The life of a rancher is not an easy one. In addition to managing the animals on the ranch, including ensuring they all stay in their own pens, you also have to worry about constructing the buildings essential for the ranch’s viability. On top of that, your rival ranchers always seem to be one step ahead of you when it comes to filling their pens, so you must try your best to keep up! Can you keep your ranch a-rolling?
Rolling Ranch is a roll-and-write game for two or more players, with an official solo variant. Each round, players draft either an animal or building materials from the two dice rolled. Players are vying to score the most points by the time the end of the game is triggered by any player filling their scoresheet. As a cunning rancher, you must balance obtaining and breeding animals and constructing buildings to gain the most points!
As a roll-and-write game, setup for Rolling Ranch is fairly simple. Give each player a scoresheet, a pencil, and a hidden Mission Card containing bonus end-game scoring opportunities. Then you’re ready to play! Each round, one player rolls both the blue and yellow dice. These dice each depict a number from 1-6, an animal (either a chicken, a pig, or a cow), and may contain building materials (wood or nails) and/or a heart. Players may choose to take the animal depicted on the blue die and draw it in a pen corresponding with the number on the yellow die, or vice versa, rescue the yellow animal and draw it in a pen indicated by the blue number. Alternately, a player may choose not to rescue an animal and instead collect all of the resources shown on both dice and add them to a row corresponding to one of the buildings on the player’s score sheet. After all players have chosen to collect an animal or resources, if there is a heart shown on both dice, animals have a breeding phase. All pens containing two or more animals of the same type get a new animal of that type in any empty space. Then, the next round begins with a new roll of the dice. Gameplay continues until one or more players trigger the end of the game by filling every space on their scoresheet.
In addition to placing and breeding animals, players are also working to construct buildings on their ranches. When a player chooses to collect building resources on their turn, if they complete the requirements for one of their buildings, they immediately draw it on an empty space in their ranch. There are three different types of buildings. Barns provide an ongoing benefit whenever two of the same number are rolled on the dice in a future round. These benefits include taking additional building materials, placing a chicken, or choosing any animal to draw in any open space, regardless of what the dice show. Warehouses give the player the ability to either draw any animal or draw the animal from one of the dice on any space, up to two times for the remainder of the game. Finally, Greenhouses provide a set collection mechanic, giving players 5, 12, or 20 points at the end of the game for constructing 1, 2, or 3 Greenhouses, respectively.
Whenever a player fills a pen, they score points for that pen, though the score doesn’t mean anything over the course of the game, so if you choose, you can score everything at the end. Each pen filled with animals of the same type scores based on that animal type using the chart provided on the scoresheet. Pens containing two or more different kinds of animal only score as many points as there are animals, so try not to mix different animals together! Greenhouses score as described above, while Warehouses score 1 point per space in their pen (so, if a Warehouse is placed in a 4-space pen it would score 4 points). Finally, players score points if they were able to fulfill the goals on the Mission Card they received at the beginning of the game. These missions include having a certain number of one kind of animal, having pens filled with only chickens or pigs, or having a specific number of buildings placed on their ranch. After scoring everything up, the player with the most points is the winner!
One of the best parts of farming games is getting all your ducks in a row. Maybe not literal ducks, but putting all these adorable animals together in just the right amount of space is both challenging and rewarding. Roll and writes tend to have mechanics that make the entire game feel like a giant puzzle, with each piece having its place and everything fitting together just write. Rolling Ranch is no exception, trying to fit your animals just so within your farm. The extra challenge comes from trying to get your animals together in the same pen, allowing them to breed, fill the pen, and get the maximum amount points for each animal type, all while being restricted by the numbers on the dice. Add in the decisions to adopt the animals or take supplies adds a little extra strategy to each turn, especially when it comes to completing your goals, this makes for a lot of strategy in a little box.
One of the best parts about the influx of roll and write games is their portability. Rolling Ranch is small and compact, making it great for travel. Whiel I appreciate their approach to keep gameplay clean by only having a few components, Rolling Ranch could do with a reference for gameplay. I found that I kept having to refer back to the rulebook to ensure I had the correct mechanics for each building, which can be key when you only have so much room to build. The familiarity may come with more gameplay, but during your first few plays, make sure to have the rulebook handy if you need that reference.
As you know if you’ve read our other reviews, I like roll-and-write games a lot, and Rolling Ranch is no exception to that! Like most “R&W”s it is quick, portable, easy to set up and learn, and can fit a lot of game in a small package. What I really like about the gameplay is that there are a good number of meaningful choices you can make over the course of the game. These choices may be somewhat informed by your secret Mission Card that you’re working towards, but you still get to decide if you want to go for a building- or animal-heavy strategy, and then which buildings/animals you want to work towards, and hope the dice work in your favor. There isn’t a ton of dice mitigation other than a couple of the building abilities, so oftentimes your decision-making needs to be tactical rather than strategic, which I do enjoy in games. On top of the gameplay, I really enjoy the theme for this game. I know there are plenty of games that involve raising animals and having them breed to make more, but for whatever reason, whether it’s through the art or gameplay or just overall presentation, I really feel like Rolling Ranch is a charming little game.
We’ve only played Rolling Ranch a few times, so I don’t know if I have a full grasp of all the strategy yet, but one thing I’m uncertain of is the (potential) ability for one player to rush the end of the game. Since the game ends when one player completely fills their sheet and breeding lets a player fill multiple spaces per round, a player could put a pair of animals (most likely chickens since they’re the most common) in each pen and let breeding fill them up quickly while other players may be working on buildings or collecting the rarer cows and pigs. Again, since I don’t have that much experience with the game, I don’t know how viable this strategy is in terms of gaining points, but I’m not always a fan of games where one player can rush the experience. I’m hoping that this concern will be alleviated with more plays, because I do plan on playing this game more! I am also uncertain of how well the game plays with a larger number of people, partly due to the player-driven uncertainty in the game’s length. The game can theoretically play up to 20 people since that’s how many mission cards are included, but I think I would enjoy playing it capped to a maximum of 6-8. That said, I definitely enjoyed playing this game, and I can’t wait to share and experience it with others as son as we can!