Corinth is a roll-and-write game that updates a regular tabletop game from 2006 called Yspahan, re-themes it, and turns it into a simpler, smoother experience that can be played inside of a half an hour. The original game was fun but deeply flawed, and the new design here addresses that flaw by eliminating an entire part of the original game, while still presenting players with the same kind of decision tree that made the first game enjoyable.
Roll-and-write games are pretty much what they sound like: You roll a set of dice and then mark something off on your personal scoresheet based on some choice of the dice you rolled. Yahtzee and Kismet are probably the two best-known roll-and-write games, while 2018’s Welcome To… is the best I’ve ever played, although that game uses a giant deck of cards in lieu of dice, and part of the fun of roll-and-writes is constantly rolling.
Corinth’s twist, borrowed from its parent game, is the way the dice—a minimum of nine each roll—are parsed once rolled. There’s a small board, the only game part beyond the dice and the scorepad, with six spaces on it. You separate all the dice you rolled by value, place all dice of the highest value in the top row, and then place the remainder by filling up from the bottom—which means the second-highest slot is empty unless you rolled all six values. (For example, if you rolled some combination of 1, 3, 4, and 5, the 5s would go in the top row, the 1s in the lowest row, the 3s in the second-lowest, and the 4s in the third-lowest.) You can also add up to three yellow dice on your turn to roll that are only available to you.
Once the dice are rolled and placed, the active player (the roller) gets to choose all the dice in one row and either use their row function or their face value. The players go around the table and select from the remaining rows; in a two-player game, the roller gets to select a second row. The actions you take correspond to three of the areas on your personal scoresheet.
The left side of your sheet has four merchants to whom you can deliver goods for points—if you fill up any one space, with two to five goods, you score a fixed number of points at game end—and the middle four rows of the board correspond to those merchants. If you take three dice from the blue row, you can cross off any three goods depicted in the blue shops on your scoresheet. (Any extra dice you can’t use are ignored.) If you’re the first person to fill in all the goods spaces in all of the shops for the green, blue, or purple rows, you get a second bonus.
The top row of the board gives you gold, and the bottom gives you goats, also one per die. You can use these to build four buildings (which doesn’t require an action) that give you points or in-game powers, and you can also pay one gold to roll an additional yellow die on your turn that only you can take. Once you’ve selected a row, all yellow dice still on the board are removed. At game end, you get one point per two gold and one point per two goats remaining, so even if you don’t need them for buildings, sometimes you should use whatever floats your goats ‘til the end.
The one new and novel aspect of Corinth, even against its parent game, is the merchant track—which looks a bit like a maze—on the upper right of your scoresheet. You can choose a row of dice and use the face value of those dice, rather than their quantity, to move the merchant around his little labyrinth (minotaur not included—perhaps that’ll be in the Crete expansion) that number of spaces and gain some bonus for the space where he lands. This can be one or two goods, a gold coin, some goats, or a yellow die you can add on every roll for the remainder of the game. There are three corner spaces where you can send your merchant to get points for every space where you’ve already stopped, and when you go to the second scoring space, you score for the first space a second time, with the same applying to the third scoring space. It’s the least intuitive part of Corinth, but you can’t ignore it—at the very least, you’ll probably want to get one extra yellow die, and some of the other bonuses can be critical to filling rows.
The game ends after every player has had 18 turns in a two- or three-player game or 16 turns in a four-player game—so you get to roll nine, six, or four times if there are two, three, or four players. You add your points from the shops, the merchant maze, any gold or goats left over, and if you built the first building you get three points per completed building (up to 12 total). That’s the entire game. Once folks know the rules and the modest strategy involved, turns are quick. You could probably just punt the merchant scoring parts if you wanted to bring younger players into the game as well.
If you haven’t played or even heard of Yspahan, that’s no obstacle to playing or learning Corinth; while some of the mechanics are similar, they’re pretty straightforward, and Corinth makes a couple of points in the original simpler in this new implementation. If you know the original game, here’s the key difference: Yspahan had a dominant strategy around sending goods to the caravan, but Corinth dispenses with the caravan entirely. It’s just gone, and I don’t think there’s a clear dominant strategy in Corinth as a result. The re-theme loses something—Yspahan had bright, almost gaudy colors, and was one of the first games I ever bought where how it looked was a major factor. (Bad choice, perhaps; I eventually traded it away because the caravan strategy made it less fun.) There’s less interaction as well; in Yspahan, players competed to place goods in the same shops, which were emptied and scored three times over the course of the game, but here you’re mostly just competing for dice.
As a straight roll-and-write, Corinth checks most of the boxes—it’s fun, quick-moving, not too hard to learn, but gives you enough options on each turn that you still have to plan ahead and come up with a strategy, even a simple one. I think it’s especially good if you’re in my boat: I liked so much about Yspahan, but the game just didn’t work. Corinth is essentially Yspahan: The Dice Game, but a better reboot than the many dice variants of board games that end up feeling like cash grabs.
Keith Law is a senior baseball writer for ESPN.com and an analyst on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight. You can read his baseball content at search.espn.go.com/keith-law and his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.