From designer John D. Clair of Dead Reckoning and Mystic Vale fame comes Rolling Heights, a deck-building game where the cards are replaced with meeples, which you roll like dice (a la Pass the Pigs), in order to build skyscrapers on a competitive map.
If one more construction worker lands on his head, we can finally finish this skyscraper. It’s Ryan from Nights Around a Table. Here’s how to play Rolling Heights.
You and your friends play rival contractors in the 1920’s who are competing to complete construction projects for wealthy real estate moguls. You’ll roll your staff member meeples like dice to gain construction materials that let you complete the patterns on the buildings you buy, which will earn you more meeples, points, and money to start new construction projects.
When all the cubes of a certain colour run out, that triggers the end of the game. You finish up the round, and then play one final round before scoring private and public goals. Whoever’s earned the most points, wins!
Rolling Heights is a deck-builder at heart, except that instead of a deck of cards, you have a handful of meeples – 2 brown carpenters, and 2 navy gray construction workers – and you’ll use those meeples to complete buildings, which often earns you more and different meeples. Everyone starts with a single Level 1 building plan somewhere on the map. The cost to complete a project is on the tile, and along the side, because these spaces get covered up and you can’t see them. So to complete this housing project, you need to add 3 wood cubes to it. Then you cap it off with your colour, and earn 1 point, and either an architect or a riveter meeple. It’s your choice.
In order to get the construction cubes you need to finish your buildings, you have to roll your meeples into your box, and you get different stuff depending on how they land.
The three ways for a meeple to land are flat on its back, standing straight up, or some weird head or handstand like this. A worker who lands like this is exhausted. This meeple is working hard, and these ones are working steady, although i’m not sure i’d say that a carpenter doing a headstand is all that steady. You’ll get the most benefit from workers who are working hard. If one worker lands on top of another one, that roll counts, but if someone ends up hung in a weird way and you can’t figure out if it’s ready to work or not, you can re-roll that worker – even inside someone else’s box, if you don’t want to smash it into the meeples you’ve already rolled.
So you roll up to 10 meeples into your box. You only start the game with 4, so roll all 4. Later, if you have more than 10 to choose from, you pick 10 and roll those. They’re considered your “active meeples” for this turn. You pluck out any meeples who are working hard or working steady. You keep rolling the other guys until at least half of your meeples are working hard or working steady. So if you had an odd number of active meeples – say, 5 – you’d keep rolling and plucking until you had at least 3 working meeples, and then you stop.
Let’s say that later in the game, you have 12 meeples. You pick these 10 and roll them. 3 of them are working hard or working steady. You’re not quite at half, so you roll the remaining meeples, and 1 more is ready to work. Still not at half. Roll again. Everyone’s tired. You’re not at half, so roll them again. Aha! 2 more want to work. That’s 6 meeples ready for action.
You could stop there, but this is a bit of a push-your-luck game. If you want more meeples to work for you, you could scoop up your remaining meeples and re-roll them. Get to work, you lazy so-and-so’s! You get to keep anyone who wants to work – great! Here’s one more. You can keep rolling like this, pushing your luck, and keeping anyone who doesn’t land sleepy. But if on any of those push-your-luck rolls, if every meeple you roll is flat-on-their-backs exhausted, you go bust! Your workers are tired of being pushed to their limit, and they go on strike! You have to lose half of the meeples who were ready to work, rounded down. n But you get a wild resource token as compensation.
In order to keep downtime to a minimum, the rules say that you can roll and keep your meeples while the next players are taking their turns. Let’s find out what you can do with your meeples who are ready to work!
Once you’ve sorted out who’s working and who’s sleeping on the job, you get to put your meeples to work. There are four different construction materials in the game: wood, concrete, glass, and steel. If you have a meeple whose colour matches one of those materials, you get 2 of those cubes for a hard-working meeple, or 1 cube for a steadily-working breakdancing meeple.
There are 5 other colours of meeples you can hire, and we’ll talk about what they do a little later.
All of the construction cubes you earn on your turn are use-it-or-lose it. You can put them on matching spots on any construction site you own to start completing the building. If you finish it, you cap it off and collect the reward. You might earn points, or extra meeples to roll on your next turn, or even certain perks depending on where this building is in relation to other adjacent buildings of certain types.
You can always trade two cubes of any colour for a glass, wood, or concrete cube, or three cubes of any colour for a more premium steel cube, as often as you like.
Once per turn, you can also buy a new building plan. The available plans are in two rows on either side of the board. The level 1 plans are here, and the fancier level 2 plans are here. The cost of each plan is next to the tile, so this one costs two of any type of cube, for example. You take the plan and put it somewhere on the board, and then add one of your ownership markers to it. You can place the building site on any unoccupied land space, but for every space between the new tile and your closest existing project tile, you have to pay 1 cube. So place here, and you need to pay 0 extra cubes, 1 extra cube, 2 extra cubes. And you have to be able to pay the number of cubes that that plot of land demands. If you can’t afford to buy a certain tile AND place it, you’re not allowed to buy that tile. And you can’t save tiles off the map for future turns.
When you place the tile, add one of your ownership markers to it at ground level.
Some of the spaces on the board reward you for laying down certain types of building plans. So if you place a housing development or a park on this space, you immediately earn one point.
If you buy a tile from the level 1 market or the level 2 market and it’s not one of these two end tiles, you sweeten those two tiles with one wild token apiece. These tokens can really pile up. Whichever player buys these plans gets to keep any tokens that have accrued on them.
After you’ve used all the working meeples you’ve found a use for, and optionally bought and placed a new building plan, in any order you like, you return all your leftover cubes to the supply, kick all of your workers back to your pool, and if you bought a building plan, you slide the tiles towards the end to close the gap, and deal out a new tile to fill the hole. If one stack is empty, take the new tile from the other stack.
Then it’s the next player’s turn, going clockwise around the table!
Now we know enough about the game to find out what the rest of the meeples do!
The green meeples are public servants. A steadily-working green meeple gets you an invigoration point, while a hard-working green meeple gets you two invigoration points. Those points let you upgrade a meeple to the next level of workplace readiness – so with one point, you can turn an exhausted meeple into a steadily-working meeple, or a steadily-working meeple into a hard-working meeple. With two points, you can upgrade two meeples once each, or rouse an exhausted meeple into a hard-working meeple. What’s going on here thematically? Is it coffee? It must be coffee.
A green worker can’t invigorate another green worker. You can’t invigorate anyone who wasn’t in the original batch of up to 10 active workers you rolled on this turn, and you can’t expend a working meeple, and then use a green worker’s power to make that worker work again. It’s just coffee, not espresso. It’s just coffee, not speed. It’s just coffee, not time travel.
A steadily-working yellow politician meeple earns you 2 points, while a hard-working politician gets you 2 points.
A pink executive meeple gets you either 2 or 4 spending points. Spending points are an ephemeral currency that you can use in place of physical cubes anywhere in the game, except for constructing buildings. So instead of blowing cubes to buy a building plan from the market, you can use the spending points. Rather than paying 3 cubes to buy this building plan, you can use 3 spending points if your pink executive meeple is working hard, or 2 spending points and any cube if your executive is merely working steady. You could also apply your spending points to the cost required to put a building plan down on the map, or the cost required to space it out from your other buildings. If you have multiple execs working for you, you can potentially afford more expensive building plans – but you can still only ever buy 1 plan during your turn. And just like cubes, any unused spending points go away at the end of your turn. You could also spend these points on commodity trades – as we saw before, two points get you any of these cubes, and three points gets you a steel cube.
A black city planner meeple who’s working steady lets you re-roll your exhausted meeples, and hang on to whoever’s ready to work. You can’t go bust on this free roll. A hard-working city planner lets you take an extra building plan for free. Each hard-working city planner you have lets you buy an additional building plan over your limit of 1 tile per turn. The cost of the bonus tile is free, and you don’t have to pay any distance fees when you place your free tile, but you do have to pay any costs on the space itself.
Now the purple meeples are public figures, and they’re interesting: if they work hard or steady, they don’t do anything…. Unless you’ve completed a building that has a purple meeple power on it. Here’s one example: if your purple meeple is working steady and you’ve completed the Gambrel Museum, you get one extra spending power this turn. If your purple meeple is working hard, you score 1 point for each empty space that’s adjacent to the museum, including water. So here, you’d get 3 points.
Here’s another example: if you’ve completed the City Tribune and you have a steadily working purple public figure, you get 1 point. If you have one who’s working hard, you get to double the points from your yellow politicians this turn.
Each purple meeple has to use the purple meeple power on a different building – you can’t double dip.
Multiple purple meeples cannot use the same purple meeple power on the same turn. Each one has to use a different power.
The end of the game is triggered when any single colour of cubes runs out. Then, you introduce these orange cubes that stand in for any cube colour for the rest of the game. You finish out the current round until the last player in turn order takes a turn, and then you loop around the table and do one more final round where everyone gets a turn.
Hopefully, you’ll already have racked up a whack of points during gameplay, but there are a few more ways to score at the end. First, there are three public goals called “ads” that could swing your score either up or down, because a few of them actually take points away. So this one lets you choose the neighbourhood with the most parks, finished or unfinished, and re-score one of your completed buildings there. A neighbourhood is one of these six rectangular map tiles.
This one gets you 5 extra points for every set of buildings containing a park, a housing unit, a factory, and a commercial building that you’ve completed. But this one loses you 1 point for each of your buildings – completed or otherwise – in the neighbourhood with the most factories. And those factories don’t have to be owned by you, in order for you to lose points from them.
Next, you’ve been hanging on to two of these personal Target tiles since the beginning of the game. Now’s your chance to choose one of them, and score it. Here’s one that gets you 3 points per completed government building that’s orthogonally adjacent to any of your completed parks. The parks have to be yours, but the government buildings don’t, so you can piggyback an opponent’s planning to earn yourself some points. If you choose this one, it gets you 1 point per completed building you own that’s orthogonally adjacent to water.
Any time your score marker passes the 50 points mark, throw a cap of your colour on the space as a reminder to add 50 to your score.
You also get 1 point at the end of the game for each wild token you’ve held onto.
Whoever has the most points, wins! If there’s a tie, whoever has the most meeples wins. And if there’s still a tie, all tied players share in the victory.
To set up the game, start with the scoreboard at the top of the table. Randomly build the map below it. The neighbourhood tiles have an A and a B side: in a 2-player game, you use all the A sides. With 3 players, use 4 A’s and 2 B’s, and in a 4-player game, you go half and half. The B-sides are more densely packed with land spaces than the A-sides. Then, you build the Level 1 and Level 2 market strips on either side of the board. Shuffle and stack the building plans, and deal 9 tiles out to each side. Randomly select 3 Ad tiles to use for this game, and place them here. Group the meeples by colour, and the resource cubes too. In a 3-player game, remove 13 cubes of each colour, and in a 2 player game, remove a per-colour total of 25. Stack the wild tokens nearby.
Each player gets a box to roll their meeples, two brown construction workers, 2 navy gray construction workers, and two randomly dealt target tiles. Take all the ownership caps in your player colour. Put your player cube on zero points. Choose who goes first at random.
That player gets the start player… village person. Beginning with the last player in turn order and going counter-clockwise, everyone gets to take a single building plan from anywhere along the Level 1 row and place it anywhere on the map – just not on water, and not on any spot that costs cubes to place something. Mark the plan with your building marker, as usual. Then the next player in reverse turn order gets to pick and place a level 1 plan, but each player has to be a minimum of 2 orthogonal spaces away from everyone else. That means diagonals are okay.
If you place a tile and it matches the zoning parameters on the space you choose, you get those bonus points immediately.
Once everyone has placed, you slide the tiles down, fill up the row, and start rolling!
And now, you’re ready to play Rolling Heights!
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