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[Review] Roundabout

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Joined: 03/23/2011

Do dice and abstract strategy games mix? I haven’t played too many of them, and the very idea of random “diciness” combining with a serious strategy game sounds a little “iffy” at best. Still, Roundabout (Otero Games, 2004 - Greg Otero) had some quality pieces and looked interesting when set up. It promised to play two to four players equally well, so I was glad to give it a whirl. Some players initially mentioned Backgammon when they played the game; and indeed, the inventors of the game said that Roundabout was to pick up “where Backgammon left off.”

I was pleasantly surprised to see how well Roundabout played and how the rolling of the dice did not affect the game too much. Rather, the player has to deal with the rolls they receive and use them to their best advantage. I imagine that two veterans of the game with hundreds of plays under their belt would probably equal out in skill, causing the game to simply be a matter of who rolls better; but for most people, the strategy in the game suffices well. The game plays completely differently with two, three, and four players and is fairly cutthroat and quick, two things I enjoy about abstract games.

The board, which is placed in the middle of the table, is made up of five rings of spaces, divided into sixteen “bars”. These spaces are split evenly into four equal sections of twenty spaces each, one-fourth of the circle, each the “home territory” of one of the four colors (red, green, blue, and yellow). Players take an amount of “dart” pieces that match their color (ten in a two-player game, eight in a three-player game, and six in a four-player game), and set them up in their home territory according to a diagram shown in the rules. One player is chosen to go first, and the game begins with play proceeding clockwise.

On a turn, a player rolls two six-sided dice, and uses the two numbers shown to move one or two of their pieces on the board. There are a couple of restrictions on movement.
- The darts must move around the board in the direction they are pointing, and can never move in reverse. They can, however, move up and down on the bars, providing they stay facing the same direction.
- Darts must be moved the full amount of the roll, or they cannot move.
- Darts can jump over other darts, but only one dart may occupy each space.
- Two darts of the same color in adjacent spaces form a “Block”. They cannot be jumped over by darts of other colors in any direction.
- Two darts of the same color that are both adjacent to one dart of another color in the same bar complete a “Capture”. The captured single dart cannot move until one of the two capturing darts moves, and no other dart of that color may land in that bar.
- Players may use both dice for one dart, or split the dice between two different darts.
- If a player rolls double odd numbers, they may use one or both of the dice to reverse the direction of one of their darts, instead of moving it.
- If a player rolls double even numbers, they may jump over Blocks this turn only.

All players are striving to form a “Ringer”, which is three adjacent (or four, in a two-player game) darts of their color in the same ring in the territory directly opposite their home territory. As soon as this is accomplished, the player’s darts in the Ringer are removed from the board. The player must then land all remaining darts back into their home territory, removing them as they land. As soon as they remove their last dart from the board, the player wins the game!

Some comments on the game...

1.) Components: The box is rather large and holds all the pieces well (maybe it’s too large, but at least it’s colorful and sturdy.) The board has a simple, clear circle design on it and screams “abstract” all the way, but in an elegant way. The darts are large plastic pieces, looking similar to an arrow tip, and very easy to move around the board in the large spaces. When the game is set up, it is very attractive, and players can see at a glance what the situation of the board is.

2.) Rules: The rules for the game are very simple, taking up both sides of a square sheet of paper that show some diagrams of movement, capturing, blocks, etc. There is also a video demonstration of the rules on the company’s website,, something I found invaluable when I had a few, minor questions. The game is easy to learn and teach, and I imagine that Backgammon players would pick it up in a heartbeat.

3.) Golden Rule and Variants: In a multi-player game, the “Golden Rule” is in effect, where a player can offer up their roll to another player, allowing that player to stop another player from winning. Of course, nefarious players could use this rule to “king make”, but ethical players could use this to stop one player who is too far ahead. Two variants are also mentioned on the web page: that of Team Play (which has pretty obvious rules), and Cutthroat Play, which is a pretty nasty variant in which captured darts are temporarily removed from the board.

4.) Strategy: There is a lot of different strategy to moving ones darts on the board. Keeping pairs of darts together to form blocks is crucial. Knowing when to release a captured dart, and when to hold on to the sucker, can cause a player to win/lose the game. Getting a Ringer together is a lot harder than it sounds, because players have to utilize the rolls they get to their maximum benefit and also watch that the other players aren’t getting Ringers in their home territory. Players must also watch where the darts that aren’t part of their Ringer are located, as they want to have them in optimal positions to quickly move them back home. The strategy in this game won’t match Chess or Yinsh, but it certainly is there and is light enough that players don’t take too long when deciding their turns. Often, because of the numbers rolled, and the congestion on the board, players only have a choice between two or three moves anyway; but every move is crucial!

5.) Players: There is a large difference between a two-player game and a multi-player game. The two-player game feels like a race, as players strive to maneuver their pieces quickly, being the first to achieve the Ringer. The three and four player games feel more tactical, as there is a lot of capturing and blocking occurring, and players’ movements are more restricted. I enjoyed both games equally and found that there wasn’t really much of a time difference, due to the number of different pieces.

6.) Fun Factor: The game isn’t the most fun game I’ve ever played, mostly because it’s an abstract game, a type of game that isn’t my favorite. However, I did enjoy the game, even looking at it as a “filler”, since it’s light and fun; something I don’t find with most abstracts. The interaction between the players, the quick turns, and the nice pieces all increased my enjoyment of the game.

If you like Backgammon, pick this game up - you will enjoy it tremendously! If you like abstract strategy games, and the presence of a little luck doesn’t bother you, this game is also will probably be a winner for you. Pure strategy fanatics would probably dislike the game, but for the majority of people, especially those looking for light fun but with control over one’s pieces and meaningful decisions, Roundabout is an excellent choice in the abstract strategy category.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

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