Full disclosure: A preview copy of Scribbletown was provided by Desultory Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
New year, new Kickstarters! Generally, as a rule, I don’t do January Kickstarter Previews, since that requires me to work through the holidays and it’s hard to coordinate a game group. Thankfully, these Kickstarters were sent my way in like, October, so I had ample time to get the thing written up and processed, in case you were worried about Your Friendly Neighborhood Board Game Reviewer. Anyways, I’m writing up Scribbletown, which is hitting Kickstarter from Desultory Games. Let’s see what it’s got going on!
In Scribbletown, you see the foundations of town as a blank canvas, and you are a brilliant painter. You were just elected mayor of an empty city, and nobody has told you that the mayor isn’t a city planner, yet, so you’re going to plan this city while you can. Weirdly, the same thing has happened in a few empty plots of land nearby, so you have taken it upon yourself to challenge the other local mayors to a Mayor-Off, where only the best city can win. Place buildings and roads and design the city of your dreams; a place you can be proud to be the mayor of. Which city will triumph?
The nice thing about roll-and-writes are that setup generally tends to be pretty low-effort. Give each player a City Board:
Give them a score reference and a dry-erase marker, too. You can use the Advanced Side, if you want, but maybe not for your first game:
Shuffle the Special Buildings and reveal six, putting the rest back in the box:
Set the dice aside, as well:
You should be ready to start! Roll the dice to get going.
A game of Scribbletown is played over several rounds, as players add roads and buildings to town. Too much overuse, however, produces waste, which leads to junk spaces that can’t be used any anyone. You’ll have to balance all that if you want to win!
To start a round, any player rolls the dice. Players may then do one of the following actions.
Construct Normal Buildings / Roads
You may use any two of the dice rolled for construction and add them to your city on any empty hex. Different buildings will earn you different points, based on their connections (by road) to other buildings. Roads help you connect buildings, fulfill certain scoring criteria, and get a bonus at the end of the game.
Buildings have no cost; just draw them in a space, to the best of your ability. Buildings being adjacent to each other does not qualify them for scoring; they have to be connected by roads to score. That said, adjacent buildings can qualify you for Special Buildings, which are their own good time.
Roads, similarly, can be added to any empty hex. Put a dot in the circle, when you do. The cool thing about roads is that they can also be added to a hex that already has one road, provided the roads do not cross over each other. That means they can share a starting edge or an ending edge, or they can just be completely unconnected. The second time you add a road to a space, however, you fill in the circle and gain a waste.
Construct a Special Building
Special Buildings have specific requirements in that three buildings must all be constructed adjacent to each other (their hexes should all meet at the same point). You then may, instead of constructing normally, take a waste and add the Special Building anywhere on your board. As you might guess, you can only have one of each type of Special Building in your city, but you can have one of each if you can hack it, I guess. Good luck with that. They have special scoring bonuses, too!
Waste and Junk
Gaining waste is no big deal; just cross out the top-most, left-most garbage can on your board. If you ever hit the end of a row, however, immediately pass your board to the player on your right; they’ll scribble a Junk Pile on any empty hex on your board. That prevents buildings and roads being placed on that space and Junk Piles are generally worthless. As a result, you may want to take waste as little as possible.
End of Game
Once any player has filled up their board, the game ends, that round! You then go to scoring. Generally, the game suggests that you score by columns and then your road bonus, which is the shortest road that connects two of the blue external roads on your city. You score one point for each hex along that route.
Total your points, and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
None, really, the game kind of scales near-infinitely. At the highest possible player counts, you do have sort of problem games where there are too many people that all depend on one player who will go out too quickly, but in a standard game you won’t really notice. Thankfully (and wisely) the designer included a fix for that; players who are done gain one extra point every round, and you end when X / 3 (rounded down) players have full boards (where X is the number of players).
In the solo game, you just add your own junk to your board, but for each Junk Pile on your board due to waste, your highest scoring building becomes worthless (because the designer assumes that we would be nicer to ourselves than someone else, which, the millennials I know would disagree).
- Try not to take a Junk Pile on the turn you’re going to build your Special Building. If you do, your opponent may notice the spot that you want to place that Special Building and Junk it, instead. If your Special Building doesn’t depend on the perfect location, then, I mean, by all means, but if it does you’re better off trying to plan ahead so you don’t need to take that Junk Pile until after you’ve placed the building in your town.
- If you are going to take a Junk Pile, at least make it difficult for your opponent to decide where it gets placed. I mean, this is unfortunately what happens if you have two Very Good Locations; one of them is going to get clowned by your opponent, but the other will potentially be able to live, so that counts for something. What you don’t want is two important things that have to go through the same hex, so your opponent can cut off both at the same time.
- If you’re placing a Junk Pile, try blocking off long roads or disrupting Special Buildings or their components. I usually try to figure out what my opponent wants and then contribute to them not getting that. It’s cruel, but fair.
- I’d generally recommend trying to get at least one Special Building, if you can. If nothing else, they’re generally worth a good bucket of points, and that gives you something tangible to sorta rally your strategy around. I imagine you can likely be successful without one, but I haven’t seen it, and it kind of reminds me of the Big Money strategy in Dominion (where you just follow a heuristic and ignore all the special cards). It doesn’t really say that you played well; it just suggests that the other players played poorly, which … isn’t super fun.
- If you’re going for roads, keep in mind that that is very difficult to do well. You just are relying on a lot of luck or a very circuitous road. Either way, roads alone aren’t going to win you the game, but a solid network of them can help you connect a bunch of buildings (or use the Truck Stop). I view them as more of a bonus.
- If you do get a long road, try to connect a lot of different buildings to it. Yeah, like I said, connecting a lot of buildings to one long road means that they’re all connected to each other, which may be able to chain together nicely. You’ll need some luck to pull it off, but if you can, then your opponent may not be able to effectively Junk you, either, since they’ll have no single good point of attack. That’s an additional bonus beyond the points.
- Keep an eye on other players ending the game. As with a lot of these titles, another player can unceremoniously end the game and completely clown you, if you were expecting another major round. Keep an eye on players with two or fewer spots remaining on their board; at times, if you’re ahead enough, it may just be worth ending the game to trip other players up and see if that’s enough to clinch the game for you.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- There’s a good bit of fun flavor text in the rulebook, but not in a way that’s annoying or distracting. It mostly is about the Special Buildings, and it’s fairly endearing. There are often rulebooks that try a little bit too hard with flavor text, and I feel like this is a nice amount that doesn’t go overboard. I suppose if you wanted more, the cards would be an appropriate place for it.
- I am impressed that the prototype came with double-sided dry erase boards. It’s not totally relevant to the review, itself, but I’m pleased about it. It’s just gratifying to get high-quality prototypes for preview; it makes the photos better.
- Games are very different depending on what Special Buildings you have around. I really like how much variety is in there, since they all score differently and have different requirements. They force you to pivot your strategy a bit to compensate, and I think it really comes together nicely. There are also just a lot of them, unlike, say, Cartographers, where I kind of wish there were more scoring options.
- I also like that the Special Buildings all have their own design (and are relatively easy to draw). This is just a cute thematic touch that also makes players’ boards look more unique. That’s always a welcome improvement. It’s one of those things that, like Harvest Dice or games like it, you don’t need to draw, but it feels like you’re more invested in the game when you do.
- I like the tension between buildings and roads; this is a tough little game. I’ll be honest, this is a hard game, sometimes. Lots of trade-offs, a small decision space, and a lot to consider every time. I like that, but this is going to be on the more complex end for its playtime. I’m actually pretty pleased that it manages to do that without a ton of overhead? I’ve played a lot of roll-and-writes that strive for strategic complexity by just throwing everything they can into the Playable Game Bucket and that’s often … too much, for me. This is very streamlined, to its benefit, but it’s not easy.
- I’m a big fan of the “opponent adds something bad to your board” negative player interaction. I guess in this case it’s not the thing itself that’s bad, it’s more the placement, but I like the idea of letting opponents draw on your board as a penalty, though it adds some complexity to playing online.
- It does support online play pretty well. If you get a Junk Pile, just show your opponent your board and ask for a column number and a hex number, then count from the bottom. That usually solves the problem pretty quickly. Otherwise, it plays very well online; I played my first game online! We just took pictures of the dice, every round, so our chat thread is now junked up with tons of dice pictures.
- I’m also a fan of the “bold colors and thick lines” that they went for, graphic design-wise. It’s very stripped-down and it looks great. You don’t have to have a lot to do a lot, art-wise. I really like how it turned out.
- Having each building use the roads to score with other buildings allows for a lot of great combinations and play styles. You can focus on factories in one game and farms in the next, use Post Offices or Bus Stations to connect up your different locations. There’s just a lot of variety, and a lot of it depends on the dice. But everyone gets the same dice, so, that’s part of why it’s fun.
- For some reason the scoring hurts my brain every time. I think it’s that I tend to get my endpoints reversed, sometimes, so I can’t remember if Neighborhoods score for roads to Businesses or vice-versa, and that gets scaled across the entire board. Not sure why this specific problem happens, but it’s something you should watch out for so that you don’t mess up your scoring.
- I also can just … never draw a decent-looking Factory. I think something is just wrong with me, but they all come out looking terrible. My Farms are not much better, but they’re still better than the Nightmare Factory.
- There’s a certain level of frustration at players being able to block decently long-term plans, just given the small size of the board. It can be very irritating to have your perfect road blocked by a Junk Pile or your best Special Building placement completely cratered by one, and it feels kind of bad, in that sense. I think Cartographers handled this a bit better by having the monsters your opponent added to your board still count as filled spaces for points requirements, which took a lot of the edge off. It would be nice to see something more akin to that compromise, but also, it’s a fairly short game so if you want to aggro your friends by doing this, more power to you.
- The scoring on the Special Building cards can be a bit confusing. Sometimes the limits are 10x, sometimes they’re 20 points. The inconsistency there makes it hard to be sure that an x limit isn’t a misprint, or something. It also can cause problems if you read it quickly and think the limit is more (or less) than it actually is. I’d recommend just having a “Max X points.” on every card for consistency.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I think Scribbletown is a lot of fun! I particularly like that the game is a fairly simple concept with a very solid implementation behind it. It’s one of the things I like about the roll-and-write genre, to be honest; you don’t always have to have a Massive, Heavy Game Implementation to just have fun with some friends. There are some heavier roll-and-writes that have been trying to prove me wrong in this area, granted, but I’m still a big fan of the simple ones. This isn’t quite Qwinto or Qwingo, granted, but it’s got a nice theme and some solid art to back it up, as well. Scribbletown’s strength is in it nicely hitting the intersection of simplicity and variability; you don’t need to read a ton of rules to get the game played, but once you learn the core of the game you can continually sub out Special Buildings until you find a combination you really like, and have fun the whole way. I would love to see some Recommended Sets (or at least Named Sets) for a fun bit of flavor text; you could even imagine naming certain configurations after certain cities, depending on what goes into them. I think it might also help players learn certain combos and techniques within the game before they get started with potentially more complex town configurations. The nice thing is, you can just keep adding more Special Buildings, if you want, as well. And I think that’s super cool! I like the extensibility of some of these games. My one gripe is that a “feels bad” moment in the game can really emerge with the Junk Piles, and I wish there were a way to protect spots on your board if you’re really investing in them, but, the game’s 30 minutes or so, and sometimes that’s just how things go. Maybe I’m just a sucker for city-building games, too. If you’re looking for a fun one or you just want to draw a bit while you roll-and-write, I’d definitely recommend Scribbletown! I’ve had a lot of fun with it, and maybe one day I’ll even learn to draw the Factory.