Ryan Laukat is a game designer who just wants you to explore. First, we were invited to go Above and Below in his colourful and attractive fantasy world of Arzium, and then Near and Far, before he tempted us to head off to Islebound.
Designer: Ryan Laukat
Artists: Ryan Laukat
WHAT’S IN THE BOX?
43 Land/Character cards
12 Starting cards
24 Artifact tiles
96 Explore markers (24 in each of four colours)
36 Coin tokens
4 Player aid cards
1 Outpost card
Now… Well, the clue is in the title. But despite the expansive, open-ended promise of Roam, this latest Laukat doesn’t have the thematic breadth or depth of any of its Arzium-building predecessors. In fact, it is his most compact, and abstract, game yet.
The theme, such as it is, inflicts a sleeping sickness on the diverse residents of Arzium (goat-people, warthog-people, lizard-people, people-people), who now wander aimlessly around the land, somnambulantly performing quaintly strange little tasks, such as “building a restaurant near a sulfuric geyser” and “breaking priceless gems with a hammer.” It is up to the players to head out into the wilderness, find them, and gently bring them back into reality.
Each sleepwalker is represented on the underside of a card, whose top-side depicts a fragment of landscape overlaid with a two-by-three grid. Six of these cards are randomly placed at the centre of the table, forming a larger six-by-six square grid. When one is claimed, by a player placing the majority of explore markers on the card, it is flipped to reveal the character, who then joins that player’s starting three characters in the search, adding their special searching ability to the group and earning them victory points, which will be totted up after one player ends the game by building their team to 10.
Essentially, then, everyone is building an area-control-primed engine. Each character card depicts a specific configuration in which explore markers can be placed (without being rotated), turning each turn into a Tetris-esque puzzle, as you have to figure out the best placement – taking into account the other players’ tokens – to both collect character cards and also pick up coins off the map (these can be spent to create more placement opportunities with certain configurations). It’s not particularly complicated, and is a cinch to learn, but it does require a lot of thought and attention during play. This makes most games of Roam surprisingly silent and characterised by furrowed brows.
To add a little flavour, Laukat offers the option to include magic artefacts, which can be bought to gift your team with bonus powers, such as moving explore tokens on the map, or rotating a character’s placement configuration. Our advice is to include these from the start, unless you’re playing with younger children, as they mix things up in an interesting way.
If you’re looking for another big, narrative-driven Laukat game, you might find Roam’s abstraction a little odd, perhaps even disappointing. But it is so rooted in his appealing, picture-book fantasy world, it will at least feel familiar and welcoming, rewarding his fans by packing its deck with characters from all his other titles. More importantly, its neat mechanisms make for an absorbing, thinky and rewarding little experience.
Reviewed by Dan Jolin
SHOULD I PLAY THIS? YES
As long as you don’t go in expecting another Near and Far, and embrace its abstraction, Roam is sure to please.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED…
While you’re putting down counters in patterns rather than tiles, Roam has a similar feel to Uwe Rosenberg’s light, shape-arranging game in the way it makes you think hard about each placement.
This review originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.