Designed by Joshua Van Laningham | Published by Level 99 Game
1-4 Players | 15 Minutes
Is it possible to harness the energy and tension from the video game world of first-person shooters and not just translate it to work as a board game, but do so in a fun and engaging way? That’s exactly what Bullet aims to do in this puzzle game that pits 1-4 heroines against each other in a deadly game of crossfire.
With bullets raining down on your player board, each participant will work to manipulate these bullets to form specific patterns, successfully eliminating bullets from their board and redirecting them toward their opponents. As the game continues, more bullets are added, increasing the intensity and lowering your chances for survival.
HOW TO PLAY THE GAME
Setup for Bullet begins with choosing one of the game’s 8 different Heroine Boards. Each Heroine Boards puts the player in the shoes of a character with their own unique abilities and play styles. Players also receive a corresponding Action Board and Sight Board for placing their bullets.
Each Heroine comes with their own unique deck of pattern goals to achieve throughout the game.
Finally, players will blindly draw 10 bullet tokens from the Center Bag and place them in their Current Bag (their personal draw bag).
The game takes place over an unspecified number of rounds. Each round players will simultaneously pull bullet tokens from their bag, one at a time, and place them on their Sight Board. If they empty their bag without taking too many injuries they earn the right to continue to the next round… if they can’t, they’re dead meat. While it isn’t recommended for beginners, each round is typically scheduled for 2 minutes. There is also a dedicated music playlist on Spotify that can help you keep track of your round time (custom video game jams).
There are 5 different color bullet tokens, each corresponding to 1 of the 5 columns on the players Sight Board. Each bullet is numbered 1 to 4. When a player draws a token, they’ll place it in the corresponding colored row and move it down the number of empty spaces equal to the bullet’s number. For example: if you pull a red bullet with a 2 value, you would place it in the second row of the red column. If the next bullet chosen was a red with a 3 value, you would count the first empty space in the red column, skip the current 2-value bullet and continue counting down until you reach the 3rd empty space. Each column on the Sight Board has 6 empty spaces that can be filled before the player takes an injury. A typical player can take 4 injuries before they’re removed from the game.
While it may seem as if you’re at the mercy of these bullets, each player has some Matrix-level skills to help keep you alive as long as possible! Players begin each round with a specific number of pattern cards (typically 3). These pattern cards feature objectives for the round. If you can organize your bullets in a specific way on your Sight Board, you can eliminate bullets from the board completely. Equipped with your pattern cards, your primary tool to manage your board’s bullets is through your Action Board.
The Action board allows each player a specific number of actions and a variety of ways to manipulate the bullets on the board. These all vary based on the character, but some of the common actions may be to move a token one space in a set direction, draw additional patterns or engage in a number of other benefits. Once a pattern is achieved, the pattern and applicable bullets are discarded from your play area.
At the end of each round, players may draw an Action Tile that is then added to the Action Board providing additional benefits. Players take all their “defeated” bullets from their board – the ones they were successfully able to remove during the round – and pass them on to the player to your left. That player will then add those in their bag the following round. Players will all be be required to pull an additional number of bullets from the Center Bag into their Current Bag, upping the ante for each subsequent round.
Play continues with players drawing bullets and eventually taking hits until only one player is left standing.
Bullet features 4 different game modes: Free-For-All (mentioned above), Teams (2v2 mode), Score Attack (1 player tries to survive as long as possible) and Boss Battle (which introduces an additional battle each round against a challenging boss).
The gameplay has a strong push-your-luck element to it. As you pull your bullet tokens from the bag and place them on your board, they build and build. If left unattended, the bullets will overflow and knock you out quickly. You’ll likely survive one round hands off, but two would be requiring a lot of luck. Enter the 2 mitigating factors: Pattern Cards and Action Points (AP).
In order to properly align your patterns, you’ll need to take advantage of your Action Points. While each of the game’s characters have a slightly different set of AP, they all serve a similar function of moving bullets around the board in order to match your available patterns. It can be a real challenge to remove bullet tokens when you only have so many patterns and AP available to you. As play progresses and bullets remain from previous rounds, you’ll be tempted to spend all of your AP right from the get-go to start the round with the least number of bullets on your board. While you have the freedom to spend your AP points each round at your discretion, the responsible player carefully plans their approach, surveying their board and the prospective odds for the round.
After successfully traversing a round, you’ll have access to bonus actions. The bonus actions might give you extra AP or completely remove bullets from your board. Again, something to use at your discretion.
I really enjoyed the process of spending AP in order to achieve these pattern goals. There is a real push and pull in the whole thing and you do often feel your anxiety rise as you seek that perfect time to spend (and maximize) your AP, HOPEFULLY eliminating the right bullets. While AP’s primary goal is to help you eliminate bullet tokens, it can be used to just manage your board in the case you’re overloaded in a certain column.
But there is another angle to this I haven’t mentioned in depth: Removed bullet tokens immediately go to your opponent to the left on the next turn. While you’re often doing your darndest to remove bullets and stay in the game, there is a greater strategy at play here. Being able to remove higher valued tokens is more likely to put your opponents in a pickle. Where there isn’t much player interaction in this game, you can certainly get ‘em where it hurts if you play your pattern cards right and remove tokens that will wreck the most havoc for your advisories.
Another thing that really stood out to me was the asymmetrical characters available for play. While a few of the characters play the game pretty straight forward (one is able to draw an extra pattern card while another might have an extra AP action) there are some that completely change the way the game is played. Certain players may have an extra, special token roaming their player board that comes into play when piecing together patterns. Others might have unique ways to eliminate bullets such as pushing them off their board or receiving bonuses for finishing all your pattern cards that round. I was genuinely excited to play all the characters. While the game is still the same, the way you play is completely new each time. It’s tough to say if they’re all completely balanced even after a dozen plays, but the game outcomes were always close.
Bullet is designed to be a quick game. The box says 15 minutes… I’m not sure how realistic that is, but it does go by quickly. Setup for the entire game is a breeze and you’ll likely knock out 2 or 3 games in one sitting. I’ll be honest, we didn’t really incorporate the game’s suggested 2 minute round limit. The game moves by fast enough and limiting each round to 2 minutes only adds extra, unnecessary difficulty in my mind. All that being said, the game’s speed plays big-time in it’s overall value.
The game’s solo mode is pretty solid and battling the boss is as challenging as any in the game. There are only slight twists to the game, but it’s all easy to learn (like the game itself). The different game modes were fun, but I still prefer the free-for-all. It is nice to know there is an acceptable solo option for those interested.
Here’s where things get a little sticky. I’m told the Kickstarter version of this game featured wooden bullet tokens… that would have been nice. In their place, we have cardboard tokens. They’re fine, but they definitely don’t get me excited. While the game doesn’t necessarily feel cheap, all of the game’s player boards are fairly thin and feel… well, a little cheap. The bonus tokens and Intensity Track (used to track the rounds) are better, but I had a hard time getting over the Heroine, Sight and Action Boards. While it’s really the game’s only glaring rain cloud, it is a decent sized storm that certainly rained on my parade. Maybe I’ll get them laminated or something, but it feels like a missed opportunity.
I’m not the biggest fan of manga artwork. That being said, the artwork overall is pretty solid. The majority of the game’s artwork comes from the Heroine boards, but it’s high-quality stuff. Fans of manga and anime will definitely appreciate it. Graphic design overall is good as well. The design looks good and fits well with the theme. The visual cues are clear and direction, where necessary, does it’s job. The AP and bonus action tokens all feature their own iconography. While this is always a bit of a challenge in any game, it’s well done here and easily picked-up. The rulebook is decently written, but there is a nice how-to tutorial video that clears up any confusion you might have.
I had heard some positive thoughts on Bullet going into my first play and I’m generally a fan of more abstract, puzzle games so I was pretty optimistic. I also always appreciate a bag builder mechanic vs. a deck builder – it’s just more fun. So right away, Bullet has a couple things going for it that piqued my interest.
Unfortunately, I’m not a huge fan of manga-themed projects. I’ve never really connected with the genre and I naturally wondered if that might keep me from fully appreciating the game. I know it was a bit of an “issue” with a few of the players I introduced the game to.
Bullet claims to be a board game translation of the shoot-em-up video game genre. I see what they were going for here, but I didn’t really feel that. To me, Bullet comes across like a modern-day phone app. Like one of those Candy Crush style games that suck you in and spit you out 3 or 4 hours later. And to Bullet’s credit… just like a quality phone app, this game is addictive.
Bullet is smooth, fun and fast. The anticipation of drawing blindly from your bag paired with the tension of an ever-growing board full of potential game-ending tokens really worked for me.
Before I bring out some of critiques, I want to be clear: Bullet is a BLAST. The game is so easy to get to the table and there is tons of replayability in the box. I love the game’s mechanics and different playable characters. There is just enough take-that and push-your-luck to really get me excited with each game. This is a game that, in my experience, really worked for a number of different age groups. We were easily able to teach our 9-year-old daughter and she kept coming back for more.
Now the bad news: While the game is a blast for kids of all ages… will kids of all ages play the game? I literally had to drag a few people to the table to play it. They were immediately turned off by the theme and the artwork. Once I taught the game and got them playing, they ended up having a great time. I’m worried the theme limits the game’s appeal. I’ll admit that I’m likely not the target audience, but it would have been unfortunate if I’d overlooked this game altogether because I didn’t “like manga.”
The components in the retail version of the game were just ok and ultimately nicked my overall enjoyment of the game. Looking past that, Bullet is a really good time and one that will likely get regular table time over the coming months.