Build-a-Bear, Err I Mean a Hero: a Roll Player Review
By Mrs. Saint
Confession time. I’ve never played D&D or any tabletop RPG. My husband has, he even volunteered and taught/played D&D with kids at the Boys and Girls Club back when he lived in New England. We were about to try to schedule putting together a group and campaign with some friends but then two of the friends we were going to play with got pregnant. Then we found out six months later we also were pregnant and well, since Little Miss came last April, putting together a regular game night while keeping her on schedule has felt pretty impossible. However, the desire to create a character and go on an adventure with that character never went away. When my husband first told me about Roll Player by Thunderworks Games, I was really excited to try the game. Luckily, someone purchased it for us off our Christmas list this past year.
Roll Player is self-described as a dice game of fantasy character creation. The game is for 1 to 4 players. At this point, we’ve only played it with two players. The goal is to win by accumulating the most Reputation Stars by the end of the game.
You begin your character’s creation journey by selecting which race you want to play. There are six races to pick from and each race/character sheet has a male and a female side. Gender choice does not affect gameplay. Each race has a different set of attribute modifiers.
There are six attributes you’re building for your character. These attributes are (from my understanding) the standard D&D character attributes of: strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma. Each attribute row has its own special ability to help you try to maximize your dice for scoring. As an example, when a die is placed in the constitution row, you are able to increase or decrease any die on your character sheet by 1. But if you place a die in charisma then you’re able get a one gold discount on your next market purchase for the current round. There are some class abilities and some weapons or skill cards that let you mimic the attribute abilities.
Attribute modifiers impact your class choice. Class is decided by drawing a die from the dice bag. Each player gets a unique color and then receives the class color card matching the color. Each class card has two sides, so you pick the one you feel is best based on your race’s attribute modifiers or their class ability. For example if you’re a Dwarf and you pull a white die, your choices would be Paladin or Cleric. Because of a Dwarf’s modifiers of +2 to constitution and -2 to charisma then the best choice by the numbers would be Paladin, since you need a 17 for constitution to earn 3 stars. But, based on your preferred playstyle, perhaps you’d prefer to be a Cleric, because you like the ability of getting to use the wisdom attribute action more often, moving the tracking token on your alignment card one space either up, down, left, or right. However, sometimes, you can do what I do and just be the Paladin not because the ability is better or the numbers make the most sense, but merely because you always wanted to be a Dwarf Paladin.
You know your race and class but now you need your alignment. The seventeen alignment cards are shuffled and randomly dealt. You never know if you will be neurotic, a hermit, or maybe even a scoundrel. Each alignment card has its own unique alignment grid and the choices you make will impact your character’s reputation.
And last but certainly not least, you need a backstory. And guess what -it’s random too! There are 16 backstory cards. At the beginning of the game they are shuffled and dealt out to the players. So you never know if you’re going to be a Rift Walker, the Chosen One, or a Street Urchin. The backstory cards show the attribute grid and each backstory shows six different dice of specific color on the grid. You gain extra reputation stars during final scoring depending on how many of the color dice you match to grid on your backstory card.
The rest of setup includes setting up the Initiative Cards area and the Market. The Initiative Cards area is where you will place the random attribute dice pulled each round and place them from lowest to highest. This creates a tension between getting the highest numbered die in order to hit your attribute requirements and getting first pick of the powerful Market cards. The Market is where you can spend your gold to buy things to help you while you build your character or discard a card for gold if you’re running low and don’t want your opponent to get a strong card. There is armor, which depending on your class color can add up to extra reputation stars if you have multiple pieces of the same armor; weapons which give you abilities for the rest of the game (note: you cannot have more than two hands worth of weapons); Skill cards that let you take actions each round if you can move your alignment market in the corresponding direction on the grid; and Trait cards which help with end game scoring.
Let’s talk about the gold you need for the Market. You’re given a few gold to get started. For two players, each player gets 5 gold (the amount of gold changes as the player count becomes higher than two). You can earn gold by discarding a card from the Market on your turn, finishing an attribute row, or from placing yellow dice in one of your attribute rows. There are some Class abilities and cards from the Market that give you the ability to get more gold or reduce item costs during game play.
The final part of setup is each player reaching into the bag and pulling out their first six dice (number of starting dice changes based on player count) for placement on their attribute slots. Dice may be placed in any attribute row but they have to be placed in the first available slot of that row. There are seven different dice colors so in addition to trying to meet your class stat requirements, you’re also trying to line up the placement of specific colors of dice with the backstory card.
Once your first six dice are placed, it’s time to play. Each round consists of the first player drawing the appropriate number of random dice from the bag for your player count. For two players, it’s three dice. They are then placed on the Initiative cards from lowest to highest. If dice share the same value, the first player decides how they are placed. Then the first player gets first pick. Once dice are selected the player with the lowest Initiative goes first to market. They can purchase something or discard a card to gain two gold. Then the rest of the players go according to their Initiative order. That’s it, that’s the whole round, and the game continues until every one of the attribute slots is filled and you go to final scoring.
Roll Player has what some might perceive as an inherent flaw. It’s meant to be a competitive game but really for the most part (at least at the two player experience) it feels like you’re playing solitaire and only occasionally the dice or cards have some small interaction with the other players. The most interactive I have seen the game become is when it comes to the store, either discarding or buying a card you think your opponent will want. For the dice selection, I feel you’re always just trying to optimize for your build and it’s too much to also figure out what’s going on with the other players’ boards. There’s only been once or twice that I have picked a die that I knew my husband wanted, but that’s because it also fit my board needs, not necessarily to deny him.
However, I don’t think the feeling of multiplayer solitaire is a bad thing, if it’s handled properly. In the case of Roll Player, it is done well. You’re having so much fun trying to optimize where you’re placing your dice, how you’re using the Skill cards, or making the right store purchase that you don’t feel as if you’re losing out on anything during the experience. But, I also recognize that’s a personal preference and if someone wants a truly competitive game, where your every action directly affects your opponent(s), then this is not the game for you.
We find every game that the score ends up being pretty close. In fact, much to his dismay, Mr. Saint has lost to me by one Reputation Star every single game. I like that there are different ways to try to get the most Reputation Stars, using the Trait or Skill cards to manipulate the dice. I also have a deep appreciation for when a publisher puts in a mechanism to make final scoring easier, so I’m grateful for the small touch of putting a star tracker on the back of the Player Aid cards.
We recommend adding Roll Player to your collection. It’s easy to travel with, not too difficult to learn and teach, and most important, it’s a lot of fun to play.
Also, if you already have and love Roll Player, there is still the opportunity to late pledge Roll Player Adventures on Kickstarter, where you can import your Roll Player character to continue their story! We’ve backed it based on our love of Roll Player, and we’re already busy at work creating characters so that we’re ready to play when Roll Player Adventures arrives!