What's Eric Playing? #219: Boomerang [Preview]
Full disclosure: A print-and-play preview copy of Boomerang was provided by Grail Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game. Also, it’s a print-and-play, and I’m absolute garbage at those, so you’ll quickly understand why I never do these.
Alright, so, it’s Sunday (June 10th) and I definitely thought I’d get this out by the 11th, so here we go on another adventure. Weirdly, I’m already pushing three reviews / previews today, so I guess we’re doing … four? I’m definitely taking a week off at some point, but, beyond now, I guess.
Anyways, in Boomerang, you are tourists exploring the wide, wide country / continent of Australia! You have a vague idea of what you want to do, sure, but you know you’ll be happiest if you do everything, probably. Most so if you do everything really well. Will you be able to live out your touristy dreams? Or are your plans going to end up, well, down under?
There’s pretty much no setup, here. Give everyone a player board:
I have literally no idea what size these are going to be in the final product. I just printed (and laminated, yes, I both own and love my laminator) a sheet and embiggened it a bit so I could play it more easily with my imprecise markers. That’s not super relevant, but, I’m typing this in a hurry, so you’re going to get some sort of stream-of-consciousness hybrid preview review. Also, the colors may look weird because my printer was acting up.
Shuffle the cards and deal each player 7:
You’ll have some extras in a 2- and 3-player game. Set them aside without looking at them.
Give each player a marker or pen or something and you’re ready to roll!
So, this is gonna be a light drafting game in the vein of Sushi Go Party! or 7 Wonders, but with an added roll-and-write sort of effect. Each round, you’ll take a card and pass your hand to the left until you’ve played seven cards, and then you’ll score. Simple, right? Well, perhaps not.
Let’s take a closer look at those cards:
They’ve got a lot going on:
- All have a number;
- All have a letter / color;
- Many have a blue Sightseeing box;
- Many have a green Souvenir circle;
- Many have a yellow Animal Pairs sign.
Those all affect scoring in different ways. So, you’ll start by taking a card from your hand and playing it face-down. That card is your Throw card. If you manage to catch a card of the same or higher value at the end of the round, you’ll score its points.
Now, draft normally. Don’t bother marking your score sheet; you’ll do that at the end of the round. Once you’ve taken 7 cards, compare the last card you received with the first card you played. The last card is your Catch card. If it is the same or higher than your Throw card, again, you can score it. Add the points you got to the Thrown Boomerangs section of the scoresheet. If you scored nothing, add a 0; that helps prevent future confusion.
Next, score Souvenirs. Souvenirs score cumulatively, so add all the numbers on green circles on your cards. Similar to Avenue, however, you only score the total if it’s strictly greater than your previous round’s total. If it’s not, you take a 0. On the plus side, every souvenir is greater than 0, so you’ll have an easy time of it next round?
You can also score pairs of animals. If your cards have a yellow sign with an animal on them, you can score for each pair of the same animals you have. You score the value on the sign (only once; a pair of 4’s is worth 4 points). If you have two or more pairs, you score for each distinct pair (four is two pairs, not some weird combinatorics math). Record that in the Animal Pairs section.
Last up on the right side of the scoresheet is your sightseeing. For each sightseeing icon, you may score that section. However, you can only score a sightseeing icon type once per game. If you choose to do so, record it as follows, scoring for the number of icons of the same type you have among your cards:
- 1 icon: 0 points
- 2 icons: 2 points
- 3 icons: 4 points
- 4 icons: 7 points
- 5 icons: 10 points
- 6 icons: 15 points
Alright, one more thing. You notice the letters on each of your cards? Those correspond to locations on the map. Check them off, now. If you’ve checked off a full region (four letters) and nobody else has already done that, you get the bonus! Circle the +3 for that region (and other players can put an X on it). If multiple players get the bonus in the same round, ties are friendly; they all get it.
Play continues until you’ve played 5 rounds. Sum up your totals; the player with the most points wins!
PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES
The major difference is whether or not all the cards will be out and how much benefit there is from attempting to block. At two, you’re … not going to see that high of scores on sightseeing; it’s too easy to block. Similarly, you’re going to see a lot more aggressive gameplay because you’ll need to be looking at your opponent’s board. Also, you have no guarantee that the cards you need will even be in play in a given round! It’s totally possible that you hit a round with zero camera icons or none of the region you need. It’s a bit more random, because of that, and a bit more cutthroat, so I generally prefer the three- or four-player experience. If you’re looking for a bit more zany and cutthroat, though, two-player is the way to go.
- Don’t throw a 7. You’re almost never going to catch a 7, so you’re kind of just wasting it. Instead, throw either a 3 or lower (4 if you’re feeling risky or you figure you have some control) or throw a card that you want to make sure you get to play (a high-value souvenir, a specific sightseeing type, or one of those platypus pairs might work).
- Don’t pass a 7 to another player as their last card. You’re just literally giving them points. If they catch a 7, they can always score their Throw card. Don’t do that. Generally, try to make sure they end up with a 1.
- Keep an eye on what the players around you haven’t scored or need. This might help you break ties between two useful options (or tell you what cards you cannot let them have).
- You really won’t get more than like, 15 points with souvenirs. It’s difficult to get that many, especially if your opponents notice that you’re trying to do so. Generally I try to go broke on souvenirs in the fourth round, so I can just pick up whatever in round 5.
- You should take note of how many of each animal pair exist in the game. There are only two platypus cards (platypi? platypodes?), so if you see one already played by someone else and you want to play the other, well, then neither of you will score. That… may be worth it? Unclear.
- Weigh your options. You’re going to have to make some hard calls, especially trying to decide if it’s worth taking X card for its animals or Y card for its souvenirs. Try to take a look at what other people are doing and do … not that. It means you won’t be fighting someone for points.
- Focusing on the sightseeing activities also tends to net you a diverse pool of locations to travel to. Since the sightseeing cards are vaguely unique across locations, getting all of one type means that you can net a lot of points and see a lot of places. It will make it harder for you to earn location bonuses, though (since you won’t get a lot of locations in the same region).
- If you see another player focusing on sightseeing, leverage their oversight to gain lots of pairs or souvenirs. They’re going to be letting a lot of cards slide by that don’t have the symbol they want. Clean up after them and you should be able to get lots of points.
PROS, MEHS, AND CONS
- Fun theme! I don’t think I’ve played any games that feature Australia as a theme; that’s fun. Would have liked to see more of the animals, but they’re there, so that’s nice.
- The throw / catch mechanic is really neat. I think that’s a fun like, betting mechanic. At two players you have some control over what your last card is, but at four you’re basically just chucking it out into the night and hoping it comes back. And sometimes it does! It’s also nice because it doesn’t overtly communicate your strategy for the round, and letting you keep it private (even if there’s near-perfect information at four) allows you to strategize some more, which is usually worth it, in my opinion.
- The tourist mechanic creates some interesting incentives. Is it worth exploring more or taking souvenirs? Is it worth taking the same valuable souvenirs in lieu of traveling to new locations? Who knows; you’ll have to figure that out for yourself, friend.
- Very easy setup. Especially with the laminated boards; I just pass some cards out and then we’re ready to play. This also makes it easy to play while traveling, which is doubly nice. I should probably take this on my upcoming trip with me, yeah. It just travels well.
- The hodgepodge of different roll-and-write / set collection mechanics can make it hard to identify one thing and stick to it. It’s a similar problem that I’ve heard brought up with Coldwater Crown — at some level it feels like a mixture of a bunch of different mechanics without a necessarily coherent thing holding them all together. Thankfully, both games use their themes to connect everything, but that can make it hard for new players to identify strategies that will help them be successful. It also makes it difficult to know if you’re doing well — the information is available but not easily added, which might lead to some players wasting time during the game trying to calculate others’ scores.
- Feels a smidge long. I’m relatively convinced that this is because I’ve only played it with new players every time, and as a result this is a bit of choice paralysis manifesting because there are a fair number of things to focus on when you’re learning the game (before you make decisions to specialize). Subsequent rounds in the game play a bit faster, but the game definitely front-loads a bit. Just worth noting.
- If you want to play a more strategic game, you should use the direction-switching variant. Otherwise, you’re super beholden to certain players and that makes some strategies essentially non-starters. If you want the same thing as the player on your right and you always pass left, you will 100% never get it, unless you happen to draw it in the first hand, which isn’t great odds. I’d probably just make that the default, honestly. Otherwise, especially at four players, it can feel a bit frustrating.
OVERALL: 7.75 / 10
Overall, Boomerang is solid! I like the combination of drafting and a roll-and-write; it’s novel and interesting. The theme is bright and fun and colorful, so the game’s certainly pleasant to look at, as well. Like I said, it feels a bit hodge-podgey, which I’m not terribly bothered by, but it’s something that made me curious about roll-and-write games, so I might go investigate more (I’ve got reviews for Qwinto and Qwingo sitting in my wings). Either way, it’s slightly cutthroat at two, sure, but I find at higher player counts it just ends up being a pleasant game of card-passing and racing to visit the best places in Australia, sort of like Tokaido. If you’re looking for a solid roll-and-write-adjacent game or a great family travel game, Boomerang might be a great catch!