Busstop the Boardgame
Review by: Dale Yu
Designer: Kai Fujiwara
Publisher: Japon Brand
Time: 15-20 mins
Times Played: 13 games – all with Review copy provided by Japon Brand
[This review was originially published on Boardgame News near the end of 2010 – however, not many people were able to access it then… I have since played the game more, and I have modified my review – Dale]
Every year at Essen, I always anticipate heading to the Japon Brand booth to see what they might have for offer. I am always amazed by the variety of games that Takerube-san and his partners are able to bring over. There are games of all styles, and the number of games seems to increase every year. For example, among this year’s offerings were: String Railway (light train game), Aisopos (abstract), Cat and Chocolate (party game), Mai Star (card game), Bus Stop (Set collection game), Catch Out (bluffing game), Hau La (dexterity/art), and at least 7 more games that I didn’t even get a chance to try!
I try to keep on top of the offerings by reading the BGN Essen Preview as well as monitoring BGG to see what will be available. However, no matter how diligent I try to be, there are always one or two games that I haven’t heard about until I get a demo at the Japon Brand booth. On our first (of many) trips to the Japon Brand stand this year, we were able to meet Kai Fujiwara, the designer of Busstop, and learn the game from him. I had not read much about the game, so I didn’t know what to expect. I’m glad that we took the time to learn about this one as Busstop may be my favorite game thus far from Japon Brand (though I still have at least 2 more to play for the first time!)
Busstop is a fast-paced set collection game played over 10 rounds. Each round takes maybe 1-2 minutes, so you can see that the whole game doesn’t take long at all. You play the role of a bus company owner, and you are trying to transport the most passengers during the 10 rounds of the game. The catch here is that you start with only two buses in your fleet, and for reasons only known to Japanese bus lines, each bus will only accept one type of passenger. There are 5 types available in the game: babies, children, schoolgirls, businessmen and grandmas. In the passenger mix, you will also find a few extraterrestrials which act as wild cards.
Each round, five passenger tiles are drawn at random from the supply. They are arranged on the the bus stop board in the order they they are taken out of the bag. These tiles will be distributed using the numbered tiles that each player has (more on this later). Each player starts the game with an identical set of 10 tiles numbered 1 thru 10: babies are 1-2, children are 3-4, schoolgirls are 5-6, businessmen are 7-8, and grandmas are 9-10. One tile will be played each round, and each tile will be played once over the course of the game.
After the random tiles are placed on the bus stop board, the start player (the conductor) will choose one of his tiles and show everyone which tile he is going to play. Then, the rest of the players will secretly and simultaneously select one of their tiles. The numbered tiles are then placed on the top row of the bus stop board in order from low to high. Ties are broken in clockwise order from the conductor.
One of the numbered tiles will cover up the picture of the conductor on the board. The player who played that tile takes the conductor tile, and he will be the start player for the next round. Then, starting with the leftmost numbered tile (the lowest numbered tile), the tiles are distributed. Each position gets a different choice of tiles. This leftmost player can choose any of the tiles from the top row, and he must also take the leftmost random tile. The second player only gets to choose a remaining tile from the top row. The third player gets to be the start player next round, gets to choose one of the remaining tiles in the top row as well as getting three tiles from the bottom row – as directed by the arrows. Finally, the highest numbered tile gets the remaining tiles in the top and bottom rows.
All of the tiles in the top row will be of the five main types – as they always come from the player sets. The majority of the tiles in the bottom row are also of these 5 types, though there are a few special tiles that can be found as well. There is one VIP tile of each passenger type which is worth 3 points (instead of the base value of 1 point). There are also 5 lime-green extraterrestrial tiles which can be used as wild tiles.
Once the tiles are distributed, then each player takes his new tiles and places them on his personal board. The passenger tiles can be placed in a bus or in the queue. At the start of the game, each player has the bottom-most two buses available (a 5-seater and a 4-seater). There is also a queue area which surrounds the bus parking lot. If this queue ever gets to space 9, your third bus (a 3-seater) becomes available for use. All tiles must be placed somewhere each round. Remember that each bus only holds one type of passenger, so you must choose carefully which type of passenger you are going to put into your bus! You also need to pay attention to the order that you place people into the queue – because once a tile is in the queue – it doesn’t ever change position with any other tile!
If a bus ever gets completely filled – all spaces within it are taken by matching tiles or extraterrestrials – it immediately departs the station and a brand new empty bus takes its place. The “delivered” passengers are taken from the board and placed in a scoring pile, and then you immediately start placing new passengers in this empty bus. If you choose to take tiles from the queue, you must start from the head of the line and must still keep to the rule that only one type of passenger can be in a bus. Once all of the tiles are placed by the players, the next round begins. Whichever player holds the conductor tile chooses a number tile and reveals it to the other players, and the game goes on…
The game ends after 10 rounds, and scoring is fairly simple. You score +1 point for each regular passenger tile and +3 points for every VIP tile that you “delivered”. Extraterrestrial tiles score nothing. Additionally, any passengers which remain on unfilled busses score nothing. Any regular tiles left in the queue are worth -2 points, and VIPs left in line score -6 points! The player who has the most points wins.
The game plays as quickly as you would think. There is a fair bit of strategy to be had in the choosing of the numbered tiles but it doesn’t really take that much time to choose which numbered tile you want to play. In most rounds, you usually know which positions will allow you to pick desired tiles in the bottom row. Sometimes it’s easy to get to the desired upper row location, though it can get harder near the end of the game as your supply of numbered tiles dwindles and you might not be able to play the number you’d like to be able to play. In fact, one of the things you have to get used to is that your final few turns are about dealing with the tiles that you end up picking up because you don’t necessarily have as much control as you’d like because your supply of number tiles is so small.
Of course, the conductor doesn’t have a lot of control over where his tile ends up during any turn because his choice is known to all the other players before they choose their tiles, but the rest of the table has to try to figure out which tile they can play to get the tiles they need. Which tiles you end up getting is of paramount importance because of the rule that each bus only takes one type of passenger. There are plenty of times when it seems best to land in the spot where you only get one tile so that you can manage your queue better, though with careful management of tiles, it can be quite alright to have a long queue — if they are arranged in orderly fashion.
The addition of a third bus when your queue gets up to 9 tiles is an interesting mechanism. If you can build your queue appropriately (hopefully with the first three tiles matching each other), you can then have the advantage of the extra bus. The catch here is that you won’t have many turns to use the third bus because your queue doesn’t usually grow by more than 1 or 2 each round, but it’s still a viable strategic option. If nothing else, you can use the spaces on the extra bus to get people out of the queue and into a bus where they will at least not negatively affect your final score.
The times that I have seen the long queue strategy work have been when a player has managed to pick up tiles such that his queue is in blocks of three or four of the same type of passenger – or mostly the same type of passenger with a few people ready to get on the other two buses in line. If you are able to get it set up correctly, as soon as you get your 3rd bus, you can automatically fill up the top bus with 3 passengers and let it go – and then start filling it up again from the queue. The best that I’ve seen is someone having 4 buses go as a result of triggering that 3rd bus.
The components are well-done, and everything feels quite sturdy. In fact, this may be the heaviest weight (densest) cardboard pieces I’ve seen in a long while. Despite it’s small size, it’s a heavy game due to the cardboard! The tiles have held up thus far to wear, and since I’ve played it with my kids a few times, it’s good to see that the game is durable enough to withstand their attention.
It should be noted that there are two additional rules which can be added to the game – however, having tried them both, I think that I will stick to the basic rules as both of the additional rules didn’t seem to add much to the game. The first extra rule is the special passenger bonus rule – each player is designated a different type of passenger that they will score double points for at the end of the game. This seemed to cut down on competition for tiles as each player tended to try to specifically collect their special type of passenger. This may have been a bit of weird group think though when we tried it, so I’ll have to try it again sometime and see how it goes.
The second extra rule uses special end-game bonus tiles – worth 5 points at the end of the game – however, these bonuses did not seem well balanced. In a game where regular scoring is often in the 20s, this large bonus can often decide a game – and they don’t seem to be well balanced enough to use regularly. Each color has its own bonus condition: 1) All buses empty at the end of the game, 2) A total of seven or more people left on buses at the end of the game, 3) Only 2 buses used in the game (queue never got to 9), 4) Three or fewer passenger types delivered, 5) Deliver the most extraterrestrials. Our group just didn’t like the arbitrariness that these bonus tiles gave to the game.
One workaround that we had to come up with was a good system to choose the tiles on the top row. There were times when we would forget the order of the tiles in the top row – because they can sometimes be collected by players earlier in turn order. After this happened a few times, we just made sure that we went over the player order before we started to choose tiles off the top row.
Other than that, Busstop is a well designed game that my group has enjoyed thus far. It is more of a filler than a main course, but one that I think we will come back to in the foreseeable future. The rules are easy to teach – I think that I got my kids playing in their first game in under 3 minutes. And, though the overall game length is short, there are enough decisions to be made along the way to keep it interesting.
Rating: I love it!
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor
Opinions from other Opinionated Gamers:
Jonathan Franklin’s Opinion: Bus Stop is a neat little game, but that it cannot be taken too seriously because if you are slightly off in your position, you can be royally screwed with passengers you don’t want while someone else lucks into ‘your’ bounty. This is fine for a short game, but would be frustrating if it were any longer. I’d happily play it if someone wanted to, but won’t be seeking it out.
Valerie Putman’s opinion: This is a light filler, which is why I rate it as I like it instead of I love it! I don’t play often enough with kids or non-gamers to make this a game that would hit the table often. But when I do need to find something quick and light and easy to teach, this is an excellent choice.
Ratings Summary from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it! (2): Dale Yu, Brian Yu
I like it. (1) : Valerie Putman
Neutral. (2) John Palagyi, Jonathan Franklin
Not for me… (0)