Welcome To is a 2018 roll and write board game, with number pattern elements, from designer Benoit Turpin. Published by Blue Cocker Games, featuring artwork from Anne Heidsieck, the game sees “1 – 100” players building a 1950s American town. This is your town and it can be named whatever you like. Taking around 20 minutes players will simultaneously be building houses, pools, parks and more. However, is this a welcoming experience? Let’s find out!
Setup is lightning fast with everyone grabbing a pen or pencil and being passed a player sheet from the pad. The City Plan objective cards are shuffled with 3 being selected. Finally, the main deck is shuffled and split into 3 even piles of 27 cards – then the game is ready to play. Welcome To is referred to as a roll and write title. Mechanically it is closest. Player will throughout the game be reacting to what comes up and will be writing it onto their sheets. As you may have guessed from the setup though no dice are involved. Rolling of dice has been replaced with decks of cards. Effectively making Welcome To a “flip” and write board game.
Each round players turn over the top card of the three piles into three adjoining discard piles. Each pile and its own discard pile which combine to make a pair. The card atop of the main pile will feature a number, while the top card of the discard pile will show an ability symbol. All players will simultaneously choose any of the three pairs. They then must write that number onto a house on their player sheet.
These player sheets mostly consist of three streets of blank houses – ready to be numbered. The trick is that the lowest numbered house must be on the left and the highest on the right side of the street. Each number in between must be in numerical order, though it is fine to skip over numbers. The cards have numbers 1 – 15. However, the frequency of the numbers is bell shaped curve in style, with 8 being much more prevalent in the deck than 1s or 15s.
To make things more interesting are the special abilities. There are six, with all being optional but often beneficial. First up is the Temp Agency symbol that allows you to add or subtract up to 2 from the number it is paired with. On top of being the only way to get houses values 0, 16 or 17, players will also score bonus points depending on whom has used most workmen at the end of the game. Taking a pair with a Real Estate Agent lets the player to upgrade the value of an estate size, crossing a box on their score sheet accordingly. This has no in-game impact but counts in end game scoring.
Landscapers are how players can get lushness into their town, adding parks into the same street where the house number is penned. Each street needs a different amount of parks to hit the maximum, with points earnt per park and a bonus of points if the maximum is reached. Surveyors are how estates are made, with a single fence allowed to be drawn between two houses in any street. Estates are needed to complete City Plan cards and are effectively fenced off amounts of houses. They are also needed for the scoring of estates – so this can be considered an extremely strong ability.
Pool Manufacturers are the only ability that applies to the specific house you write the number on. Taking this ability allows you to circle a pool in the back garden (yard) if one is planned – featured on the sheet. If there isn’t a pool the ability cannot be used but the number can still be taken. Any number-ability pairing can be used for these houses but anything other than a pool manufacturer will see the pool remain unbuilt. The final ability is Bis. This was somewhat of an unknown term to me. While in the UK two houses may be 1A and 1B in France it seems this would be 1 and 1Bis: with the ability replicating this in the game at a point cost.
Each round the top three cards are flipped into the discard piles to make 3 new pairs of numbers and abilities. This continues for normally around 25 – 35 fast rounds – with the decks shuffled if they are depleted. The game ends whenever one of three end game events is triggered. These are: if any player fills every house with a number, any player completes all three city plans or any player has been unable to write any numbers 3 times. The round finishes and it is time to score!
City plans change from game to game. These are scoring objectives that feature a selection of sized estates. For example to have a 6 sized estate and two 2 sized estates. Whenever you have the appropriate sized estates full of numbered houses you can “sell” them – drawing a line along the back of the estates – to fulfill the plan and get points. The line indicates they have been used and cannot be reused for a different city plan but are counted in end game scoring. If you’re the first to do this (joint if in the same round) you’ll get the full amount of victory points, with anyone in subsequent rounds completing it scoring approximately half the points.
Players score points earnt for city plans, parks, pools, temp agencies and estates based on size. Points are then lost depending on the number of Bis used, the amount of numbers that couldn’t be written and roundabouts used – a variant that sees a streets numbers reset part way along. The trick is that most of the scoring opportunities are not a flat incline. While 1 pool will score you 3 points having 9 pools would score you 36 points. After some calculation – and for some it may be best to have a calculator (physical or app) handy – whomever has the most points wins.
Replacing the luck of dice rolling with the predictable certainty of a deck of cards is brilliant. It turns a push your luck of guessing what might come up into a push of luck to do with timing. No longer will players be cursing the dice for a number or symbol they needed not coming up. Instead they will be cursing themselves for not leaving the room for something that must come up at some point. There is still luck to the game – all the numbers you are hoping for could come up at once. However, if you need one number to perfectly fill a gap and it hasn’t come up it feels within reach.
In the past year the amount of roll and write games on the markets seemingly exploded. Some have successfully ditched conventional paper and pencil, opting instead for laminated sheets and dry wipe markers. I can see both sides of this component argument. Having a large pad of sheets included means as long as players can see the options the 1 – 100 player claim Welcome To makes can be legitimate. Realistically though most won’t be playing with more than 5 or 6 at a time. Paper sheets also mean that the game pad will run out eventually, something which dry wipe included games face with the pens. Both can be replaced but I’m drawn towards the more sustainable looking dry wipe components method, as less paper is either used or left in the box.
Welcome To manages to take numbers and a few symbols and create a roll and write experience that is thematic. Most games of the genre that involve numbers struggle to convey anything past plain figures a few games in. This is one reason why Railroad Ink was reviewed so highly, as it replaced numbers with track symbols to be different. Even after a handful of games though players are still referring to the different rows as streets of houses, with pools and parks. While there can be an abstraction for some titles, that lets the theme slip away, that doesn’t happen here, at great benefit to the experience.
Falling into the filler category still the choices are kept simple. An experienced player will certainly have an advantage. Still, the game isn’t instantly lost for new players as aside from glaring mistakes – such as putting the highest number in the middle of the street – it is normally possible to work around early gambles. As this experience isn’t too punishing it helps new players get into the experience before working out how best to approach the game. There are certain ways to approach the game that seem logical and will be reused from one game to the next. This would make playing the game back to back have a slight monotony about it if it weren’t for City Plans.
The objective cards are a spot of genius on Benoit Turpin’s point. Variety between each game is there from the order the cards come up in. This variety is amplified by the randomised objectives that come up, with different things to aim for each time. On top of this the objectives add a minor, but not ignorable, element of direct competition between players. While it is perfectly possible to play solo, this is probably the reason I wouldn’t. The race to scoring objectives before others generates a buzz within a group to see whom will earn the big points.
Welcome To isn’t a jaw dropping stunning game, not that the graphical design isn’t nice, but it still draws players in. With a simple ruleset ready to greet players it also manages to quickly get them involved and hooked. The super fast turns, that survived some normally AP prone players, help the game flow nicely. So, despite not being a 5 – 10 minute long roll and write, it is a perfectly lengthed filler. The twist on the roll and write mechanics to remove the dice is a great idea, something I’m sure will be copied and expanded upon by future games. For now though Welcome To is a great game to play and introduce people to.
[Editor’s Note: Welcome To was provided to us by Asmodee for review purposes. The game is currently available from local board game stores, find your local store here]