Home > Uncategorized > Making a roll-and-write for history class using Roll through the Ages as a guide

Making a roll-and-write for history class using Roll through the Ages as a guide

So, I want to begin simply by promoting Eagle-Gryphon Games Roll through the Ages: The Bronze Age as a terrific game to use with secondary and higher learners in a lesson, unit, or course on ancient agrarian states. https://www.eaglegames.net/Roll-Through-The-Ages-The-Bronze-Age-p/101119.htm But do keep reading if you are interested in creating your own roll-and-write games for history classes that may have nothing to do with ancient history. RTTA Bronze Age provides an excellent model for a roll-and-write game structure that could be used to inspire games about all sorts of historical topics, even ones far removed from RTTA:BA’s setting with Bronze Age states.

Just wanted to pitch both that it is a terrific game to use in an ancient history class, but it models a type of game structure that works very well in history classes. That structure is easily abstractable to then allow for creating other good games on any number of subjects for history class

So Roll through the Ages: The Bronze Age is a roll-and-write game: players roll dice and make decisions based on those dice that they record on special record sheet. At the end they tally a score and see how they did compared to the four other players. In this particular #HistoricalProblemSpace (http://gamestudies.org/2003/articles/mccall), the player agent is the experimenting-deity-style leader of a generic bronze age civilization competing against four other players. https://www.boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/37380/roll-through-ages-bronze-age

Since I started actually using it in class this year I have been struck by the advantages of a roll and write game for history class. They seem (at least RTTA:BA) to set up and break down easily, which is a significant perk for teachers with multiple classes. They seem (at least RTTA:BA) to be relatively easy to learn compared to other games. I’ll elaborate a little more in a moment, but I found myself wishing that there were many more of these on historical topics. Sadly, there are not many. But I’m charmed by how effective RTTA:BA appears from my initial small class experiments so I have entertained making my own, since I dabble some in boardgame design every so often. As part of that, I decided to break down the structure of RTTA:BA so that I could look for other historical topics in my class where a teacher-designed game with affinities to RTTA:BA could be used in class. I’d like to share those in hopes that some of you may feel encouraged to make your own games for classes (and, by all means, if you are teaching about the Bronze Age, purchase RTTA:Bronze and use it; it’s great! https://www.eaglegames.net/Roll-Through-The-Ages-The-Bronze-Age-p/101119.htm)

On their turn, a player rolls 3-7 dice: one die per city they have, 3 cities at the start, and the potential to build 4 additional cities. The dice-rolling is Yahtzee-style. The player gets 3 total rolls, keeping the ones they want and rolling the rest. These are the six sides to each die: 3 food; 3 workers; 1 good (i.e. commodity); 2 goods + 1 disaster; A die that provides either 2 food or 2 workers; 1 coin. The choices for resources each turn are recorded on a nicely designed pegboard for the player (when you design your own roll-and-write for class, you can use scratch paper.

Game Overview


Based on the results of the three rolls, players mark a record sheet in various ways with the resources they have acquired and/or disasters. The choices range from feeding one’s cities; to building more cities or monuments; to making and storing goods; to purchasing technological developments. Happy to explain the game more or I’m sure you can find info online.

RTTA:BA is a great choice for a historical game experience in history class because.

A) It sets up and breaks down QUICKLY and EASILY and can be explained & played sufficiently in 50 minutes if that is all you can allot. It is best, however, with one 45-50 minute session of learning, then playing a learning round and a second 45-50 minute just play + reflection writing or discussion debrief) & very effectively in 2-50 min. classes. But that is still quite inexpensive in terms of time and setup. compared to most historical boardgames. It is also sophisticated yet easier for many students to learn, I’d argue, than, say, Catan.

B) RTTA:BA places player into a historical problem space (http://gamestudies.org/2003/articles/mccall) of a ruler with some meaningfully historical problems. As I’d argue is always the case with #HistoricalProblemSpaces, the game structure shapes the historical content. So this is a roll-and-write history for sure. But decisions about food, labor,commodity allocation and storage were real issues for any society even though no individual agent had powers like this in game player agent. And so, C) the game gives great room for students to practice historical criticism, which I’d argue is one of the most important critical thinking and learning activities they can do with historical games in history class. D) The game also supports imaginative writing exercises that arguably can really help students visualize the past. The game plays like a chronicle and it would be quite natural to have students record their resources, disasters, decisions and events every turn then write a narrative as if they were a living-in-the-ancient-world historian. Beyond critique value, this has some good historical imagination value, I’d argue.

So, you should definitely consider purchasing for your ancient history classes / lessons. I’ve been so struck by the engagement and opportunities I’ve seen in test runs with four separate classes that I would love to “bottle this” as it were and come up with some iterations on it for more class experiences outside of a general bronze age theme. But I think the structure of mechanics is clear to abstract and that abstraction provides some pretty specific design guidelines that we could follow to create bespoke games-in-class on any number of history topics. So let me share the structure and encourage you, if you ever consider using or making board games for class; this would get you a definitely workable game. So here’s the structure 8/

Mechanic 1: Roll 6 sided dice where each side has different resources/disasters and choose from several important resources, which requires the player to both take a little risk and decide between different opportunity costs (do I go for this or that resource? Do I save this die roll or go further? The resources have these functions:

Food: required for a city to eat or a disaster (-1 to final score) results. So a maintenance resource Workers: can be used to either purchase more dice per turn (by being assigned to build cities) or to raise one’s score (through momnument building). So a productive resource Goods and Gold: used to gain technological developments, which are essentially power up to die rolls etc.

So if you can think up three resources that could fill in for the ones in RTTA:BA the rest of playing is almost completely about how to use those resources and to what ends. Abstractly speaking (how to use uncertain resources to best effect) could work for a lot of different types of historical games, don’t you think?

Save up good for future payoffs? –

Mechanic 2: Make choices with how to use resources between adding to the number of dice rolled or focusing on adding to final score (RTTA has cities vs monuments)

Mechanic 3: Do some maintenance on the record sheet, factoring in disasters, recording whether new cities or monuments have been built.

Mechanic 4: Purchase power boosts (RTTA uses developments i.e. techs) or other bonus effects

Mechanic 5: Manage restrictions on storage; can’t keep an endless supply of commodities, can’t store money, etc. everything.

Now some behaviors/dynamics that the game encourages:

  • Save up good for future payoffs?
  • Choose to get extra dice or increase final score?
  • Edge out rivals for certain score opportunities (RTTA monuments)
  • Decide Whether to add more dice to the pool even when they cost more resources (RTTA cities & food)
  • Risk/reward/disaster management



I suggest one could take this structure, be creative what resources, powers, etc. are & have excellent learning game about different aspect of history. And for a homemade class game one could simply use regular dice (write out a key for what each number represents as far as resources) and a record sheet whipped up with a world processor. Just of the top of my head; A Roman Republic political campaign (or any political campaign – think resources, opportunity costs, and choices about those); Peasant agriculture, aristocratic competition anywhere (from imperial China to Versailles); Oregon Trail; Responses to imperialist powers. Anything you could conceive of w this structure, (resources, scoring, powers, opportunity costs)

I even think you could do rise and spread of an ancient religion, if that’s not too touchy a subject. So for example early Christian missionary efforts in the 1st century Roman Empire. The design just needs to to shape the historical content (as all gamic historical problem spaces do) into this structure of a few resources with different mechanical functions, some score mechanisms and ways to do power ups etc. Of course, now I really should deliver and try it out, but revising GTP has to come first 🙂 I’m thinking Eastern Zhou warring states because that’s coming up next, or maybe something where one governs a state according to Confucius Philosophy and Legalism. Or maybe agriculture — that could be really helpful

As always my colleague-friends, I would very much welcome your thoughts and be happy to talk more. Send me an email or a dm on Twitter or here.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. November 8, 2021 at 1:04 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: