played solo too but only as an exercise to try and score as low as possible and beat your previous best. Not very engaging compared to other quality solo games out there.
Till next we meet, may your Prefectures stand strong and the dice-bag of fate be kind.
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