The United States of America is made up of 50 different states, each with that own special something that makes them unique. But while all the states have their differences, they have similarities too. In this roll-and-write game from Gamewright, you must insure that neighboring states are filled in with similar numbers, or else you’ll be penalized! Grab your dice and let’s go for a trip all around the country in Rolling America!
The goal of Rolling America is to fill in all of the states on your map with numbers while following the constraint that neighboring states cannot be more than one number different. The map is split into six differently colored regions, each spanning 7-9 states. There are dice corresponding to those colors, as well as a seventh, wild die. Each round all of the dice are placed in the bag, and then two dice at a time are removed and rolled. Players must write each number in a state of the matching color. The only restriction around placing numbers is that numbers in neighboring states must be within one number of each other. So, a 2 could be placed to a 1 or a 3, but not next to a 4, 5, or 6. If you can’t (or don’t want to) place a number, you must write an “X” in a state in that colored region. However, once a region is fully populated, you aren’t penalized for not being able to write the number. After 6 dice have been rolled (leaving one unplayed), all dice are returned to the bag for a new round. After 8 rounds, the game is over.
In addition to writing the numbers from the dice on their map, there are a variety of powers that players can take advantage of, each three times per game. The Color Change power allows a player to change the color of a die, treating it as wild. The Dupe power allows a player to write a number twice in the colored region. Finally, with the Guard ability, a player can circle a number as they place it to allow it to break the normal placement rules (ignoring the neighboring state rule). After 8 rounds, players total the number of “X”s they have written, and the player with the fewest “X”s wins!
I have this innate need to follow the rules, the more, the better. Okay, maybe not in all cases, but sometimes having restrictions forces you to think outside the box. With Rolling America, the further you get along in the game, the more crafty you will need to be with number placement and use of powers. The placement restriction makes the game almost feel like a sudoku puzzle, requiring players to consider carefully if their investment will be beneficial in the future. The further you get into the game, the tighter the map becomes, making you question your decisions (should five have gone on Kentucky?!) and in one of the most fun ways possible. I struggle a bit with spacial-recognition games; tracking placement can be tough for me, so I did have a hard time looking ahead to what the best arrangements would be. This struggle didn’t necessarily make it to play Rolling America, but it did make it harder to win. I may need to spend more time with this game because some continuing strategies carried over from one game to the next.
The small box makes this game easy to take with, set up, and tear down. As I become more interested in solo gaming, I don’t want to spend a lot of time setting up to play by myself; having small box games that I can keep on my shelf in the office makes it easy to play a quick game when I have time. Rolling America makes this easy; with just a pad, pencil, and a handful of dice, you can crank out a solo game in about 20 minutes tops! This game is also great to grab-and-go, you never know when you might need to pull out a game at a party. Gamewright has continued making this easy with the smaller box collection, making playing my new favorite genre of board games a breeze!
Rolling America is a big optimization puzzle game in a very small package. This would be great for on-the-go gaming, as you could fit the box easily in a pocket, and all you need to play is the pad of paper, 7 dice, and something to write with! As is fitting for such a small game, it is easy to learn and quick to play. The rules are light and could be picked up by almost anyone, making it a great choice for family gaming. That said, there are still a lot of meaningful decisions that go into playing this game. While it might seem like a simple challenge to have all neighboring states be no more than one number different, it’s all too easy to get into a situation where you have states two apart that differ by more than 2, meaning nothing can be placed between them. Rolling America really rewards careful planning and forethought. On top of that, knowing when to use the special abilities and how to make the most of them is integral to doing well in this game. Don’t let the small box and easy gameplay fool you; there is quite a bit to think about here.
That said, the challenge of placing as many numbers as you can correctly might not be for everyone. It can be pretty disheartening realizing that you’ve made it impossible to fill states in based on earlier placements. On top of that, you have the luck of the die rolls, as well as drawing the dice from the bag such that one die is not used every round. So, you can try your best to plan ahead, but eventually you’ll have to live with unfavorable rolls. While some folks might enjoy that kind of challenge, I understand that it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Also, while the states are abstracted into rectangles of various sizes, it seems like attention was paid to keep their positions and bordering states accurate, which can also lead to some frustrations and imbalance between the colored regions. Alaska and Hawaii are unquestionably the best states in this game, since they have no neighbors and therefore you can place any number in them with impunity. And since they both live in the orange region, along with other states with few borders like California and Washington, filling in orange numbers is relatively easy. On the other hand, the eastern US is full of smaller states and those with a lot of borders (looking at you, Tennessee), so being able to fill them all in is quite tricky indeed, and when unfavorable numbers come up in those colors, there are few places to “hide” them where you won’t impact a bunch of other states (thank goodness for Maine). Having said all that, I still really enjoy Rolling America, and I think that its spatial number placement puzzle is really fun!