Dice & Ink Volume 1 is a collection of roll-and-write games from a handful of designers. Roll-and-writes are where you roll dice, then choose numbers to fill out spaces on your game sheet. I received a prototype print-and-play from Inkwell Games in exchange for an honest review. This game is on Kickstarter now, and we’ll add a link below. Because this is a prototype, the components are not final. This review is going to be different than my usual format in order to — hopefully — keep things simpler. Let’s get started! Dice & Ink V1 just needs space for your sheets and dice. If you use a dice-rolling app, you could play on an airplane, at a restaurant… anywhere. As you can imagine, set-up and take-down take next to no time. The games themselves range from 15 to almost 90 minutes. Some of the games, such as Celestial Stories, could be played by a six-year-old as long as they can read and write. Others, like Coral Relief, should probably be saved for nine-year-olds with game experience. Celestial Stories has players drawing lines between stars in order to create constellations. Place a star, set a 60-second timer, pass the sheet, roll and place a new star, then pass the sheet again. Continue until the time is up. Afterwards, finish the constellation, and tell a story about it, and how it connects to the others. I didn’t like this one at all. Although I like the idea about passing sheets, if you need to reach across the table to get the dice, or anything else slows you down for even a moment, you’ll realize what we did: 60 seconds isn’t enough time. The sheets are too busy. They should’ve been dotted or a light grey so that your lines stand out. Finally, I don’t like how you need to connect your constellation story to another’s because it isn’t as interesting as it sounds. Honestly, I found the game boring. There isn’t enough to do, and I hope to never play it again. Coral Relief has players growing coral, attracting sea life, and trying to prevent starfish from destroying the reef. Rolling the dice will help you create your grid, and eventually fill it with one of the three coral types. One die will be selected to be the starfish. Too many starfish in a box and your coral dies. Thankfully you can use 5 and 6 rolls to unlock abilities that will help them stay alive, or to create combos and patterns attractive to sea life. I enjoy the theme a lot, even if you don’t feel like you’re actually growing and maintaining a reef. The ability system is enjoyable, and there are some really tough decisions in this game, which I always like. Unfortunately, the diversity sheet is confusing, the starfish system makes the sheet too busy, and the game is way too long and bloated. I suggest that you play Fleet: The Dice Game instead. Flowers over Towers has players racing to grow their flowers in abandoned towers. You can either grow, crumble a tower that contains your flowers in order to prevent opponents from taking control of it, or fill the river which gains you bonuses, but can trigger the game’s end quickly. This is one of my favourite games in the collection. I like the difficult decision of the choices. I could fill in a river, but I don’t like that Mom now has more flowers than me in tower 2. Although if I put a flower in tower 6, I’ll claim it, but then Dad will get to draw two bonus flowers, which will allow him to trigger a combo. There was always a useful choice, and unlike many of the games in this book, I felt the time was perfectly reasonable: 20 to 25 minutes. Islands of Atlantis has players creating islands in the ocean, then filling them with different… …okay, honestly, you choose one die, outline that many hexes, then write the number of another die inside it. You want to try to have an island with 1 through 6 — this is a perfect island — but if you can’t, they’ll still score points as regular islands. Once you decide to finish an island, shade around the entire thing. You’ll mark off a few boxes on the side, then keep going. Be sure to try and collect the valuable relics as well. As you can tell, the theme here doesn’t make a lot of sense, although I think the gameplay is pretty fun and interesting. There just isn’t enough to do in a game that lasts this long. The powers unlock too late in the game to be very useful, and the way the scoresheet works slows the game down. I’d prefer one-and-done abilities, and have us do all the marking off at the end. Finally, the rules are really sloppy. I’ll talk about this more at the end. Kuiper Kowboys is another of my favourites from the collection. Players are exploring space, trying to collect valuable resources to help humanity build a new home. You have 12 rounds to scan and travel the map — watch out for danger zones. Upgrade your ship to collect more resources, travel further, or just keep the ship in one piece. You can rest to gain funds, and worship to unlock bonuses. I love the number of decisions to make here, and the number of rounds means that there’s actually a real ending to this game. Turns felt quick, and even though it’s marked as a solo game, it works just as well with other people. Most of the games in this collection are multiplayer solitaire, so it doesn’t matter if you play solo or not. I found the scan and travel map gets messy because of the dots, symbols, and lines, and it’s too small to keep your path readable. I wish this was handled better. Despite this, it’s one of the best sheets in the book. Scrapyard Rollbot has players filling in a grid, trying to get the most valuable parts for themselves, and leaving the scraps for their rival, Rick. There are a few neat tricks here, like how you can choose which spots go to Rick, and how filling in a column or crossing off boxes trigger the upgrades. I also like the idea that you cannot have the same number in adjacent spots, which makes the puzzle pretty hard as you go. During the game you’ll be putting your score in this odd-shaped scoring area that’s supposed to look like a robot, but it’s clunky and slows the game down. If you fill in all 12 spots, you trigger “fancy stuff” that help you score even more. I played a prototype of this… maybe two years ago? I liked it more then. This grid, with the numbers listed twice, is way too busy. The robot in the corner for your score is all over the place, so you’re looking to see why the 2 and 3 are on the opposite side of 4 and 5. I really like the difficulty as the game goes, optimizing your choices in order to stay alive. Sometimes I used an upgrade just to hurt Rick. This isn’t a bad game, but the fancy stuff is unnecessary and too tied to luck, and the sheet design is bad. PenSylvania has players exploring a forest, cutting trees, and harvesting resources in order to build their village, farm livestock, and get points in other ways. It has one of my favourite themes of the collection, and reminds me of a baby Agricola and Caverna. It has more decisions than most of the games in Dice & Ink Volume 1 — it, or Kuiper Kowboys — but is simpler than those standalone board games I mentioned. I wish resources were scarcer, and I wish the engine-building was better. The game felt way too long in the exploring sections, and way too short in figuring out how to maximize my turns in order to keep building, or whatever else that map featured. The four seasons with unique actions are a great idea, but, yeah, it was a chore finishing one. Oh, and that horse race with its random dice rolls? In Lost at Sea, you are stranded on an island covered with trash, and need to survive long enough to find a way off it using whatever resources you can find. During the day phase, you’ll roll dice, and do things like rest to gain health, clean to improve your hygiene for the day, fish for food, or even collect and build pieces of garbage into shelter, a raft, and so on. At night, you’ll suffer depending on how clean your water supply and body are. This is absolutely my favourite game in the collection, and works well in terms of theme and mechanisms. It’s simple to play, but offers many difficult choices and challenges. It seems like there’s a lot going on, but the game can be played in about 45 minutes, and never feels like it drags. I wish there was a reminder on the player sheets that the dark raft spots were mandatory in building it, and while I understand the shapes and materials needed to stand out and be easy to draw, I found it easier to just write the first letter of each material. This is the most difficult review I’ve done. I love the idea of Dice and Ink, but… If you compare this to baking a cake, some of the games are close and just need icing, several need to bake longer, and one of them is just ingredients in a bowl. After playing each one, I didn’t want to play most of them again. I didn’t want to even finish some of them that first time. Many of the rule sets seemed incomplete, had spelling errors, or even went against other parts of the rules. This made it hard to enjoy each game. If the publisher put together a polished set of Flowers over Towers, Kuiper Kowboys, and Lost at Sea, then added scenarios and lowered the price, I’d happily recommend this. As it stands, there are many great roll-and-writes on the market. For the price of this, grab Welcome to… and Star Maps, plus save a few dollars.