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Introducing Bridgetown Races
For many of us, some of our most enjoyable outdoor gaming experiences as kids and teenagers included playing capture the flag! It is always exhilarating to race through a forest or field, trying desperately to locate the opposing team’s hideout and to attempt to sneak in, grab their flag and race back to your own lines a mere step ahead of your enraged opponents! Now imagine playing a massive game of capture the flag – where the playing field is an entire city and there isn’t just one flag to find but many! And in this urban version of the game, you can use motorbikes, streetcars, taxis, and even roller-blades and more - as needed! Well that’s exactly the kind of experience that the new release from Gryphon Games attempts to capture. In Bridgetown Races you will compete against one to three opponents in a mad dash through the streets of Portland, Oregon as you try to capture as many different coloured flags as possible before the game ends. And – unlike when you were a kid – this time just being fast won’t be enough! Now you’ve got to be smart too as you attempt to puzzle out the most precise and efficient ways to navigate the city – staying just one step ahead of your opponents the entire time. Sound like a good time? Well read on dear friend and see what Bridgetown Races is all about!
The box for Bridgetown Races has been durably constructed, well sized, and colourfully illustrated. The box has a pleasant matte finish and has a satisfying heft to it. And as we'd expect, the cover artwork features the urban jungle that is Portland, along with cartoony illustrations of players using various forms of transportation in their mad quest to be the first to grab the flag located in the middle of a bridge.
The back of the box tells us about the "International Bridge Racing Association" and their annual bridgetown race, which in this game happens in Portland, Oregon.
What needs particular note in this context is the remarkably well designed box insert. As a general rule, box inserts have a tendency to be more trouble than they are worth. However, the insert for Bridgetown Races has been perfectly sized and cut to securely and intelligently store all the game components. This is a one of those extra details that speaks to the kind of thought that went into the production of this game!
Here’s what you’ll find inside the box:
• 1 Gameboard
• 40 Flags (five in each of eight colours)
• 16 Wooden Pawns (four in each of four colours)
• 4 Bridge Completion Cards (one in each of four player colours)
• 1 Transportation Wheel
• 1 Cloth Bag
• 1 Turn Marker
• 1 Starting Player Marker
• 1 Rules Booklet
The setting for this game is the city of Portland Oregon – unsurprisingly a city that is known for its many bridges.
The bridges on the board reflect the many actual bridges in that city. Eight of them are depicted in the game, from top to bottom: Fremont Bridge, Broadway Bridge, Steel Bridge, Burnside Bridge, Morrison Bridge, Hawthorne Bridge, Marquam Bridge, and Ross Island Bridge. Also notice the yellow roads that run throughout the city. The marked locations (indicated with a diamond yellow and white space) are the spaces through which pawns will move in their quest to capture the bridge flags - the number of spaces depending on the method of transport used. There are roads, overpasses, and even sections with track on which streetcars can also travel!
There are several additional characteristics about the board that are worth noting. Firstly, from the perspective of graphic design, the tri-fold board turns out to be quite pleasing. Furthermore, the graphics are clear, colourful and while it’s no Pillars of the Earth, overall it’s a solid effort. The board has also been quite well sized – it’s not too big, nor too small and it’s been durably constructed.
Flags & Linen Bag
A game of capture the flag needs flags! These 40 flags in eight different colours represent the victory condition of the game.
Players are going to employ different modes of transportation to navigate their way around the city and these flags will be placed on the various bridges that are on the board. If you cross a bridge by using a mode of transportation that corresponds to the colour of the flag which is currently on that bridge then you may collect that flag and place it on your Bridge Completion Card. There are two ways to win: firstly by being the player with the greatest number of different colour flags (i.e. different methods of transportation) after five rounds of play, or you can end the game instandly if you are the first player to collect eight flags (regardless of flag colours!). These flags have been made of plastic and they don’t need to be put together in the way that the flags from Charon Inc did. Each of the eight colours corresponds to a mode of transport: red = bus, orange = blades, yellow = taxi, green = car, blue = streetcar, purple = motorcyle, brown = bicycle, white = walk (don't worry, there's no need to memorize this!)
With the exception of the blue flags which are always placed on the Steel Bridge, the remainder of the flags will drawn randomly from a cloth bag and placed on the board. We`ve said it before and we`ll say it again – a good draw-string bag is worth it`s weight in gold. This bag has been made of good durable cloth and the top seam has been securely stitched in order to prevent fraying. Nice work here!
Each player will be give four wooden player pawns in their player colour at the start of the game. One of those pawns is your "Racer", and will be used to mark your location on the game board. The remaining pawns are your "Coordinators", and will be placed on the Transportation Wheel in order to indicate the methods of transportation that you intend to employ during the current round. It`s a plus that the pawns have been made of wood and like the board they too have been pleasantly sized.
The colour choices may seem somewhat unusual, but there's a good reason for that: the primary colours of the colour wheel are reserved for distinguishing between the eight different modes of transport on the transportation wheel. As such, the colours of the player pawns are more non-descript, and I'm glad they've reserved primary colours for the flags and modes of transport - so actually this is a good choice.
As noted above, each turn you will be placing three of your pawns on to the wheel as a means of indicating which of the eight potential modes of transportation you will be using to move through the city streets. These also indicate the distance you may move your Racer for each of the different methods of transport, which is as follows: Walk 1, Blades 2, Bicycle 2, Bus 3, Car 3, Taxi 4, Motorcycle 4, Streetcar 5.
In addition to depicting the various means of transportation, the centre of the wheel also has three spaces where players may place their pawn in order to receive one of three special actions (First/Double/Swap) for that turn.
Bridge Completion Cards
Each player gets a solidly constructed cardboard tile known as a Bridge Completion Card, to keep track of the flags won thus far. It lists the names of all of the bridges on the board, and as you cross those bridges and collect flags, you place those flags on your card to indicate the number and colour of the flags that you have collected.
Sailboat Turn Marker
The game can end in one of two ways. Aside from the `instant win' that occurs when a player has collected flags for all eight bridges, the usual way the game ends is after five round of play have been completed. In order to keep track of the rounds the game comes with a round marker – in this case, a sailboat that travels down the river which is spanned by the various bridges on the gameboard. This is a very creative, thematic, and visually-pleasing way of keeping track of the numbers of rounds, and almost everyone who has played the game has remarked what a clever idea this is!
Starting Player Marker
A cardboard token emblazoned with the crest of the International Bridge Racing Association is used to designate the starting player - this will vary from round to round (it's the player who has collected the least flags).
Being the starting player usually gives you the advantage of going first, and having first shot at the flags available that round, so it's a good balancing mechanism that the player who is in last place gets this.
The instructions for Bridgetown Races have been clearly and concisely presented in a full colour booklet.
A number of helpful illustrations of game play situations have been provided and while the wording could occasionally have been a bit clearer, the instructions are generally quite accessible and straightforward. The few questions we did have about specific aspects of gameplay and the win condition were answered clearly and expediently by the designer in the BGG forums. Figuring out the game from the rulebook can be a bit tricky, because some of the `obvious' things like what a marked space is and how movement works were somewhat assumed rather than well explained, but you shouldn't have any problems with any of that after reading this review. In reality once you've learned and played the game, you can explain it to someone in a matter of 5 minutes, so it's really quite easy to learn firsthand and not at all complicated.
Overall, all the components of Bridgetown Races have been very well made and they demonstrate a care and concern for detail that we have come to expect from Gryphon Games!
Game board: Set the game board in a convenient and central location - for most of us, this is the middle of the table, and if you were thinking your car dashboard or kitchen stove, you might want to try playing Quelf instead! Place the turn marker (sailboat) in river space marked `1`. Here's how the complete set-up of a four player game looks like:
Bridge flags: Collect all of the blue flags – place one of them on the Steel Bridge and the rest as a supply by the side of the board (remember: blue flags – and only blue flags – must be placed on the Steel Bridge). Next, depending on the number of players, toss the required number of each other colour of flag into the cloth bag: three of each colour for a two player game, four for a three player game, and all five for a four player game. Now, beginning at the top of the river and proceeding down, draw a flag from the bag and place it in the centre of each subsequent bridge. During the setup phase, there may not be more than two of any one colour flag on the board – if a third flag of a given colour is drawn from the bag toss it back in the bag and draw and place another flag.
Player pawns & bridge completion cards: Each player should now take the four player pawns in their chosen colour and a matching bridge completion card; one of those pawns is the Racer and should be placed next to the arrow entering Burnside Road – this will be the starting position for the game. Choose a starting player via an agreeable means and give that player the starting player token.
You are now ready to begin!
Flow of Play
So our four competing racers are at the starting line, what happens next?
Play progresses over five rounds – although, as noted above the game may end earlier if one player succeeds in acquiring eight flags. Each round has two phases: arranging transportation, and racer movement.
• Phase 1: Arrange for Transportation
In this phase, beginning with the starting player, you will place your three pawns (the game calls these three pawns "coordinators" and the pawn on the map your "racer") on to the Transportation Wheel.
Transportation spaces. One player at a time, in clockwise order, place one of your pawn in a specific mode of transportation (e.g. taxi, streetcar etc). You may place your pawn on the same transportation mode as another player but you may only place one of your own pawns on any specific means of transportation. This process continues until all players have placed all their pawns, as seen in the picture below of a three player game.
Special actions. You'll already have noticed that you also have the option of placing a pawn in one of the three special action boxes (labeled First, Double, and Swap) that are located in the centre of the transportation wheel. In this case, however, only one player may occupy a special action space at a time. Further, when you place one of your pawns in a special action space, if it is not your last pawn, you must still immediately place another of your pawns onto a transportation mode. These let you do special actions like moving twice as far (Double), swapping flags (Swap), or moving your racer before the starting player (First).
• Phase 2: Racer Movement
Basic movement: In this phase, you will begin to move your racer pawn around the board via the various means of transport that you selected on the transportation wheel in phase one. Beginning with the starting player, you will pick one particular mode of transport indicated by one of your pawn placed on the transportation wheel, and move your racer the base speed of that form of transportation. The base speed is the number indicated on the wheel above the name of each mode of transportation (eg. the bus has a base speed of three). After moving your racer, remove your pawn off of the transportation wheel (and from the special action spaces if you have used them) and return to your play area. (If you find, that for some reason, you are unable to move via a particular mode of transportation – you may walk instead and move a single space.) Proceed in this fashion until everyone has returned all of their pawns to their play area.
Bonus movement: Note that if another player has selected the same particular mode of transport as the pawn you are removing, and their pawn is still on that space in the transportation wheel, you must add plus one to your movement for each other pawn. And because you must move your racer pawn all of the spaces required (including any bonuses that are provided), this can be a fun way of messing up other players plans by forcing them to move further than they anticipated - depending of course on who removes their pawn off that space first and is affected by the bonus! Sometimes it can help you by enabling you to get one space closer to the flag you are after!
Collecting flags: So how do you pick up these flags that are the key to winning the game? Well, in order to collect a flag, you must cross or end your movement on a bridge using the same colour (mode) of transportation as the flag on the bridge. For example, if a bridge has a purple flag (motocycle), you'd collect that flag if you crossed that bridge or ended your movement at the flag location on that bridge using the motorcycle mode of transport. You then collect the flag on that bridge and place it on your bridge completion card, on the row matching that name of that bridge. (Note that you can't collect a flag if you began your movement on that bridge at the flag location). It is possible - and at time even desirable - to cross the same bridge multiple times over the course of a game, especially if it helps you get a flag of a colour that you don't yet have and if you have duplicate coloured flags on your bridge board. In this case you exchange the flag which you have on your bridge completion card with the new flag that you have just acquired and place the previously acquired flag back into the bag. Below you see that the red player has crossed Burnside bridge with a Car (green), so he collects the green flag, and places it on the Burnside bridge row of his Bridge Completion Card.
Special actions: During the racer movement phase, if you have played a special action, you must use it at the same time that you move one of your racers - i.e. you'd take off two pawns from the transportation wheel, and use the special action that turn. Here is a quick overview of the three special actions, and what they will do:
1. First – you may move your racer pawn before the starting player takes their turn on one of the three turns of the racer movement phase.
2. Double – you may double the base speed of one of your chosen modes of transportation.
3. Swap – you may swap the location any two flags on the board (except the blue flags on the Steel Bridge).
These special actions do mean that you're using a pawn that could otherwise be placed on a transportation space for movement, but often they'll enable you to perform a clever move that messes with your opponents' plans or gets you the flag that you need, so they really add a large dimension to the game and keep it interesting!
Streetcars: There are a few special rules regarding streetcar travel, and these also add a thematic touch and keep the game interesting. When travelling by streetcar, you may only travel on the blue train track. It's also the only way to get the flag on the Steel Bridge. To enter into the streetcar, your racer pawn must occupy a space that is directly adjacent to (including an overpass) or already on a train track. Streetcar offers the quickest mode of travel - 5 spaces - and if you combine it with the Double special action, you can quickly get to another part of the city!
So how does a round end? Well, a round ends after everybody has removed all of their pawn from the transportation wheel and moved their racer pawn accordingly. In terms of advancing to the next round you must first:
1. Advance the boat turn marker to the next river space.
2. Pass the starting player marker to the player with the fewest flags on their bridge completion card.
3. Beginning from the top of the river and moving downwards, place a flag on any empty bridge by drawing a flag from the bag and placing it in the centre of said bridge (using blue flags for Steel Bridge).
End of Game
The game ends when either: five rounds have been played, or one player has managed to acquire eight flags. If the game ends at the end of the fifth round – and no player has acquired eight flags – then the winner will be the player with the greatest number of different coloured flags. Here the blue player would win the game, having used six different means of transportation to cross bridges. The red player has crossed seven bridges and nearly achieved the instant win condition of crossing all the bridges, but only used five different means of transportation, and so comes in second place.
In 2 player games, the `sudden death' win condition of crossing all 8 bridges is a real possibility, but it's hard to achieve in games with more players, and the winner will usually be determined by the player who has used the most number of different types of transport to cross bridges (i.e. different coloured flags). There is no tie-breaker, but we've seen ties happen more than once, and it would seem that having crossed the greatest number of bridges would be an obvious tie-breaker. Some other suggestions for a tie-breaker have been discussed and suggested here.
What do we think?
It has a strong thematic appeal for Portland people. I've never been to Portland personally. But I can imagine that for people who have connections with the city, or perhaps live there, this game will have a very strong appeal. The theme is actually quite good, and being able to navigate and move through streets and bridges that you have seen in person would only make the game more fun! Despite being a game about logistics, the theme works well enough that it should be well received in the city featured in the game. And because the gameplay is quite good, this game would make a great promotional tool for the city, or serve as a great gift for tourists or visitors - certainly much more than Monopoly Portland or Portland Uno ever could! So if you're a Portland person or know one, that should give you extra reason to consider picking this up. Given that it's a good family game, it should be essential inventory in all toy shops and game stores in Portland, and maybe even tourist outlets - this could only be good for the game, for the publisher and designer, for the retailers, for the city, and for the folks who live in or visit Portland.
It is surprisingly quick. The box states that the game time is 45-60 minutes, and while a four player might run as long as an hour, you can easily play a two player game in under 30 minutes, sometimes as quickly as 20-25 minutes! This is certainly a redeeming element, because it's just the right length for this kind of game. Anything longer than that, and it would start to drag, or you'd get a sense that the game is too light. But for a quick game that can be played in 20-30 minutes, it feels just right, and I can see myself busting this out when I have a free half hour and am up for a bit of a challenge. The set-up is also very quick - just set up the board and bridge completion cards, randomize flags, and you're pretty much ready to go.
It has a puzzle feel. Make no mistake, Bridgetown Races is clearly a game, not a puzzle. But it does have a puzzle feel to it, since the gameplay revolves around logistics, as you try to plan a series of 2 or 3 moves in succession, while at the same time dealing with the interaction and choices of other players. In that respect it reminds me somewhat of Elfenland, where there's a phase where players plan their movement, followed by a phase of actual movement, and in the process you're having to deal with other players doing the same. Using a Transportation Wheel instead of cards and tokens makes this game more streamlined than Elfenland, and the different methods and routes of transportation perhaps give more options, but there is a similar "feel", as you plan your route, and then move your pawn. Not everyone will like this kind of game, but given the relatively short time it takes to play, I find that this style of game is a welcome diversion from the typical euro game.
It is highly interactive. There's lots of potential for interaction: you can place a controller on a space on the transportation wheel in a way that causes your opponent's pawn to move one extra space, and perhaps waylay his carefully laid plans; you can swap flags before he gets a chance to grab that critical game-winning flag; you can trump his status as starting player by going first and perhaps beat him to the flag that he was planning to get this turn. You can never be completely sure what your opponent is planning to do, although the method of transportation he chooses will often give a good indication about some of the flags he's aiming for this round, but when you throw special actions into the mix, things can sometimes turn out quite differently than you plan! Sometimes this can be quite frustrating - although players can more or less ignore each other, especially towards the end of the game it's in everyone's interest to put a spoke in their neighbour's wheel - and not everyone can handle being on the receiving end of this. Yet in most cases the nastiness is not as severe as the obstacles in Elfenland, for example, where your whole turn can be wasted as a result of someone messing the first part of your plan. In Bridgetown Races there's still usually something you can do, and in most cases you can still get at least one flag, and you'll simply have to adjust your plans on the hop. With four players it can become hard to make any long term plans, whereas a two player game can be very tactical and perhaps the game is best enjoyed this way.
It is replayable. The random placement of flags at the start of the game and at the end of each round means that the game will play quite differently each time. Combine that with the fact that your opponents may try different strategies each time, and you're left with a game that will never feel `solved'. Sometimes the randomness of drawing flags can be frustrating, for example, if there is one colour flag you still need, and it doesn't get pulled from the bag at the end of the penultimate or final round, but for the most part it balances out, and just helps keep the feel of the board different. For example, you'll need to plan differently to get across a bridge that requires walking (movement of 1, where stairways from an overpass is an option), than a bridge that requires using motorbike transport (movement of 4, where only direct access is an option). This keeps the required logistics fresh and different for each game. I've played well over half a dozen games (primarily two player) and am not tired of it yet!
It requires ability to distinguish between colours. Sad to say, our colour blind friends simply couldn't play this game, as much as they wanted to. Being able to distinguish between the different coloured flags is critical, otherwise the game becomes unplayable, and you can hardly start asking your opponents what colour certain flags are, because you'll be giving away your plans. Perhaps the use of some kind of icon on the flags to represent different modes of transport could have been a solution, but in its current form, people who have issues with colour blindness will have to give Bridgetown Races a miss. Maybe there is a simple solution, but it's something that could have received attention before the game went into print. Aside from this, however, the components are pleasing enough.
The game-play is easy to teach. The rulebook wasn't quite as intuitive as it could have been, and there were a few things that left me scratching my head initially, such as how movement worked, and how the win condition was supposed to function - fairly basic elements of gameplay. But I quickly got answers to these questions from the designer in the BGG forums, and once this was resolved, the gameplay was smooth and easy. Even if it is a bit hard figuring out from the rules, once you know the game and understand how it fits together, it's very easy to teach and explain, and shouldn't take much more than 5 minutes to have new players ready to go. If you've read this review, the basic game-play should give you no problem.
The final round is often critical. The travels of the final round can often determine the winner, and this usually keeps things tense until the end. Often the last round consists primarily of preventing your opponents from achieving what they need - although this will depend on the number of players. It does mean that if a flag you need is not on the board at this point, there's not much you can do, although you can have fun messing with your opponents and causing them to gnash their teeth by swapping flags, or snagging the one that they need. If the game is going to get nasty, it's usually going to be in the final round - and whether or not this is a good or bad thing is for you to decide!
Is Bridgetown Races for you? This isn't the kind of game that will appeal to everyone, but it's a good family type game that even offers enough challenge to satisfy gamers who enjoy games which involve logistics and puzzling out an optimal route, with a high degree of interaction in the process. For Portland people, it should be a must-have, simply because of the theme, and because it's not an inherently bad game by any means. It isn't going to supplant popular euros in the BGG Top 100 any time soon, but there's enough here that's different from the usual to make this worth playing, and it's perhaps designer Carey Grayson's best effort thus far.
Credits: This review is a collaborative effort between EndersGame and jtemple.
The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
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- Last edited Wed Dec 22, 2010 2:26 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Dec 21, 2010 11:15 am
Excellent review, as always! You have certainly set the bar high for these...
I got to playtest this game last year at Gamestorm, it really was a lot of fun. If I don't get it for Christmas I'll probably be picking it up soon now that I know it's available.
Introducing Bridgetown RacesIt has a strong thematic appeal for Portland people.
I've never been to Portland personally. But I can imagine that for people who have connections with the city, or perhaps live there, this game will have a very strong appeal.
Come visit us anytime Ender. Portland is a beautiful place!
I got to playtest this game last year at Gamestorm, it really was a lot of fun. If I don't get it for Christmas I'll probably be picking it up soon now that I know it's available.
I remember this game because I was also able to playtest it at Gamestorm, only it was 3 or so years ago =)
Pretty neat to see it published!
I might appreciate this review more if Ender did not GeekMail-spam people connected to Portland about it.
Spam is spam. My email is not for your convenient advertising.
- Last edited Wed Dec 22, 2010 1:30 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Wed Dec 22, 2010 1:30 am
In 2 player games, the `sudden death' win condition of crossing all 8 bridges is a real possibility, but it's hard to achieve in games with more players, and the winner will usually be determined by the player who has used the most number of different types of transport to cross bridges (i.e. different coloured flags). There is no tie-breaker, but we've seen ties happen more than once, and it would seem that having crossed the greatest number of bridges would be an obvious tie-breaker. Some other suggestions for a tie-breaker have been discussed and suggested here
Thanks for the very thorough and comprehensive review. As you might expect, the game went through a few changes after it was picked up by Gryphon Games. I think they were all for the better, but it may be worth mentioning that the game used to last 6 rounds and was changed to 5 rounds to reduce playing time. The extra round helped getting 8 flags more likely with 3 players or 4 players. It might be something to try if you don't mind a little longer game.
- Last edited Wed Dec 22, 2010 2:21 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Wed Dec 22, 2010 1:39 am
it may be worth mentioning that the game used to last 6 rounds and was changed to 5 rounds to reduce playing time. The extra round helped getting 8 flags more likely with 3 players or 4 players. It might be something to try if you don't mind a little longer game.
That's useful to know, thanks for sharing that. It would certainly be interesting to try that in a 3 or 4 player game. The possibility of triggering an `instant win' by crossing all the bridges is a great alternate win condition that really adds interest and tension in the closing stages of two player games. Being able to find a way to make it a more viable possibility in 3 or 4 player games is worth exploring. Have you ever seen someone achieve an instant win in a 3 or 4 player game without extending the game past five rounds? Or is it almost impossible to achieve?
Have you ever seen someone achieve an instant win in a 3 or 4 player game without extending the game past five rounds? Or is it almost impossible to achieve?
Yes, I have seen it happen in the current format, but I saw it more often in the 6 round version. Believe it or not, I've actually seen it done in 4 rounds -- the player picked up a remarkable 3 flags in the first round, 2 flags in the next 2 rounds and 1 flag in the forth round.
Granted that's pretty unlikely, but if you focus on trying to get 2 flags a turn as a basic strategy, it can be done. Keep in mind for this strategy to work, you don't worry about the diversity of colors. Just grabbing flags. Have fun trying!
Best review I have read on BGG. Awesome, thanks!