Full disclosure: A review copy of Old London Bridge was provided by Queen Games.
I think it’s been a while since I’ve played anything from Queen! That said, I really got started in board gaming with Kingdom Builder, so I’ve always had a soft spot. Plus, Glux? Fantastic abstract game. I don’t play it as much as I used to, but it was super cool. I love that kinda stuff. Anyways, I’m waxing nostalgic. It’s been a bit over 5 years, so let’s see what’s new! Old London Bridge was Kickstarted a while ago, and I got a chance to see it at Gen Con. Looked puzzley with a bit of history to it, so, maybe it’ll be a hit with me. Let’s find out.
In Old London Bridge, a great fire has just busted the local bridge over the Thames. Thankfully, it’s 1136, so you figure you’re likely industrious enough to plan and execute on the bridge construction (which will start 40 years later, in a series of planning delays that almost put the Bay Area to shame). You’ll want to put plenty of buildings on the bridge in order to make your section the most impressive. By doing so, you’ll earn money, which you definitely want. It’s the 1100s; it can’t be that nice without money. Will you be able to become the wealthiest builder in London?
Easy first step, set out the board:
Place the rondel in the center; its starting orientation does not matter. Give each player a set of two bridges, a pawn, and two player markers in their color:
Set the bridges around the board. There are a lot of buildings! Shuffle them up in six stacks, one of each type:
Shuffle the various Game Round Markers, placing 12 on the twelve empty spaces below the Bridge and Chapel tracks:
Shuffle the Bonus Tiles, making a stack in each color on the indicated spaces above the Bridge Track. Flip the top tile of each stack over.
Give each player 5 Pounds (gonna refer to the money as “money” for the rest of the review, out of a desire to not find the pound key in Unicode), placing the rest on their respective spaces on the board:
Finally, give each player a starting hand of cards:
Each player gets one of each 0, 1, 2, 3, and 4, and then each player gets an extra card corresponding to their player order (determined by randomly placing player markers on the purple spaces on the Church Track; the farthest ahead is the Start Player, who gets an extra 1). If playing with two players, both players get a second 0 card. For a more advanced game, you can use these alternate scoring markers instead of the ones in the base game:
Regardless, place the other player markers on the Bridge Gate and you should be ready to start!
You know, for as big as the rulebook is, the game’s actually not too complicated. There are twelve rounds (six, in a two-player game), and they all go pretty smoothly. Let’s walk through them and learn how to play the game!
To kick off a round, turn over the left-most face-down round marker on the game board. That will tell you how many spaces clockwise to turn the rondel.
In certain games, you may have Scoring Tiles that award some money after the rondel is turned, as well.
Determine Turn Order
Now, determine turn order! Do so by playing a card from your hand face-down. Once everyone has done so, reveal them! The highest value goes first. Ties are broken in favor of the player farthest ahead on the Chapel Track. If multiple players share a space, ties are broken from top to bottom on that space.
In a two-player game, both players take two turns each round, so you play and reveal two cards instead of one. Resolve them normally to determine which player takes their turns when.
Again, some Scoring Tiles may award some money after this.
Now, players choose and construct buildings in turn order.
The player taking their turn returns their played card to the supply. If it’s a 0, that card is returned to that player’s hand.
To select a building, place your pawn on any space on the rondel (including the center) that does not already have a pawn or an [X] on it. If you place on an outer space, you gain the corresponding amount of money from the supply and take the corresponding building. If you place on the center, you pay 2 money to the supply and may take a building from any location.
If there are no buildings in a stack, you may not place your pawn there.
In a two-player game, each player places their pawn on their first turn and moves their pawn to a different unoccupied location on their second turn. Play is the same, otherwise.
Now that you have a building, it is placed in the leftmost free space on your bridge. Note that every building has a unique number (1 – 60, inclusive). The challenge is that all buildings must be played in decreasing order from left to right. That means the building you play must have a lower number than the building to its left. If you cannot, you must replace a previously-built building with your new one, removing that building from the game.
If you build a park, it resets your numbering, as it does not have a number of its own. That means that the building constructed to the right of the park may have any number. That starts a new line of buildings that must, again, be in decreasing order, but you can always build another park on a subsequent turn.
Use Building Action
Finally, you can use the action of the building you constructed. Each building gives you an ability that is augmented by the number of Crests you have on your bridge that match that building’s crest. I’ll explain them briefly and explain how Crests boost their abilities.
- Guild House: Guild Houses do not have an ability; they simply have all four Crests on them, meaning no matter what, they will boost the ability of subsequent buildings.
- Chapels: Chapels allow you, when played, to advance one space on the Chapel Track. For each Crest you have, you can advance one additional space. If you land on the same space as another player, place your token on top of theirs. When you land on (or pass) a space with money on it, take that money from the supply.
- Bridge Gate: Bridge Gates allow you, when played, to advance one space on the Bridge Track. They work basically the same as the Chapel, including how Crests work for them. The difference is that every three spaces you advance on the Bridge Track earns you a bonus tile, which gives you a single-use effect that you can take on a later turn.
- Haberdasher: Haberdashers allow you to gain money. You gain 1 money from the supply per matching Crest on your bridge.
- Hostelry: Hostelries allow you to gain cards to your hand. When you play a Hostelry, the total number of matching Crests on your bridge is the total value of cards you can draw, and you can draw them in any combination as long as you don’t exceed that total. If you had 4 matching Crests, for instance, you could take four 1s, two 2s, a 1 and a 3, a 4, or a 2 and two 1s.
- Park: A Park allows you to reset your bridge numbering. It has no other abilities.
After all players have constructed their buildings, return their pawns to them and set up for another round.
End of Game
After twelve rounds, the game ends. The game can also end prematurely: if three stacks of buildings are ever depleted, the game ends after that round ends.
Either way, tally up player scores! Include the four scoring tiles, only awarding third place in a four-player game (and not awarding second place in a two-player game). If players have any remaining, unused bonus tiles, they’re worth 1 money each. If players have empty spots on their bridge, they have to pay money to the supply:
- 1 empty spot: 1 money
- 2 empty spots: 4 money
- 3 empty spots: 7 money
- 4 empty spots: 10 money
- 5+ empty spots: 14 money
The player with the most money wins!
Player Count Differences
This one surprised me, to be honest. At two, there are only two major changes. You only use six round markers (instead of the usual twelve), and you take two turns per round. The first turn, you place your pawn on the rondel; the second turn, you move them to a new, unoccupied location, following the standard rules. As a result, you only need six round markers, since you’ll play six rounds with two turns per round. I think this is supposed to simulate the congestion that you’ll see on the rondel with more players, but it falls a bit short of recreating that. It almost feels like it would be better to have one pawn always on the rondel and moving (like an additional X space) to add some extra tension, but they didn’t go that route. I assume it’s something balance-related; I’m not a game designer. That said, at three and four players, you can rely on other players to much more effectively ratchet up that tension. The rondel gets crowded, and you might not be able to get what you want, which is pretty funny. Less funny if it’s happening to you, but you get the idea. I think the crowding and the tension force players to think on their feet, which makes Old London Bridge more strategically interesting. Not that it’s not at two; I just get more of that from the three- and four-player game. I’d probably most enthusiastically recommend it at four players, but three players was also fun. I’m less bullish on two players, but we still had a good time with it.
- A few early Guild Houses can pay off dividends. I find that’s usually the right time to do it, frankly; early Buildings don’t really pay off yet (since you’re still building up Crests), so having Guild Houses provide no benefit but provide every Crest means that all subsequent actions are going to be pretty significantly boosted for the rest of the game. Honestly, having a floor of 3 on every action you take gives you a lot of flexibility, later on. I’d be a bit worried that that is too obvious of a strategy to not just take every time, but the randomization of the numbers (and other players going for them) make it such that it might be better to focus elsewhere, in some games.
- Try to prioritize getting similar Crests on your Buildings. Yeah, like I said, the Crests effectively let you make Building effects stronger as you get similarly-Crested Buildings. Keep in mind that a Building may have different Crests; not every Building uses the same ones! Even Parks have Crests on them. But generally, these let you go deep on certain abilities, giving you bonus tiles, extra money, better cards, or advancement along several tracks.
- Running out of cards can be problematic, especially as your constraints grow in complexity. You really don’t want to hit the end of the game with just one 0; for one, a lot of Scoring Tiles give you points based on what you play and what’s in your hand, so you’re throwing away money, there. Additionally, you may find that always choosing last isn’t particularly useful; other players may block spots that you want (or need) or they might take the Building that would otherwise fit perfectly on your bridge. It may not always be a problem, but it’s worth having a high-value card or two in reserve, just in case.
- Try to come up with backup plans, just in case other players block what you’re thinking of going after. You should stay flexible, to some degree. If you think that players are going to take what you want, try to end up on the center of the rondel; it may be worth 2 money to get the next Building. If not, take a Park and reset! Or take a Guild Hall and bank Crests for more powerful actions down the line. Or get better cards. There’s rarely a bad turn, if the numbers work in your favor.
- Also keep an eye on the rondel! It’s constantly shifting. Keeping an eye on the rondel also means considering that sometimes, the Building you want will be literally unavailable (unless you go for the center spot). It’s constantly revaluing buildings, so make sure you’re keeping track!
- It’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to land a perfect series of 12 buildings in decreasing order, so keep an eye on when to grab a Park. Parks are pretty useful because they also desynchronize your needs with other players. At the start of the game, everyone wants the highest-possible number so that they can work down from there. If you take a low number and then immediately go for a Park, by turn 3, you’re looking for the numbers in the high fifties again, and other players might be looking for something in the thirties. That’s usually a good way to make it easier to get things that you want: you just need to make sure nobody else wants what you want.
- Honestly, once you’ve got enough Crests, you might want to go for the Haberdasher! You can get a solid amount of money that way. By the end of the game, with enough Crests, you could be pulling in 5 – 8 money per turn, depending on where the rondel is. Maybe even more than that. Given that scores tend to be in the 40 – 70 range, earning 8 – 10 money in one turn can give you a pretty significant edge, especially if you got the Crests from other things that gave you bonus tiles or money through other means.
- Also, don’t sleep on the idea of getting the most valuable building on the rondel, if you can. If you always take the 3 spot on the rondel, by the end of the game, you end up with 36 money, ignoring literally everything else about the game. Assuming that you somehow managed to do that without massive holes in your bridge, you’d be doing pretty well. So, just think about sometimes taking the building that gets you more money up front. It might be useful!
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I enjoy the theme! A lot of historical games are bummers! Or they’ve got slavery. Not all of them, obviously, but enough that I tend to look to the future for my themes. This is fun! I like games about constructing famous landmarks (Sagrada immediately springs to mind). It’s also sufficiently old-timey that they got to use that “church art” aesthetic, and it looks great on the cards. Just fun overall.
- I think that the decision to make the game vertical is a bit gimmicky, but it’s a good gimmick! It gives the game more table presence and makes it more visually interesting. I think there’s some level of anti-gimmick to games, since, granted, it adds on to the game’s price without always enhancing gameplay, but I think gameplay is enhanced here! You could have a version of this game where all the buildings just lay flat, but having the verticality of the bridge is really nice? It makes the game feel more bridge-buildy. Whether or not that justifies the cost is more of a question for you individually.
- I like rondels a fair amount, so I was pleased to see one here. More generally, I like things that move in circles. I find it kind of peaceful? Planets in orbit, players moving in circles, lighthouses; you name it. Rondels, as a result, are fairly appealing to me, since they’re always just kind of peacefully rotating. I like that they block one building type per round, just to mess with players, and otherwise just mildly change the incentives of taking certain buildings.
- Having a few different types of scoring does let you change up your priorities, somewhat, which is pretty fun! You can’t always play the same way. I think there’s a lot of variability to the game, in terms of what tiles are available and what Buildings your opponents are taking, as well as what Scoring Tiles you’re given up front. The Scoring Tiles, in particular, can strongly change your incentives for certain building types, so I wouldn’t recommend always going for the same thing every game.
- I think the ability of tiles to compound their effects based on previous tiles taken is nice; it gives the game a pseudo-engine building component, which is fun. Engine-building games can be frustrating for players who don’t really have a lot of experience with them, because they’re not always sure how to optimize. By shooting for a much lighter implementation of that, Old London Bridge makes it easier to let players discover how to chain multiple Building Crests together for an improved effect without all the additional overhead you often see in engine-building. It ends up working pretty well.
- I generally like games that let players specialize in different things, and I think going after different building types can generally let you be successful, which is nice. I wouldn’t necessarily say going deep on one Building will let you be successful, but going deep on one Crest color will! That, in turn, causes you to experience a variety of different Buildings over the course of the game, which is a lot of fun.
- I also appreciate the little bit of historical information included in the rulebook. I like context! It’s a nice way to get an appreciation for why certain decisions were made in the game and also understand who the 0 card is! Generally just a fan of learning things, and I learned something from the rulebook that wasn’t just the rules! We call that a twofer, in the industry.
- It’s a bit odd that the money denominations are 1 / 3 / 10 / 25; I would expect to see 5s in a game, especially when 5s are a common currency type to receive. It’s mostly that a 5 then resolves to a 3 and two 1s, which is kind of irritating, fiscally. There are a few spaces on the board that give you 5 money, even, so why not have a 5? I assume it’s to have fewer pieces in the box, which I suppose I get.
- I think it’s funny that the game sort-of encourages you to keep your money hidden. This isn’t really a Pro or a Con, so it ends up here. I just thought it was funny, because it doesn’t really matter, that much? I suppose you can try and block the player with the most money, but that doesn’t seem like a great use of your time, especially at higher player counts. Just an amusing anecdote.
- The game isn’t bad with two players, but having more players increases the tension around the central rondel, which makes the game more interesting. This is mostly a Con because I tend to play games at two players, so I tend to prioritize games that have a really solid two-player base. Here, I think the game shines more at four players than it does at two. Two isn’t bad in the slighest, but I would like there to be more challenge around getting spaces that you want on the central rondel. You just don’t see that with two, which is a shame.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I enjoyed Old London Bridge! I’m not surprised, really; it has a lot of things I like. The game itself is a tight puzzle of trying to get numbers in order, but it adds on some nifty engine-building components to make late-game Buildings stronger and more useful than early-game ones. Giving players the ability to effectively choose how they want to optimize their setup is fun, and there are a lot of different ways to hook your strategy into play to make the bridge you want! I particularly like the game at higher player counts, just because then, it becomes much more challenging to get exactly what you want from the rondel. Then, you gotta think on your feet! Plan a bit better, be more tactical; that whole thing. The variability of each game does a good job keeping plays fresh, since the Scoring Tiles shift my priorities pretty strongly between different games, especially when I use ones from different sets. I think the physicality of the game helps elevate it, though; I could imagine a simpler version of this game with tiles laying flat on the table, but I think it’s much better that players slot their tiles in and play vertically. It makes the game look better, and improves player engagement. This definitely isn’t the heaviest game I’ve played, though; it feels like a nice introduction to engine-building with some puzzley components and some variability to allow the game to grow in complexity with its players. If you’re looking for that, you love a game about Ye Olde Historical London, or you just want to make a cool bridge, you should check out Old London Bridge! It was a lot of fun.
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