Design by: Casey Grayson
Published by: Gryphon Games
2 – 4 players, 1 hour
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser
Ever heard of the International Bridge Racing Association? Neither had I, so I searched the internet in an attempt to learn more about the group. The result? Nothing. The group doesn’t exist. Rather, it is the figment of the fertile imagination of Casey Grayson, who invented the organization to help create the theme for his latest game: Bridgetown Races. Players represent contestants in a furious race to be the first to cross Portland’s eight bridges, using the proper modes of transportation to capture the greatest variety of flags.
The board depicts a section of Portland, with roadways and trolley tracks traversing the city, crossing the river at eight different bridges. An assortment of flags in eight different colors is mixed in a cloth bag, with seven being placed randomly on the bridges. Only the steel bridge receives a set flag each round – blue. Each player receives three race coordinators, one racer and a race completion card. The race is ready to begin.
Players alternate placing their coordinators onto the transportation wheel; i.e. a roundel. The wheel depicts eight different modes of transportation, including taxi, car, motorcycle, streetcar, rollerblading and even walking. Each mode of transportation corresponds with a flag color. This is critical to game play, as a player may only capture a particular flag if he is using the corresponding mode of transportation. For example, in order to capture a purple flag, the player must be using a motorcycle when crossing the bridge supporting the purple flag. This critical rule makes careful and proper planning a vital element of success.
Each mode of transportation has a specific movement allowance. For example, the speedy streetcar can move a racer five spaces per turn – albeit only along the trolley tracks – while a bicycle can only transport a racer two spaces. Making planning more difficult is the rule wherein this movement is supplemented by one space for each other coordinator on that space. So, if a player has a coordinator on the bus space, he can normally move three spaces. If two more players have coordinators there when the player takes his turn, he moves five spaces. It is difficult to guess how many players will choose that mode of transportation, and to guess how many will be remaining when you take your turn. This makes proper planning extremely difficult, forcing players to plan for several contingencies.
Players may only choose a particular mode of transportation once per turn, so they must carefully plan and plot their moves … and hope the plan will actually succeed. Players move in turn order, and once a flag is claimed, it is removed and not available for other players to claim that round. Players must consider numerous factors when planning their route: modes of transportation needed, movement allowance provided by those modes of transportation, likelihood of other players using the same mode of transportation, and turn order. This takes quite a bit of thinking and planning, which can cause some downtime.
Further complicating matters is the ability to place a coordinator on one of three special spaces on the roundel: First, Double and/or Swap. ”First” allows the player to move first in one of the three movement rounds. ”Double” allows the player to double ones movement on a particular mode of transportation, while “Swap” allows the player to swap the location of two flags. All of these abilities can be quite useful, and since only one player can occupy each of these spaces, the competition to claim them can be keen. They can also be quite disruptive to the other players, as it often allows a player to scoop a flag they otherwise would not have been able to acquire. There is a cost, however, as the player must use one of his coordinators. This gives him one less round of movement that turn.
In turn order, players choose one of their coordinators and move their racer a number of spaces corresponding to the mode of transportation chosen, plus any bonus spaces for other coordinators using that same mode of transportation. If they cross a bridge that has a flag matching the mode of transportation being used, they place that flag on their race completion card. Once three rounds of movement are completed, the turn ends. New flags are placed on empty bridges, and the turn marker – a boat moving down the river – is moved forward. The game continues in this fashion until a player collects eight flags, in which case he wins immediately, or five rounds are completed. In the latter case, the player who has collected the most different-colored flags wins. This latter case often results in ties, but the rules-as-written provide no tie-breaker. One game played in our group ended with everyone tied. That was VERY unsatisfying.
There is a lot to enjoy in Bridgetown Races. The theme and mechanisms appear rather unique, and the game requires players to carefully plan their moves while taking into account the potential actions of their opponents and turn order. While it is important to move swiftly, proper planning and anticipation play a more critical role. There is a sense of satisfaction when one’s planning bears fruit, resulting in the capture of several flags. Of course, there is also the resulting frustration when an opponent beats you to a flag, or you end one space short of reaching one.
There are problems, however. First, the game is highly susceptible to the dreaded “analysis paralysis.” As mentioned, there are numerous factors and options to consider when planning one’s turn. Players generally must plan numerous potential options and paths in case an opponent thwarts the primary one. This planning takes time; sometimes too much time. Of course, this can cause the game to drag and take longer than it should.
The end game can also be unsatisfying. As mentioned, it is quite common for a game to end in a tie, often with multiple players tying for the victory. Fortunately, this is easily rectified. The game’s designer suggested that, in the event of a tie, determine which player has the flag matching the slowest form of transportation. If this is still tied, move on to the next one, eventually breaking the tie. The idea here is that the flags requiring the slower modes of transportation are more difficult to obtain.
My assessment of the game is mixed. I appreciate the theme and original mechanisms, and enjoy the thinking involved in attempting to plan a successful route. Unfortunately, there are numerous factors beyond a player’s control – or even ability to assess – that can easily thwart a player’s plans. So, careful planning not only can take a long time, but it can ultimately prove fruitless. Depending upon the players involved, the game can play quickly or take longer than it should. The race is usually close, but too often ends in a tie. For me, the balance is about even regarding plusses and minuses. The end result is a game that, while intriguing with some clever attributes, has several areas of concern. Whether these concerns outweigh the game’s positive aspects will certainly be a matter of personal preference. For me, it relegates the game into an already crowded field: the “middle of the pack”. In a world with so many games, that is not a good place to be.
Neutral: Greg Schloesser, Dale Yu
Not for Me: