Step 3: Profit
“Yes, yes. You can move anywhere on the board.” the cigar wiggles in the executive’s mouth dropping ash onto his suit. “And there are monsters; they can follow you and change the board effects. There are ones that haunt you between goals too,” they chew the cigar for a moment, “and Kaiji: big attacking monsters. Oh, and every turn is a month, and you get a payout at the end of the year.” I imagine that is how Billion Road came to be, and how the person on the person on the other end of the call came to dump their copy of Monopoly in the bin as they moved to create it.
Billion Road is pure, glee-filled digital board game chaos. The best way to explain it quickly is that sometimes in cinema a sequel just goes completely off of the rails and ends up as a wild, twisted manifestation of the original (Gremlins 2, for instance). Billion Road is that to Monopoly.
The goal of Billion Road is actually incredibly simple. Players (or AI) travel around the map for a set amount of years and have to earn as much money as possible. Each year is simply comprised of 12 turns. There are more than a few ways to earn money, but the easiest is by buying up businesses, landing on tiles which are plus symbols, and by reaching the goal city first. Oh, yes. The map is a caricature of Japan, with cities and towns represented on the board at their approximate geographical location, and the tiles you move between are along roads, ferry routes or flight paths. There’s also a monster island filled with monsters and bonuses, but that’s slightly off map and isn’t as sinister as it seems.
It must be love
As a matter of fact, there’s not really much sinister stuff at play in Billion Road as possible. When you land on another player’s businesses (there are many in each city) you don’t have to pay any money, and when you pass a player, you don’t steal money. You can, however, use items – of which there are over 30 varieties – to steal items, steal monsters, steal properties and much more.
But even then it doesn’t feel particularly malicious, and that is because money is treated frivolously throughout. Buy a business for 2 billion? No worries. Lose half a billion because you landed on a minus symbol? Yep, that might happen. Giant monster smashes a city to pieces, and so your business is destroyed? Eh, these things happen. There is simply so much going on in Billion Road that it is, frankly, hard to focus on money.
And then the year ends, and your businesses payout, and then the TV show hosts who run events and set the goals, and randomly give newsflashes appear and this year they’re celebrating Valentines Day, and somebody wins money… Then ramen sales are booming, and everybody with a Ramen Store gets a big payout. It’s all quite mad.
Look at me, I’m almost 500 words in and I’m still just describing the game, and I’ve not even talked about the monsters, or what happens when you hit the goal, or that giant monster I mentioned a moment ago.
The goals? They give a big prize to the person who gets there first, they also spawn companions which are like big monsters who follow you for the entire round – the winner gets a boon character, the person furthest away gets a curse. These curses can and will strip monsters and properties and money from a character, they’re awful, but the game just carries on, and soon enough the last place is back from the negative and buying properties and back in the game. The giant monsters? They smash up the place and can do some real damage to your real estate investments, but they don’t pick on specific players and… and you can fight them off with your monsters in a little RPG battle. Finally, your monsters? There’re 50 different types; they range from little modifiers to great brawlers to complete mischief-makers. I had Rolly, a character who lets me reroll a movement dice, and Takenado, a tornado who randomly gave me property from somewhere on the map when charged…. They were both rubbish at fighting, but you can have three monsters at any point in time (as well as a companion), so you can make it up in other ways.
Better lucky than good
So much of Billion Road is down to complete luck that it is hard to feel beaten up when you fall behind, as a matter of fact, the show presenters unexpectedly gave half a billion yen to somebody for being in the last place at one point. It means that nobody groans when you do things like stealing somebody’s business, beating a giant monster, or even using an item which lets you roll five dice to move instead of one.
Everything is chipper, investing in stores seems irreverent but then suddenly pays off, and even the cursed player who has been ignoring the goals in order to buy up new buildings is having fun. Maybe, maybe, if I have to pick out some faults, then I’d say that there are AI characters locked from the start who, frankly, don’t really need to be; some of the curses are incredibly punishing, which can be hard to bounce back from if you have a couple in a row; and that some patching on the English-grammar translation needs to occur, but it’s not the end of the world.
Billion Road is chaos, it’s nonsense, and it shows that you can take a simple, perfect design, staplegun 100 tiny bells and whistles onto it and it’ll make a wonderful noise when it moves.
[Reviewed on PC]