Modern versions have fortified this formula to the max and have sheets that range from building maps, to tracing a pinball around the table, to mimicking fast-paced combat in martial arts. With a variety of themes and depths to choose from, and most of them cheap, easy to learn, and playing board solo games well, there has never been a better time to join the madness and write.
The fashion for roller skating and writing began with a German game called Ganz Schön Clever, which translates as That’s Pretty Clever. It had a score sheet like Yahtzee where you crossed out different dice combinations to score points, but it had two smart innovations. First, the dice were colored, which gave the scoring a whole new dimension. Second, you can roll the dice three times as in Yahtzee, but then you chose the dice to score and on the second and third rolls you lost all the lower value dice from the pool, adding a strategy of your choice. It was a hit and spawned two sequels, the more complex Doppelt So Clever (Twice as Clever) and our pick, Clever Hoch Drei (Clever Times Three or Clever Cubed), which changed the general rules by adding some fun new concepts to challenge players.
Ultimate Pinball: Raise the level
Most roll and write games don’t help to conjure up the theme, but Super Skill Pinball replicates the pinball table with just a pen and a few dice. You choose one of the four game tables provided, go upstairs and then roll out, selecting to hit different bumpers and targets depending on your roll. It’s the same when it falls on flippers, but the kicker is that you can’t reuse the box twice, so your ball will eventually run out of targets and fall off. It’s up to you to use a certain combination and special game rules at the table to maximize your score, creating a puzzle that is equally fascinating and exciting. Many sets are available, including Star Trek–themed but Ramp It Up is the best choice and even includes a collaborative table.
Welcome To is not just a throw-and-write game: it belongs to a closely related genre called flip and write, which replaces dice with cards. This gives you many more options to work with. Here they are pressed into the city planning service as you select pairs of house numbers and building effect cards to create three suburban streets. This is a difficult task as you have to arrange the houses in order of numbering while balancing your score with various bonuses such as pools, parks and races in order to be the first to fulfill city plans that require a specific layout. It’s very rewarding when you do this, and the strategy is surprising, but players who want even more can pick up the more complex science fiction cousin Welcome To The Moon.
Railway Ink: Deep Blue Edition
Rather than filling out a score sheet, Railroad Ink asks you to draw a transportation network on a grid, based on the tracks and intersections thrown by custom dice. You are rewarded by connecting as many exits as possible to the same network, which quickly becomes a difficult task when you balance the need to minimize dead ends with the desire to leave things open in the hope of connecting them later. The combination of a risk versus reward game with spatial thinking makes this role and writing quite unusual, but there are different editions that can be spiced up. Deep Blue, which allows you to add rivers and lakes to your map along with potential ferry routes, is your best bet, but you can choose from flaming red volcanoes, lush green forests, or sparkling yellow deserts.
Next station: London
Another train-based game, but this time, flip and write, Next Station: London offers a novel twist in which the pencil colors will become a key part of the game. Each color is associated with a starting station on the player’s map, from which you start drawing your network based on the station symbol on the drawn card. You can stretch in any direction and even branch your line by trying to cross as many neighborhoods as possible, seeing tourist attractions, connecting with other lines, and crossing the river along the way. But be careful, as you cannot cross the lines, except as stations, meaning an extensive, high-scoring first turn can package your expansion into later lines. Then all players swap pencils and start over. It’s a simple concept that reveals surprising nuances to repetitive plays, giving it an edge over extra puzzles while also resulting in fun multi-colored maps.
Dinosaur Island: Rawr N Write
Part of the appeal of roll and write games is their speed and simplicity, but Rawr N Write was the first of a new breed in the genre to use the concept as a springboard to more complexity and depth. The dice roll gives players the choice of resources such as money and DNA they need to build their own Jurassic World style dinosaur theme park. You will have to sketch your park with attractions and concessions on a mini-grid, as well as introduce personnel, special buildings and take care of safety. Then, at the end of each of the three turns, you lead a true tour route through your facility to score points, hoping no one gets eaten. With so many different aspects to juggling, planning a park is a rich, brain-burning challenge, while running a tour brings the numbers to life with a theme. Read our Dinosaur Island: Rawr ‘n Write a review for more information.
Games of this genre often play well in large groups as there is a central reel or flip and everyone is trying to get the most out of the results. This means no interaction with the players the cartographers came to challenge. This is a flip and write where the idea is to use cards to map the terrain of a fantasy realm trying to tackle some challenges with variable scoring. The funny thing is that every now and then a monster card shows up where you hand over your map to your neighbor, and they have to find the most annoying spot to draw negative monster icons in your kingdom. Not only does it make Cartographers feel much more personal, but the maps that stay at the end have an immersive sense of building the world around them, conjuring up some motive. The sequel, Cartographers: Heroes, added more dynamic monsters and new hero cards where you can ride and save your kingdom from their looting.
Long Shot: A game of dice
The Long Shot horse racing game was fine, but the throw-and-save one turned out to be a hit with players. Unusually for a species, there is an actual track board around which horses are racing, based on the roll of the dice, but some horses are more likely to move than others. It is your job to watch the race unfold and to bet wisely as it comes to a close. However, you can also use cash to buy horses to gain access to a special power and a huge bonus if you win, as well as use various options to change the chances of the mounts of your choice. Since anyone can bet on any horse, this creates a fascinating web of relationships between players as the race progresses, as the horses you’ve backed may better pay their opponents. With interaction, excitement and a good dose of theme, Long Shot: The Dice Game meets demands in areas that others can’t throw and write.
Revenge: Throw and fight
Most games in this genre fit into a certain relatively stable pattern of having a random seed, which offers all players the choice that they mark on their sheet. In an attempt to recreate the hectic pace of a martial arts movie, Vengeance: Roll and Fight turns those expectations upside down. This is a crazy real-time game where players generate actions on their turn as they try to grab dice and throw combos faster than other players. When the dice pool is empty, you can use your actions to chart a route through a warehouse full of thugs, moving, fighting and plundering your way into the ultimate boss showdown. With a variety of characters each with a unique set of skills and items, plus lots of maps to beat, fast playtime and variety mean you can roll and fight over and over until late at night.
Often times, throw-and-write games reward players who hit a certain combination of throws or points, but Three Sisters takes the concept to the extreme. Your score sheet is a garden where you grow a variety of plants and flowers, and purchase different tools based on the results of your dice rolls, giving you access to a variety of actions. However, when you perform certain actions, the reward is often a bonus action that you can in turn use to get another bonus action and so on. Indeed, the action chain gets so intense that the score sheet has a special place to save and remove your bonuses as you accumulate and use them during the turn. Making full use of these chains requires more strategic planning than most games of the genre, which makes this tactical game. See our Three Sisters board game review for more information.
Fleet: A game of dice
This is another combo-tastic game that tries to attract players more with tons of connected options. As the owner of the fishing fleet, you will have to decide whether to use the dice to purchase a license for the type of seafood shown or to launch the boat to catch it. The further you go down each tree, the bigger the rewards. The boats will return to the harbor later, where you can sell your catch and build buildings that offer additional benefits over the course of 10 game rounds. It’s all about using the cubes as random seeds and working out the best set of combined benefits you can get from each tree of potential options. Fast, fun and equipped with a themed set of pretend dice with a peal mother, Fleet: The Dice Game is a lot less dangerous and a lot less smelly than real deep sea fishing.
Rajas of the Ganges: Bone Whisperers
Avid gamers among you may have noticed that many roll and write games are truncated transformations of larger, more complex fares that often outshine the originals. This is also the case with Rajas of the Ganges: The Dice Charmers, which brings the provincial governance experience of 16th-century India into a faster and more accessible box. You use symbols on his pastel dice to create goods and roads, to swim on the Ganges, or to invoke the favors of influential subjects. Those checkboxes and maps on your score sheet that intersect at different points for extra bonuses, introducing an engaging spatial element to building your kingdom. There is even a cardboard 3D elephant in the game.
For more ideas check out our list of the best board games of all time.