This is Picklemoose's Blog. A small section of Pixelated Cardboard dedicated to topics outside of digital board game ports. Posts here will be less formal & cover a range of topics.
At one point in time Yahtzee was the only game I would play with my wife. It was the only board game I would play at all. That was a while ago, things change, and I’m playing plenty of different games now. However, with the recent surge of roll-and-writes, I was curious about finding a modernized version of that classic dice-chucker.
I went headfirst into board game YouTube and saw a lot of different options. The two that stood out were Railroad Ink and Welcome To… Railroad Ink was out of stock everywhere so I placed an order for Welcome To… To recap, I went looking for a dice chucking game and walked away with Welcome To… which has exactly zero dice. Solid work on my part. Allow me to explain...
Flip and Write
The reason Welcome To… gets featured whenever people are talking roll-and-writes is that it comes with a giant pad of pre printed sheets of paper and the entire game consists of each player writing things on said paper. This is the central gameplay of all roll-and-writes and it is true in Welcome To.. as well. So, where are the dice? They have been replaced by a deck of two-sided cards split into three equal piles*. The cards are placed with a number facing up and the top of each pile is flipped, revealing an icon indicating some special ability. Each player chooses which of the three number-ability pairs they want to use and writes a corresponding action on their sheet. The three numbers are flipped and players do the same thing, this repeats until one of two different end game conditions are met by any of the players.
*It is an entire game-within-a-game to see how close you can get the three piles in size without actually counting. The closest on our record is only needing to shift two cards at the end to even out the piles. You could, as the rulebook suggests, cheat by actually counting, but boo! to that.
What Am I Writing?
Your scoring sheet consists mainly of three rows of houses, it is your job to build them in a responsible manner where the house numbers (nay, addresses) increase from left to right. These numbers are from the cards we mentioned previously, they range from 1 to 15 and there are more copies of cards the closer to the middle of that spread you get. There are only three each 1,2, 14 and 15, for example, compared to nine 8s. You have to use a number each turn. Should you be unable to, you cross off a box on the bottom, do this a few times and the game ends.
The second side of the cards are the abilities. There are a handful, each does something to either help you build easier or gain you points. The most vital ability is the fence, which allows you to draw a fence between any two houses. This is important because houses only score when in groups of six or less. There are also some bonus cards which can earn you big points if you match the group sets depicted on them. Pools and parks give you increasing number of points for each you add, there are some others which allow you to alter the number you are using, build an extra “Bis” house (townhouse), and some other things.
Easy to Learn
A key metric for me and my groups is how difficult/easy a game is to teach and learn. Generally, if I can’t get through the rule explanation in few minutes and the crucial aspects of the game aren’t understood by about halfway through, the game will inevitably fall flat. Your groups are different, but that’s how mine exist so it’s the metric I use for choosing games.
To put it simply, Welcome To… is as easy to teach as you would expect. Everybody will forget the abilities over the first ten turns or so, but then it will start to click and by about halfway through the first game everybody will be realizing some of the bad decisions they made early on. The first game will likely end with a “let’s play again!” as players try to correct those mistakes.
Also, the game scales fine at literally any player count. The only constraint is making sure everybody can see the cards and having enough pens. Oh, my biggest complaint about this game is that pencils don’t show up very well on the paper and even when using pens it can be tough to see the fences and sections you have. Neon red pens are recommended.
This Is Fun, Trust Me
Flipping cards, writing numbers, something about pools...this doesn’t sound super engaging to you?! The fun comes in with the stress of how to use the available numbers. An 8 is a good number, it’s right down the middle, you can start on your totally empty rows by placing an 8 in the middle and be on your way to success and happiness. The next turn comes and there are two fives and a twelve. Okay, I’ll put a twelve somewhere to the right of that eight. How far? That’s easy, just move it up four spots. But wait, they means I am locking myself into using nine through eleven, that seems risky. How about only moving it up three spots? Well, that leaves me with two spots to the right of the twelve which must be filled by some combination of 13, 14, and 15, three of the rarest cards in the game. Ugh! What do I do?
The second half of the decision making comes in the abilities. There will frequently be times where your need for either the ability or the number will outweigh the other and you’ll settle for a number/ability you don’t really love just so you can get the ability/number you need. Got that? If there’s a 15/pool combo up and an 8/fence, for example, you might be inclined to use that 15 since they are so rare and have an obvious home at the far end of a street. However, if that fence can be used to finish off the last section you need to complete a goal card and get a big point bonus, maybe you settle for a boring 8?
We're In This Together
The tough decisions start early and don’t let up, constantly weighing number vs ability and where to write the number is something there will never be a perfect answer to, but it sure is fun to try. It’s solid enough that I could see this working as a fun, extremely light, solo game where you attempt to better previous scores, if you’re inclined to enjoy something like that.
However, the best part about this game, in my book, is that every player has the exact same set of options as every other player on every turn. This is extremely rare in board games. For the entirety of the game, there is no reason you couldn’t make the exact same choices as your opponents and end up with the exact same score. This, of course, never happens, but the fact that everyone is playing the same choices throughout really make you feel like you are in control, even more than you probably are. The winner can look over their weaker foes and know that they used the same cards to do a better job developing their neighborhood.
There is, of course, a bunch of luck that comes into play with the order in which the cards appear and how that relates to your previous choices, but the game really makes you feel like you are in total control and out maneuvered your opponent. You ran through the same maze, starting at the same time and even moving at the same speed, but you took less bad turns than they did.
All's Well In Turtleton
The first thing you are required to do when starting a game is naming your neighborhood on your scoresheet. I believe Turtleton was a loser for me, but I was proud of her and her numerous pools nonetheless.
This is a light game that packs a lot of tough decisions. Not tough because the game presents you with 37 different paths to take and you can’t plan far enough ahead to know which is best, but tough because you are the architect of your own demise and you can’t understand how you backed yourself into this terrible corner where only a card with a two on it will help.
It’s mostly tactical, you are reacting to whatever gets revealed with each flip (it should be noted, and I have failed to do so thus far, that the number side of the cards show you which ability waits on its reverse, so you can plan a little). Strategically, you can choose to play for certain ability types like making sure to take every pool that comes up (maxed out pools can get you 36 points) or playing only for the bonus cards (worth up to 13 points each if you are the first to complete them, and less if you are not the first). Maybe you just want to build a bunch of the same sized sections of houses using a lot of fences so you can combine that with the market card to boost the per-section point total. There are enough different strategic approaches to make repeat plays a lot of fun, and of course the cards will never come up the way same twice.
Welcome To… has been a big hit for me. It’s simple, relatively quick at about 20-30 minutes, and has really lent itself to a “one more game!” mentality which isn’t a common occurrence for my groups. I happily recommend it for anyone looking to scratch the roll and write itch or just wants to find a nice gateway level game with no cutthroat aspects.
P.S. If you do want a fun Yahtzee type game, check out Qwinto. It distills Yahtzee’s “make me think long about which dice to roll and how to use the roll I got” core down to something super simple, fun, and quick. And, you know, actually has dice.