Full disclosure: A review copy of Lost Cities: Roll & Write was provided by KOSMOS.
One of the many problems with the global shipping catastrophe going on is that my release date schedule is completely out the window. Every time I get a package from KOSMOS I keep hoping it’s The Crew sequel, and it keeps not being that. Thankfully, I can look past that and enjoy whatever it is. Lately, it’s been a bunch of EXIT games, so it’s been hard to complain, anyways. Now it’s a Lost Cities roll-and-write game, which I had sort of forgotten about? But let’s see how I feel after I play.
In Lost Cities: Roll & Write, you’re putting your auction days behind you along with your rivals and getting back to basics, which is just expeditions, artifacts, and dangerous wagers. You always did like those. This time, you’ll be using dice to advance, which is all well and good, but you don’t always get to pick what you think would be best for you, which can be difficult. Will you be able to luck out anyways?
Effectively none. Give each player a player sheet:
Set out the dice:
You’re ready to start! Choose a player to go first and have them roll.
This is a pretty quick roll-and-write game, so let’s get into it! Your goal is to score as many points as possible over the course of several expeditions. The game takes place over a series of turns.
On your turn, roll the dice. Three have symbols and three have numbers. Choose a pair of dice (one symbol and one number) and add them to your sheet, following the following restrictions:
- The number must be written in the column matching the symbol on the other die.
- The number must be the same as or higher than the top number in that column.
- If you choose a 0 and there are no numbers currently in that column, put an X in the circle at the bottom. This means that this column scores double. Just be careful, that includes if the column scores negative points!
- If you are writing your first number in a column with no X below it, put a line through the circle at the bottom. You cannot use a 0 to double this column once it’s started.
- If you choose a 0 and there are numbers currently in that column, treat the 0 as a 10.
- If you write on a space with an arrow on it, you may immediately write another number in any column. That number must be the same number as the top number in that column. If there are no numbers in that column, write a 1 (and put a line through the circle at the bottom, unless there’s already an X there).
- If you write on a space with a pot on it, cross off the bottom-most uncrossed artifact in the column on the right of your player sheet.
- If you cross over a box with a 20 on it, and that box is not crossed off, circle it. All players, at the end of the round, must cross that box off. That space is considered a “bridge”.
- If you completely fill in a column and need to take another number, you may cross off the pot symbol on the top. This counts as taking an artifact, as if you wrote a number in a space with a pot. You can only do this once per column, though.
While you’re doing this, the other players can choose any two of the remaining dice (number + symbol) and add that pair to their player sheet following the same rules. Players may choose the same combination of dice or different ones, but they cannot choose either of the dice that you selected, unless you refused to write anything.
If you refuse dice, cross off the lowest uncrossed dice symbol on the right of your player board. There’s also a bridge, here. If you refuse dice as the first player, the other players get access to all six dice, instead of the usual four. Any player can refuse dice. If you refuse dice 9 times, you become Exhausted, which can potentially end the game.
Continue play until all players are Exhausted or until all 8 bridges have been passed (even if they were not all passed by the same player). After that player’s turn, the game ends.
Score expeditions by giving yourself points equal to the box on the left side of your player sheet that corresponds to the highest box you filled in in that column. If you were able to double that expedition, double the box on the left’s value (but don’t double your bridge bonus, if you got one). Write the total score for that column above it. Total your columns (using the values on the right side of the sheet for artifacts / refused dice) and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I wouldn’t say a ton of differences exist outside of the racing element. Since the dice are essentially restricted, you’re going to see some players naturally go in different routes. As you increase the player count, that siloing will also happen more as a function of “every round, the first player picks a pair of dice you don’t have access to”. That only happens once if you’re playing with two, but that happens four times if you’re playing with five players. This means that you have more rounds where you aren’t getting your first choice at higher player counts, and players have slightly more incentive to specialize (since they won’t be as screwed if another player takes the pair of dice they want). It probably means scores tend to be a bit lower at higher player counts (since more players are likely hitting bridges at different times and potentially ending the game), but I haven’t done the full stats to really confirm that beyond a suspicion. That said, I’ve enjoyed this regardless of player count. I may stay away from five, but that’s more of a function of wanting to occasionally get to pick dice more than anything else. No huge player count recommendation from me, here, just be mindful that you’ll end up with a fair number of mediocre dice as the player count increases.
- Don’t wait too long for a 0. There’s a real temptation to do that, because you can potentially double your returns on an expedition if you can get a 0 early enough, but waiting for that can stall you out and prevent you from making progress. Getting a 0 and doubling that score is good, but it doesn’t really pay off if you get a -50. Losing 100 points because you were waiting around for half the game is a pretty impressive blunder. I’d just as soon cut your losses and advance your expedition when you can. I generally don’t go for 0s once we’re about halfway through the game. At that point, I think I’ve got enough progress made that I might as well just keep pushing to stay out of the negatives. That said, this might change if a bunch of 0s are rolled early in the game. Stay flexible, but don’t sink yourself.
- Similarly, don’t reject too many dice too early in the game. This may seem like a good idea so that you can get the exact rolls that you want, but you’ll end up hurting in a bad way if you’re not careful. You definitely want to reject dice a few times, but if you do it too much, then you’ll end up Exhausted and out a possible 70 points. And that sucks! You don’t want that for yourself.
- Line up your acceleration spots for a big combo, or lean into them to jump an entire column if you can. I tend to use them to basically move all of my columns up by one, when I can. I tried a game where I just used the acceleration spots to power through purple, which was awesome in the moment, but then I basically locked myself out of being able to get more purple dice, and we kept rolling purple. I ended up Exhausted, that game, so I’m less likely to do that in the future.
- I tend to prioritize purple, a little bit. It’s because all the bonuses in purple are acceleration spots. This allows me to just get more numbers on the board. I care a bit less about artifacts, even though they are pretty valuable. I figure you can use acceleration spots to get more artifacts, if you play your dice right. And I’m somewhat right? It depends a lot on the dice.
- Keep an eye on other players’ sheets; you want to know if you need to hustle towards a bridge. It may not be worth taking that garbage number this turn if no player is going to be able to cross a bridge. However, if another player can, you may want to make sure you also cross that bridge this turn so you can get the bonus 20 points, as well.
- Taking a high number early might not be the end of the world, but it can definitely limit your options. Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend doing this. It’s kind of like creating a gap in Welcome To that can only be filled in by the exact sequential group of numbers or making some weird choices in Qwingo. It’s not going to necessarily ruin you, but you’d prefer to leave yourself with decent options, if you can. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, especially if your options are “take a not-exactly-ideal number” or “become Exhausted”. I wouldn’t recommend the latter, so, the former tends to win out.
- You may not necessarily want to end the game, even if you have the option to do so. If you’re already Exhausted, you have no incentive to do so, especially if you’re the only player close to that final bridge. The other players will need a few rounds to get to you, and you might be able to take the dice they would need to get there. Let them get Exhausted so that you can even the playing field, a bit. Just keep in mind that they may use the extra rounds to get additional artifacts or advance along their double-point expeditions, so make sure you’re making the most of the delay if you actually take it.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I appreciate the simplicity of this one. I’m going to be a bit unfair and call it basic since it doesn’t really have a ton of components, but I do like that it doesn’t have a ton going on. You’re just trying to write ascending numbers in each column. It honestly plays a bit like Roll to the Top, a deeply underrated title. It’s just smaller-scale than that.
- The racing elements aren’t particularly intrusive. I find that a lot of roll-and-write games add a racing element to give players some reason to care that there are other players. Lost Cities: Roll & Write doesn’t particularly need that, since it has the dice selection mechanic that I’ve seen in a few other games (most recently Wok & Roll, which I still need to finish writing up), but the racing element isn’t too bad. I think it helps that there are eight bridges, so most players will at least get one or two regardless of player count. That helps make it feel like you’re at least succeeding at something.
- Very portable. You can laminate a few sheets and you’re basically good to go. The dice are small and easy to transport, as well.
- Also very easy to teach! It’s essentially just “on your turn, roll the dice, choose the pair you want; everyone gets to pick from the leftovers”, over several rounds. Somewhere between Wok & Roll and Qwingo, but still having to go from bottom to top. I’m finding the Roll to the Top comparison to be pretty apt, though I miss the wild structures that game had. I should go back and play that again, sometime. Really loved that one.
- Probably my favorite version of Lost Cities I’ve played, thus far. I think I just don’t like auction games, and this doesn’t have an auction, so that naturally improves it, for me. It’s also fast and decently interactive, and I’m a sucker for a simple roll-and-write, so, here we are. I will say that it doesn’t feel particularly Lost Cities-esque, but more on that later. It might be just because I played Rivals and this doesn’t feel like it has anything to do with Rivals.
- Having players start in the serious negatives is a good bit of a threat. I particularly like that it incentivizes players to not lollygag and wait to double their scores, since they may end up doubling a negative. I haven’t seen it happen, yet, but I like that a lot. It’s ominous.
- It would have been nice if the dice were a bit more thematic than they … are. The d10s are fairly standard, which is fine, but I could imagine some cooler d10s really making the game feel a bit more cohesive? Oh well. Nice dice cost money, so, if I really end up liking this game, I could probably just get my own. It’s hard to expect really cool components in a $15 game.
- Generally, it’s pretty basic. There’s not a ton to this. Six dice, some player sheets, and a rulebook. I think that’s fine, since the game is pretty streamlined, but if you’re expecting some big experience in a little box, you’re not going to find it here.
- Even the name is kind of basic. Lost Cities: The Dice Game would be fine, but Lost Cities: Roll & Write is kind of just pushing the two concepts together. I guess everything needs a roll-and-write version, now. Maybe it’s that it doesn’t flow particularly well? I’m not totally sure what my problem is with it.
- There’s not a ton you can do about a bad roll, past a certain point. You can refuse dice, but there aren’t any avenues by which you can reroll or something. The refusal mechanic is good, but, it would be nice to have some ability to potentially change a terrible roll, rather than just ignore it. It’s particularly frustrating when it’s your turn and you have a garbage roll, since then you also don’t get the benefit of getting to choose any dice. But alas; it’s not meant to be.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I think Lost Cities: Roll & Write is a pretty solid little roll-and-write game! I’ll freely admit that it feels maybe a smidge rushed, thematically? I don’t get much in the way of “Lost Cities” from it beyond “there are some artifacts”, but that might also just be because I haven’t played all of the Lost Cities games that there are. Hard to say. The name feels kind of tacked-on, as well, but I’m also someone who has a lot of trouble naming things, so I’m not going to hold that against the game too much. On its own, Lost Cities: Roll & Write doesn’t have a lot to present, but I think what it has works pretty well. The dice selection mechanic introduces a good amount of player interaction, as you can choose dice your opponents need to leave them out in the cold or just choose dice that are fairly rare to try and monopolize one pathway as much as you can on your turn. The racing element of crossing bridges adds some thematic consistency, but it’s not so intrusive that it takes me out of the game, and I appreciate that. I do like that you can reject bad rolls, but I wish there were ways to make bad rolls better, rather than just ignoring them outright. However, that’s not this game. That said, I still think this game has a lot going for it! I enjoy exploring the different color pathways, I like that you can wait and double your expedition score, and I like even more that you start powerfully negative, so you need to move quickly if you want to get your score above zero. It’s a quick and snappy game, even if it’s not a major table presence, so I end up leaning pretty positively toward Lost Cities: Roll & Write, even if I’ll freely admit that it’s a fairly surface-level game, thematically. The gameplay holds up, and at the end of the day, that can definitely be enough. If you’re looking for a solid and streamlined roll-and-write, or you just don’t want to deal with something too complicated, you might enjoy Lost Cities: Roll & Write! I certainly have.
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