Being a lover of dice, I’m naturally drawn to roll and write games. (So called because you roll the dice and write your results on a score sheet.) I even enjoy a game of Yahtzee now and then, if that’s all anyone will play. But roll and writes have come a long way since the days of Yahtzee. Now games like Qwixx and Ganz Schon Clever are being nominated for major gaming industry awards. Roll and write is having a moment.
Into this new era of roll and writes rolls Welcome To… a roll and write with no roll. That’s right. This game doesn’t use dice. Instead, it uses cards to produce the variables that you’ll enter on your score sheet. So maybe it’s not technically a roll and write. Maybe it’s a flip and write? Either way, the question is whether or not it delivers a fun experience.
How It Plays
In Welcome To, you’re an architect building the fabulous home development of the future! Or the retro past. Whatever. You’re building houses along streets and like any good developer, you have to keep them sequentially numbered. (You don’t want to traumatize the post office by having your street numbers run 1, 5, 3, 15, 10, 12, etc.) Unlike many games in the genre, however, it’s not just about filling in numbers. You have several special scoring goals you can shoot for, and special abilities to help you get there.
Each player gets a scoresheet to start the game. The number cards are shuffled and divided into three equal piles (number side up) and placed in the middle of the table. Three plan cards are randomly chosen and placed project side up. These cards show certain arrangements of houses which, if you achieve them through proper planning and fencing, will earn you points at the end of the game. (The advanced variant cards have some other goals, like completing pools or parks, in addition to just arranging houses.)
When the game begins, take the top card off each number pile and flip it over so that the ability on the back of the card is face up and place it next to the number deck you drew it from. Now you have three sets of numbers and abilities. These are the variables you’ll be using to fill in your scoresheet. (It’s as if you rolled dice, except you flipped cards.)
Players take their turns simultaneously. On your turn, you’ll choose one of the number/ability combinations and use it on your scoresheet. Using the number is mandatory; the ability is optional. Multiple players can choose the same combination.
You must write the number in one of the empty spots on the three streets of your scoresheet. Numbers must go in ascending order from left to right. You can leave open slots between numbers and hope to fill them in later. You can also place a number next to another out of sequence (an 8 to the right of a 5, for example), as long as you follow the ascending order rule. If you can’t write a number, you must mark off one of the building permit refusal spaces on your scoresheet. You want to avoid this, if possible, as doing so too often will cost you points at the end of the game and filling in this column entirely triggers the end of the game.
After entering your number, you can use the ability in your chosen combination, if you want to. A quick and dirty explanation of the abilities follows. (I’ve referred to them by both the color/symbol depicted on the cards, and the names used in the rulebook.)
The White Fence/Surveyor: This allows you to build a fence between two houses on the same street in order to create “estates.” An estate is an area bordered by fences on either end, and with all spaces between those fences numbered. (Unnumbered spots don’t count toward a completed estate.) Using this ability helps you meet the plan goals which were set out at the beginning of the game.
The Purple Coins/Real Estate Agent: This allows you to mark a space on the real estate section of your scoresheet in order to manipulate the value of your completed estates. For example, if you mark the first space in the “3” column, every completed three-house estate you have at the end of the game will be worth four points, instead of the base three points it would have scored.
The Green Palm Trees/Landscaper: You can create a park by marking off one of the trees (in ascending order) at the end of the street in which you built the house associated with this effect. The more parks you have, the more points you earn at the end of the game.
The Blue Pool/Pool Manufacturer: Some houses on your scoresheet depict pools waiting to be built. If you write a number into one of these and the pool ability is part of your combination, you get to mark off a space on the pool column of your scoresheet, increasing the value of all pools at the end of the game. (Note you can write a number into a pool house without also having the pool ability, but you don’t get the bonus of checking off a pool space. You also don’t have to use the pool ability, if you’d rather put the number in a non-pool house.)
The Orange Barricade/Temp Agency: This allows you to manipulate the number shown next to it. So if the number card shows 5, you can add or subtract 1 or 2 to that number and make it a 4, 3, 6, or 7, for example. This applies to the low and high end numbers, as well, meaning you can theoretically go as low as zero and as high as seventeen. Once you’ve decided what number you want, simply enter it on your scoresheet as normal.
You also mark off a space on your temp agency score column. At the end of the game, the player who used the most temps gets seven points, the next highest gets four, and third place gets one point.
The Red Mailbox/Bis: This lets you write a number a second time on the same street. The repeated house must be immediately adjacent to the house with the same number (on the left or right). It can’t be further down the street. It must also be part of the same estate during the whole game. You cannot split same numbered houses with a fence. (Think of it like a duplex that you can’t cut in half.) You can repeat the same number multiple times as long as you keep the estate together.
If you do this, you must check a box on the Bis section of your scoresheet and at the end of the game, the lowest number apparent is subtracted from your score.
Once all players have entered their numbers and (optionally) used their abilities, a new round begins. The top cards from the number piles are flipped to reveal their abilities, setting up a new set of combinations for players to use on their scoresheets. This continues until someone triggers the endgame.
The game ends either when a player checks off her third building permit refusal, achieves all three plans, or when someone has built all the houses on his three streets. Players then add up the points for pools, completed estates, parks, plans, and temp agencies. Then players subtract the points for Bis numbers and building permit refusals. The player with the most points wins.
A Roll and Write With Cards: Gimmicky, or Flippin’ Awesome?
What initially drew me to Welcome To is the 1950’s-era artwork. I’m a sucker for that “Airstream-Levittown-Howard Johnson’s-Tomorrowland-Roadside Americana-retro-optimistic-future” vibe. (I’m sure there must be a better word for it, but heck if I can come up with it.) The fact that this art features in what is essentially a roll and write was a plus. Most roll and writes have no art (or theme) to speak of. Their score sheets might be colorful and the dice custom, but beyond that they’re pretty spartan. It’s just you and the numbers. Welcome To changes that a bit. No, the theme isn’t deep and engrossing, but it’s cute and it does feel a tiny bit like you’re building a subdivision.
Looks aside, how does it play? I really enjoyed it overall. Like I said earlier, I’m already predisposed to like this sort of game, so things would have to go badly wrong for me to hate it. Fortunately, nothing goes badly wrong. In fact, Welcome To offers some neat twists on the genre.
There’s the obvious twist that you’re using cards instead of dice, yet the basic gameplay is the same as a roll and write. At first I thought, “Oh, cards for numbers instead of dice. Cute, but what difference does it make?” Then I played and I figured out what difference it makes. The cards give you opportunities for a bit more strategy than you’ll find in most dice chucking roll and writes.
Once you’re experienced with the game, you will learn how to increase your score by taking advantage of what I call the “strategic breadcrumbs” the game offers. First, each number card shows the ability that will be revealed for the next round. It’s in the upper corner. So while you won’t know which number will come up, you can make some preliminary plans with the knowledge of which ability will be next.
Second, the cards are less random than dice. In a true roll and write, you have no idea what will come up next. Yes, there is some probability involved in chucking dice, but it’s almost impossible to know for certain. In Welcome To, the card distribution follows a bell curve. The numbers 1 and 15 have the fewest cards in the deck, the number 8 has the most, and the numbers in between ascend and descend on the curve. Astute players might observe, for example, that three number 1 cards have already been played. That means there are no more in the deck and they can make their plans accordingly. The distribution is the same in every game, so you can better figure probabilities than you can in a dice game.
Third, the abilities offer a bit more to think about and ways to score than a game like Qwixx. In many roll and writes, you have to deal with exactly what you roll. There may be a way to modify some numbers, or skip playing numbers if you can’t make them work, but Welcome To offers a plethora of ways to score points. You most likely won’t be able to use an ability on every single turn, but when you can you can achieve some nifty bonuses.
Plus, since many of the abilities aren’t tied directly to the number, you can place the number on one street and use the ability somewhere else. This gives you a little more freedom and flexibility than you’ll find in many roll and writes.
These little additions don’t turn Welcome To into a heavy game by any means. It’s still a lightweight affair that’s suitable for non-gamers. But if you’ve been turned off by roll and writes that don’t support a lot of thought or ways to score, and are pure luck-fests, then Welcome To might be worth a try.
The practicalities of the game are good, as well. It’s a small box with few components, so it’s easy to set up, tear down and store. It plays quickly, and like most in the genre, offers that “let’s go again” feeling because it’s so fast. There are rules for solo play, as well as advanced variants and expert rules that extend the gameplay and keep it interesting for experienced players. It can also support a theoretically unlimited number of players. As long as everyone has access to a scoresheet, you can set it up and play it on a Skype session or a Google Hangout.
But this brings about the first potential negative. If a game can be played over distance and with that many people, you can kind of tell that it’s going to be a very solitary experience. You don’t have to know what your opponents are doing because there’s no way to mess with them. Since the card combos are available to all, you can’t take one and lock someone else out of using it. There’s nothing to steal or block off, either. It’s just you against the numbers. The only interaction you get is when people moan about a certain number not coming up, or gloat about their great new estate. On the plus side, it’s a game for people who don’t like any sort of meanness in their games. But if you’re looking for an interactive experience, this isn’t it.
(Note that the expert rules do offer a drafting variant which does add a bit of interaction in that you’ll be passing unwanted cards to your neighbors, but even that doesn’t add significant interaction.)
Another potential negative is that, like most of its brethren, Welcome To can be a bit random. While it’s less random than most dice games and there’s a bit more predictability, you’re still at the mercy of the card flip. Even if you know that the number you need is still in the deck, when it comes out is anyone’s guess. The game may end before it does. If you get boxed in and the numbers don’t come up to save you, you can still get hammered.
Finally, Welcome To can sometimes feel a little long for what it is. All the abilities and ways to score add to the game, but they can also slow it down as people think over what to do. This is particularly true at higher player counts, and one reason why I’d never recommend playing with more than five or six. Sure, you can play with a hundred people, but prepare for some pain if you try. Welcome To is best played briskly, yet if you get people who think too much, they can drag it down to where people start fidgeting because they’re ready to move on.
Overall, I really enjoyed Welcome To and it will be staying in my collection for the foreseeable future. It checks all of the boxes I look for in a game: Easy to learn and play, quick playtime, attractive, some strategic options, scales well, and is something I can get almost anyone to play. I see this one getting a lot of plays over the coming holidays.
If you’re looking for something in the roll and write genre that offers a little more oomph for your brain (and your eyes) than Qwixx or Rolling America, I recommend giving Welcome To a try.