Designed by Jeroen Doumen and Joris Wiersinga
Published by Splotter
Reviewed by Ken Tidwell
3 - 5 players
90 - 120 mins
Bus is a bit of a conundrum. It is clear that the designers had one game and one style of playing it in mind during the design phase. In practice, I've never played the game that way. Which is, I'm afraid, why I like it so much!
The first clue was the listed playing time of 2 to 4 hours. I've never played a game that lasted much more than 90 minutes. Final confirmation came when I played with Gerard Mulder, a fellow Hollander and designer of Wortelboer and other fine games. The other players will also be known to many of you: Kurt Adam and Rick Soued. I'm blanking on the context, but at some point Gerard made the comment that the game wasn't even worth playing unless one took the time to consider very carefully each and every move. He was advocating an extensive, and game dragging, analysis. And, I'm sorry, its really just a cute little game, not atomic physics or a merger with Honeywell. I'm not sure what our faces looked like but Kurt, Rick, and I gave Gerard such a look that he immediately began to backpeddle. He honestly took a LONG step back in his thinking and had another look at the game. We had clearly baffled him, though, that we could consider something that to him was a very complex, mathematical game as a fun lark for an evening's fun.
So, that said, here's my take on the game.
The basic theme of the game is urban transportation, both in execution and planning. Players lay out the city by placing business offices/shops, pubs/restaurants, and homes/apartments tiles on the board. Each player also controls a bus company and must build a route through the growing city. Finally, the bus companies move people through the city. First the people want to go to work. Then they want to go out for a pint. Finally, they go home to sleep it off. But this is a liberal and socialist society - they don't really care where they sleep it off, work or drink. Anyplace convenient will do! At the end of each turn, each of the citizens will be inside one of the correct type of buildings, if they can get there. At the beginning of the turn, they come out and head for the next type. If they find one across they street, then they will walk on over. Otherwise, they wait for a bus to take them to their destination. Players score points when one of their buses picks up a citizen and deposits them at the correct building. Both citizen and building must lie on the player's bus route, though!
Here's how it all works.
Each player is issued a pile of colored cubes. Each of the possible actions the players might take on this turn are represented on a long side board. A limited number of each type of action may be executed on each turn. Players take it in turn to choose which actions they will take this turn. Normally players will execute two actions each per turn but players may execute more. A game is limited to 21 actions per player so if you burn your actions faster than others, you better get good bang for you buck. Once all the actions are chosen, they are executed working left to right along the side board. I really like this mechanism, and I'm surprised none of the mainline designers have co-opted it since Splotter released Bus. It guarantees that a certain range of actions will take place each turn. It is also somewhat self balancing since there will be competion for the best actions. This also make it more difficult to execute a killer suite of actions in a single turn, as the other players may spot your fiendish plans and cut them off.
Players may buy more buses (they start off with one), build onto their bus route, bring new passengers to the city (via the trains), expand the city by adding more buildings, and run their buses. There is another option, the clock, but more on that later. The action board has one other clever feature. On some actions, route expansion and building, the first player to choose that action actually gets to execute the action last! Which leads to some interesting games of chicken and some painful decisions.
Buying more buses allows a player to carry one more passenger every time they run their buses - hence scoring, in the best case, one more point. Depending on how the city gets built, however, finding lots of passengers on the street can be tricky.
Bus routes extend from either end of a Settlers-style (shaddup, Kurt) initial placement. Extensions are appended to either end. Routes may only run parallel if a route is completely blocked at both ends - seems pretty rare - so getting one end pinched off can be painful (but isn't it always?). All new passengers will arrive at one of two train stations so that is one concern when route building. One must also be careful to run by a nice mix of building types. And, when building, one must always have an eye towards spoiling other players' routes by placing a mix of building types at each of their intersection so that all of their passengers just walk! Finally, when carrying passengers, one wants to be careful to set up to carry the same passenger next turn.
The clock is the one part of the game that I think is truly broken. If a player chooses the clock action they may decide to extend the current period (ie longer work day, more sleep, or nine day drunk). This completely disrupts the flow of the game and doesn't really seem to contribute much else. My advice is to disregard this action and play without it.
The result is a grand Rube Goldberg machine of a city. The buildings go up, the trains disgorge hordes of passengers, the streets team with pedestrians, the buses roar by, and it all ticks along quite nicely.
The bits are nice, too. The boards feature funky bright colors on sturdy cardboard and there are appropriate wooden bits for all the counters. The board art features a plethora of gaming puns and references for all the street and building names: Axis & Alloys Wreckers, Galerie Adel Verpflichtet, Um Reifenbreite Bike Shop.
Bus, at least as we play it, is a light snappy little game. It looks good. It plays cleanly with interesting decisions to be made. It makes your whites whiter and your colors brighter.
Bus, as the designers intended it, is a complex game of supply and demand that will test your analysis and planning skills.
Buy one, if you can, and see which game is right for you!
Why wait? Buy it now from FunAgain Games!
The Game Cabinet - firstname.lastname@example.org - Ken Tidwell