Roll & Write is the Best Board Game Genre You’re Not Even Playing Yet

Here are three reasons they surged in popularity.

Jean-Baptiste Oger
7 min readOct 1, 2021

When I was ten, I badly wanted this game called King Arthur because 1) there were ads every time on the TV and 2) it had an electronic board that recognised where players’ pawns were and could recount events through a robotic voice.

It felt like the pinnacle of innovation to young me.

Pinnacle of TV ads too.

We played it once with my brothers, barely understood the rules, and quickly returned to Uno, our all-time favourite. At this moment I subconsciously decided innovation wasn’t really a thing in tabletop gaming. The medium was old enough, and all the best games had already been invented.

I was wrong.

There is a reason why cards, dices & pawns are such staples: we do not need anything else to develop new design ideas. Innovation isn’t all about finding new components to build around; it’s twisting the existing ideas to create different experiences.

Photo by Brian Suman on Unsplash

Scoring pads, for instance, are nothing new in board games. Players have been counting points for a while now in the most popular card games. However, there was only one game, Yahtzee, with the clever idea of making the scoring sheet the central focus of the experience rather than something you pull out when the game ends. So, who could’ve predicted that it would spawn a whole new genre decades later?

Sometimes known as Yams or Yacht, Yahtzee is a game popularized in the 1950s played with five dice and a score pad. Players have three consecutive throws to make the best combination and decide which dices to reroll or keep. The scorecard contains thirteen boxes, and each corresponds to a different combination (such as “Three of a kind”, “Any combination of fives”, etc.). At the end of their turn, players decide which category they score their dices; the score depends on the combination.

Photo by Jorge Franganillo on Unsplash

Yahtzee is a game of scoring optimisation. Players must carefully select which dices to reroll and which boxes to fill first to score the most and avoid the dreaded zero if their final combination doesn’t match any remaining box. Of course, luck plays a significant role, but there is still a strategic component, which is further enhanced when you compete against others, as you can evaluate the risks you can afford to take.

Yahtzee has always been popular; its distributor Hasbro reports selling more than 50 million copies a year. It took a while, though, before someone had the idea of a different concept using this same format. For some experts, the 2009 title Roll Through the Ages is the starting point of a new genre that would surge in popularity in the late 2010s.

The popularity of the Roll & Write genre exploded in the past years.

Yahtzee, Roll Through the Ages and all their descendants are now known as ‘Roll & Writes’, and they all share three primary traits:

  1. A randomising mechanic usually dices or cards (a variant known as ‘Flip & Write’) to generate different conditions for each turn.
  2. Players take action by noting down something on their individual sheets.
  3. A scoring system is used to determine the winner

These pillars certainly don’t feel like flashy innovations. However, these reasonably simple design choices have indirect consequences when you scratch the surface, explaining why the genre exploded and quickly found an avid audience (myself included).

Photo by Riho Kroll on Unsplash

#1 They Have Fewer Components

Due to their nature, ‘Roll & Writes’ need fewer pieces than the average board game to function. There is no need to have a bulky board, varied pawns or even tokens when cards or dices are all you need in the box on top of the mandatory paper sheets (or dry eraser board).

This advantage helps tremendously for quick setups, convenient for limited space. Players get into the game much faster, lifting an invisible barrier that many board games don’t consider enough. ‘Roll & Writes’ are also usually quick to complete because there is only so much you can write on a sheet anyway.

Moreover, due to the nature of their components, I’d argue that rules are often more streamlined than the average game as well. It’s certainly an edge when it comes to teaching the game to a more casual audience and simple doesn’t mean less deep, so it can still convince seasoned gamers. When the sheet is well designed, the player actions can be intuitive and support the learning experience, further reducing the need to assimilate & keep track of too many rules.

Finally, let’s not brush off the fact that board games are expensive to produce: reducing the number of components is also an edge for publishing costs and, therefore, the final consumer price. Most ‘Roll & Writes’ sit on the sheleves between 10 & 25€, more affordable than the rest.

The format reduces some of the frictions that could deter players: these are all necessary but not sufficient arguments. So, let’s now start examining what makes these games actually entertaining.

#2 They Give Direct Feedback

Writing your actions on a paper sheet has a pleasing side effect: you see your decisions come to life right under your eyes. More so than on a board with moving pawns, it’s easy to visualise how your choices add up over time.

It’s not the only game genre to provide this. Lots of them let you build collections in front of your eyes, such as 7 Wonders for instance. The main difference with ‘Roll & Writes’ is the sense of permanence. Each decision has more weight when you can’t revert it, which means more engagement & more emotions. Some of the most cornelian choices can almost feel like signing an important contract.

Secondly, even if you won’t remember the exact context in which you took a decision in a few turns, your sheet doubles as a history of your previous actions. It’s excellent feedback, as you can easily trace back your mistakes and either dread over them or try to compensate. The scoring system usually makes it evident which moves were profitable or not.

The reflection fuels your desire to start over and over, armed with a better idea of how to improve your score.

#3 They Are Fair But Not Flat

As mentioned in the introduction, elements of randomness are necessary for this format. The sheet is static, so if the challenge didn’t involve changing parameters, games would quickly become stale and more akin to the one-time puzzle challenges found in magazines.

Input randomness doesn’t mean that strategy is absent (designer Geoff Engelstein explains this concept well in this conference). It’s the opposite: when the game state evolves, choices aren’t obvious, and it’s stimulating for players to figure out which option is the best. You can’t learn strategy by heart; you need to come up with your own.

In my opinion, one of the fascinating aspects of the popular ‘Flip & Writes’ Welcome To & Cartographers is how all players are presented with the same random options. In theory, everyone could choose the same every turn, but of course, the strategies usually quickly diverge, often because players set different goals for themselves.

Luck still plays a role, but in the end, your decisions took you there. Since each player has its own sheet, ‘Roll & Writes’ generally have fewer interactions, which alleviates potential frustrations. The reason why I win or I lose doesn’t depend on the ability to disrupt the other, but only to build something better. It’s one of the critical ingredients that makes the genre more engaging, the feeling of being in control and competing against myself more than against the others.


Roll & Write is the proof that a whole genre can emerge without resorting to stupid new technologies. Creativity lies in constraints: the limited material helped a new format to appear with unsuspected intrinsic qualities. I wasn’t ‘blown away’ when I played my first Roll & Write, but it grew on me quickly and now is my go-to genre. And soon, it might be yours.

Did I trigger your curiosity in this piece?

If you’re interested in going deeper on this topic and discover the best & worst of the genre, check out the article below in which I analyse all the 20 Roll & Writes I own!

You can now find all my articles on Substack, I send a new game design analysis every other week.



Jean-Baptiste Oger

Game Director. I write mainly about the design of video & board games. Aspiring to better understand the world around & human psychology.