They say you should never judge a book by its cover and the same can definitely be said about board games. On the surface, Bus looks similar to the popular gateway game, Ticket to Ride. But, in this case, looks can be deceiving.
Bus is a simple worker placement game on the surface where the players must battle to expand their own bus routes. These routes can then be used to deliver meeples to either work, home or the pub, depending on the time of day. Seems simple enough, with the exception of one key action. Players have the opportunity to utilise time crystals to alter the time on the clock. Therefore, you might spend your turn planning on sending meeples to work, only to find that, by the time you get to the end of the turn, they suddenly need to go to the pub instead! These miscalculations could cost you precious victory points.
Bus is a game of simple actions, made all the stronger by the strategic thought involved in planning each move. Every choice you have to make in this game is deeply rooted in the current board state combined with what the other players are doing.
You may not be surprised that a game with time travel as a mechanic was originally released in 1999 by Splotter Spellen, the renowned Dutch publisher. Splotter Spellen, originally created by students in order to sell their own game designs, quickly saw Bus become one of their biggest hits. The game went on to be published again in 2000 and 2001, before it went out of print and faded from circulation. The game then became the stuff of legend, as collectors looked to add this instant classic to their collection. Second-hand copies sold quickly. Many fans made their own copies at home, prompting many print and play editions to flood BoardGameGeek.
Then, in 2019, Capstone Games announced a reprint of the beloved game, with updated artwork that would take the previous ‘child painting’ board design and transform it into a clean and clear design, more in keeping with modern games.
Bus is a game that, like many games designed by Splotter Spellen, will divide opinions. Some people might become overwhelmed trying to think through the consequences of their relatively simple actions. This can lead to a classic case of ‘analysis paralysis’. But for many players, the extra strategy layers on top of simple mechanics will be perfect.
Bus plays well will 3-5 players, though it’s at its best with 4. This count perfectly fills the board and limits space and actions, ensuring the game remains interesting right through to the final round.
Each player in Bus gets a total of 20 actions each and, once they’ve placed all 20 workers, their game is over. Each player can place as many workers as they want per round. This adds an interesting dynamic. By placing multiple workers, players can capitalise when scoring chances present themselves. By holding back, they can preserve their precious workers when the round just isn’t going their way. The game then ends when only one player has workers left to place. Therefore, players should be sure to keep up with the other players at the table.
Bus doesn’t outstay its welcome either. A standard game will last between 1 and 2 hours, depending on player count. However, as players become more experienced, the gameplay often moves at a swift pace with minimal downtime between turns.
Overall, Bus is a really solid game that balances simple actions with a brain burner of choices. Bus almost qualifies as a gateway game, as it will suit people who like Ticket to Ride but want the strategic choices turned up to 11. It’s a clear choice for fans of other Splotter Spellen games such as Food Chain Magnate.