Bill and Ted's Excellent Board Game Review (Steve Jackson Games)

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I'm excited to announce that for just $18.71 you can now order a board game that tells you to loudly yell "69" before progressing. Bill and Ted is a cultural touchstone of my generation, but I'm not sure I wanted it touched in this way. Made by Steve Jackson Games and maintaining a near 5 star rating everywhere on the web, Bill and Ted's Excellent Board Game is a dynamic and competitive programming game made and played by people who were clearly high when doing it.

Game Details

Players: 2 to 4

Game Time: 30 Minutes

Age: 13+

Genre: Programming / Strategy

How is Bill and Ted's Excellent Board Game Played?

The two top reviews on Amazon currently shout "69!" and I take some solace in that, as I blindly strike out towards sanity. I could not, for the life of me, like this game -- and I don't know how people do. Yet people love Munchkin, also by Steve Jackson Games, and I understand that inherently, Munchkin is a good game -- so who am I to argue?

In Bill and Ted's, every player gets a phone booth and a hand of five cards. Each of these five cards has a direction to turn and a direction to move. At the bottom, the card also moves either the sheriff or the knight. You play two cards in sequence, face down. Everyone reveals their cards. The person with the lowest card has first initiative, the player with the second lowest has second initiative, and so forth.

Your goal is to pick up characters from the movie, such as The Princesses and Napoleon. You pick them up by traversing a grid and landing on top of them, but you lose them if you run into a sheriff or a knight. Your goal is to have the most characters by the time the deck runs out. As you get new characters, they add movement to your track, and this movement is unavoidable. 

This is the time machine slowly malfunctioning. 

So let's say you have four characters in front of you. You may find yourself performing the following actions:

  • Turn left and move straight. 
  • Turn right and move back.
  • Turn around and move straight.
  • Turn around and move straight.
  • Turn left and move back. (Card action)
  • Turn right and move straight. (Card action)

That is what you need to pay attention to, and there's no way to control or predict what those first four moves will be, as it's hidden on the back of the characters you discover. It's very timey-wimey. The only thing you control is the last two card actions. 

The side effect of this is that either you can not pay attention to what you're doing or you can take about five to ten minutes figuring out your turn. Not only do you need to orient yourself in space and figure out where your character is going (oh, also the map loops, so you come out the other end if you go too far), but you also need to figure out what the knight and sheriff are doing. Along with this, you might as well try to figure out what other players are going to do, too. 

The Art Could Be Better

I suspect a large part of my frustration with this game was down to the art. For a game that relies highly upon which direction you're pointing, the cheap standees make it difficult to see where everyone is. It's so lazy that the logo for the game actually covers up two squares at the bottom corner of the grid.

At a glance, the cards are also confusing; for whatever reason, they decided not to just use straight arrows pointing right and left, but to obfuscate it by having all of the arrows twist. Everything about this game is so cheap, from the uninspired little character tiles to the miniscule play mat. Maybe it is a good game -- maybe I just feel personally offended.

Are You All Insane?

People like this game! And they refer to it as a programming game, but half the programming is completely random; you can't control the character moves that you get, but you're required to take them each time. The art is admittedly very good in the game, and the art does follow the plot of the movie somewhat, which gives it an extra bonus. But no one ever complained about Munchkin's art either, and Munchkin is literally the worst. 

One reviewer said: "The game competitive, but in parallel: One player's success does not come at another's misfortune - great for those players who are sore losers."

This is just psychotic, because running antagonists into players is one of the primary strategies that you can use, and you can quickly wipe someone's board out entirely. A single wrong move by someone who went ahead of you can screw you over completely, and you're competing for the same tokens when you're in the same area.

Sometimes I happen on a game that actually makes me wonder, "Am I crazy? I don't get it." 

But this isn't about me.

This is about Bill and Ted.

To be clear: I understand, this is a personal problem.

And honestly, the game itself is not bad, as its near perfect rating will attest to. It does have some fabric of a plot there, nestled within the cards, and it has the iconic characters everyone knows and loves. It's hard to imagine what else you could really do with the franchise in board game form, and the dynamic and fluid nature of the game does keep it interesting (when you aren't bogged down in 2D calculations, trying to figure out which way everything is pointing).

Strategizing the initiative order, phone booth, and antagonists is a good way to branch out the strategy of the game, and the pacing is quite good; having the game simply end when the deck runs out was a good call, because it also means I have to spend less time playing this game. More seriously, the gradual chaos of the time machine malfunction adds a certain level of, well, wackiness to the game. 

Ultimately, I really don't know what I expected.

Bill and Ted's Excellent Board Game Review
  • PRO: A casual programming game with fun art and a dynamic playstyle that keeps it "anyone's game" until the end.
  • CON: I kind of hate it.