On Tour Game Overview
On Tour is a roll and write board game that puts you in the role of a band manager arranging the band’s concert schedule around the USA. Your goal as the band manager is to visit as many locations as possible based on the availability dates in a given set of regions.
The Roll and Write Genre
That theme is intriguing enough. But before we review On Tour, it’s worth looking at the trajectory of the roll and write genre in context. To start, roll and writes’ gameplay is self explanatory. You’ll roll dice and mark up your board, arranging it in a way so as to maximize your score. Doing well involves understanding probability and being able to account for the capriciousness of luck when it rears its head.
The genre took the board game world by storm in 2018 with two notable offerings. The first was Welcome to. In it, you play the role of a real estate developer building out a housing subdivision by writing flipped cards onto your board. The second, Ganz schön clever “That’s Pretty Clever”, was more of a traditional roll and write. Here, you’ll take the numbers on the dice you roll and assign them to places on the board. Doing so may trigger some combo which, when planned well, allows you to maximize your score.If you aren’t familiar with those, there’s always the time-tested Yahtzee, which has you rolling dice, and assigning the results to score points.
How On Tour Plays
So enter BoardGameTables.com, board game furniture maker turned game publisher. They released On Tour in 2019, which successfully mixes the roll and write genre with route-building. As I mentioned earlier, the band manager who tours the most locations, in general, is the winner.
Each turn, you’ll flip over 3 location cards and roll two 10-sided dice. The cards mark out the areas of the map where you’re allowed to tour and the dice result tells you the two numbers you’ll be marking down: the number and the digit reverse of that number. So roll a 5 and a 6 and you’ll be marking down a 56 and 65. When deciding where to mark the numbers on the map, you’ll keep in mind that the goal is to create a connected sequence of ever-increasing numbers that will yield the longest route possible.
All of that carries its dose of randomness and you’ll have to be OK with that. On a positive note, On Tour is a game that you can train yourself to get better at. When I started playing on the app, I was scoring around the 23-28 range. Now, my scores average around 33-35 points. When I get lucky, I’ll hit 40 and above. But the road to getting there can be frustrating and you’ll have to figure out whether you can live with its frustrations.
And I mean it.
Enjoying This Game Requires You Enjoying Roll and Write Games
Before I go into my thoughts, let’s be fair to the designer and publisher. They acknowledge that this game isn’t for everyone. In one of their marketing emails, they spell out the fact that you’re not going to like this game if you enjoy games where you can
- Make plans that you know will work
- Interact with other players
- Or find ways to score lots of points
Granted, all three are par for the course for most roll and writes. And for my tastes, the first one should have been a warning that On Tour wasn’t going to be for me. The games I tend to prefer are low to no-luck Euros, Splotter games, and so on. They go on to say:
You can’t go into On Tour with a firm plan. After seeing the setup numbers, you might have an idea that you want your route to run east to west and then bend down to the south. But if you want to maximize your score, then you better be ready to change that depending on the rolls and cards.
Leaving yourself options – Some people love to curse the dice in On Tour. “The game is all luck!” While it is true that luck plays a role in On Tour, the game is about mitigating that luck. Don’t put yourself in a position where you need a number between 60 and 65 to be rolled. Work to put yourself in positions where any number above 50 will work for you. There is luck, but I know from playing hundreds of games while developing the On Tour app, there is room for skill. You can get better.
All of those statements are true! You already know what to expect from On Tour because they say it straight up! No fluff, no fuss. What they tell you, you’ll experience.
With that as the context, I still wanted to give On Tour a whirl. And even as I grew more skillful and did get better, there are too many moments where I grew frustrated.
On Tour’s Starting Variability is Frustrating
And that’s because On Tour has a lot of variability. Some games run smooth and what you expect to have happen happens. Other games are downright maddening when Lady Luck spits in your face and gives you results that have you staring at the dice and thinking… really? Are you joking?
For example, some starting positions are near-ludicrous. In this particular opening, I guess the 48 and 84 are unusable. How on earth would I be able to link up to them given where the 69 and 96 are placed? The best option is to make do with the 69 and 96.
In my experience, it’s rare that you can make use of more than two die results. The remaining die results are obstacles that vary between being inconvenient to outright aggravating.
Rolled the Right Numbers, Drew the Wrong Cards
In this example, you’ve already got an idea of which numbers will go into which zone. Except… SURPRISE! You roll the right numbers but pull up the completely wrong territories. So sorry 12 and 21. Even though they’re best suited for the East coast, I pulled the West and Central US. So there they’ll go, eating away at my precious precious trash slots. When this happens, I can’t help but feel annoyed by how I’ve been hosed. The territory cards you draw can be a source of frustration.
Despite Planning Well, Dice May Not Cooperate
And finally, attempts to position yourself for success by leaving room between numerical values can backfire. Sometimes, the number you’re looking for doesn’t come up!
Here, I’ve left a gap between 26 and 38, which should, in theory, allow me to place when I finally roll a number between 26 and 38. Except I don’t roll anymore 3s that game. As a result, my map is cut off and I lose out on 9 points, simply because a 3 only came up once during the game. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens often enough that it leaves me feeling like I’ve been slapped in the face.
Why On Tour is Not For Me
The frustration stemming from randomness isn’t offset by many highs. The skill ceiling is low enough that each game of On Tour leaves me with little gratification and hence, satisfaction.
As a way to kill time, it’s not the worst thing you can do, and I highly recommend downloading the app and playing it solo. In fact, that’s the best way to play and I cannot imagine playing it any other way. You can get through a game pretty quick and if you’re really hosed, you can abandon and start a new game.
But as a game to play at game night with other living, breathing human beings? I’ll have to pass. There are far better fillers out there worth my time.