Full disclosure: A review copy of Hex Roller was provided by Renegade Game Studios.
Is 2018 or 2019 the year of Roll and Write games? 2018 had some conflict between that and abstract games, but 2019 seems to have come out swinging with Roland Write and other strong choices (like Cartographers, which still counts). Naturally, when Renegade pushes out a roll and write, I’m interested, and so here we are. I’ll also be interested next month, when I publish my review of Lanterns Dice: Lights in the Sky.
In Hex Roller, you and your opponents are vying to fill out hexes and connect numbers as quickly as possible. Take one of the numbers rolled, add its number group to your board, and start building paths! Will you be able to connect the numbers for a high score?
There’s not much setup, here. Give each player a board on the 7 or 8 side:
Set out the dice — use a number equal to the number on your board:
The dice have colors! The colors don’t matter. So why do they have colors? Who knows. Either way, you’re ready to go!
So, for Hex Roller, like many of the more abstract roll-and-write games (Qwinto, Qwinto, Ganz, etc), your goal is to place dice such that you earn as many points as possible. Thankfully, the turns are simple; the scoring is the challenge.
Over the course of six or seven rounds, players will add dice values to their board based on what’s rolled. After the game ends, you’ll score in a few different ways.
At the start of a round, roll the die and group the dice based on the number showing. Every player may then choose two groups of the same numbers to write on their board, following these rules.
- You must start writing the numbers next to an instance of that number already on the board. If you have a group of three 4s, the first 4 you write must be next to a 4 that was already on the board; either a printed 4 or a 4 written in a previous round.
- Subsequent numbers must be written next to the last number written. Basically, you have to make a path of the numbers.
Add the number from the first group you write to the light gray box, and the second group you write to the dark gray box. There are also three bonuses; you may use them at any time, but each bonus may only be used once:
- Write an additional number of the chosen group. If you pick two 8s, this would let you write a third 8.
- Write a 2 anywhere on the board.
- Choose a third group of numbers. You don’t write this one in either of the gray boxes, though.
After six or seven rounds, the game ends, and you score the following things:
- Bonuses: Unused bonuses are worth points.
- Hexes: A filled hexes is worth a number of points equal to the value of the number that’s most common in that hex. If there’s a tie, take the highest number.
- Center: The center area scores the same as a hex, but the point value is doubled. If the most common number in your center area is 8, you score 16 points.
- Paths: There are two printed numbers of each type (from 3 to 8) on the board. If you connect them with a path of that number (3 connects to 3 via a path of 3s), you score that many points (that would earn you 3 points).
- Straights: This one is a bit tricky. Look at your light gray and dark gray squares. For each set of squares, start and 3 and count in increasing order. Score the highest number you can reach consecutively. If 3 is not written, you score 0 points for that gray. For instance, if your light gray squares are 7 5 3 6 8 7, you’d score 3 points. If they were 4 5 7 8 8 3, you’d score 5 points.
Add up your score in each category; the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Absolutely none. This is one of those solo games that scales pretty much infinitely, and there aren’t any race conditions or effects that would depend on another player. That said, just for logistics reasons, I rarely play with more than 8; you need to be able to see the dice, as you might guess. Beyond that, doesn’t really matter. You can even play solo! Just try to beat your high score every time.
- I tend to focus on straights. I think there are a lot of different ways to score, but it’s generally not that hard to hit at least 10+ on that, so you might as well go for a bit of points from that.
- Filling out hexes is good, but you need high numbers. It helps a bit to diversify, as well. My secret is generally trying to split the hexes between a smaller number and a larger number. This helps me get the straight bonuses, but also I have a larger number for ties. To reiterate from earlier, if you tie for the most common value in a hex, you take the larger one for scoring purposes.
- At the very least, you need to take 3s twice. That’s six free points (because of how straights work). It doesn’t matter if you spend the rest of the game taking 8s; that’s not great but it’s probably fine. You’ll just pass up on those early points if you don’t at least begin the straight.
- Don’t wait too long with your bonuses. There’s definitely an opportunity cost to using them, sure, but generally speaking it’s a simple value judgment: if you can get more than 2 points by using a bonus, you explicitly should. That’s … just a logical trade-off.
- Don’t let the middle stay empty. It’s not only worth points, but it’s worth double points. There’s a real temptation to fill it with threes and fours, since those are the numbers that are the closest, sure, but your best bet is trying to connect large numbers so that you can get points from those and fill the middle with higher numbers, too.
- Remember that you literally cannot connect all the printed numbers. This is something all new players need to know. It’s definitely a stressor when you first see the board, because, well, you do want to score points and you figure that’s the best way to get points at all. The thing is, the only way to do that would require all the lines to intersect, and they … can’t. It generally just helps to show that that is impossible at the beginning of the game, so that new players don’t get too invested in trying it.
- If you connect higher numbers, you’ll tend to score higher on hexes, if you fill them out. Like I said, if you’re connecting lines of high numbers you’re going to be writing more of them on the board, so, as you might expect, more of your hexes will have higher-value numbers in them.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I think I just love roll-and-writes. Generally they’re simple, entertaining, and they offer a whole lot of thematic possibilities; these are all things I like. Plus, they’re easy to take place with you, which is always nice. I’ve been playing a lot lately and really appreciating the sort of surge / Renaissance that we’ve been having in the roll-and-write space.
- It also has a minor path-building element. I love path-building in games, so naturally I was pretty stoked about seeing that it’s in this. It’s less thematic, but, well, the entire game isn’t that thematic, so that’s okay.
- The strategy of the two boards is different, but the core gameplay is the same. It makes it really easy to teach one or the other. Honestly, it might be a bit easier to teach the 7 side rather than the 8 side; there are fewer rounds and the bonuses aren’t worth as much if they’re not used, so you’re incentivized a bit more to use them. My jury isn’t fully ready to commit to that being the Best Idea, but we’ll see.
- The bright colors are always nice. I think it would have been helpful to make the hexes on the left side a bit clearer when scoring, but it’s not the worst thing. Either way, the game looks great while it’s being played, which is always a plus, even though it has a tiny sheet.
- I think this is one of the few games I’ve seen where the mode is actually used. The mode of a hex is what it scores, and I barely ever get to say mode (except for college, where I was That Guy who always required the mode on exams when the mean and median were presented). I don’t know if we need to get into that, but it’s fun to see the mode more prominently.
- Why do the dice have colors if the colors don’t matter? It’s just a weird thing to do, honestly. It also throws new players off a bit, because they assume that the colors are significant or that the colors mean that certain dice can only go in certain hexes. Neither are true. Generally, people’s brains want to see patterns where there aren’t any, and we don’t need additional hurdles when we’re trying to explain the rules.
- Much harder to learn than games of a similar weight (Qwinto / Qwingo). I think it’s the variety of different scoring conditions (and players have a lot of difficulty wrapping their heads around the whole “anagram straight” thing. Maybe I should call it an unsorted straight? I don’t know. Also, players tend to think that you can connect two numbers with any number, not just the particular number you’re connecting, which isn’t correct, either. It just seems like a slightly more challenging game than, say Qwingo.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I think Hex Roller is a lot of fun! I like the shape of the game and I think it’s got a lot of dynamic play based on what you roll. Do you take a 3 when you see it so you can lock in some points? Or do you wait and hope that your number gets rolled down the line (and potentially assume a lot of risk?). That’s a fun decision for players and I think Hex Roller knows how to push that tension to the surface. Thankfully, it’s not done in an aggressive way; players using dice doesn’t remove those dice for other players and there’s no interaction between players. That might not be a selling point for you, though, so keep that in mind. Either way, I’m kind of a huge roll-and-write fan, so it’s tough for me to ignore a fun new abstract one. If you’re looking for another one to add to your quiver or laminated book or convention attendance bag, though, Hex Roller is a rock-solid choice!