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BAD MAPS £19.00 average price £23.99 rrp
This is a 20-30 minute game for 3-5 ten year olds and upwards. Designed by Tim Armstrong (designer of Orbis, Bad Maps, and Kaiju Crush) and Illustrated by Kristen Pauline (Ameritocracy, Bad Maps, Stuffed Fables, Trade on the Tigris)
BAD MAPS is a fast-play fun game of the crazy movement of Pirate minions sent by players (Captains) searching for buried treasure.
It is played on a square covered board with four counters representing four Pirate minions; note that these characters are not 'player pieces' as in one per player, nor are they controlled by any one Captain they can be moved by 'all' players every Round.
Captain cards are double-sided for use in the Basic and Advanced variants, the Advanced side having extra abilities. On the Basic side every Captain has the same ability 'Spyglass' which allows the player to look at any face-down Map Card around the board. On the flip-side they all also have that Spyglass ability, but they all also have a different ability each:
Green has 'Harpoon', Orange has 'Smuggler's Boat', Purple has 'Crystal Ball', Teal has 'Torch' and White has 'Footlocker'. Are any of these better than the others? That's an interesting question for any game where the players have something different from each other. This is because once the designer strays off the 'norm for everyone' they are very unlikely to have been played through every possible situation with 3, 4 or 5 players each playing games having played every character, that's a heck of a lot of play-testing. It also depends on how each player uses their character's abilities, even the use of the Spyglass can change the way a Round is played out. This isn't meant as a criticism of any kind to BAD MAPS or the designer or even myself (or any other) as a reviewer, it is just a fact that is virtually impossible to play every angle, every possibility of generally even one game where options are on the table, anomalies are going to occur.
Players win the game by scoring the most points and they gain those points by correctly deciding, through the use of Objective cards, how close the minions will be to the X marking the spot on the map.
Objective cards each have illustrations of one of the minions on them. They also have a number of coins and a winning mission statement, something like "If the Red minion gets 1st or 2nd place" or "If the Blue minion gets Last place". Whatever the statement says if it ends up correct the Captain playing it gains the points (coins) shown on it. The distance from the X is measured by squares away but you have to think laterally. If a minion is in the square adjacent to the X they are closer than a minion diagonally next to the X. However a minion diagonally next to the X is closer than a minion 2 squares away in a straight line, meaning that you don't count squares orthoganally but close orthoganal beats close diagonal.
The game has a planned movement mechanic. On each edge of the board are five spaces where the players, in turn, play Map cards from their hand. These cards are played face down or face up depending on the card drawn from the shuffled Blackout Deck. The first player lays their card on any of the spaces marked as 1. Cards are played in turn, one at a time, and once all the 1s have been covered you begin on the 2s, then the 3s, 4s and finally the 5s, and then all card spaces around the board are covered. Prior to placing these cards the players have been dealt 4 Objective cards (already mentioned) of which they immediately discard one, leaving them with three cards in their hands. After the Map cards have all been played out the players discard another of their Objective cards, they do this based on what they can see on the face up cards and by guessing from these where the minions will end up when the Round finishes.
Now the players have two Objective cards which they trust will bring them the Victory Points shown on the top left of each Objective card as Gold coins. Now it's time for the first Round of movement to begin. The five cards in the line of the colour of the minion will move that minion by being actioned in order from the first (#1) to the second, third, fourth, fifth turning the face down cards over as they are reached (not before), and then number #1 around the right-angled corner and continuing clock-wise until all cards have been actioned, by then all the minions will have followed their instructions and be in their final spaces on the board.
During the game the players can use the Spyglass they begin with to look at one of the face-down cards in play. Obviously you would play this to aid you in the process of deciding which card to play next. On their turns in the Round the players always play a card from their hand, positioning it in one of the legal squares in the orientation according to the Blackout card, face up or face down. They also have the option (in the Advanced game) of using one of their Captain's abilities, the Spy-Glass or the Special; only the Spy-Glass is available for the Basic game.
After the First Round of play the minions are replaced on their Start squares, the second deck of Objective cards are brought into play and then the whole process is repeated again. At the end of the second Round the Captain with the highest score is the winner.
BAD MAPS is a family game one step from being a low-level core game. Families who play regular roll-a-die-and-move games will find the card play and movement of BAD MAPS quite unusual, whereas regular board gamers as well as core gamers will see the available tactics but will regard it as a 50-50 cross between strategy and luck. One (or more) 'devil's advocate' player/s can screw up the entire movement part of the game - the main part of the game - just by playing for fun or even playing randomly - it is possible to win at BAD MAPS by 'playing blind' simply just shuffle your own deck of cards, leave them face down as a stack and play the top card into the next square available when it is your turn. The odds are higher that you will not win like this against someone playing strategically and using everything available to them but there is still the possibility that the odds will fall your way occasionally.
If it was selling for around the £30.00 plus mark I would probably be less impressed with what you get for your money, but as an 'under £25.00 game it becomes a good, solid game purchase. As well as playing it with different groups for the purpose of this review I recently played 2 games in an hour with family and friends We first played the Basic and then the Advanced game, and to be honest the fun of playing out our hands while keeping an eye on what other players were placing when they had to play a face-up card generally was so intense that the majority of us forgot to use our Spy-Glasses. Then there is the surprise as the cards are revealed and the minion trots off on his/her merry way with nothing anyone can do at this point to guide him - his die is already cast.
I will say this about BAD MAPS. When my Mum and Dad were alive Fran and I used to try to get them to play board games with us. They had, after all, grown up playing Waddingtons style games regularly, especially during WWII in bunkers. I couldn't get them to understand games like Magic the Gathering, Carcassonne, Settlers etc but if BAD MAPS had been available then, in the 70's - 80s, I swear they would have understood not only how to play but would also have understood the nuances that emerge during play.
With that is mind I am happy to say that BAD MAPS from Floodgate Games is a sounded gateway between the old way of envisaging board games and the new style that has evolved over the years.