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RUNNING with the BULLS by Paul Peterson (Guillotine, Smash Up, Pairs ..)
Developed by Compound Fun and Published by Calliope Games with Artwork by Mike Bocianowski (YETS)


RUNNING with the BULLS is a happy family game with a little strategy and a lot of dice rolling. It is played on a board that, to me at least, is reminiscent in illustration of the original maps for Formula Dé way back when Ludodelier brought it to my attention. The artwork on the component cards is superb but the illustrations on the board are so amazing, you can spend ages just studying the board and still miss some of the nuances and little gems, Easter eggs per se, that have been slipped in for the amusement of the players who take the time to see more than just a play mat. Unless I'm mistaken (and that isn't without the bounds of possibility) Calliope's CEO Ray Wehrs makes an impromptu appearance within the villagers.


In this game the town of El Toro replaces that of Pamplona as the town where the Bulls run free in the streets in it's annual celebration. To the north of the town there are five Bull Pens, conveniently numbered 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6. From each of these leads one or two streets that have been secured to allow the Bulls safe passage to their southerly destinations where they can be safely herded once they have let off steam and trampled a few bones en route. Along the roads are junctions, small roundabouts where the roads split to the East or the west but ultimately to the South. At these junctions the roads have been given new road signs for the special occasion, these signs directing the Runners to take either the ODD or EVEN route.


The Destination areas are on 12 cards which are shuffled and randomly placed at the start of the game and in subsequent completed rounds of play. These cards depict: Mozo's Pier, Bookstore (2), Restaurant (2), Nightclub, China Shop (of course there had to be a China Shop to have a Bull in), Festival, Casino and Bank

The Bulls are represented by large Red Dice which at the start of the game (and subsequent rounds) are rolled, one at a time, and positioned in the Bull Pens beginning at Pen 2 then in order to Pen 6 with a final Bull being randomly placed according to the number rolled - this may even be the only Red Die showing the number of the Bull Pen it is in. Example: a player rolls one Red Die and it is a 5, this is placed on Bull Pen #2, the next red Die rolled is a 4 and this is placed on Bull Pen #3 and continuing the die are rolled and placed on the Bull Pens in order. The sixth die is then rolled is a 4 and thus it is placed on Bull Pen #4.

The players have their own dice set (known as "Runners"), the number of dice in these sets depends on the number of players, which they roll all at the same time and then place them in the Bull pens according to the number rolled - thus any rolled 2s will be placed in Bull Pen #2, any rolled 4s in Bull Pen #4 etc; the exception is any rolled 1s which may be placed in whatever Bull Pen the player wishes but all in the same one. Lastly the Action cards are shuffled and a hand of five are dealt to each player - one of which must be played by each player every round whether they are advantageous or detrimental to that player. Most Action cards are helpful but they can also be the cause of changing a player's strategy for the round. Action cards have one effect each but there are many effects, too many to list, but mainly they can cause dice to be re-rolled, make Runners or bulls change direction or have dice removed from the board - generally dice removed from the board are returned in the next round.


The game is played over 3 Days (Rounds), each of which ends when the Bulls and any successful Runners have reached their Destinations; then they are scored and points awarded in the shape of coins (1s or 5s). After the third day the winner is the player with the largest value in Victory Points, the total value of their coins.

A Round begins with the Start Player and then the next player, and so on in clockwise order, playing a card and actioning it. Going first is a slight disadvantage in as much as the players following you can select their card to play after seeing what you have done. As First Player changes each turn (junction reached) all players get a fairly equal number of turns as Start Player. Then the Runners at each Bull Pen are moved along the paths available to them, Runners with Even numbers taking the "Even" path and those with Odd numbers taking the "Odd" passage - the corresponding dice are moved down the path and placed on the roundabout junction. Then the Bulls are moved, again according to their Odd or Even number. When all dice, Bulls and Runners, have been moved any Runners showing the same number as that of the Bull or Bulls in the same place are then gathered up and re-rolled, once only. Now any Runners showing the same number as that of the Charging Bulls are removed from play for this Round. 

The game then continues in this way until the Runners and Bulls have arrived at their Destinations and a scoring has occurred. Then players may keep or discard any card or cards they hold before being dealt cards to return their hand to five cards. The Bulls are re-rolled and positioned, as are the Runners, and the Destinations are shuffled, drawn and replaced. The next Day is prepared and can now start. Each Destination offers a Bonus specific to it but they are only available once per day to each player who has a Runner (or Runners) on it, no matter how many; these effects count for the next Round and possibly the remainder of the game.


As gamers our first thought was that the Runners and possibly the Bulls should be re-rolled at each Junction and although this is only assumption we figure the designer thought this way too but then decided to introduce the Action cards and the Direction Tokens instead. We thought about trying it but thinking it through it meant that the effects of both the Action cards and Direction Tokens could possibly be negated or changed and then what was the point of playing them? So despite our gamer brains thoughts we continued and indeed continue to play it as it has been written, and to be honest I am not sure why our collective gamer-brains ever thought of making any changes. Direction Tokens, played from a card's direction, are placed on the Odd or Even signs and force Runners of that colour to take that path regardless of the number they are showing. Used tactically these Tokens can help your Runner dodge the Bulls and reach the Destination of your choice.

RUNNING with the BULLS is a simple enough game for everyone to quickly learn, understand and play. Even though it has some slight complexities and the need for careful play (because it is easy to bump the small dice and change their face or roll them onto the floor) it is family friendly and aimed more towards the Mom, Pop & Junior end of the market than at core, experienced Gamer players. Family players, especially the younger members, love to roll dice, and RUNNING with the BULLS has the proverbial bucket-loads. Everything about this game screams quality. Using large Red Dice for the Bulls is an inspiration and the colourful, hi-impact Runner-dice have been selected so that they are easily identifiable no matter what lighting the game is played under (as long as there is some light of course). You can even have some additional fun with younger players by having them search for specific people, animals or things on the vast canvas that is the playing area board.

Find Calliope Games, including RUNNING the BULLS, HIVE MIND and MENU MASTER, at Your Local Game Store

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015