Hop on board New York and London is the brand new reimplementation of Let’s Make A Bus Route. Designed by Saashi, published by IELLO, the game sees 2-5 players build bus routes through cities. Taking around 30 minutes, players will pick up a variety of passengers, drop off a few along the way, and attempt to avoid pesky traffic jams. However, is this an experience players can get on board with? Let’s find out!
At the start of the game, each player takes a score sheet from the mat and a bag of player-colored pieces. Depending on the number of players, New York for 2-3 players or the London map for 4-5 players, the main board is placed in the middle of the table. Ticket play, public and private goals are mixed individually. Each player receives two tickets and a secret private objective, with two public objectives going into play. A player is randomly chosen to be the first player, earning the inspector token, which begins by revealing one of their two tickets. This choice determines the player’s starting position on the main game board. Each player clockwise around the table follows, doing the same – with all tickets then reshuffled. Players then have the important task of naming their bus route, before the game begins.
Played over 12 rounds, each player takes a single turn in player order, starting with the Inspector. First, a card is turned over from the deck. This is numbered and tells all players which of the 12 routes they can add to the tableau this turn. It is important to note that the 12 routes that players have are the same but are not in the same order, so what the shape of the route is for number 7 for one player will not be the same for the next.
In turn order, players place their route markers on the front of their bus line. These vary in length from 1 to 3 streets and also come with 0 to 2 turns. Turns can be used left or right but the length is always respected. Players can change the number of towers they must use by spending a tower area. The player adds the markers to the main board claiming the routes. Players are free to use all routes, even those already claimed. However, some dark streets and those with route markers from other players already present cause traffic jams. For each of them, the player will block a step on his traffic jam tracker, which will cause him to lose some points at the end of the game.
For each section of the course, the player triggers the symbol at the crossroads of the street. These range from picking up tourists, students, to dropping off passenger types. Each type of passenger works a little differently. The elderly just want to be taken care of, scoring more as more and more crowd the bus. Students score based on the number picked up multiplied by the number of college sites visited at the end of the game. Businessmen and tourists score based on the number of people on board when traveling to a place of business or tourism. Tourists score more points but business people can reward bonus passengers.
Once all players have placed their routes, picked up or dropped off passengers, proceed to the next round. The inspector token is passed clockwise, with the new trick seeing the next upturned card from the ticket deck. During the game, players will try to connect the places on their private objective but also to pick up the passengers or visit the places indicated on the public objectives. These public goals have a small racial element. They score the player who completes them first (or players if done in the same round) more points. These are returned offering smaller point bonuses for the remaining players. The game simply continues like this until the end of the 12th round, with the winner being determined by whoever has the most points.
The main game board is double-sided, but does not offer fully double the content. While the New York team plays with 2-3 players, the London map is only designed for 4-5 players. It’s a shame there aren’t any rules or a way to fine-tune London’s map to allow it to play with a wider range. Not necessarily 2 player, but being able to play with 3 on each side would reduce the feeling for many that they won’t be playing half the content with their common playgroup.
The reasoning behind the limits makes sense, as they make the experience tight regardless of the number of players. Playing on the London side with 2 players would be a dull experience as it’s the interactions between player paths that make the experience. With only 2 on such a large map, there may be almost no overlapping of route sections, as if two single player games are running simultaneously. It’s having to work around others, choosing when to take the hit on traffic jams, that makes decisions crisp.
It’s not just the risk of traffic jams, every game turn creates choices for players. The points offered for achieving personal goals are enormous. However, the same goes for this detour and picking up the extra tourist before dropping them off at that named location nearby. Then there are the Public Goals ready to further distract you from what you were trying to do. With points from each angle, players must make the important decisions that they need to prioritize.
Flip and write, or in this case flip and place, games naturally have a luck factor. What normally balances things out is that what is returned is the same for all players. That’s not quite the case with Get On Board. Yet, by the end of the game, everyone will have used the same set of route shapes. There is however the luck factor when you need a straight line or a route with a turn based on what comes out of the bridge. Luckily, mitigation is built right into the game in the form of turn zones. It can cost points, so when to use your 5 turn adjustments is yet another choice. However, this means that over the 12 rounds, players can make an adjustment in just under half of them or in specific rounds twice.
Some elements of Get On Board are far from intuitive. Why businessmen board passengers at random doesn’t quite make sense, though it makes for some interesting choices and therefore can be forgiven. On the other hand, the passenger delivery section can easily be explained with tourists wanting to go to certain places while students want their places of study to be connected. This logic helps when teaching the game. Anyway, Get On Board takes a game or two to get used to, and then it can be easily played within the 30-minute time frame as shown on the side of the box – and much faster with 2 players.
Played on individual player sheets and on the Main Draw, there’s never a problem figuring out which routes are claimed, or how many passengers of each type you currently have on your bus. The wooden route markers used may not be the most exciting component, but they do the job perfectly to mark claimed routes. At a glance, you know if a route will be congested or not, and you can see paths along empty streets to weave through if necessary. A main sheet with colored pencils or pens in the middle wouldn’t have been so readable in comparison.
Few flip and write style titles offer any type of player interaction. Get On Board thrives on this interaction with players, as routes begin to clutter the city, causing traffic jams. That’s why, while it’s frustrating not being able to freely use both sides of the board, the two separate maps help keep the game tight regardless of the number of players. As with similar games, there’s something very satisfying about making the most of the same actions as everyone else. The wait was long enough to see Let’s Make A Bus Route come west, but Get On Board made that wait worthwhile.
(Editor’s note: Get On Board was provided to us by Coiledspring Games. See the official webpage here.)