3rd Aug 2023 - Rolling Heightsby Robin. Fri, 4 Aug (Updated at Mon, 14 Aug)
In many of our favourite games, we play the role of some form of magnate: we're railroad barons, or entrepreneurs, or captains of industry, and we enjoy the easy money-making mechanics like stock trading and resource management. So capitalism can be fun! But it was refreshing to try a game that covered the evil, exploitative side of capitalism too.
In Rolling Heights, we were property developers building a city. The harder we drove our workers, the more we built, and the more we produced to reinvest; but if we pushed them too hard, they went on strike, leaving us unable to do anything.
This was nicely captured in the rolling meeples mechanic that distinguishes this game. On a turn, we would take our worker meeples and roll them all. Those that landed standing-up worked hard; those that landed on their side worked less hard; and those lying flat did nothing. We could keep rolling the face-down ones to get more to stand up... but if the re-rolled meeples all ended up lying flat again, they went on strike. And then picketed the standing-up meeples and stopped half of them from working too.
When standing up and not on strike, the meeples went to work, providing resources and building buildings, which in turn allowed us to recruit more meeples. The more and better buildings you built, the more victory points you scored. So we built our engines and pushed our luck. I spent most of the game as an ardent socialist, willing the oppressed workers to win out over their ruthless employers; except when it was my turn, when I suddenly became an evil capitalist again.
There were even the equivalent of Pinkerton meeples, who could be used to take lying-down workers and force them upright; and others that could force the workers to work harder without striking. But, unlike the real Pinkertons, these meeples could ultimately end up on strike along with all the others.
I would recommend playing a push-your-luck game against me: it will always be good for a laugh. It was great fun, but I ended up with a lot of strikes; as did Andrew. David meanwhile seemed to find a more agreeable compromise with his workforce, and got through most of the game without a strike. So he was the good socialist and justly won the game.
As the game progressed, and the strikes continued, I became fascinated by the physical mechanics of rolling meeples: it clearly doesn't give uniform probabilities like dice do, which opens up a whole new can of worms about what you can influence: Did the number of meeples rolled affect the likelihood of them landing face-down? Was there a best way to roll them? How high to drop them from? I found myself experimenting. So really my ongoing provocation of strikes was less in the footsteps of Andrew Carnegie, more like Barnes Wallace 🙂
Sadly, there was a downside to this game, which is that it was very low on player interaction. Watching the others flirt with strikes was lots of fun, but ultimately a poor substitute. As David pointed out, city-builder games generally aren't great at player interaction. But the excellent mechanics of Rolling Heights could just as well have been applied to any genre of industry game - it would be great to see this concept in a more interactive setting.
Elsewhere at the club this week, we finally had the chance to see how 7 tables would fit in with the new larger tables. And they did fit, although Steve and Michel used a smaller table for their 2-player game. With all the tables I'm not sure I can remember all the games; among them were Vasco Da Gama, Beyond The Sun, Weather Machine, Dune, Conquest Of Nerath, and I think Lord Of The Rings.