Game Review #484: Billion Road (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: John B
Developer: Bandai Namco Entertainment Publisher: acttil Category: Board Game, Party, Strategy, Multiplayer Release Date: 4.16.2020
Watch the Trailer
Buy Billion Road from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
The big problem with board games is that while the graphics are very realistic, the animation work on plastic game pieces really sucks. But there’s good news: video game developers have discovered that it is possible to create a board game inside a video game. Revolutionary. Bandai Namco and acttil have joined forces to show the Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley a thing or two about how to make a gripping board game experience with the colorful, bombastic Billion Road for the Nintendo Switch. Billion Road can best be described as Monopoly crossed with a crazy Japanese game show/anime, and it is one heck of a good time.
Follow the Billion Road
Billion Road plays out like a regular board game like Monopoly or Sorry, but with some pretty amusing random elements that are only possible in a video game. The game can be played either single player against up to three bots or multiplayer up to four players. You can play on the couch, but you each need a JoyCon or controller of some sort. Every turn sees you rolling dice to determine your movement range on the game board, which is the entire country of Japan. Most spaces have effects like giving you money, taking away your money, granting you an item, granting you a follower, or allowing you to buy properties on a city square, like Monopoly. Along the way, random events will pop up ranging from giant monster attacks to explosive business growth.
You can collect items either by randomly gaining them on an item square or buy purchasing them from an item shop square. Using items consumes them, but you can get some pretty sweet bonuses by using them. Some items let you roll additional movement dice, whereas some will summon a monster to join you (more on that later), and still others can be left on the board as traps for your fellow players. Item usage is one of the more strategic aspects of the game; it is a board game, however, so a lot of the game really comes down to a roll of the dice. Still, you can use items to strategically bolster your chances of a favorable outcome, so there is a mental aspect at play here.
Who Wants to Be a Billionaire?
The premise of the game show Billion Road in which you are pretending to participate in the video game Billion Road is that several incredibly rich people are roaming around Japan, trying to become even more incredibly rich people. The game takes place over a predetermined number of “years,” which you can set at the beginning of the game. Every year has twelve turns, like the months in a year. Whoever has the most money at the end of the game wins. There are a few ways to make money – the simplest is to just land on a blue square on the board, which prompts you to spin a meter that randomly grants you an amount of cash. Landing on a red square does the opposite; you spin a meter to determine how much money you lose that round.
When you land on a city square, you can buy businesses in that city that will grant you income at the end of the year. Each city has eight businesses to buy, and no limit on how many you can buy at once except the amount of cash in your wallet. At the end of the year, you get income from your businesses which can be spent on more businesses or used to purchase items. There are a few randomly generated events that occur over the course of the game that may generate income for one or more players as well; occasionally a business will get a random bonus to its productivity, or a player will be randomly designated to get a present for a holiday occurring during that month.
Monsters appear on the board in a variety of ways. The good kind of monsters are small and helpful, and you can recruit up to three of them at a time by either landing on a monster recruitment square or collecting them by moving over the square they occupy. Monsters have all kinds of uses and effects, like increasing the amount of money you gain from a blue square or decreasing the amount of money you lose when you land on a red square. They’re pretty versatile, though; they’re not all about money. Some will remove a monster from your opponent’s team, increase your movement roll, or protect your businesses from a giant monster attack. Monsters have energy levels, and if your monster gets tired their effects will no longer activate.
Giant monsters appear and rampage from time to time, and you can send one of your monsters to fight them per turn. If they make it to their rampage they can damage properties and reduce the value of the businesses there at the end of the year. If you and the other players manage to defeat the giant monster before its deadline is up, the rampage is averted. All of the players who participate in battle get a reward dependent on how much damage they did, but the player whose monster lands the deathblow gets the most money by far.
At the beginning of the game, one of the hosts throws a dart at a board and selects a city as the goal. Whenever a player lands on the goal city, they get a ton of money – and even more if you have monsters whose type matches the bonus color for that goal. A new goal and new bonus color are then selected. The interesting thing about the goal is that it is pretty much optional; you can win the game without ever reaching the goal city. All that matters is that you have the most money at the end of the game. That said, reaching the goal is massively rewarding, financially, and so is generally worth pursuing just for that. If you need additional incentive, however, the game provides that in the form of perhaps its most frustrating element.
The person farthest away from the goal whenever another player reaches the goal gets a follower monster – followers are monsters that generally apply negative effects at the end of every turn. Sometimes the person reaching the goal gets a beneficial follower, but the person farthest away always gets a negative follower. The good news is that followers are traded to any other player that passes you or whom you pass on the board. However, I generally found them to be way too harsh a penalty for simply not being close to the goal; having a follower makes catching up if you are in last place feel basically impossible. It sucks every ounce of fun out of the game if you happen to be in last place, which is a huge black eye for a party game.
Let’s Face It, Everyone Wants to be Richer Than Their Friends
Billion Road is the most fun when you’re playing couch multiplayer because you’re playing with friends. Playing bots can get frustrating because the bots basically auto-scroll through all dialogue boxes, meaning you don’t really have time to see what the game is saying and/or what effects they have or don’t have. You don’t know if you missed anything important, which, to be fair, you probably didn’t, but it always feels like you may have, and that is not a welcome feeling. Aside from this and the disproportionate penalty of follower monsters, however, I have a lot of trouble finding fault with Billion Road.
Lookin’ Like a Billion Bucks
Visually, Billion Road has a perfect aesthetic for a board game; it’s colorful, cartoony, and just generally creates a fun atmosphere. There are lots of customization options available for your avatar, and you can unlock even more by hitting certain objectives when playing the game. The music is similarly cheery and fun, but I felt like the game missed an opportunity to up its energy level a hundredfold by not including any voiceover. Watching the game show segments of the game made me pine for the early days of YouTube where I spent hours watching clips from Takeshi’s Castle – an enthusiastic, bombastic announcer like that would be absolutely perfect for Billion Road. Don’t get me wrong, the game is fun without any voiceover, but I think it could have hit another level with some.
A Game Night Staple
It is tough to find fault with Billion Road; its graphics are great and the gameplay is simple to grasp and fun to experience. There are enough different elements to the gameplay to make the game feel fresh every time you start a game, and it gets even better if you’re playing with friends. And yeah, sure, it has a few warts; the penalty for drawing the follower monster is way too heavy, and it only gets heavier the farther into the game you get. As the game wears on and players take different routes to the goal, it becomes unlikely that you’ll ever get close enough to another player to pawn the follower off on them so you just have to wait for someone to get to another goal and hope someone else gets the follower monster for this round. I realize I’m complaining about followers a lot, but it really isn’t a big enough problem to derail the whole experience. Billion Road is a lighthearted, colorful, and thoroughly enjoyable party game.
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*A game code was provided for review purposes