I have been a fan of laser based games going back to Laser Chess on the Amiga. When I first heard about Roll For Lasers, a new roll and write board game, I knew I had to try it out.
Roll For Lasers has players first placing targets on a map, then placing a series of mirrors, then firing lasers and using those mirrors to hit as many targets as you can. The interesting bit here though is that the targets and mirrors that you place can be used by all of the players.
Disclosure: Brian Shoemaker was cool enough to send me a copy of Roll For Lasers for review, no other compensation was provided.
There’s not a lot to the Roll and Write, Roll For Lasers
Roll For Lasers was designed by Kevin Dunkelberger and Brian Shoemaker and features art by Eric Streed. It funded on Kickstarter earlier this month and is being published by Glass Shoe Games. Roll For Lasers plays two to four players with each game taking half an hour to an hour and a half, very much depending on player AP. Though the game isn’t listed as being able to be played one player I don’t see why you couldn’t play this solo while aiming for a high score.
There are three versions of this game, a dry erase board version, a laminated version, and a print and play version. The copy I received to review is the laminated version.
Normally when I get a new game one of the first things I do is record an unboxing video and publish it on YouTube, but that’s not the case this time. There just isn’t enough stuff to really show off with Roll for Lasers.
That’s the main thing with this game, it doesn’t require much at all to play. The entire game consists of one laminated sheet (the board), a one-page instruction sheet, a one-page example sheet, a dry erase marker and six six-sided dice.
The board is a 12×12 grid separated into four regions, each of which is colour coded for no reason I can figure out. Added to that each region has an assortment of museum displays depicted in some of the squares in the grid. These are so faded out that you can barely see them, which I guess makes sense because they serve no purpose at all during the actual game.
A look at how to play Roll For Lasers, a museum themed roll and write game
At the start of a game of Roll For Lasers, each player picks a corner to start in.
Each round of the game is broken into three phases and each phase starts by rolling the six-sided dice. Scoring is calculated at the end of each round. The game is played for three rounds with four players or for four rounds with less than four players. The player with the most points at the end of the game wins.
Phase One – Place Targets: In phase one each player will be placing up to three targets. Where they can place targets is determined by pairing up the dice they rolled with the numbers on the dice indicating coordinates on the grid. Coordinates are counted off starting from the player’s corner. At each coordinate pair that they pick they draw a circle.
Phase Two – Place Mirrors: Similar to phase one, in phase two each player will be placing up to three mirrors. Again, they determine where they can place mirrors by pairing up their dice with the numbers on the dice indicating coordinates on the grid. Coordinates are counted off starting from the player’s corner. At each coordinate pair picked they draw a diagonal line across the target square. The orientation is up to the player. Lasers will bounce off these mirrors at a ninety-degree angle in the next phase.
Phase Three – Firing Lasers: In this phase, players can fire up to three lasers. When firing lasers players can combine any number of dice to come up with a number between one and twelve and can then fire one laser from that coordinate on either their x or y-axis. For example, a player could trade in a 1, a 3 and a 6 to fire from the 10 spot on either the X or Y-axis, again counting away from their corner of the board.
Scoring: Lasers continue in a straight unless they hit a mirror, which causes them to turn ninety degrees. Each target hit scores one point for the player firing the laser. Targets can be hit by the same laser multiple times if the mirrors are set up to enable that to happen.
What’s important to note here is that the elements placed on the board are not owned by any single player. All objects affect all players and players can score by hitting any targets not just their own.
After each scoring round but the last, the board is rotated clockwise ninety degrees. This means that each round players place targets and mirrors and fire lasers from a new corner. Note in most cases players will be drawing in a quadrant that already has things in it after the first round.
Added to these basic rules there are a couple of special rules. One is that every round a player can re-roll any number of dice once. This is once per round, not once per phase. So if a player re-rolls when placing targets they can’t re-roll when firing lasers, or when placing mirrors.
Then there are special powers, each game the players select three special powers to use (or determine them randomly) Each of these can only be used once per game per player and there are twelve different powers to choose from. These powers include new things you can place on the map like a splitter that reflects lasers both orthogonal directions, a reflector that reflects lasers straight back or a large mirror that extends over three squares. Other powers include things like giving players additional re-rolls or allowing them to erase something already placed on the map. These powers add some variability and replayability to the game.
That pretty much covers it.
What are my overall thoughts on the laser-based roll and write, Roll For Lasers?
Overall Roll For Lasers is dead simple to teach and to play. You can be up and playing in a matter of moments after putting this game down on the table.
That simplicity is deceptive here. Roll For Lasers starts off simple enough, with some pretty quick and easy decisions in the first round, but things really ramp up as the game goes on. As more and more targets and mirrors and special items are added to the board the depth and complexity of the choices the players have to make increases and increases a lot.
What this means is that Roll For Lasers is much heavier and thinkier than you might expect. On the positive side, this game becomes almost chess-like in later rounds, with players trying to predict where their opponents will place and figuring out optimal paths for mirrors and special objects. On the negative side, this can lead to a lot of AP and a ton of downtime leading to a much longer playtime than you would expect.
To speed up play the designer does suggest that all of the players take their turns placing targets and mirrors simultaneously. While I guess it is theoretically possible for multiple players to be drawing on the board at once, the board is just a single sheet of paper and we found that it wasn’t practical for more than one person to be using the sheet at once, even with only two players. Perhaps the dry erase board version is larger and more suited for simultaneous play.
My other main complaint about this game is that of a missed opportunity. It’s the fact that there’s artwork on the map that means nothing. It just feels like there should be something there, like a bonus point if your target is over an exhibit or something.
I have a few other minor complaints about Roll For Lasers. These all made me think this game could have used a bit more development or playtesting. Minor tweaks to make the game better. For example, the score sheet printed on the map could really use a spot to place your score for each of your three lasers and not just a total. I would have liked to have seen a chart or something for randomizing the special abilities. Regarding the special abilities, they seem to greatly vary in how useful they are and we have had games where no one used any of them. I think the addition of numbers on the grid would have helped speed play. My wife, who has played the game a number of times, really felt that not using your re-roll should give you some reward, a bonus point or something.
Overall I have had fun with each game of Roll For Lasers that we’ve played. I really appreciate how little you need to play this game. The small number of components makes this a great portable game, one that I think would be perfect for playing at a pub or a coffee shop. I can easily see having the print and play version and printing off a few copies of the board, folding it up and placing it in the glove box of my car in a ziplock bag with some dice and a pen.
The problem with this game is how long it takes to play vs. what you expect. This is all due to how the amount of things you need to consider when taking your moves increases each round. This leads to a lot of downtime, and that is what is going to stop me from getting this to the table often at home. I wouldn’t mind the downtime as much at a pub, where I can drink and socialize between turns, but when sitting down just to play Roll For Lasers it can be too much.
Sean, my podcast co-host, did have a great idea for playing at home and that was to stick the board for Roll For Lasers up on the fridge (or other central location in the house) where players can take their turns at their leisure. I think this is a brilliant idea that totally removes all the downtime.
There’s a lot to like in Roll For Lasers and I strongly suggest checking it out, especially at the pre-order price point of only $2 for the print and play. I know for sure that we’ve had more than $2 worth of fun with this game.