Roll-and-write games go back to the earliest days of tabletop gaming; if you’ve played Yahtzee! or its cousin Kismet, you’ve played a roll-and-write game: You roll some dice and use the results to mark off one or more spaces on your individual paper. This mechanic has the beauty of being easy to learn, highly replayable, and portable. Have dice and pencils? You’re good to go.
Designer Wolfgang Warsch has become the new king of roll-and-writes with his series of Clever games that began with 2018’s That’s Pretty Clever! (original title Ganz Schön Clever), which was nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres award that year, only to lose to Warsch’s own game The Quacks of Quedlinburg. (He was also nominated for the regular Spiel des Jahres award that year for The Mind.) Over at Boardgamegeek, the two highest-rated roll-and-write games are both Warsch’s—the original That’s Pretty Clever is tops, and the sequel Twice as Clever is second. The third game in the series, Clever Cubed (Clever Hoch Drei) is now out in the U.S. after a 2020 release in Europe, and it’s a worthy successor to the original, not quite as good as the first game but a step up from the sequel.
All of the Clever games work in the same way. On your turn, you roll six dice, five in different colors that match spaces on your scoresheet plus one white wild die. You choose one to use for scoring, set aside all dice with lower rolled values, and then re-roll any that are left. You do this again a second time, and then choose from the third roll, ending your turn. Once you’re done, other players may choose one of your set-aside dice to score for themselves (they may choose the same die), and then all players can use bonus die abilities if they have them. You repeat this on each player’s turn and play a set number of rounds depending on the player count. At the end, you’ll add up your scores from all five areas on your scoresheet to determine the winner. You can also play this solo very easily, just rolling once after each of your turns is complete to give you the chance to choose from the ‘other’ player’s dice.
The clever part—the games’ names may be presumptuous, but I think they’re justified—is how you score. Across three games, Warsch has now come up with 15 separate ways to fill out different fields with dice, and for the most part, they’re both smart and fun. He forces you to make tough decisions, and choices you make early in a game determine how much you’ll be able to do later. This aspect feels more potent in the third game than in the preceding two, because there are fields you won’t be able to finish—or come close to finishing—if you ignore them too much in the early going.
One of Warsch’s best gimmicks is that you can’t just place any die in any area—each of the five areas in each game has its own placement rules, with one field allowing you to place any die there, while the other four have limitations. The yellow field has three rows, with spaces number 1 to 6, and you can only mark off a space there in row 1 if it’s the first die you’ve used on the turn, row 2 for the second die, and row 3 for the third die. When you fill in any two spaces connected vertically, you get a bonus—filling in another space on the sheet, getting a re-roll, etc. The three fields at the bottom—blue, brown, and pink—are all rows, but are filled in differently. The pink row is the open one where you can put in any die value at any time, but you have to choose: do you score the die’s value, possibly doubling or tripling it, or take half its value so you get the bonus for the space? The brown row requires a specific value for each space as you move left to right, but you can jump over spaces and forgo any bonuses or the chance to add to the row’s total value. The blue row works outwards from the center, where you add the blue and white dice, and then must enter either a number one less (to the left) or more (to the right) than the value in the space before it, or you may reset the counter if the total of the two dice is 7. Yes, it all sounds a bit complicated, but I promise it makes sense when you play it a few times. There’s also the 6×6 teal grid, and you can fill in multiple spaces for one die depending on when you play it and what’s already been rolled … but that’s probably more detail than you needed already.
The bonuses are the key to racking up huge scores in all of the Clever games. All three games let you gain re-rolls and +1 bonuses, the latter giving you the right to select an additional die at the end of anyone’s turn (beyond the one you can already choose on an opponent’s turn). Clever Cubed introduces bonuses that let you select a die as usual and then change its value to something specific. The first such bonus you get lets you change a die to a 3, then one for 4, and so on, with the last few bonuses allowing you to choose the value. If you collect all bonuses of a specific type, you get another bonus. The best bonus of all is the fox, which lets you score your lowest total for any of the five colors an additional time, which helps reward balanced play and penalizes you for ignoring any one area.
I really love the Clever titles as solo games, and all have digital implementations from BrettSpielWelt that the publisher has supported to get people playing each title (and, I presume, to make learning the arcane scoring a lot easier). They’re all pretty addictive, even solitaire, because there are maximum scores in each title—334 in the original That’s Pretty Clever!, which was the easiest puzzle to backsolve, with reports of 641 for this third game. It’s also a good social game, and something you could play easily over videoconferencing, just printing scoresheets at home if you’re not the one with the dice. Warsch really does have the knack for roll-and-write games, and if you liked either of the first two Clever titles, you’ll love Clever Cubed too.
Keith Law is the author of The Inside Game and Smart Baseball and a senior baseball writer for The Athletic. You can find his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.