Dale Yu: First Impressions of Bad Maps

Bad Maps

  • Designer: Tim Armstrong
  • Publisher: Floodgate Games
  • Players: 3-5
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 30-40 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Floodgate Games

Bad Maps is a programming game where players try to get their Minions to find the hidden treasure.  In this game, the mostly square island is placed on the center of the table. The four Minions each start in a different corner of the island.  There is a Red X in the center of the island that is usually the goal of the Minions. Each player gets their own player board and a set of 9 Map cards which match their color.  There are two versions of the game. In the Basic game, all Captains has identical powers, while in the Advanced game, the reverse side of the player board is used and each Captain now has a unique power.

The game is played in two rounds, each following the same format.  In the first phase, a Blackout card is revealed – this tells the players which map slots (found on the side of the board) require face up cards and which get face-down cards.  Each Captain is then dealt out a hand of four Objective cards, one of which is discarded after they are examined. The Objective cards are important in the game as they will score points if you are able to get the depicted minion to match the stated criteria on the card at the end of the round.

Then, in player order from the Start Player, each player takes their turn to play a Map card – this card goes in the left most available slot for any minion, and goes either face-up or face-down depending on what the Blackout card specifies for that slot.  Each minion has their own color coded set of card spaces on one side of the board. All players are able to play cards to any of the minions lines. Whichever Minion is first to be played on gets the First Minion marker – that Minion will move first in the next phase of the round.  Then, the player may choose to use their Captain ability, something that can usually only be done once a round. In the Basic game, all players have the same ability, and that is to allow you to look at any one face-down Map card played by an opponent. Play continues around the board until all card slots are filled.

Once the cards are played, then each Captain looks at his three remaining Objective cards and discards one of them; this leaves him 2 Objective cards to score with.  Then, the First Minion takes his first action. Look/Reveal the card in the first slot, and then take the action shown on the card – there are two main types of cards: Facing cards force the minion to face one of the compass directions and movement cards cause the minion to move forward or backward.  The next minion clockwise then takes his first action, and so on. This continues until all Minions have taken all their actions.

If a card causes a Minion to move into the sea (i.e. off the Island), it is immediately replaced on its start spot and that particular card’s action is over.  If a minion walks into a wall, it’s movement for that card is ended. If a Minion runs into another Minion (target), the target Minion is pushed by the active one.  If the target is pushed into the sea or a pit, the target then moves back to its start space and doesn’t move further. If a target is pushed into a wall, all Minions stop moving.

Once all the action cards are resolved, then it’s time to score the objective cards.  These cards have a minion specified on it, and then a reward if that Minion is in 1st place, 2nd place or last place.  These placements all refer to the distance away from the X – this is determined by counting the number of spaces that the tile needs to move to get on top of the X, avoiding pits.  Ties are friendly, and it is possible for a minion to have multiple places. For instance, if all the minions were exactly adjacent to the Red X, they would each all be in 1st ,2nd and last place at the same time.  Note that if a Minion ends the round on their starting space, they are completely disqualified from the scoring for that round.

Captains can only score one card per minion per Round, though it is certainly acceptable to keep two cards for the same Minion.  Any successfully scored cards are placed face up near the player board. All failed cards are discarded. Then, at the end of the first round, each of the Minions that is not on their start space will dig a pit.  Place a pit tile on their location with the dirt wall placed on the side of that Minion’s butt. Then play a second round just as the first.

At the end of the second round, the player with the most points is the winner. Ties go in favor of the player who has completed the most Objective cards.

My thoughts on the game

I generally like programming games, so I was excited to learn about this from Floodgate Games. I used to love Roborally and liked Mechs vs Minions, so I wanted to give this a try.  In those games, I have enjoyed the uncertainty of the whole thing and the fun watching the actions play out and the general mayhem as the robots continue on their predetermined path of actions regardless of what has happened to them in the interim.

Bad Maps has that same sense of programming, but with a twist.  Here, all players can program all the minions, and the game here comes down to winning bets on which Minions will end up where at the end of the round.

Our first game was played with the max player count of 5 – and it turned out to be quite random.  Having two cards face down to each minion out of 5, and having those actions spread out amongst all the different players; I really never had the sense that I was controlling any of the Minions.  It really felt like dumb luck when one of my bets paid off. I ended up trying to concentrate on one bet card in each round, and then use my spyglass action to figure out where a Minion was going to be (and also play the other facedown card in that row) so that I could at least know where one thing was going.  Well…. unless it was pushed out of the way, of course. It’s slightly better in a 3 player game as you get to play more of the actions per Minion – but even then, it still kinda felt all out of my control.

The second round is even worse as far as control goes because with all the extra pits on the board; it is quite likely that the Minions are going to end up starting over or smooshed up into a wall.  And, then, all the later programmed actions are kinda meaningless and just add to the overall randomness.

That being said, the groups that have played this have still laughed their way through the game as the minions bounced here and there, fell into pits or went swimming in the sea.  But, thus far, out of 8 results (a 5p game and a 3p game), the maximum number of cards scored by a player is 2. I’ve also seen a frustrating condition happen twice in those two games – a player was dealt four objective cards all with the same minion on it for a particular round.  This guarantees that you’ll only be able to score one card at most, and that was a less than desirable arrangement.

The components are decent.  There were some issues with the iconography on the cards. The reverse cards were misread by a number of my fellow gamers.  I think it could have been somehow better laid out so that people knew which card they were playing. It’s bad enough to have limited control over a minion, but worse when you realize that you’ve played the wrong card and sent the minion the wrong way!

In the end, if you’re looking for a light filler where it’s less important whether you win or lose, this might be for you.   We definitely laughed our way through the games, so I wouldn’t say that it wasn’t enjoyed. But, our games have taken 40-50 minutes, and that’s a long time to play a game where it doesn’t feel like you have that much effect on the end state.   For that same 40 minutes, there are other games I’d rather play… .

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

James Nathan (1 play): Traffic jam games are, uh, my jam.  I only realized this today as I’ve been pondering this game, Gravity Superstar (which I played earlier this week), and both Habitats and Twin Tin Bots (games from 2016 and 2013 which I have plans to review, or I’d like to offer a difference of opinion and re-review).  Once it occured to me that it was a mechanic I like, Echidna Shuffle also came to mind. Maybe even that’s what I enjoy about Mesozooic.

Anyway, it didn’t work for me here. One of the side effects of only scoring 1 or 2 cards, is that it doesn’t give a lot of room for scores to vary: there will likely be ties.  The rules contain a multitude of tie-breakers, and I think we used all but one of them. I found that unfulfilling.

My issues are largely what Dale has touched on above, but I’m also not crazy about the “reset” that happens when one of the explorers is pushed off the board or into a hole; it seems like one step too far on the unpredictable scale –mostly with how it disqualifies those explorers from scoring consideration.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it.
  • Neutral. Dale Y, John P
  • Not for me… James Nathan, Craig V

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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