Sometimes I sell a few games and momentarily have a decent whack of money in my Paypal account. This is then to be used sparingly and only on games that I really, really want, because if I buy something on an impulse then it'll likely end up on the sale pile and the vicious cycle goes on. As an active member of the Facebook group Board Game Trading & Chat UK I see a lot of sales posts; I usually see an awful lot of games that I'm completely uninterested in which is probably just as well I guess. Recently though I saw copy of SteamRollers pop up. This is something I've had half an eye on as I crave a decent roll and write game; it also has the bonus of being a simple train game. Just like buses, they come along in pairs; in the same post there was also Harvest Dice available. Quick check on BGG and this also sounds like my cup of tea. SteamRollers is a very nice game, and maybe I'll do a review at some point, but as it happens Harvest Dice has stolen the show. Want to hear more? Read on kind gentleperson.
What's Roll and Write?
Roll and Write is a genre of game that's been around for a long time. Probably the most famous mainstream example is Yahtzee. In these games, players will usually be given a sheet of paper and a pen/pencil to keep track of their game. That's the writing bit. The rolling obviously refers to dice although there are alternatives that do without them e.g. Welcome To... utilises cards.
In terms of hobby games, it seems to me that there has been a boom in this subgenre in the last couple of years with offerings such as Railroad Ink in two fabulous variants- blue and red- and Ganz schön clever making a splash. 2019 looks like being another bumper year for this style of game with many more upcoming releases already listed on Boardgamegeek.
What's Harvest Dice about?
You don't win any prizes for being able to guess the theme of this one: farming! The mechanisms are incredibly simple. Each player gets a sheet from one of the pads (basic or advanced) and a pencil.
The starting player gets the pig token and 9 dice. Green dice are lettuces, orange are carrots and red are tomatoes.
The player rolls all the dice and everyone takes turns choosing one dice from the selection. Taking a green 3 means I can plant a lettuce in the '3' column or I have to feed it to my pig instead. At the start of the game you can plant your vegetables anywhere, but once you've planted the first of each type you can then only plant them orthogonally adjacent to the same type. Taking a dice that cannot legally be planted in your farm means it must instead go to the pig; cross off one pig box for each pip on the dice you drafted. This can be very useful; not only are they worth points at the end of the game, you also earn a one-use dice modifier for every 6 boxes you've ticked off. +/- 1 pip is the only option in the basic game; changing the colour of the die you're drafting is an extra option in the advanced game.
The genius of this incredibly simple game is the requirement that vegetables be placed orthogonally adjacent to the same type. In a typical 2 player game, the first three dice chosen could very likely be one of each type with a decent spread between them e.g. 2, 4 and 6 and put on different rows. And we'll already have restricted our future options and shaped the way our game could go. It's a lovely dynamic where every decision you make will have very real consequences, and not just for you! As fans of drafting games will know, part of the game will always be working out what your opponents want to take and trying to deprive them of those options.
And then there's the in-game economy. The last die of each round remains undrafted and instead increases the value of the matching vegetable by one- players mark off a box in the appropriate section on the bottom right of the scoring pads. The rarest planted vegetables therefore become more desirable and I think that's brilliant game design, mechanically and thematically.
The game ends when either a player fills their farm entirely or a pig has been filled up or the value of a vegetable has reached 6. At the end, you score points for the following:
- Number of planted vegetables in your farm multiplied by their value determined during the game
- Ribbons. In the basic game, you get 5 points for each completed row. The advanced game also rewards the players who have the most of each type of vegetable planted in their farm and the most full pig
- Each row of 6 boxes showing that Pig has been well fed
I don't own many games with less in the box, but it's a perfectly streamlined small box game with little wasted space or over-the-top production decisions. Including two slightly different scorepads (supported by differing rules for basic and expert modes) is a nice way to make the game accessible to very young gamers whilst still appealing to adults and more capable gamers. Also, though I haven't had cause to crack open the basic game yet myself, the core concept of the game remains the same which is great.
Each pad comes with 200 sheets (which will keep you going for a while) though they lose a mark for not being double-sided (as in SteamRollers). If you ever ran out there is apparently a downloadable PDF though a quick Google search didn't find it, including looking on the publisher's website.
The dice aren't perfect in my copy, with a couple being slightly misshapen, but this has no impact on the gameplay and is (I guess) not a big deal. Including 4 little pencils is a nice touch; SteamRollers loses on this score with no writing implements included.
Setup and replayability
I love how quick the setup is. Hand out the scoring sheets and pencils, give the start player the pig token and dice and you're ready to go. With our 2 player games averaging 15 minutes even 5 minutes spent setting up would seem too long, but less than a minute? Perfect. As for replayability, every game is going to play out differently even from the start with the dice rolls and player decisions having a major impact on the remainder of the game.
Harvest Dice is a fun, engaging and surprisingly tactical game for such a simple design. It appeals to me vastly more than the dreary numbers-based Qwinto and wildly popular Ganz schön clever. The theme is appealing to me (though obviously this is highly subjective) and the mechanics fit it very nicely. Adding the economy is such a clever touch; it doesn't make the game any more complex (aside from requiring basic maths to work out the scores) but creates yet more tough decisions throughout.
I recommend it without hesitation. Prices in the UK at time of writing from £14.59 according to Board Game Prices.