Roll For It! has been everywhere over the past five years. From friendly local gaming stores to big box retailers, online and in gift shops in remote corners of the planet, the plucky little game keeps popping up on shelves. Wil Wheaton played it with Jennifer Hale, John Ross Bowie, and Jason Ritter on Tabletop. It’s been spotted being played on cruise ships, in airports, on trains, during hurricanes, at Disney World, and on countless kitchen room tables. Recently, it’s even debuted in a spectacular mobile version, by Thunderbox Entertainment (the team behind the amazing Tsuro app). Some people love Roll For It! for its simplicity, take-anywhere package, and replayability. Others are left scratching their heads at it. Still, Roll For It! has taken the world by storm, all I can do is sit here and wonder how the little game I designed to bring my wife to the table has been able to do so much.
I was raised primarily on two games, Yahtzee and RISK. A love of rolling dice was pretty much woven into my DNA. It’s certainly no surprise that my brain was hardwired to contemplate dice when the time came. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Around 2010, I was coming up with lots of ideas for designs that appealed to my burgeoning love of heavy-duty games. My notepad was filled with designs that involved 4X-style civilization-building, post-apocalyptic Euro cube-pushing railroads, and the like. I had piles of prototypes in my house, and I tried to playtest them all with my wonderful wife, Becky. But though she did her best to feign interest, and certainly offered as much constructive feedback as she was able, those types of games just didn’t appeal to her. In fact – and she will tell you this herself, so I’m not just making it up to juice the story – she really doesn’t care much for games. After years of subjecting her to heavy designs, I began to think about what kind of a game we could play together that she would actually enjoy.
Becky had been raised on the old standards, and she was not much of a fan of any of them. Therefore, I decided, my challenge was to design a light, quick, fun game that we could sit together and play, but that wouldn’t overstay its welcome. My dream was that after playing this game together, she would say, “That was fun! Let’s play again!” With the die cast, I immediately set to work, full of excitement and promise! This was going to be fun, and how hard could it be?
Terrifically hard, it turns out. What I’ve discovered is that it is often much easier to design a complex game with multiple levels than it is to design a simple, elegant game. The reason behind this is simple: with complex games, you can hide some rough edges with other shiny design elements. In a simple game, everything is on display. There’s no room for excess stuff, and imbalance is much easier to identify in a small game. Therefore, the idea of designing a light, fun game to play with Becky was relegated to the back of my mind, where – it turns out – those beloved latent memories of Yahtzee and RISK got directly to work.
One unassuming day, as I was getting ready for work, a curious but fully-formed idea popped into my mind: Roll dice and match them to dice face images on cards laid out on the table. I had never played a game quite like that, and immediately I could see it all! The dice, the card layout, the flow…it all worked! I ran downstairs to tell Becky, and as I went, I added a theme that would surely be a hit with my wife: dogs!
When I explained the concept to Becky, I added the idea that each card would feature images of different dogs, and to win, you collected sets of pooches. Something like three beagles for the win! But my sweet wife, whom I love more than anything, took in the idea and stated flatly, “Your games are always too complicated…” We both laughed.
In a way, she was absolutely right. Dropping the dog theme and moving to numbered scoring was the best way to go. Weeks of prototyping and playtesting refined the card values and lead to the winning score being 40. I played Roll For It! with families, friends, gamers, and total strangers, and I was pleased to find that the reaction was positive.
Since then, the game has gone on to establish itself as a go-to dice game to introduce to new players. Between its Tabletop show and appearance in stores the world over, it has been a true pleasure to watch the explosion in popularity.
And most importantly, Becky and I – now with our kids joining us – spend a great deal of time together at our kitchen table, rolling dice and matching them. I set out to create a light game my wife would want to play, and I’m thrilled to say it has had the same effect all over the world.
Chris Leder is a father of three and the Director of Fun™ at Calliope Games. He also designs games, including Roll For It! (as implied in this article) as well as the upcoming Trainmaker and City of Gears.