Roll and write your way through the Stonemaier Universe!
Note: Stonemaier Games sent us a copy of Rolling Realms so that we could write this unbiased review
During the coronavirus pandemic, as people around the world were confined to their homes for weeks on end without their regular gaming groups (or they were sick of playing games with their partner!), Jamey Stegmaier decided to make a roll-and-write game that could be played all over the world via Facebook Live. He never intended to publish the game but such was the demand for it, along came Rolling Realms!
In Rolling Realms, players compete to earn the most stars in a series of minigames over three rounds. The minigames are all based on different titles from the Stonemaier universe, from Wingspan to Viticulture and Scythe to Pendulum. The minigames are all related to the theme/mechanics/layout of their namesake (some more than others!) so if you’re as big a fan of Stonemaier Games as we are you’ll really enjoy playing through these. The winner is the player with the most stars over the three rounds.
How the game works
There are 11 different minigames within Rolling Realms, and over the 3 rounds you will play 9 of them at random.
Each round you randomly determine three minigames (or “Realms”) to play that round and each player finds the matching cards in their deck and places them on the table. These cards are dry-erase so you write directly onto them. Each round consists of 9 turns, where someone rolls the two large dice and everyone then uses them to activate their realms.
You may use each dice once, and they must be used in a different realm (so you’re always activating two of the three realms for that round), to fill in an element of the minigame with the aim of earning stars and producing resources.
If you take the Tapestry realm as an example, it shows a 6×6 grid comprised of nine 2×2 boxes. Each turn you can spend a dice to fill in different shaped segments of the grid to earn rewards. The bigger the value of the dice the bigger the shape. You’ll get a resource for each 2×2 grid you complete and a star for each 2×6 column/row you complete. It’s very similar to the capital city you build in Tapestry earning resources and points for filling in various sections.
Earning stars is how you win the game, but you’ll need resources in order to boost your turns and help you earn more stars. Pumpkins allow you to adjust dice values by +/- 1, whilst hearts & coins allow you to gain extra dice to use in the unused realm from that turn. The resources you earn and how you use them will be critical to getting those extra stars and winning the game.
Being a massive fan of roll and writes (if you’ve ever read any of my reviews of Cartographers, Hadrian’s Wall, Sonora etc. you’ll know that already), and a massive fan of all things Stonemaier, I was very excited when I heard this was in the pipeline. Whilst my main love is the pretty, more thematic roll and writes in favour of crunchier and ultimately more abstract games such as Ganz Schon Clever, I do still enjoy games that test your brain to max.
Rolling Realms is more the latter as the design is pretty minimalist and the theme doesn’t hugely come through in the minigames, but I still really enjoy the puzzle of making the most out of the dice and resources to earn as many stars as possible. Sure, a bit of analysis paralysis could set in if you’re trying to work out whether to use your 5 in the Tapestry, Scythe or Charterstone realm and what each of those would mean for the rest of the turn, but there aren’t as many crazy bonus combos as there are in other roll-and-writes, which for me is a big positive.
Because you’re allowed to use one dice in each realm each turn (except through spending 3 pumpkins), it simplifies the decisions so you aren’t constantly trying to buy new dice to get resources to buy new dice to get resources to buy new dice to get new resources…you get the idea.
There’s a heap of replayability since you’re only using 9 of the 11 realms for each game, and barring a lottery-level of coincidence you’ll always have different combinations in each round and as some of the Realm cards interact with each other, that enriches the gameplay a great deal.
Anything I didn’t like? Well it hopefully comes across that it’s not as deep an experience as a) other Stonemaier Games or b) other roll and writes, but it’s not meant to be. It was created so that people could play a nice easy game across the internet during the pandemic that paid homage to the great games from the Stonemaier universe and that’s exactly what it is. Rolling Realms isn’t really Jess’s type of game as she doesn’t enjoy these type of optimisation games where you really have to think about the best use of dice and the bonuses they give (she says I always win these types of games, maybe that’s it?!).
We did find a few of the minigames a bit confusing so had to do some digging online to find an explanation (particularly Charterstone and Viticulture) but that’s quite common with any game the first few times you play. We’d need to play it a few more times to work out whether or not any of the minigames are unbalanced, but on our first three or four plays it seemed you had to work a lot harder to get stars on the Tapestry minigame compared to the others. It could mean nobody focuses on it in favour of the other two active games, but I could be wrong.
The final small gripe would be (and this is a very subjective thing!) I don’t really like the dice, they’re massive and loud but if it annoyed me that much I could just use some d6s from another game 🙂
Overall if you enjoy fairly light but still thinky roll and writes then Rolling Realms will be a terrific addition to your collection. Even though it’s not the most mind-blowing game ever made I had a lot of fun playing it and people who enjoy games such as Ganz Schon Clever should enjoy it even more.
Get this game
Check this game out on Board Game Geek