Full disclosure: A review copy of Wok and Roll was provided by Origame.
So, if you haven’t noticed by now, it’s Food Game Week on What’s Eric Playing?, which is an exciting thing that I basically just made up because I had Steam Up hitting Kickstarter this week and wanted to make sure that I was aligning with that. I’m not 100% sure what my third game is going to be, as of writing, so we’ll see what I can get up to in the meantime. Look forward to that. But I’ve had a few games from Origame for a while, and they’re basically all food and drink-themed, so that’s exciting. Let’s check out Wok and Roll!
In Wok and Roll, you want to become the best restaurant in town. And that’s a great dream. Unfortunately, as it goes in most board games, you’re not alone. Your opponents want the same thing, and they’ve come for you. Now, you have to have a friendly competition. So go to the Market, get some ingredients, and, if you’re an Expert, wow them with your House Special! Do you have what it takes to become the next master chef? Or will you just end up getting chopped?
Not a ton! Choose your board side (everyone should play on the same side). There’s the Simple Board:
And there’s the Expert Board:
If you’re using the Expert Board, give each player a House Special tile to place in the indicated location. You can also give each player a promo starting power, if you have those:
Either way, give the start player the dice:
You should be good to go!
A game of Wok and Roll takes place over several turns, as players work to get ingredients and cook fancy dishes. I’ll explain the Basic Game first, and then talk about changes in the Expert Mode. A turn has two primary steps:
Go to Market (Roll Dice)
The Start Player kicks it off by rolling all six dice! You can set aside any dice that you like, or reroll any number of dice (including previously set-aside dice). Once you’ve set aside all six dice or made your second reroll (three total rolls), this phase ends and the dice become ingredients for the next phase!
Cook Dishes (Use Dice)
Now, players use the dice to cook recipes on their board! Players play simultaneously, with one caveat: only the Start Player gets to use the red dice; every other player can only use the four white dice.
Players can use any of the available dice once (and any ingredients in their Fridge) in order to check off dish servings on their board. Essentially, you can spend dice in groups to create a dish serving. When you do, check off that dish serving. You must check them off from top to bottom, but you may start with any dish type and any serving type within that dish type, if you have the requisite ingredients.
When checking off a dish serving, you gain any bonus on that space. Each space has different effects, based on their type. Rice and Noodles just give you points; Meat and Vegetables allow you to earn additional ingredients; and Seafood presents food as platters, horizontal groups of dish servings that can get additional points when completed.
If you roll Recipe Books, you can spend them to unlock additional skills. These skills can either allow you to turn Recipe Books into other ingredients, or they can be spent to unlock skills that give you additional points at the end of the game.
Once every player has had a chance to use the dice, pass all of them to the player on the left.
End of Game
As soon as any player has completed three dish servings (any three columns, except for the seafood section, which is two platters [each platter is a serving rather than each column]), the game ends at the end of the current turn.
Players then add up their scores from each food section and any bonus skills. The player with the most points wins!
Expert Mode changes a few things up. As mentioned, you’ve got the House Specials, which are new recipes that can be cooked. But the key difference here is that recipes are partially locked, now, and can only be unlocked by spending two Recipe Books on them. You can also check off an Unlock on your board, but those provide negative score penalties.Additionally, the Fridge you used to love has now been picked mostly clean. Instead of six available ingredients, you now get two, and can unlock two more by completing House Specials. Instead of a Fridge, you now can unlock ingredients for your Pantry by completing various dishes, which is a great way to bolster your available supply. You also get points for each ingredient you unlock, which is an even better benefit.
As with the standard game, play continues until three dish servings are completed (not counting House Specials). For a longer game, play until a player completes 5!
Player Count Differences
I haven’t noticed a ton of differences, in my games. The big, obvious difference is that as player count increases, your time with the red dice will commensurately decrease; that’s just how turns work. This means that you need to be more strategic with your Fridge usage to compensate, since you only get a few ingredients (in the Basic Mode, at least). In Expert Mode, there’s a real temptation to go after the two-ingredient dishes at higher player counts, since you might be able to knock out two per turn, but watch out; they’re not worth many points, and players going other routes might be able to rapidly outpace you, score-wise. That said, I don’t really notice other players in this game, too much; there’s some randomness and potential adversarial play with the dice (maybe I reroll my red dice so that I can try to get a resource you need that I then don’t have to share), yes, but it all ends up being potentially mitigated by the fact that the dice are random. Sometimes a very good roll for you happens on someone else’s turn, and you can still reap the rewards. The game does go a bit faster at lower player counts, just by virtue of the “average dice per player per turn” being higher (as you might expect). That gives me a soft preference for lower player counts, but beyond that, I really don’t notice having additional players. That’s kind of the thing about roll-and-write games; they’re only rarely fairly interactive, and this one isn’t a particularly interactive one (beyond the dice).
- A huge part of the game’s strategy is splitting useful rolls across the red and white dice when it’s your turn, so that your opponents can’t do much. Can you see what your opponents need? Try to snoop a bit, and then if you need the same thing, try to … will the dice to land the way you want, I guess. You have rerolls, but you can only do so much to counter the cosmic forces of luck and probability. That said, your ideal scenario is getting red dice that would otherwise be super helpful to your opponents, and white dice that aren’t. If you can do that, you can at least make your core turns useless for your opponents. At the very least, if you happen to get this kind of configuration, don’t reroll your red dice; keep them.
- To counter this, having skills that let you translate recipe books to other ingredients or saving your Fridge / Pantry for emergencies is pretty critical. The whole point of those extra ingredients is that you can use them when you otherwise don’t have access to what you need. In the Expert Mode, this will help you bridge the gap to your House Specials; in Basic Mode, this might help you unlock additional Recipe Books or complete the last serving or platter that you need for extra points. Don’t use these too quickly, otherwise you’ll truly be relying on the dice by the end of the game.
- Keep in mind when your turn might end the game and when your opponent(s) may be close to ending the game, as well. If you’re looking at your last turn, don’t set yourself up for future combos; just focus on getting as many points as possible. Your combos don’t matter if you don’t get another turn. Similarly, if you’re deciding whether or not to end the game on your turn, check to see how close your opponents are; is it worth giving them another shot to increase their score?
- You won’t be able to get everything. It’s important to make peace with this, strategically, so that you can focus on what’s helpful. Is it best to get the skill that turns Recipe Books into Vegetables? Maybe, if you’re focusing on that. This might make getting Seafood harder, and that’s the tradeoff. You absolutely cannot get everything filled out in one game, kind of by design. Picking and choosing what’s best for you is going to get you more points, especially as you move to the Expert Mode and have to deal with planning ahead and unlocking recipes that you want to make.
- It pays a bit to go along with the crowd, since other players are essentially trying to help themselves. If you do what they do, you might be able to benefit from their rolls more fully on your turn. Doing what everyone else is doing isn’t cool in real life, but it works great in this game, as you can more closely align with what they’re rolling and take advantage of it, yourself. There’s just one problem. If you copy another player entirely, you’ll get the same score as they do. Instead, do your thing and focus on using what dice they give you to accentuate that route, if you can. If you’re successful, you win!
- In the Expert Mode, it benefits you to focus a bit on your House Special recipes. While they’re expensive, they can really provide you a boost. They’re great because they give you a lot of points and additional ingredients to use, free of charge. The trouble is that they’re very difficult to unlock when it’s not your turn, seeing as you have to have a very specific (and large) set of ingredients.
- That said, in Expert Mode, going wide can be helpful since cooking dishes can unlock ingredients for your pantry that you can then use on more complex dishes. You can quickly unlock ingredients by filling out a lot of different recipes, but … you won’t earn many points. Given that you need points to win, it’s worth thinking about, but having more ingredients will make subsequent advancements much easier. There’s again, an inflection point in the game where going wide starts to mean you’ll finish the game with unused ingredients, and figuring out where that is is how strategies are formed. It’s a combination of reading other players and being thoughtful about your plans.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really like that the rulebook also adds a translation page for all the recipes. I appreciate that it adds a layer of authenticity and thematic consistency to the game, and I also just like seeing what everything is. I really appreciate it! I got to learn something while I played, and that’s always nice.
- I love the art style! It looks so menu-y. It’s overall, an excellent art style. The white and burnt orange of the box just pop, and the bright colors on the boards really nicely contrast against the background color. It’s all-around a very pretty game to play.
- The basic game is an excellent introductory roll-and-write. Very simple, with a great theme. I think folks will intuitively get the “collect X ingredients to cook Y recipe”, and that’s very easy to represent in the game. The hardest part of the game for new players is typically how to use Recipe Books, as the skill icons aren’t entirely intuitive for them. They eventually come around, though; you should just walk them through some examples before the game starts.
- I like that the game has two options for play complexity, as well. I think that’s a nice way for the game to build with the players, even if it does make the game gently more annoying to review. This is largely the case for any game with Additional Play Modes, which is why I usually only cover one, if multiple are present. And why I still haven’t emotionally been able to review Spirit Island. There’s just so much content.
- Having the fridge (and pantry) as a luck mitigation vector is good for players, as well. It can turn a bad turn into something salvageable, at least. I think that helps players avoid being frustrated by rolls that don’t go the way that they want (or need). It is, however, finite, so once it’s out, it can truly turn the tables on unsuspecting players.
- The recipe book system for getting special skills can be a lot of fun, as well. I like that players can kind of choose their own pathway through the game. It’s a very gentle bit of asymmetry that allows players to somewhat specialize, and I’m here for it. It can be a bit weird when there are a ton of recipe books rolled, though, so this definitely helps.
- I think that getting to name your restaurant is a key part of the game’s immersion, and I love it. It’s as important as naming your town in Welcome To, in my opinion. It conveys the ethos of your restaurant, as well as your drive and core motivation. It’s a part of you. Or something.
- This is very petty, but I always prefer booklets to like, fold-out rulebooks. I think it just makes the rules a bit harder to track than flipping pages does. This rulebook ends up being very long, horizontally. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but, I definitely would have preferred something with pages.
- The conflation of “dishes” and “dish platters” in the rulebook was a bit confusing, at first. It almost makes it seem like completing a dish platter (one of the two in seafood) would end the game, since each dish is its own column. That’s not the case, but the wording is a bit confusing. The Expert Mode makes this a bit simpler by realigning seafood to be columns like everything else, so it’s not as unclear.
- Given that several dishes are two-ingredient dishes in the Expert Mode, it can be relatively simple to (even inadvertently) rush the end of the game and not get a chance to fully engage with it. More generally, I think the game can often run a bit too quickly, given the randomness of the dice. I’d like a bit longer to engage with things and unlock more skills, but often we end up powering through stuff pretty fast. There’s one fix, which is extending the game to five dishes rather than three, but in the Expert Mode it’s particularly easy to power through the game once you unlock all of the two-ingredient dishes. On a good turn, you might actually be able to fill almost all of a column, if you have the right ingredients in your pantry (or the right promo card). It’s a very slight problem that’s more emblematic of “I wish this game were slightly longer”.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I like Wok and Roll! I think, for me, I tend a bit more towards the Simple game, just because I tend to use this as a nice, introductory roll-and-write title, but I enjoyed the Expert game as well! My major problem with it is that I tend to overindex on the simpler recipes, since they’re kind of a low-hanging fruit (or vegetable, in my case), and that means the game can occasionally end a bit quicker than anyone would like. Why make a five-ingredient recipe when you can make several two-ingredient recipes? But I enjoy the deeper gameplay and locked recipes, so it’s an interesting mix. I also have a soft spot for food-themed games, just because I think a lot of folks naturally gravitate towards them and they’re kind of fun, and the art style here is just really inviting, in that regard. It looks like a fun menu of options, and it’s got bright colors and accurate names (with translations in the rulebook!), both of which are very engaging, to me. The simple core gameplay also helps Wok and Roll get to the table a bunch, as I don’t think it’s going to overwhelm new players in the same way that more advanced roll-and-writes might. This is all to say that I’ve had a good time with Wok and Roll, and if you’re looking for another fun roll-and-write, you enjoy food-themed games, or you just want to support games from outside the US, I’d recommend checking it out!
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