Roll and Move

Roll-and-move games are, for many of us, the first boardgames we ever played. From all boardgames, pure roll-and-move games have the simplest set of rules: you roll a dice, then you move the number of squares the dice shows. Instead of rolling the dice, you might draw a card or spin a spinner; the important part is that the distance you move is determined by chance.

In this simple form children as young as two to three years can grasp the rules and learn the basics of how to play rule-based games – we are trying to raise the next generation of gamers after all. Candyland is one of the most famous examples of these games: the cards here are printed with colours instead of numbers, a draw allows the player to move to the next square of that colour and the first player to reach the goal wins. Parcheesi (known as Mensch-ärgere-dich-nicht in German-speaking parts of the world) is another prime example; while not based exclusively on luck like Candyland, the dice are still the main actors and the only choice the player makes is which of his four pawns to move. But roll-and-move games don’t have to be simple or based purely on luck: Backgammon for example is basically a roll-and-move game but requires a lot of tactical thinking.

As it often does, the development of individuals mirrors the development of society: the earliest boardgames archaeologists have discovered are from the roll-and-move family. Senet, an Egyptian game that existed as early as 3100BC and is widely considered the first boardgame, was played with throwing sticks instead of dice but is an otherwise perfect example.

But Roll-and-move is not only a family of games, it is also a popular mechanic to mix into other kinds of games. Monopoly in all variations that I know is an economic game that employs roll-and-move mechanics to get you around the board. Similarly, Clue is a deduction game using roll-and-move mechanics to push your investigator around.  Both games also exemplify why roll-and-move has fallen out of favour with adult gamers: it adds a too big element of luck to the game. It doesn’t matter how well you play the economic or deduction part of the game, when the dice gods are against you you won’t win. The amount of luck in those games is a no-go for most modern adult gamers and has led to a wide dislike for everything that is roll-and-move outside of kid’s games.

Of course, there is many ways to reduce the influence of luck while keeping the roll-and-move component: rolling with multiple dice and then choosing one, or choosing whether you add or subtract them is two ways that have grown popular in kid’s games in recent years but hasn’t really entered adult gaming, a common opinion being “if you want less luck, why would you use dice”? In consequence, mechanics like movement decks that give every player the same options over the course of the game have replaced roll-and-move, not to forget that many recent boardgames don’t feature any kind of movement. And so today roll-and-move is relegated to children’s games and some classics like Backgammon.

And now you know about roll-and-move games.

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The photo of Senet (center) was taken by Flickr user ataraxis, the photos of Candyland and Monopoly (left and right) by John Morgan. All are with a CC-BY license. Thank you guys for sharing.