Roll-and-Write games are something I’ve never particularly been drawn to, but with the current popularity of such games, I though I’d better give them a go and see what all the fuss is about. So, let’s see if I think SteamRollers is a train worth catching…
- Designer: Mark Gerrits
- Publisher: Flatlined games/Stronghold Games
- Year Released: 2015
- Players: 1-5
- Playing Time: 30-45 minutes
- Ages: 10+
SteamRollers, as I’ve already alluded to, is a roll-and-write game – players roll dice and, using the results, write something down on their personal player sheet. In this case they are trying to develop a railroad in order to deliver goods and score points.
What’s in the box?
- 200 Individual player sheets
- 1 drawstring bag
- 56 Goods cubes (10 each of red, blue, green, yellow, and grey, plus 6 black)
- 1 Supply board
- 1 Setup play aid
- 1 Start player marker
- 7 Dice (1 black track die and 6d6)
- 7 Action tiles
- 6 Order tiles
- 5 Starting power tiles
- 1 Rule booklet
How does it play?
If you’re familiar with how the game plays, then feel free to steam ahead to, ‘So, what do I think?’
Ultimately, you’re looking to score more points than your competitors by delivering goods, having an expansive rail network, improving the strength of your engine, and even collecting the odd point from useful tiles.
The game incorporates what it calls micro-expansions, which are basically the inclusion of extra rules that expand on the basic gameplay, and incorporate the included extra components.
Here’s a breakdown of the game with all the micro-expansions included.
Each player takes a player sheet, and they will also require something to write with.
The supply board is divided up into different districts, each a different colour, and each district has a city, represented by a die symbol, and a town, represented by a black circle.
The supply board is placed in the middle of the play area, and on each city goods (cubes) are placed equal to the player count plus 2, these are randomly drawn from the bag (all but the black cubes are placed into the bag).
After placement, remove goods that match the colour of the district they have been placed in; for each district where goods have been removed, place a single black coal good (cube). (The coal goods are an optional micro-expansion.)
Place the action, starting power, and order tiles alongside the supply board, randomly selecting which side-up the action and order tiles are – these are to remain this side-up throughout the game. (Starting power and order tiles are optional micro-expansions.)
Gather the dice required – the black die, and a number of white dice equal to the player count plus 1.
The starting player takes the starting player marker.
If a medium or hard game (another optional micro-expansion!) is to be played, then the starting player rolls a white die, consulting the setup player aid to see which borders are blocked for the game – all players mark these borders on their sheet.
Beginning with the player to the starting player’s left, each player chooses a starting power tile and uses it – these tiles range from gaining an engine strength to having your own personal good to deliver.
The starting player then begins the first game round by rolling all the dice, making sure that the results are visible to all players.
The starting player will then carry out the following actions
- Rotate any action tiles they have to the correct orientation.
- Take one white die and perform one of the following actions
- Build track – draw a railway track in one empty hex that corresponds to the district indicated by the chosen die. The track must match one of the two orientations depicted on the black die.
- Improve engine – cross off an engine box that corresponds to the chosen die. The number of crossed boxes indicates the strength of the engine.
- Take an action tile – take the action tile from the table that corresponds to the chosen die, placing it in front of you and turning it sideways to indicate it has just been taken. Action tiles can also be stolen from other players (including themselves!), providing that they aren’t turned sideways.
- Deliver goods – with the chosen die determining the source, a good must be delivered to the city of its colour. The player must have the two cities joined by a railroad on their sheet and strength of their engine must equal or be greater than, the number of stops the train will make – each city or town the railroad passes through, including the final destination, is a stop. The player scores points equal to the number of stops and crosses that number of checkboxes on their player sheet. (Grey goods can be delivered to either city number 3 or 4, and coal goods can be delivered to any city.) Only one good at a time may be delivered, and the delivered good is placed in front of the player.
- Once per turn a player can trade goods they have delivered for one of the available order tiles, by matching the goods traded with that on the tile – coal cubes are wild and count as any colour, though only one coal cube can be traded at a time in this way.
Once the starting player has completed their action, every other player in turn takes one of the remaining die and completes an action.
When all players have taken a turn the dice are gathered and, along with the starting player marker, are passed to the next player clockwise; a new then round begins.
At the end of a round if three cities are empty of supply goods, then the game ends and scoring is carried out.
Players score points for each completed network between two cities, including an extra point per town crossed by the connection; for upgrading their engine to a strength of 4, 5 or 6; for any action or order tiles they hold (may be negative). These points are added to those they earned for delivering good and the player with the most points wins the game.
So, what do I think?
Firstly, let’s take a look at the components, starting with the box itself. The artwork on the cover is simplistic but effective, making a change from the exploding dice style seen on many roll and write boxes, and it certainly gets the message across that this has a train theme.
Everything fits nicely inside – not too big or small – and it’s a pretty solid box with a linen finish, the bottom of which can be used as a dice tray and contains the SteamRollers logo. I especially like the art surrounding the bottom half of the box – late 1800’s American train station.
The tiles, considering they’re not going to see much handling, are quite good quality, nice and stiff and again with a linen finish. They are quite drab but their function is easily recognisable and they work.
The supply board is equally drab; having a matte linen finish means the colours just don’t pop. There is some basic artwork surrounding the board, but the best bit is actually on the reverse. It is, however, a good size for the game.
The setup aid for medium/hard games is more of the same – artwork is in limited supply here as with everywhere else in the game. I do like the size of it though, meaning it can be placed on the table, easily visible to all players, whilst everyone copies down the borders.
The player sheets are pretty much spot on for the game, being double sided, and good size to draw your railroad on enabling other players can see at a glance what you’re up to in terms of strategy, which is handy if you want to deny a player the pick of a die – there’s also more than enough of them.
A nice drawstring bag is included, which is just big enough to get your hand in, and it comfortably holds all the little wooden cubes. The cubes themselves are spot on – wooden, just the right size, and match the colours on the board.
The dice are okay – the six white dice have rounded corners, if you like that kind of thing, but are nothing special, and some in my set had a few minor imperfections – pips not fully formed. The black die is larger than the others, which, along with the white graphics, makes it easy to see the symbols.
A little golden steam engine is the starting player marker – not a lot else to say about that!
Then there are the rules… For such a simple game they’ve certainly overcomplicated things, and it’s mainly down to this ‘micro-expansion’ thing, why?
The game is best played with all the optional rules, and even in that state it doesn’t offer anything complicated – it isn’t like you’re slowly being introduced to a mind-blowing complex Euro game. There are some good things here though, especially the descriptions of what the action tiles do. Still, it’s all easy enough to follow, if a little long winded, and once you played the game through you’ll rarely need to consult the booklet again.
So, on to the game…
Let’s start at the beginning, and the starting powers. They seem fairly well balanced and make you feel like you’ve gained an advantage of one kind or another right from the off, though in reality they don’t have much impact on the game. It’s not as though they will depict a strategy or anything like that, but as I say, it makes you feel rewarded right from the off, which seemed to please everyone I played the game with.
Gameplay is fast, especially in the opening game, as choices during this period are relatively straight forward – pick a die, build track, maybe upgrade engine – but things start to get a little tighter as you get your railroad into some semblance of order.
This is where the game really gets interesting, and you have to put some thought in to which die to choose. Obviously, you’ll get more points for delivering goods along a railroad passing through numerous towns and cities, however, it is also a viable tactic to get delivering as soon as possible using short networks, thus depleting the goods available to others, especially if you can trade them in for order tiles.
Of course, you also have to upgrade that engine at some point, and what about gaining an action tile to grab an advantage next turn?
The balance in options is pretty good, you never feel overwhelmed, and most decisions can be made quickly, thus enabling the game to continue at a pace. The randomness introduced by the rolling of dice is mitigated by the number of ways you can use them, there’s nearly always something you can do, and there are also action tiles that enable you to alter the result of the die.
The action tiles really come into their own in the latter part of the game, when you have a strategy nailed down, and are looking for certain benefits, though some of them can pay dividends if grabbed early on, especially those that strengthen your train or enable you to deliver goods at greater distances.
Action tiles are either one-shot, being returned to the board once used, or give a permanent bonus, until someone steals it that is! Some give negative points if held at the end of the game, and these are the ones you should consider picking up early to offset that.
The order tiles are something you should always keep an eye on, as trading goods for them can give you a few game winning points – likewise, grabbing an action tile in the last round, especially if you steal it, can provide also prove game winning.
There’s not too much interaction between players – keeping an eye on what die others require to complete networks is handy, and can help you make your mind up on which die you choose, and of course stealing action tiles can often be fun! Other than that it is a bit of a head down, concentrate on what you’re doing, type of game, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it really depends upon what type of game you enjoy playing, and it’s no different from the majority of roll-and-write games.
The game seems to scale pretty well for player count, and I was happy to play it at any, though I felt it was best with 3. At 2 players the game moves very rapidly indeed. I found the action tiles rarely used, other than in the last round or two, and the strategic side of the game is fairly simple. At 4+ players, the starting player has a wealth of options open to them, being able to choose from 5 dice, pretty much guaranteeing they can do whatever they like, whereas being last in the round means you’re left with the dregs – I know this is balanced by the fact that the starting player rotates around, but it doesn’t feel like it at the time! The game moves along slower at increased player count too, as there are more things to take into consideration regarding strategy – most importantly is getting the balance of your network just right; taking too long to join cities can see you fall behind, especially if those cities see their goods depleted whilst you’re still trying to connect them.
3 players, I felt, was the sweet spot – not too many choices open to the starting player, a good level of tactical decisions to be made, and all the games we played at this count ended up being very close.
I do have an issue though, and that’s the fact that every game I played felt exactly like the last one. Indeed, looking at my past player sheets they are nearly all identical – same network layout, similar engine strength, even the final scoring only varies by a few points, which leads me to wander about the replayability of the game.
There are three levels of game play – standard, medium and hard. Other than increasing the game length, they do offer a well-scaled challenge, mostly in terms of trying to make sure you don’t cut yourself off! By that I mean placing track in a manner whereby you can no longer join cities together, and believe me it happens, much to the delight of the other players!
Can I play it… all on my own?
The game does come with a solitaire mode, where you play against Olive.
The game is setup more-or-less the same as mentioned above, except that when the goods are placed on the cities they are lined up in a random order, and the action tile 2 is replaced for the one marked for solo play. None of the micro-expansions can be used, other than the medium/hard setup rules.
Depending upon the difficulty level you wish to play at, Olive starts the game with some hexes crossed off her player sheet – lowest level sees you rolling 1 die and crossing a hex in that region, whilst the hardest level sees you rolling 6 dice!
to play a round you roll 3 white dice along with the black one, only this time you choose 2 of them and preform an action with each one – ignore the order of the goods when carrying out deliveries. Also, you can only use a permanent action tile once per turn, not per action.
During Olive’s turn she carries out the following sequence –
- She uses the remaining die to cross of an empty hex in that region, if all hexes in the region are crossed, then Olive wins immediately.
- If you as the player have a non-sideways action tile that matches Olive’s die, then you must return it to the board.
- If the city corresponding to her die has no remaining goods, then she re-rolls the die and starts her turn again.
- If there are 3 or more crossed hexes in Olive’s die region, then the right-most good is removed from that city and she scores points equal to the number of crossed hexes in that region.
The game ends as usual, with the player scoring points as normal. Olive however, scores points for all her deliveries, just as a player would; 3 points for her engine; scores points for her network equal to the number of crossed hexes in the two regions containing the most crossed hexes; finally, she scores positive points for all remaining action tiles near the board.
The solo game is okay, certainly nothing special, but it does pass the time offering quite a pleasant experience. It actually feels quite satisfying when you beat Olive on the higher difficulty levels.
You’ll often find yourself playing very defensively just to deny Olive the use of a certain die, and once she starts filling up those regions you’ll find your back against the wall.
That, in itself is the issue with the solitaire game, you don’t play the game you want to, you have to play the game you need to, just to stop Olive winning, and that’s something that doesn’t really appeal to me in a solo game – nevertheless, with it’s quick setup and play time (10-15 minutes solo), it can be a nice little time filler.
I actually quite like this game, it’s a steady kind of game, which is never going to set the world alight, and yes it is a bit bland to look at, but looks aren’t everything. There’s a good, simple to play game here, which is fun to share with friends and family – the 10+ age group is spot on.
The theme actually does come through – building your railroad and strengthening your engine feels thematic, as well as filling orders with the order tiles, and for me it was the theme that made me want to play the game in the first place, so that’s a plus.
A very quick setup and 30 minutes game time make it a great filler, which for me is all it ever will be (no bad thing) – I found it isn’t a game I like to play a second time in a session, mainly due to the feeling that I do the same thing every game, but I do enjoy playing it as a one off, as it offers a friendly competitive experience that doesn’t involve player conflict.
As a solitaire game, again it is good for filling time, but I’d look elsewhere if you want something a little more attention grabbing.
SteamRollers is a solid roll-and-write game, and if you’re in to that genre of game, then this should really appeal. For those like me, just dipping their toes into this type of game, then it offers a good introduction, and I’d be happy if this is the only roll-and-write game I ever own.
Read my thoughts on SteamRollers – One Year On
Official site – Flatline Games
Recommended Video Review – The Dice Tower
BoardGameGeek page – HERE