Preview – Roll Player: Fiends & Familiars Expansion

Disclaimer: This is not a paid review or sponsored content. A friend of the blog is a demonstrator for Thunderworks Games and brought an early copy of the new Roll Player expansion to a game night at a local meetup so we thought it would be an excellent opportunity for a mini-Roll Player review as well as a preview of the new expansion content! If you’d like to check out Thunderworks Games on twitter, you can find them here.

Roll Player is a game about creating a fantasy roleplaying character (à la Dungeons & Dragons or Pathfinder). Players start with a race, which determines bonuses or penalties they may receive to specific abilities, and a class, which provides the target ability scores the player wants to aim for. Players also get a background which gives points for placing dice of certain colors in specific spots on their “character sheet” and an alignment card, which will give (or take away) points based on how well the player satisfies it. Throughout the game, players will draft dice to build their characters, placing each one in one of the classic fantasy RPG stats (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma). Each round players can also buy something from the market, whether it be a weapon or armor, a unique ability, or a trait which provides additional end-game scoring opportunities. Once players have drafted 3 dice to each of their abilities (giving each one a range from 3-18, plus or minus any racial bonuses), they earn points for how well they were able to satisfy their class, background, alignment, and trait goals. It is a fun dice-drafting puzzle, and the theme is sure to entice any tabletop roleplayer!

Last year’s Monsters and Minions expansion added on to the base Roll Player game, and let players do something with their characters besides just building them. Each round, players have the option, instead of buying something from the market, to fight a minion. Every minion will give you combat dice based on some condition — for example, get a combat die for every completed column you have on your character sheet. Then, gain rewards depending on how well you fare in combat against the minion. At the end of the game, once characters are fully built, they will face the final monster. This is similar to a minion in that it gives players combat dice, and the better result they get upon rolling them, the more points they can earn (or lose if they do poorly). I thought this expansion made a ton of sense with the base game since in roleplaying games creating the character is only half the fun and it provides an incentive for drafting different dice and making sure your character will survive against the final boss.

This new expansion, Fiends and Familiars, adds… well, fiends and familiars. Fiends are penalties you get for drafting higher-valued dice each round, while familiars provide characters with an animal companion that gives a unique ability as well as three extra slots in which to draft dice. It also adds split dice that are considered 2 different colors, making it easy to complete backstory and familiar color goals, but only range in value from 1-4, making getting higher attribute scores more difficult.

Last night, I got an opportunity to try out Roll Player with just the Fiends and Familiars expansion. We had a three-player game with a new player, one who had played just the base game before, and me, who had played both the base game and the game with the M&M expansion. It seems like the new expansion would’ve integrated well with Monsters & Minions — the most significant difference there is removing more cards from the market deck to keep it the same size. But Fiends & Familiars keeps the “hunt for a minion” action, the final boss monster, and includes new enemies to fight. There are also new classes to choose from, so I was able to play the Conjurer, who actually (somewhat) benefited from taking Fiends by gaining XP, along with the ability to use XP to banish fiends. Otherwise, the initial setup is similar to what players with experience playing the base game are used to. The other new part added is choosing a familiar. Everybody gets two familiars to choose from, and they add a small board above your player board to draft familiar dice to. All of the familiars have power range targets, similar to attributes from your class card, but they look to be generally lower (e.g., 5-7 or 8-9). This gives you an excellent place to draft lower-valued dice without worrying too much about messing up your attributes (which generally want values of at least 14). Familiars also have an ability you can activate when placing a die in their row. As an example, my Ancient Tortoise familiar allowed me to take either an INT or WIS action when I set a die there, so being able to get a choice of what power to use made the familiar doubly helpful!

The other titular mechanism in the game, fiends, added a new challenge. Since we were playing a 3-player game, there were 4 initiative cards available to draft dice from each round, and a fiend was placed on the two higher-valued initiative cards each round. So, as a penalty for drafting higher-valued dice, you must take a fiend, which has a negative effect. Some of the fiends aren’t too bad: for instance, I had a fiend that made weapon cards from the market cost double, and another which prevented me from using weapon’s special abilities, so it was easy enough just to not buy or try to use weapons. Other fiends were more troublesome, preventing you from gaining gold from initiative cards or completing rows and otherwise mucking up the game for you. Fortunately, there is a way to get rid of them: by paying 5 gold or a charisma token, you can banish one of the fiends that are plaguing you. I really liked that this gave another use to charisma tokens, because the discount at the market isn’t always useful, especially when you can choose to hunt for a minion rather than purchase something.

Finally, besides the split dice, there is one other change added by the new expansion. For about the first half of the game, two dice are placed on each initiative card. This makes the start of the game go faster, and it balances getting early fiends a bit by giving you two higher-valued dice for them. You get to place both dice but only activate the attribute power for one, which makes for some pretty exciting decisions. I know there are some powers I rely on more than others (like the STR power of flipping a die over or the CON power of incrementing or decrementing a die by 1), so having to think about the placement to be able to maximize the use of those powers was pretty neat. Then, after a few rounds, the “Call to Adventure” card shows up in the market deck, and you’re back to the usual one die per initiative card.

Altogether, I really liked the Fiends & Familiars expansion to Roll Player! If you’ve played and enjoyed the base game and/or the Monsters & Minions expansion, I think you’ll definitely want this one to round out your collection. I really like what it adds, and I believe the fiends provide an exciting new challenge in balancing what dice you draft, while the familiars give you a few extra spots to dump dice you might not want elsewhere while still providing a benefit! And if you’ve never played it, if you enjoy puzzling out the best place to be able to use dice to meet as many goals as you can, and especially if you enjoy the tabletop RPG character-creation theme, give Roll Player a try!

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