Game Review: Fun, Whimsical Co-op “Roll Camera”

roll camera filmmaking game review - clapperboard boxINT. DAY: tight on Roll Camera game set up on a large, well-lit table. Slow zoom out to reveal game room with shelves full of games and a man [TAYLOR] sitting at the table, staring intently at the game.

SF/X: retro sci-fi 'whoosh' sound as from old 40's serials of spaceships flying, slowed down to sync.

VF/X: initially desaturated, B&W image with full color gradually appearing as zoom completes.

TAYLOR: "Hi, and welcome to another game review on PlanetDave.com! Today I'm going to be talking about how to play and reviewing the fun and whimsical game Roll Camera, from Malachi Ray Rempen."

OFF CAMERA: "Cut! Cut! Jeez, can we do that again from the top?"

You probably already know that there’s a big gap between someone having an idea for a great movie and it ending up on the big screen, or even on a streaming service for us to enjoy at home. The biggest building blocks are building the production team, casting actors, raising money, building sets, editing, art, sound, music, and signing distribution companies. But there are endless problems that can crop up while trying to develop a film, from temperamental stars who insist on higher billing, to cameras that fail, faulty sound recordings, sets that fall down, location shoots with uncooperative weather, and so much more that can go wrong. Oh, and you can also run out of money or simply run out of time on your production schedule. It’s mayhem!

This chaos and the required mental agility and problem solving required are the heart of the highly entertaining Roll Camera! The Filmmaking Board Game by Malachi Ray Rempen of Keen Bean Studio. Your goal in this co-operative 1-4 player game is to shoot five scenes and arrange them in the optimal order to produce the highest possible quality film. You have a finite budget and a really short shooting schedule. More importantly, you have to figure out what scenes you can shoot with your current set layout and production team, while dealing with an endless parade of problems and challenges.

But let’s not talk, let’s just yell “ACTION!” and get into it…

SCENE 1: ROLL CAMERA – SETUP AND COMPONENTS

This is a worker placement game where you’re rolling a collection of production team dice, then placing them in various spots to resolve problems, build or rearrange your set pieces on the set, hold a production meeting, get an intern (always dicey), complete a storyboard scene that you can add to the editing room, or play one of your genius ideas to improve the shoot. Here’s the one-player layout:

roll camera filmmaking game review - initial setup

That’s a lot to process, so I’ll go through most of the individual components. For now, notice the fun sketch artwork style. There is some polished artwork on the flip side of the completed scene cards, but this is definitely cartoonish in a way that you’ll either love or potentially find a bit off-putting. It took me a bit to warm up to the style, but as you play the game, it does seem to fit, particularly if you wear a beret, have a monocle dangling from a chain around your neck, and constantly mutter “ze’re ruinink my vision of ze ztory!” while running around with a wild look in your eyes.

Progress in the game is tracked by the Budget/Schedule Dials unit:

roll camera filmmaking game review - budget schedule dials

This gives you a handy turn overview too, but what’s most important is your budget on the left dial (think of this as millions of dollars to really get into the spirit of things) and your schedule on the right. I’m starting out in easy mode, so have $14 million dollars and 11 days to shoot the five scenes of my film. Go, man, GO!

CUT TO…

One of the most essential elements of the game are scenes; you have to produce five of them to complete your film and win the game. Each scene is categorized as comedic (purple, as shown below), sentimental, tragic, dramatic, or violent. Most importantly, the scene shows the exact layout of crew [dice] on the set you’ll need to duplicate to be able to film the scene:

roll camera filmmaking game review - storyboard scene

This comic shot of an actor looking with surprise at something in a toilet requires a cameraman, art department crew, lights, and, of course, an actor, as denoted in the four dice shown. See the “$4” on the right, along with the stopwatch with an up arrow? That denotes that it will cost $4 (million) to shoot this scene, but you will gain a shooting day on the schedule. Oh, and those dice. You have six, and each has six faces: Camera, Light, Sound, Actors, Art Department, and Visual Effects, the latter denoted by a white explosion:

roll camera filmmaking game review - dice

The Visual Effects (VFX) die – not shown – is a wildcard, so can be used to represent any other crew member as needed. They’re the embodiment of “we’ll fix it in post!” and are critical to completing your scenes and finishing up your movie. It’s a very modern production, needless to say.

As you complete your scenes, your goal is to maximize your quality score, as denoted by your shooting script:

roll camera filmmaking game review - script - Forgive me, murder!

The script sometimes changes during the game – as each half is a pile of five cards, not just the one shown – which, as you can imagine, causes plenty of directors and producers to tear their hair out and decry “I HATE this industry!” to anyone who cares to listen. In this instance, we’re shooting Forgive Me, Murder and will gain quality points for pairs of blue (tragic) scenes and for sequences of green (dramatic) then red (violent) or red then green scenes. Turns out it’s not enough to just complete five scenes, you also have to produce a quality film that’s worth seeing, so you also have to manage those quality points!

Each player gets one of six player boards. This one is for the Cinematographer:

roll camera filmmaking game review - player cards - cinematographer

I can tell you from experience that the Cinematographer is a tremendously helpful player because of its center capability: Place a Camera crew die on the middle spot and you can resolve any one problem. Since every single turn new problems crop up – this production is cursed, I tell you! – so having the ability to deal with them on a single die is a game-changer. Literally. SFX: laughter.

And speaking of problems, here are a few so  you can see both the types of issues that can crop up and the humor that infuses Roll Camera:

roll camera filmmaking game review - problem cards

While the cards are in play, these negative things drag down your production. Resolve it, however, and all blocks go away. Every five resolved problems you earn some additional production budget or schedule slack for being such a good problem solver! Finally, one more component: Idea cards. Each player always has three in their hands and Production Meetings are when you pull three and decide which one to actually act upon:

roll camera filmmaking game review - idea cards

Pretty whimsical with the artwork and thematic descriptions, but really it’s all about what’s on the yellow portion of the card.

SCENE 2: ACTUAL GAMEPLAY OF ROLL CAMERA

This might seem like a lot of components and description, but it all fits together neatly and the game flow is easy to pick up after a round or two. Basically: Draw a problem card, roll, place, and act upon crew dice, lose a day on your schedule dial. If you haven’t run out of budget or dropped to zero days on your shooting schedule, keep playing. If you complete and place the fifth scene in the Editing Room, you’re done. Finish tallying Quality bonuses from the Script cards, then see if your Quality score got you out of the dreaded red zone.

You can lock dice into specific spots from turn to turn, so you can build the crew needed to shoot a scene over a couple of turns. Here’s that hilarious toilet scene, all ready to shoot:

roll camera filmmaking game review - completed scene

The set – the grid on the right side – is built from 2×2 set tiles which you can orient however you want. You can only place dice on the blue squares, however,  and plenty of those blue squares have special constraints or requirements. Notice on the right one square is for lighting only, while the very bottom one is only for actors. Ah, actors. SFX: audience groan.

Roll Camera is a pretty tricky game because you have to manage a number of things simultaneously to ensure you aren’t hobbled by problems and don’t run out of money or time. More subtle is the need to keep moving that quality tracker so you end up with a gem, not a stinker. Finish all five scenes but have your Quality marker on Pretty Mediocre and you lose. You finished up the film, but, ouch, even the Syfy Channel rejected it!

Fortunately, I did manage to complete Forgive Me, Murder and ended up with my Quality marker (the track along the right edge) in the “Worth Selling” slot. A critical darling is born, grab me one of those fancy director’s chairs!

roll camera filmmaking game review - completed game win

Notice that I managed to have two blue (tragic) scenes, which gave me that two Quality point boost at the end to slip out of the red fail zone. PHEW!

SCENE 3: THOUGHTS AND CONCLUSIONS

I’m a huge cinephile, have seen thousands of films, review movies here on Planet Dave, and even occasionally teach film criticism at the University of Denver. I was therefore primed to love Roll Camera, and I do indeed find it tremendously fun and even somewhat insightful into a modern film production with its challenges, problems, and ever-changing studio requirements. Okay, so maybe it isn’t a great teaching tool, but at least players will realize that there’s more to making a movie than yelling “Action!” and trusting people know what to say and do.

There are a few ambiguities in the rules, however, and some of the Problem cards can be contradictory or confusing. I suggest your team agree on an interpretation then keep moving forward. A bigger issue is that the Player Boards don’t seem to be very balanced in their additional capabilities. You saw the Cinematographer board earlier; that one-die problem resolution power is huge. When I played solo with the Director’s card, I failed to complete my five scenes before I ran through my schedule, overrun by problems. The six Player Board possibilities are Director, Production Designer, Star, Producer, Editor, and Cinematographer, and you’ll want to carefully consider each one’s capabilities to build the best possible team. To be fair, this is no different from building a team in a game like Pandemic, of course, but it wasn’t until I played Roll Camera a half-dozen times that I understood the strengths and weaknesses of each player.

Overall, however, Roll Camera is tremendous fun and highly recommended for anyone in the media creation or entertainment business or anyone who loves movies or TV shows. It’s insightful, but mostly it’s just a darn good time, trying to get your film completed before you run out of time or money! Recommended.

Roll Camera: The Filmmaking Board Game by Malachi Ray Rempen of Keen Bean Studio. $44.99 at Target and various other outlets.

THAT’S A WRAP.

post-credit V/O: “Disclaimer: Malachi sent me a copy of Roll Camera in return for this review. Thanks, mate!”

dave taylor vertigo film swirl backgroundPlanet Dave is run by Dave Taylor, who has been writing about film, cars, games, and his lifestyle for many years. He's based in Boulder, Colorado and assures readers he's only occasionally falling into a gravity well or temporal distortion field.

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