WBG Score: 9/10
Player Count 1-6 (more with other copies or print outs)
Published by: Stonemaier Games
Designed by: Jamey Stegmaier
It’s the end of March 2020. Lock down has just begun, and people are starting to feel isolated. For the publishers, group play-test sessions to develop new games become a thing of the past. But video calls opened up a world of opportunities for game developers to play with gamers all over the world in mass numbers.
Jamey Stegmaier from Stonemaier games, due in part to the changing world around him, and I imagine his “always making a game” brain, chose this time to bring the world, ‘Rolling Realms’. A free to download, infinitely scaling, one page print out, roll-and-write game. Jamey took to Facebook live to offer rules explanations and play-throughs for people stuck at home. It gave people the opportunity join in with a live game and find some human contact. I for one found great solace in this and would like to thank Jamey for what he gave to the community.
In each session, the game developed, with new rules, tweaks, and developments based on the feedback Jamey received from the playing public. A mass play test was being done live in front of all our eyes. Jamey never had the intention to publish the game, this was just some fun, and his way of giving something back to a separated community. You can still download this free version here or play via a web link here. All you need is dice!
As the weeks went by, the game continued to develop, and eventually got a new name. ‘Rolling Realms’ became its final title after someone who played along with the game suggested it to Jamey in the live chat. This truly was a community project. The game was well into its later stages of life, now in its tenth and eleventh version. Fast forward a few months and Jamey put a message out to his email subscribers asking if anyone would be interested in a full published version of the game. The response was positive and here we are. A full printed version of Rolling Realms, with massive dice, beautiful pens. All the usual Stonemaier gloss! (except of course the matte rule books)
Dice shown with a regular sized dice from Rory's Story Cubes, Adventure Time, for scale and general awesomeness.
Now, with the final version of the game hitting retail, it's a strange feeling seeing, touching, and playing a game that existed only in home made printed form before, and meant so much to me and so many others during that strange time back in lock-down. Now in full Stonemaier final production form.
I was unsure if this needed a published version. I was unsure if I wanted it. The well used, creased, old print-outs offered some sense of comfort to me. The print-and-play version was effective, elegant, and fun. But with this full version of Rolling Realms now in my hands, I can safely say I am so happy this has been made. The game is not more fun in this version. It’s the same game! (although with an awesome solo mode!) But it’s certainly prettier! The pens and dice are so good. It’s hard to explain what difference is made by a good pen, but it’s a lot! It feels more of an event when you play this game with this version. This is a great example of what production quality can bring to the tabletop experience. What a pimp up this has had!
Playing Rolling Realms, like many roll-and-writes is great example of the pleasures gained from cascading turns. If you have not come across this term before, what I mean by this is that as you build up your resources in the game, your abilities to take multiple turns increases. Doing “A“ elicits the opportunity to do “B”, which in turn could mean you can do “C“ too!
Cascading turns are very satisfying, and any game that uses this mechanic well is always a winner for me. It feels like you are being more efficient. Taking multiple turns instead of one. Feeling good during games is a number one priority for me. Cascading turns is a great way for everyone to feel good!
In Rolling Realms, each player is given 11 realm cards. Each realm represents one of the other Stonemaier games. I wish their was a Rolling Realms realm card. Although that could be a bit Inception. One player will shuffle their cards and draw three to play with. All other players must then find those same three cards to use so each player has the same three cards ready for round one. Each realm works slightly differently, but they can be easily explained using the rule book, and have clear and simple rules printed on the card themselves. Even on game one, you will be up and running within a few minutes.
Each player will also be given a resource and score card, a pen, and eraser pad. One player will then roll the two dice and the game begins! But before I get into that, a word on the dice and pens. Even if you haven’t played many games that use dry wipe pens before, I am sure you will be able to feel the difference with the pens provided in this game. They feel comfortable in your hand and write well with a nice fine (but not too fine) tip. The pens leave a nice solid dark line wen used. Not that washed out faded line so many others give you. It's just a pen, I get that, but it feels nice! It feels Stonemaier.
Now, onto the dice. They are huge! Jamey originally wanted to have even bigger ones, but felt they didn’t roll that well, and could cause damage to some people tables. Being in possession of my own giant D20, I can vouch this is the case! So, in effect, this is as big as dice can get without those two real issues becoming a problem. That’s a comforting thought, isn’t it?
OK, onto the game! You will roll the two dice nine times, each player uses the same dice faces shown each round to activate two realms. You cannot use both dice for the same realm card. You will then draw three more realms from the remaining eight realms and go again. Rinse and repeat one final time with three more realms from the remaining five and then score your total points.
To see how each realm works you can check the full rule book or you can play along with Jamey here. But I will go through them briefly to give you an idea. Each realm has a style and theme that follows the Stonemaier game that it‘s named after. All-be-it in a very light way! The idea being that you are rolling dice through all the realms created within the Stonemaier universe.
Between Two Castles.
In this realm, players are looking to place die values in columns, ensuring each die is below a number of a lower value. Each completed row will gain you resources. Each column completed across each individual castle will gain you a star. This is a nice simple realm and a good one to start with when teaching the game. It is also a good realm to explain about using your bonuses seeing as there are ten spaces to mark a number and only nine rounds to do so!
Charterstone has a fascinating way to use the dice. There are spaces, laid out horizontally to mark each possible dice face from one to six, each one gaining you a resource when you do. There is a crate shown under each dice symbol. In this crate you must mark whatever dice face was shown on the other die, the turn you mark the number above. Ideally you want to mark the top row number when the other die shows the same number as a previous round when you also activated this realm. This is because in order to gain stars, you must mark off the bottom row crates with a dice face that matches one of the numbers you placed here; and you can mark more than one crate per turn if the numbers there are the same. For example, if you marked the six when the other die showed a one, you would put a one in the crate below. If when you mark off the three and four, the other die face again was a one, a one would noW appear in three crates. If on a later turn, one of the die faces rolled shows a one, you can use this one to mark off three crates and gain three stars in one move.
Between Two Cities
This is a simple one, probably the simplest in the game. There is a three-by-three grid which must be filled with numbers. Each number can go anywhere, so long as it doesn’t touch a number of the same value in the space alongside, above or below it. When each row or column is completed, you are rewarded with resources. And this realm simply scores the same score as your lowest realm from the other two that round. This realm is about gathering resources to help you in the other realms.
This realm shows die faces of one to six two times in two separate groups. When you mark one number off you will gain a resource depending on the total of each dice face marked off in that group. For a total value of one to three you will gain a coin. From four to ten you will get a star. Anything above ten will get you a pumpkin and a heart. Marking a four, then one, then two, in three separate turns, will gain you three stars each round, as each time, the total value was within the four to ten range. If you can do this sequence twice you could complete this realm in six turns.
My Little Scythe
Like Euphoria, My Little Scythe shows two sets of dice faces from one to six, this time in a flower shape. When you mark the left side you will gain a pumpkin, on the right you will gain a heart. When you mark off a number on one side that has had the same number marked off on the other already, you will also gain a coin. In order to gain stars in this realm, you must gain any six resources through any of the three realms active this round. Each time you do this, you will gain two stars. Like Between Two Cities, this is a resource building realm to help you on other cards.
This is by far my favorite realm. It has a very clever mechanic that you must not let run away from you. There are three sand timers shown, each with a dice face shown in them. One with just a six die face shown, another with a five and a four, and the third with the one, two, and three. Above the timers are five octagons full of resources and stars. When you roll any dice, you can mark one of the hexes (or should that be oxes? Later, when you mark the numbers in the sand timers, and complete all numbers in each timer, you will gain all the resources marked in the octagons above at that point. If you don’t get this done soon enough you will quickly fall behind. If you completely mark a sand timer before two stars are marked, you will not be able get all six stars. If you wait too long to complete the timers you will run out of rounds to score the full stars. It’s a delicate balance of timing, and I love it.
This realm shows two rows of die faces from one to six, each with a resource next to it. The top row will gain you the resource marked; the bottom row needs the shown resource to be spent in order to mark it complete. The bottom can be marked at the same time as the top. Ideally, you want to mark the bottom row in the round you are marking the top row and when you have the required resources to be as efficient as possible. As such, you don't want to use this realm in the first round. When both top and bottom row spaces are complete you will gain a star.
This is the realm I struggle with the most. There is a six-by-six grid shown, separated into six by two rows and columns. Each die face offers a different polyomino shape which can be used to fill in the grid. Each two-by-two square completed gains you a resource. Each two-by-six column or row gains you a star. The higher number shapes are bigger so you would think it's best to use these to fill more spaces, but it will need a few lower numbers to fill the gaps. This is a clever little game in itself, but the one I seem to struggle the most with.
The Society (Red Rising)
This is a called The Society due to Red Rising being an IP and one that is not free to use in this game sadly. This realm has the simple task of noting numbers in nine spaces in three rows. One row of four, one of three, then one above of two. Each card must show a number that is higher than the number below, representing the elitist nature from the book. When you complete a row you will gain a bonus. When you complete a pyramid of two cards below one card anywhere on this realm you will gain a star. This will be enough to get five stars. The final star is gained by filling all nine squares, meaning this realm needs to be activated each round for full points.
There are six grapes shown on this card. They are numbered one to six, and you may mark one with the corresponding die face and gain a bonus. Below the six grapes are three wine glasses numbered ten, eleven, and twelve. To mark these and in turn gain two stars each time, you must use one die face rolled that round and one previously marked grape to equal the total shown on the glass. This realm could be completed in six turns, if you roll a lot of sixes!
This realm shows three bird cards, each with a value inside. There are also three boxes to be filled within each bird card. When you mark a number from a corresponding die face in the box, you will gain a resource. You must mark them from left to right, but on either of the three cards. When you mark the third and final box in each of the three cards you will gain a star. If the three numbers you marked in the card total the exact same value as the card itself you will gain another star. This realm needs to be marked once per round.
We spoke a lot above about the resources. Using these efficiently is key to scoring well. In Rolling Realms there are three resources. Pumpkins, Hearts, and Coins. Each can be used in two different ways.
Players can use two Pumpkins to adjust a die face by one, just for their own personal use. Three pumpkins will allow them to adjust the die face by one and use that die in a realm in which you have already placed a die that round. This is the only way this rule can ever be broken. This is a powerful tool for completing the realms that need nine or ten numbers.
If the dice rolled are a pair, then two hearts will allow players to use the value of the dice three times, one in each realm. Three hearts allow you to reuse one of the two dice in another realm when they are not a pair.
Coins are the most powerful resource, I think. If the sum of the two rolled dice is seven, such as a four and a three, five and two, or a six and a one; then two coins will allow you to gain an extra die of the same value as either of those rolled die to use in one of the realms that round. But you can also use coins another way. This is a key tactic for getting good scores. For one coin, you can gain a die to the value of a one, or for two coins, you can gain a two die. Etc. You cannot place this extra die in a realm you have already activated that round, but this is a great way to boost your score and achieve the realms that require a die to be placed in it each round.
This full published version also has a fantastic solo game. This is set over an 18-hole mini golf course! The idea being that for each hole, there is a unique challenge you must try and complete. I don’t want to spoil this for when you come to play. I really enjoyed learning each one as I went. But to give you a flavour of the mechanics, I will talk about hole one. This hole requires the use of Charterstone, Scythe, and Tapestry. There are only seven turns this round. Two less than the usual nine. Your goal is to score at least eight stars, or nine and a half on hard mode. This is a very simple rule change, but not overly easy to achieve.
The later holes have a similar set-up of three cards being used (except the last hole), a rule change each time, and a specific goal. But I will leave you to find that out of yourselves. But what I will say is that it gets progressively more difficult! But I have really enjoyed the challenge and won’t stop until I have competed them all!
Overall, this is a very interesting project. I loved the print-and-play. The concept behind this game’s conception is beautiful. The final product is fantastic and takes it all to a new level. Within it's genre of roll-and-writes it must score very highly. As a project within the community, it must score extremely well. And as a stand-alone game within the wider world of all the choices we have, again, it must score right up there for me. My score above represents all this.
Rolling Realms is a great game and one that has a story and history that adds to the experience. But the game on its own, played fresh by someone naive to all that came before, will still find it brings a great experience to the table.