Reviewed by Herb Levy

ROLL PLAYER (Thunderworks Games, 1 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, 90 minutes; $59.95)


Ever since Dungeons & Dragons exploded onto the scene, roleplaying games have captivated a large segment of the gaming population. A large part of the appeal is the adventuring aspect of play: exploring dungeons, fighting assorted and powerful foes and, of course, amassing huge amounts of magical items and treasure! But another aspect of the appeal involves the characters played and an essential element in creating those characters is rolling dice. In this design by Keith Matejka, rolling dice to create characters is not a part of the game; in Roll Player, it IS the game! 

Lots of dice (no less than 73 six-siders!) in seven colors (red, blue, white, black, purple, green and gold) are used and these are tossed into a cloth bag. Everyone rolls a die and high number is the Start player. (Rolled dice are returned to the bag.) Players take some gold too (from 5 to 7 pieces depending on the number of players and turn order.)

All players begin with a play aid card and a randomly chosen character board (with a male and female side for adventurers of either persuasion). Dice will be placed there in determining the values of six different attributes of the character you will be creating:  strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom and charisma. Now, each player, in turn, pulls one die from the bag to determine the character’s class. The color of that die will match a class card which gives a set of numbers for those six attributes as well as a special ability that may be used throughout the game. If a gold die is drawn or a subsequent player pulls out a previously chosen color, another draw is made until all characters have a different color class. Now each player is dealt a “back story” and an alignment card, which are added to their character boards, placing one of their color matching tracking tokens on their class card and the other in the center of their alignment card. 

Market cards are separated into two decks: cards showing one dot and those showing two. These are shuffled with the one dot deck placed on top of the two dot deck. (In games with less than four, some cards are randomly removed from each.) A number of these cards, one more than the number of players, are placed face up creating the Market. Initiative cards (again, one more than the number of players) are lined up in number order. (A gold is placed on cards that are neither first nor last in the order.) Now players will seed their board. 

Players, in turn, draw dice from the bag (four more than the number of players) and place them on empty spaces on their character board. There are three spaces for each of the six attributes. The rule in placing dice is that the die must occupy the leftmost vacant spot in the chosen row. Whenever a row is filled, that player receives 1 gold. If a gold die is drawn during set up, that player gets a bonus of 2 gold. With all this done, the Start player begins. 

A round consists of four phases: Roll, Dice, Market and Clean Up. The Start player rolls dice equal to the number of Initiative cards in play. These dice are placed, one per card, going from low to high. (If the same number appears, the Start player can determine which to place first.) Now, the Dice phase begins with the Start player choosing one of the Initiative cards and placing the die on it onto his character board. If the die is gold, that player gets 2 gold from supply (along with any gold that might be on the card itself).

As noted on the class cards of each player, every row has a target number which might be a certain specific number or a “range” (such as 14 or higher). Reaching those goals earn you “reputation stars” (Victory Points). In addition, each attribute offers a bonus optional action available the moment a die is placed in that row. Placing a die in the Strength row allows you to flip ANY die on your board to its opposite side! (For example, turning a 1 into a 6 or a 2 into a 5). Dexterity placement allows you to exchange the positions of ANY two dice on your board. Die placement in the Constitution row allows you move up OR move down the value of a die by 1. (However, dice do not “wrap”. A six cannot be “raised” to a one nor can a one be “lowered” to a six.) Intelligence placement allows you to reroll any die on your board and take the new number rolled or keep the old one. Wisdom allows you to move your tracking token one space (up, down, left or right) on your alignment card (move on that later) while Charisma grants you a Charisma token which is a 1 gold discount that may be used during the upcoming Market Phase. 

During the Market Phase, everyone, in Initiative card order, may purchase one card. Cards have a stipulated cost in gold. Cards come in four categories: Armor, Trait, Skill and Weapon. There is no limit to how many Armor, Trait or Skill cards you may have. Weapons, however, have “hand” icons on them and you may not have more than two “hands” in your holdings. (If you wish to purchase a Weapon that would put you over this limit, you must discard cards so that the limit is not breached.) Any Charisma tokens earned this round but not spent are lost. (No keeping them in reserve for a later Market phase allowed.) If you decide not to make a purchase, one of the Market cards must be discarded but that player gets 2 gold from supply as compensation. Now about that alignment.

Each alignment card has spaces on it that will cause a player to lose or gain stars if the tracking token is on that particular space when the game ends. In addition to a price, many Trait and Skill cards also have an arrow pointing in a direction. When buying those cards, that player’s tracking token must move one space in that direction. In addition, to be able to USE a Skill card for its ability, a player must be able to move their token one space in the direction shown of that card. (If that movement is not possible, that card may not be bought or used!) While multiple Skill cards can be used on a turn (even out of turn order), only ONE card per round may be “refreshed” and made available for use the following turn. 

Once all of this is done, the remaining die on the Initiative card is returned to the bag, a new set of Market cards is revealed, the dice bag passed in clockwise order denoting the new Start player and we do it all over again. This continues until all player character boards are filled. Then we score. 

The play aid card is flipped over to serve as a scoring track. Reputation stars are awarded for meeting the objectives of the six attributes (stars awarded as denoted on the class card). Players also get 1 star for each die on their board that matches their class color, additional stars for the number of dice that match the pattern configuration found on their back story card plus stars are earned for collecting sets of Armor cards and acquired Trait cards. The player with the highest combined total wins! Tie? Then the most gold is the tie-breaker. Still tied? Then the player with the fewest dice of their class color. Still tied? Then players share the victory! 

The character board itself is a wonderful play aid with easy to understand icons to remind you of the optional actions dice placement offers, a gold border around the final space of a row to show that 1 gold is earned for a die placed there and a rundown of final scoring. Artwork is strong, evoking the fantasy theme and helps give life to the developing characters. And the game does have life with so many paths to explore. Just think of it.

You have a character (with a back story, an alignment etc.) and over rounds, dice are rolled to fill in the various attributes of that character. You score VPs at game’s end if you meet the requirement of your character in each of these attributes. But each attribute has a special power that can change or modify each die. In addition, there is a Market where you can make purchases (set collection as well as individual items) which can help you modify dice AND score additional VPs. And, don’t forget, every class card gives a character a special ability that can be used to augment or further modify the things you can do. There are a lot of moving parts here which makes the game feel different each time. All of these variations tend to give this game a very “puzzle” like feel as players try to put it all together. Of course, you need to be sure that you do not populate your game with players prone to analysis paralysis. With so many possibilities and options available, AP can bring the game to a grinding halt. 

The Market can provide significant opportunities to throw obstacles in the way of other players (deciding which die/Initiative card to choose, buying or trashing cards more valuable to them than those available to you etc.) But, outside of the market, player interaction is limited. The focus is on developing YOUR character to its fullest. While some might miss more direct conflict, this was not a problem in our plays. In fact, just the opposite, as this focus has proved almost mesmerizing!

I always like it when a designer can find a way to use a familiar game component such as dice a bit differently. Through cards, special class abilities, attribute bonuses and more, Keith Matejka has shown that players can seek to “bend the dice to their will”, making dice rolling – and game play – dynamic! Roll Player is a very clever way to make fantasy roleplaying character creation a game unto itself and it’s one you will want to play over and over again. – – – – – – – – Herb Levy

Have feedback? We’d love to hear from you.

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