Full disclosure: A preview copy of Bad Maps was provided by Floodgate 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.
Alright, looks like it’s gonna be a mix of a few things this week, with Kickstarter previews (this and FlickFleet), review of a base game ahead of its expansion (Planetarium, revived from the depths of my Review Buffer), and even, blessedly, two more Gen Con games (for me; I know Fairy Tile‘s been out for a while, but Most Wanted is new!). That makes 5 total; who said Labor Day’s about taking a day off? Let’s check out Bad Maps, from Floodgate!
In Bad Maps, you play as some pretty shoddy pirates. Not only do you have your treasure maps all in the wrong order, but you can’t even afford your own minions! (You’d probably fit in just fine with the divers in Deep Sea Adventure.) Now, it’s time for you to try and hunt down the treasure before the other players can get their hands on it, because, well, pirates aren’t known for their generally positive attitudes towards sharing. Will you be able to get to that coveted hoard? Or will your minions massively miss the mark?
Setup is pretty straightforward, thankfully. Take out the board:
If you’re playing Advanced, use the side without Start Markers on it; otherwise, use the side with Start Markers on it.
Give each player a Pirate Captain, turning them to Basic or Advanced as necessary, and give each player the Map cards of their color:
Each of the Pirates has an Advanced Ability (or two) that can be used later in the game to help you out.
Give each Captain a Spyglass token:
Now, place the Minions. If you’re playing Basic, put them in their start spaces; if you’re playing Advanced, determine their starting locations randomly:
You’ll also assign pits the same way:
There are two sets of objective cards. Round 1:
And Round 2:
Shuffle the Round 1 and Round 2 Decks. Once you’ve done that, shuffle the Blackout Cards (using the correct number for your player count):
After you’ve done that, you’re ready to start!
So, Bad Maps, at its core, is an action programming game with a bit of a wagering element. Over the course of the game you’ll attempt to bet on how well the minions will perform and earn points. The player with the most points will win! Unfortunately, the minions are mildly unhelpful and will do whatever anyone tells them to do, meaning you have no idea what they might have been told, usually. How does that work? Let’s find out.
Land Ho! Phase
During this Phase, reveal the top card of the Blackout Deck. This will determine which Map cards are played face-down or face-up during the Making Maps Phase, so keep an eye on these.
Now, every player draws 4 Objective Cards. Keep three and discard one; you’ll discard another at the end of the Making Maps Phase. Keep in mind that you can only score one card for a particular minion per round, so if you draw two of the same color, you’re best off discarding one of those.
After you’ve done that, move on to the Making Maps Phase unless you’re playing a two-player game. At two players, take an unused set of Map Cards and shuffle the Movement and Direction cards separately. Then, add those cards (face-up) to the spaces indicated on the two-player Blackout Cards.
During this phase, you’ll take turns placing cards on the leftmost open space for any minion of your choice. Each player in a 3- to 5-player game places one card per turn; in a 2-player game, each player places two cards per turn, but cannot put two cards on the same minion.
When the first card is placed by a player, add the “First Mate” token to that minion. They will move first during the Hunt for Treasure Phase.
Normally, most cards will be face-down. If that doesn’t work for you, you may be able to fix that, a smidge. Most players have the Spyglass ability, and you may use one of your Spyglass tokens to activate it. This lets you (and only you) view a particular face-down card that’s not yours. Treasure that information. Once all minions have all of their spots filled, it’s time to discard another Objective card.
Once you’ve discarded that objective card, move on to the Hunt for Treasure phase.
Hunt for Treasure
This phase is mostly about execution. Starting with the First Mate, perform each minion’s next available action, flipping them face up and doing it in minion order. This means that each minion will do Action 1, then 2, then 3, and so on. This might lead to … interactions.
- If a Minion would move into a space with another Minion, they move the Minion currently in that space in the direction they’re entering the space from. If the Minion in that space cannot be moved, they get crunched (unstoppable force >>> immovable object, apparently) and get returned to their starting space.
- If a Minion would move into the wall of a pit, they stop moving.
- If a Minion would move into a pit or off the edge of the board (“Returning to the Sea”, such poetry), they return to their start space. In the off-chance their start space is occupied by another minion, they push the minion in the direction they were originally facing.
- If a Minion is pushed by another Minion into a pit or off the edge of the board, the fallen Minion returns to their start space.
Once all Minions have resolved all of their Map cards, the round ends.
End of Round
During this phase, you score the current round and prepare for the next one. At the end of either Round 1 or Round 2, check each minion’s orthogonal distance from the X:
- First place: Minion(s) closest to the X.
- Second place: Minion(s) next closest to the X.
- Last place: Minion(s) furthest from the X.
It is possible for all Minions to be first and last, or some Minions to be second and last. Ties are friendly. Minions on their Start Spaces are disqualified. They do not place at all and you cannot score Objective Cards with their image on them. Sorry; that’s what happens when you accomplish nothing.
Now, reveal your Objective Cards and score them. Remember, you can only score points for each Minion once, so having “Red Minion – First Place” and “Red Minion – First or Second Place” is actually not that useful, unless you were hedging your bets, I suppose.
At the end of Round 1, give the Start Player token and an extra Spyglass to the player with the fewest points, and each Minion immediately digs a pit on their current space, with two exceptions:
- Minions will not dig on their Start Space.
- Minions will not dig on the Red X. It’s called Bad Maps.
Additionally, every player gets their initial Spyglass token reactivated.
After Round 2, do not dig more pits; just end the game.
End of Game
The game ends after Round 2, and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
So I’ve mostly played at 2 and 3, and I think that’s the sweet spot for me. Those are the lowest player counts, so they maximize control without sacrificing too much and I like the control aspect. At 4 and 5 I worry that I’m essentially just playing a randomized party game with some betting elements. I don’t think that’s always a bad thing; that’s just not what I’m personally looking for. If you’d like to have less control, push up that player count; for more control, lower it.
Also don’t forget that at two you have a dummy player that randomly adds cards face-up after the initial drawing / discarding of Objective Cards, and you must play two cards during the Map Making Phase (one each to two different minions, if possible).
- It’s not too difficult to make sure someone gets disqualified. Just kinda keep forcing them into pits or off the edge of the board.
- Try to intuit what other players Objectives are. If you can find players that are aligned with you, then you can help each other score. Just be careful of the players who want specifically the opposite of what you want; that never usually ends up well.
- You should not keep two cards of the same color unless you’re really trying to hedge your bets. Even then, it’s risky; what if that Minion gets disqualified? Then you’re hosed.
- Don’t forget to use your Spyglass. You get it back for Round 2; why not use it? It’s just more helpful information.
- I find it’s easiest, usually, to try and get someone to get last place. With last place, you can kinda just tuck them into one of the corners and then spin around to end the round. With first, you can aggressively overshoot and end up on the other side of the island. I find first to be more luck than programming skill, personally, but I’ve been wrong before.
- Try to force other players to play face-up. You want to win information wars, here, and one way to do so is to never place a card face-up. Then everyone knows some of your information and can plan, and you might know none of theirs. That’s never particularly good.
- When all else fails, throw a wrench into someone’s gears. Nothing really makes your plan feel like it’s going better than someone unexpected playing a “MOVE FORWARD 3 SPACES” card as the last card in your program. There’s definitely no way that would mess you up.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Great (and diverse!) art. I really appreciate the art in this game! It’s fun and evocative of silly pirates who are bad at navigation, which is exactly what I think I would be.
- Really fun, silly theme. You usually want to play as highly competent characters in whatever game you’re playing; this is one of the few where it’s totally fine for your character to be Kind Of Dumb (this and Mercado, I suppose, if you share my slightly modified headcanon for that game).
- Fairly easy to understand. It’s one of the simpler action programming games, in my opinion. The wagering component is also pretty straightforward, so I think it’s easy enough to explain.
- Pretty quick to set up. A few sets of pieces to dump out but beyond that there’s not much to it. Shuffle a few stacks of cards and you’re good to go.
- It is kind of fun to see the pirates kinda move around. It reminds me almost of watching dominoes fall, because there’s nothing you can really do to influence the outcome of the game. It would be kind of interesting if there was one pirate captain who could negate a move or something, but that seems awfully powerful relative to the other abilities.
- I like that you place pits between Rounds 1 and 2. Usually it feels like some games add an extra round because they’re just trying to pad the game’s length (and there are no meaningful changes between rounds). Changing the layout of the map subtly (usually) is a pretty cool way to add some new strategic depth (because holes are deep haha do you get my joke) without changing the game too aggressively. It’s fun!
- I like that falling into the ocean is called Returning to the Sea. She beckons and the minions must answer the call.
- I haven’t found the Teal Captain’s “always go first” ability to be worth not having a Spyglass ability. I think it might be helpful in certain circumstances, sure, but generally that only gives you a free placement that you otherwise wouldn’t normally get; it doesn’t give you information about other players’ cards or anything, like the others do. It doesn’t seem to clearly translate into “this is how you use this to score points” the way the other players’ cards do.
- Having to flip the cards each time is a bit annoying, as it’s a tiny bit easy to lose track of the next card to flip. I think this could be really easily fixed by having a coin or marker on the next card to flip (or even using the First Mate token) and then moving that to the next card to activate so that you have a visual reminder. As it stands, I end up doing a few actions and then getting caught up in a conversation and then we come back and we’re not sure what we’ve already done (as some cards are already face-up, especially if we pause during the “face up cards” part of the movement phase.
- The distribution of the wagering cards is a bit narrow. I say this mostly because you cannot score a minion more than once, which means that you’ll often have two cards in your hand and you can, best case, only score one of them so the other is guaranteed garbage. If you have three of the same minion, then you’re a smidge hosed. It’s hard to get multiple players to first or last place, for instance, and even if you’re trying you might not be all that successful.
- I don’t really feel like I have a lot of agency in this game. I think I might even enjoy the game more if it leaned into that and gave me a random set of cards, but each player could only view a distinct (and randomish) subset of the cards, and then we bet. If that’s the case, I don’t feel like I misplayed with one of my cards; I feel like I made a bad bet (and I do that all the time). In its current state, it’s in kind of an uncomfortable midpoint, agency-wise, where it’s not quite no agency but not enough that you feel like you have much control over your minions. This is slightly alleviated at two players but I think Professor Treasure’s Secret Sky Castle covers the two-player action programming space a bit better, for my particular game interests.
- Feels a smidge long. I think that’s due to my feelings of a lack of agency; if the game is going to take 40 minutes I want to feel like I’m invested. Otherwise, I’m happy to just kinda roll with it if it’s short. A 20-minute game where things just kinda happen is totally fine with me.
- The graphic design of the movement cards is a bit confusing. Having an arrow pointing forward and then some number of arrows pointing forwards or backwards is very confusing, as some players don’t get that the first (brown) arrow is just to denote that that direction is forward and this is a Movement card. I think that … could be improved.
Overall: 5.75 / 10
Overall, I think Bad Maps is alright. I’ll mostly bemoan the lack of agency I feel when I play and how long it takes relative to that lack of agency, but I’m also not the biggest action programming fan in town. I think for fans of Robo Rally and similar games, this adds in an amusing betting component that may not be in every game you’ve played before, and it forces you to try and guard your favorite Minion from your opponents (and the fact that you’re all communally programming a Minion is interesting). The problem I have is that there’s no real way to guard your favorite Minion, and at higher player counts you’re basically just throwing yourself to the wind and hoping that you land on your feet. That said, I think a speedy variant of it would bring me right back in, because I already enjoy the art, theme, and ease of setup; I just wish I was doing more as a pirate than realizing that maybe the real treasure was just the friends we made along the way (usually because I end up with none).