Weapons clash, water splashes and the booming battle cries of armored bullfrogs ring out across the moonlit swamp. Amphibian armies leap from lily pad to lily pad in their desperate struggle to win control of the pond. Suddenly, a shout of triumph rises up. Enough warriors have finally entered battle on a lily pad to dominate the fight and assure victory for their side. Overloaded, the lily pad sinks into the swamp. Frogs scatter from the sinking lily pad to the surrounding ones, coming to aid their allies or sabotage their foes, their weight causing the lily pads to drift away across the cold, glittering water. The winning commander must understand the ripple effects of every move, and avoid acting to win a single battle at the cost of losing the war.
This game gives me serious trust issues in my ability to plan ahead. Bullfrogs is by no means complicated, heavy or difficult to understand.. But to master? Can you ever master something that makes you second guess every move or action you take?
In Bullfrogs, designed by Keith Matejka, every player takes on the role of a frog army, fighting for dominance over a pond. Players have an army of frogs and two bullfrogs to use. Frogs counts as one and can be 'sabotaged' and moved whereas bullfrogs count as two and cannot be moved. Players place cards from their individual hands, made up of their own specific deck, to create the pond and lily pads.
Players can then take actions (up to the number indicated by the leaves in the corner) on the card played. They can deploy frogs or bullfrogs equal to the symbol in the corner of their lily pad card, on cards horizontal or vertical to their card, or they can move other players' frogs from tiles horizontal or vertical to that card onto adjacent tiles. Lily pads have a limit to the number of frogs they can sustain, once it is hit the pad sinks. Sunk pads are passed onto the player with the largest army on the card. Frogs on the card then jump, one at a time, to adjacent tiles with only one jumping in each direction, and with the losing player having their frogs jumped first, then their bullfrogs, and with the winning player choosing whose frogs go where.
All frogs left on the pad are returned to players and all bullfrogs are removed from play. Any pads no longer adjacent to others must be moved and arranged so they are all by the current player. There is also a central log that scores at the end for number of frogs and most powerful force present there. Nothing can be removed from the log and you cannot deploy frogs directly to the log from a card that has just been placed. Play ends when no more lily pads are available to play from all players' hands. Scores are then calculated by victory points from the gained cards, number of frogs on the log, and +3 for dominating the log.
We picked it up very quickly. The rules were difficult to get wrong but we were still cautious as they were very comprehensive. It's simple enough; control areas, sabotage enemies and sink lily pads tactically enough to cause chain reactions. And yet, every move is crucial! It's simple, easy and tense! Very tense. You can have a battle plan, play your card ready, choose where your frogs are going and sabotage appropriately... and then someone moves that lily pad and ruins everything! There aren't words to describe how intense it can be.
Explaining Bullfrogs is tremendously easy as well. You only need to read the rules to grasp it, however once you know it by heart explaining it to newcomers is equally as easy. The rules come across very comprehensively and make the game sound denser than it is, however learning by playing seems the fastest and most beneficial way to learn (from our experience!).
Final Thoughts on Bullfrogs
We got this game on a whim and had previously never heard of it nor sought after it. The components are very cool; the frog meeples are unique and the styling on the cards is gorgeous! There isn't a grand amount of interaction between players beyond moving others' frogs, however the discussion that takes place during play is more than sufficient for what is happening.
Honestly, I think Bullfrogs is fantastic. The level of tactics and thinking required make it a brilliant warm up game/filler. I would genuinely recommend it and it's a game I'll be going back to as a filler/warm up!