Roam is a 2019 boardgame by Utah resident Ryan Laukat, whose 2015 design Above & Below we’ve been enjoying for the past year. He is unusual in that he doesn’t just come up with the game mechanics, he also paints the lavish illustrations and writes most of the narrative text for his games. Roam comes in a box the size of a large hardback novel and plays in about an hour with four players.
The fluff or story of the game is funny: each player leads a search party to find people who have contracted a “great sleeping sickness” and wandered off dazedly into the wilderness. When you find them and slap some sense into them they join your team and help to find more walkabout stoners. On each card are a few lines of text describing what they were up to when you came across them:
Maart Gruthe was yodeling on a peak. Malia Carver was composing a symphony. Glunken Drop was gnawing on lava rock. Embre Meze was telling stories to a pack of rabbits.
As for the game mechanics, it’s mainly about area dominance: once a card (i.e. search area) has been covered by player chits, the one who placed most of them gets the card, on whose other side is a new team member and a victory point value. Once someone has ten team members you tally the final score. There are also magical objects you can buy to bend the rules in various ways.
Roam is similar to Mykerinos (2006) where you also strive for area dominance on a game board laid out from cards with 6 x 2 squares, and there too when you gain a card it turns into a character who helps you put more chits on the board. But the art is much better here. Roam also borrows a mechanic from Manhattan (1986), where what you can do on the game board depends on how you are oriented towards it: a card will in many cases do four different things to the game state depending on which player uses it.
I enjoy Roam: it’s tactically interesting and highly interactive (certainly not one of those competitive solitaire games that are for some reason so popular), the art is beautiful, the components are solid, and reading out the odd activities that the victims of the sleeping sickness are found engaging in is shared fun too. Extra points for the diversity (gender, age, skin colour, even species) among the depicted characters, a trait seen in Above & Below as well. Roam is not quite short or slight enough to be considered a filler: we have played it as a game-night starter.