James Nathan: Let’s Make a Bus Route

Let’s Make a Bus Route
Designer: Saashi
Artist: 宝井 貴子 (Takako Takarai)
Publisher: Saashi & Saashi
Players: 2-5
Ages: 10+
Time: 20-30 minutes
Times Played: 5 times with purchased copy

Like many gaming groups, my weekly quartet likes to have some appropriate music in the background as we play.  When I know what we’ll be playing ahead of time I like to curate a Spotify playlist, and it often relies heavily on relevant Smithsonian Folkways releases. For some genres, train games for instance, our playlist includes not only songs about trains, but sound effect albums of trains going by.  

I’m grateful for how open my group is to some of the more edge-case choices I make for soundtracks.  What do you listen to as you play NMBR 9 or Gizmos, for instance? The Conet Project and Einstein on the Beach for the former and sound effect albums of machines operating -thrashers, washing machines- for the latter, if you’re with us.

As I finish up this review, and as you read it, may I suggest “Car Horns Sound Effects”?

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Let’s Make a Bus Route is a flip-and-write directed by a set of 12 cards; two each of 6 different cards, representing 6 different colors.  Each player receives a personal player board to track the passengers they have picked up and dropped off, the traffic they’ve caused, and how many times they have used the 6 types of cards.  Each player board has a unique mapping of the color cards to the possible routes that may be drawn on the central board.

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When a card is flipped, the players in turn order will extend their route in the pattern shown on their board that corresponds to the flipped color. If the player wants to deviate from the pattern, they may (a limited amount of times) alter parts of the prescribed path for a requisite loss of points.  (And if the player is taking some time on their turn, don’t worry, a car horn will sound shortly to urge them along!) The player will mark the icons in a certain manner on their board, and if they ended at a green light, move one additional segment, also earning any icons at the new stopping point. Certain spots along the outside edge of the board reward a player with multiple symbols, as a counter to the resulting movement limitations.

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During setup, each player receives 3 cards – 2 show possible starting locations, and 1 showing a personal end-game scoring bonus if the player’s route passes through 3 specific locations. Each game will also have two possible bonus cards, with the first player to reach the requirements earning 10 points, and other players who achieve it earning 6.

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As the game progresses, you may not cross your own path or pass through a location you’ve entered previously.  If another bus has already traversed the path you want to drive, you may still draw your route there, but you’ll cause 1 traffic for each segment.  At the end of the game, causing no traffic will earn bonus points for the player, and the player who caused the most traffic will lose points.

Tourists and workers act similarly in that they stay on your bus until you reach specific destinations: tourist sites and work sites, respectively.  Once your route goes through a scoring trigger, you must score any of the corresponding riders which you have. If you have completed a row of either rider without triggering a scoring, you may not mark any further riders of that type until you drop some off.  

Students and universities, on the other hand, will score the product of their numbers at the end of the game.  You’ll earn points for each elderly passenger, and more for each additional one as they find company talking to each other.

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The game ends once each of the 12 color cards have been used, and most points will be the winner.

LMaBR is a fun ride:  Choosing how and if to combine my secret objective with the public objectives. When should I cash in my tourists and workers? How much traffic is it OK to cause? Is it worth varying my route from the planned direction?

I enjoy the shared act of creating the bus routes on the central board and how colorful it is. It plays a little differently at the various player counts, as in a 2 player game no traffic is within reach, and in a 3 player game, you can’t believe that the box presents 5 players as an option.

It’s whimsical, and I like that.

I don’t love the game; there’s something I can’t put my finger on that’s missing for me.  It may be that the dial is slightly closer to the tactical end of the spectrum than my sweet spot, and I’d like a little more strategy, but the game is not far off my target.

The map is delightfully tight, with the lure of the two-icon edge spaces, the traffic potential, and the occasional area without a through street.  Not unlike my attempts to navigate through the one way streets of New Orleans last week – sometimes getting where you want to go, is not so easy!

I’m glad I picked up a copy and don’t foresee it leaving my shelves soon.

regards,
James Nathan

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Tery: I really enjoy this game. The rules are very simple and easy to learn, but there is much more to it than I first thought.. I love the mechanism that each player has different movement each turn, based on their player board. Trying to decide which route to take and when to score leads to some interesting strategy decisions. I have only played it two-player so far, but look forward to trying it with more.

Lorna: Probably my favorite roll/draw and write. Love that it doesn’t outstay its welcome. The fun is drawing on the same board.

Joe Huber (11 plays): I think James’ opinion is the closest to mine; I like the game, and have been happy to get it to the table so often, but – it’s not really a game I love.  I do feel like there are perhaps more strategic decisions than it would at first appear, but on the other hand the choice of starting spaces has a disproportionately large impact on which strategies are viable.  I do really enjoy the effect of drawing on the same board; the game offers the greatest degree of interaction I’ve seen in the genre.

Doug G (5 plays): James’ description of “whimsical” is apt. Shel and I loved this game from play #1 and it’s the whimsical nature of the game’s combined board for drawing the routes that sets it apart from its ‘draw &draw’ cousins.

Dan Blum (numerous plays): I agree with Joe – the starting space (combined with the first one or two card draws) can have a significant impact on what you’re able to do. I still enjoy the game and will happily play it, however.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

I love it! Lorna, Doug G.
I like it. James Nathan, Tery, Joe H., Eric M., Dan Blum
Neutral.
Not for me…

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One Response to James Nathan: Let’s Make a Bus Route

  1. Pingback: Report from the Field – Lobster Trap XXI | The Opinionated Gamers

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