Kickstarter Tabletop Alert: Put Your Meeples to Work Building Your City in ‘Rolling Heights’

Gaming Kickstarter Reviews Tabletop Games

You’re a contractor overseeing construction of the city, but some of your workers are exhausted. Do you try to rally them, and risk your workforce going on strike?

What Is Rolling Heights?

Rolling Heights is a city building, push your luck game for 2-4 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 45-60 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a sole pledge level of $59 for a copy of the game.

Rolling Heights was designed by John D. Clair and published by Alderac Entertainment Games, with illustrations by Kwanchai Moriya.

New to Kickstarter? Check out our crowdfunding primer.

Everything that came with the prototype (prototype shown). Note: GameTrayz token holders not included. Image by Paul Benson.

Rolling Heights Components

Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. For example, AEG already has plans to change the black construction cubes to a peach color, as the previous color was too difficult to differentiate from the navy blue construction cubes.

Here’s what comes in the box:

  • Score Board
  • 6 Double-Sided Neighborhood Boards
  • 2 Market Strips
  • 78 Building Plan Tiles
  • 1st Player Marker
  • 30 Wild Tokens
  • 13 Target Tiles
  • 12 Ad Tiles
  • 4 Player Tokens
  • 72 Ownership Markers
  • 4 Rolling Boxes
  • 16 Clear Meeples
  • 13 Blue Meeples
  • 11 Purple Meeples
  • 11 Yellow Meeples
  • 8 Navy Gray Meeples
  • 8 Brown Meeples
  • 8 Green Meeples
  • 8 Magenta Meeples
  • 7 Pink Meeples
  • 80 Clear Cubes
  • 60 Navy Gray Cubes
  • 60 Brown Cubes
  • 60 Blue Cubes
  • 25 Orange Cubes
  • Solo Game Rules and Components
  • Rulebook

While this is a prototype copy, the quality is very high, and likely close to what you’ll find in the final product.

The Score Board (prototype shown). Image by Paul Benson.

The Score Board, besides having some lovely artwork by Kwanchai Moriya, also serves as a player aid. It breaks down the actions of all the different worker types, as well as reminds you of how to perform a commodity trade.

The plastic meeples representing the different worker types (prototype shown). Image by Paul Benson.

Speaking of workers, the plastic meeples are small and well-balanced, and generally roll pretty well. Rolling the meeples does take a bit of practice, but players soon get a feel for it.

One of the rolling boxes (prototype shown). Image by Paul Benson.

Players will each get a Rolling Box, in which to roll their meeples. These  boxes are made of the same thick cardboard as the game box, and also double as component storage when the game isn’t being played.

Two of the neighborhood boards (prototype shown). Image by Paul Benson.

There are six different double-sided neighborhood boards. These colorful boards will get randomly placed each game, contributing to replayability as you’ll always have different setups each game.

Building plans (prototype shown). Image by Paul Benson.

The various tiles and tokens in the game are made out of cardboard with a linen finish. The building plans, as seen above, have clear iconography that shows the type of building it is, and what your reward will be for completing the building. There are colored spaces which tell you how many of each matching cube you’ll need for completion, as well as a smaller reminder of the same on the left side of the tiles.

Commodity cubes (prototype shown). Image by Paul Benson.

The plastic cubes used in completing the buildings loosely interlock, so you can stack them up sometimes as high as 8 or 9 cubes. They don’t firmly lock together, so you do want to be careful placing cubes next to taller stacks.

How to Play Rolling Heights

The Goal

The goal of the game is to complete buildings to gain more workers and earn victory points.

The setup for a 4-player game (prototype shown). Image by Paul Benson.

Setup

Start by flipping a certain number of the double-sided Neighborhood Boards from their “A” sides to the “B” sides, depending on player count. Randomly arrange the boards in a 2×3 grid on the middle of the table to form the map.

Place the Scoreboard next to the map, and the 2 Market Strips to either side of the map.

Sort the Building Plan tiles into Level 1 and Level 2 stacks. Place each stack next to the corresponding Market Strip, and lay out 9 tiles next to the corresponding spaces of each Market Strip.

Sort the cubes into individually colored piles. If there are less than 4 players, remove a certain number of cubes of each color based upon the player count.

Sort the meeples by color and place them near the board, along with the Wild tokens.

The publicly-shared Ad tiles, placed on the Score Board (prototype shown). Image by Paul Benson.

Shuffle the Ad tiles face-down and randomly select 3. Place these in the billboard spaces on the Score Board.

Shuffle the Target tiles face-down and deal 2 to each player. Players can look at them but keep them secret. Players will choose one of these at the end of the game for scoring purposes.

Each player chooses a player color and takes the matching Player Token and 18 Ownership Markers. All players place their Player Tokens on the “0” space on the Scoreboard. Additionally, each player takes a Rolling Box, 2 brown Carpenter meeples, and 2 Navy Gray Construction meeples.

Starting Placement and Building Plans

A randomly determined first player takes the Start Player token. Then, beginning with the last player and going counter-clockwise, players select any of the face-up Building Plan tiles along the Market Strip Level 1. Those tiles are then placed on any land space on the map that doesn’t show a placement cost. If the space awards Victory Points, the player immediately advances their Player Token on the Victory Point track. The owner of the tile places one of their Ownership Markers on the tile. Note: you may not place your starting tile within 2 orthogonal spaces of another player’s starting tile.

Once all players have drawn and placed their starting tiles, slide the remaining tiles down in the direction shown by the arrows on the Market Strip. Then draw tiles from the Level 1 Building Plan tiles stack and place in the newly empty spaces along the Market Strip.

Gameplay

Play begins with the starting player.

A player’s turn consists of 4 phases: Prep, Risk, Main, and Cleanup.

Prep

You will only ever roll a maximum of 10 meeples during this phase. Roll all of your active meeples into the Rolling Box. Any that are standing on their feet are “Working Hard,” any that are balanced on their heads or arms are “Working Steady,” and any that are flat on their backs are “Exhausted.” Remove any “Working Hard” or “Working Steady” meeples from their box, maintaining their positions, and place them in front of you.

If more than half of your active meeples are “Exhausted,” then take all of the “Exhausted” meeples and roll them again. Repeat until at least half are “Working Hard” or “Working Steady.”

The results of a mid-game Prep roll (prototype shown). Image by Paul Benson.

Risk

You can now choose to stop, or roll your “Exhausted” workers. If you choose to push your luck, take all of your “Exhausted” workers and roll them again.

If at least one meeple is “Working Hard” or “Working Steady,” remove those meeples and add them to the group in front of you. If there are remaining meeples in the box, you may continue pushing your luck and rolling.

If on any Risk roll, all of the meeples land “Exhausted,” then your workers go on Strike. When that happens:

  • Select half of the “Working Hard” and “Working Steady” meeples, and put them back in the Rolling Box in the “Exhausted” state.
  • Gain 1 Wild token
  • Proceed to the Main phase.

Main

In any order, you may:

  • Activate meeples
  • Buy and place 1 new Building Plan
  • Use Wild Tokens
  • Make Commodity Trades
  • Construct Buildings
  • Complete Buildings
Activate Meeples

You may activate any of your “Working Hard” or “Working Steady” meeples for their abilities, as shown on the Score Board. You may activate a “Working Hard” meeple for its lesser “Working Steady” ability if you choose. After activating a meeple, lay it down flat to indicate it’s been used this turn.

Many of the meeple types will provide cubes. Place them in front of you; these cubes can be used this turn for buying building tiles, commodity trades, or constructing building tiles.

Buying and Placing New Building Plans

Once on your turn, you may buy and immediately place one new Building Plan, acquired from either of the two Market Strips. You must be able to pay not only the purchase price for the plan, but also any placement costs for the location you’re placing it on.

The purchase price for a Building Plan is shown on its location next to the Market Strip. You may use cubes of any color to pay the costs, and/or any Virtual Spending Power you may have that turn.

If you purchased a Building Plan tile that was not one of the two farthest from the draw pile, then place a Wild Token from the supply onto each of those two at the end of your turn.

When placing the Building Plan tile, it must be placed on a non-water space. A location may show a cost in number of cubes to be paid. Additionally, if a Building Plan tile is not placed orthogonality adjacent to another Building Plan tile you own, then you must pay 1 cube for each orthogonal space between the new tile and your closest other Building Plan tile.

Finally, score any Victory Points that the space indicates, and place an Ownership Marker on the new tile.

Wild Tokens

You may discard Wild Tokens to gain 1 cube of any color for each token discarded. Any unspent Wild Tokens are worth 1 VP at the end of the game.

Commodity Trades

As shown on the Score Board, you may pay 2 cubes of any color to gain a wood, concrete, or glass cube, or 3 cubes of any color to gain a steel cube.

Constructing Buildings

You may add any number of cubes you’ve gained onto Building Plan tiles, stacking them where indicated. A Building Plan shows the number and color of the cubes needed to complete the building:

One of my favorite buildings in the game (prototype shown). Image by Paul Benson.

Cubes placed on a Building Plan tile can never be removed or moved to another tile.

Completing Buildings

Once a building has all of the indicated cubes, it is complete. You then:

  • Immediately score the Victory Points shown on the tile.
  • Gain any meeples shown on the tile.
  • Place your ownership marker from the tile on top of one of the cube stacks to indicate it is complete.
Cleanup
  • Return any unused cubes to the supply.
  • Any remaining Virtual Spending Power is lost.
  • Gather all your meeples together for your next turn.
  • Slide down the Building Plan tiles along the Market Strip to fill in any blank spaces. Draw a new tile to refill the top of that Market Strip.

Play then passes to the next player in clockwise order.

Note: to speed up the game, all players may do their Prep and Risk phases in advance of their next turn.

Game End

When all cubes of 1 or more colors has been constructed in buildings on the board, the game end is triggered. Finish the current round, then do 1 more round of turns. The orange “miscellaneous” cubes can be used to substitute for the cube color(s) that had run out.

Scoring

First, each player scores points for all three of the public Ad tiles.

Then, each player chooses one of their two Target tiles to score and reveals it, discarding the other tile and scoring those points.

Some of the Target tiles (prototype shown). Image by Paul Benson.

Finally, score 1 VP each for any unused Wild Tokens. The player with the most Victory Points wins.

Selecting a Building Plan from the market (prototype shown). Image by Paul Benson.

Why You Should Play Rolling Heights

Pretty much everyone that I’ve introduced to Rolling Heights has had the same reaction: “So wait, I’m going to be rolling meeples?” While meeple rolling isn’t an entirely unique mechanic, it is one that’s been used in only a handful of games. And in this case, it’s used to highly thematic effect.

Your meeples represent your workers, and are going to be the ones producing your resources in the game, as well as providing certain other effects. So it makes sense that the results of your rolls will determine how effective they are in working for you. As you complete buildings and acquire more and varied meeples, you’ll be able to manipulate the game to fit your strategy. For example, the City Planner meeple will provide you with an extra free re-roll of your meeples if the rolled meeple is “Working Steady,” but even stronger is the “Working Hard” ability, which gives you a free Building Plan purchase from either market, which you can then place anywhere on the board without concern for adjacency to your own tiles. Combine that with the ability of the Public Servant meeple to change a “Working Steady” meeple to one that’s “Working Hard,” and you could be rapidly expanding your territory all over the map.

The Risk phase of the game is a fun little minigame all its own, as you try to decide whether to risk losing half your meeples to gain a few more resources. Earlier in the game, with fewer active meeples, it’s a much easier decision as you have less to risk. By the time you’re rolling 10 meeples, it’s a harder decision whether to push your luck and risk losing a lot of resources for that round.

Purchasing the Building Plans can be a bit of a brain burner, often leading to some analysis paralysis. You’re looking over the ever-changing markets, trying to figure out which buildings will not only give you the rewards you want(in Victory Points and Meeples) but also how they help to fulfill both the Ad tiles(the endgame public scoring bonuses) and the Target tiles(the endgame private scoring bonuses). Not to mention that you may be keeping an eye on a particular Building Plan, only to have someone buy it just before you were going to. Or your carefully laid plan to create that large block of industrial buildings gets destroyed by one of your opponents encroaching on your neighborhood.

At least based on my plays so far, Rolling Heights is a game that demands flexibility of its players, rather than relying on a particular strategy to win each game. The randomness of the map setup and Building Plan tiles in the market, as well as your meeple rolls, all require you to sometimes shift gears when you’re simply not able to pull off something you were originally planning for a particular round.

Having just completed a very tall building(prototype shown). Image by Paul Benson.

The strategies that you do pursue should be informed by both the public and private endgame scoring objectives. In one game, one of the Ad tiles allowed everyone to score one of their buildings twice if it was in the neighborhood with the most parks. I worked hard to make sure that neighborhood would be the one where I completed a 20 Victory Point building, so that building effectively became worth 40 Victory Points. Combine that with the Target tile where I earned 2 Victory Points for every cube equal to or higher than 5 cubes in height on my completed buildings, and I was sitting on a lot of extra points at the end of the game.

Rolling Heights is a lot of fun, but I did have a couple of nitpicks with the game. First, having the two markets on opposite sides of the board can make it very difficult on the players. The small size of the print and icons on the tiles requires you to either go across to the other side of the table to be able to see all the tiles, or to ask someone across the table to pass over a tile for examination. And second, all of my games ran far longer than the advertised 45-60 minutes. Undertaking the Prep and Risk phases during your opponents’ turns does speed things along somewhat, but having to shift your strategies on the fly based on your opponents’ turns will of necessity require taking some time to determine how best to allocate your resources. AEG did say that games run faster when everyone is making larger buildings(thus running through resources faster), but constructing larger buildings isn’t necessarily going to be a strategy that everyone at the table is going to want to pursue.

This is a Kickstarter campaign, and the prototype, while very polished, is not the final product. Therefore, both of these issues may be addressed before the final product ships next year.

It’s also worth noting that backers of the Rolling Heights Kickstarter campaign will receive some bonus Building Plan tiles, as well as a bonus mini-game where a giant monster tries to destroy your city.

The bonus mini-game included with pledges. Image by AEG.

AEG looks to have another hit on its hands with this satisfying blend of city building and push your luck meeple rolling. The gameplay is engaging, and the strategy will have you occasionally thinking hard, but not to the point of pulling out your hair. If you’re looking for a mid-weight city building game with some fun mechanics, you should definitely check out Rolling Heights.

For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Rolling Heights Kickstarter page!


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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