Billion Road Switch Review – Buying up Japan Boardgame Style

Ever heard of sugoroku games? No? Well that’s because you can’t get many in the West, Mario Party is the only really popular one, the Dokapon games have a cult following too but now we have Billion Road on Nintendo Switch. A sugoroku game is a lot like a video game of monopoly with mini events. The whole idea of Billion Road is to race all over Japan to get to the goal whilst buying up the country. If you buy all the property from a location then your yearly earning from there double. The end goal is to have more assets (property and money) than your opponents. 

It’s a bit like Monopoly but very single space something happens, you gain money, lose money, get an item, a monster with helpful abilities or land on a town to buy some properties. You want to be the first to the goal as you get a very nice cash prize. The quickest route is often by sea or plane which means you lose the chance to buy properties and increase both your assets and yearly earnings from all your properties. However you don’t want to be the furthest from the goal otherwise you get a follower monster that can devastate you as they can give away properties, half your money, give money to other players, lower the earnings of properties and more depending upon which follower you get. Of course you can use a follower bazooka item to pass the follower onto a for but even that can be countered with the monster Shieldon who can stop players messing with you. Or you can off load the follower by passing another player on the board, which can lead to some intense struggles or strategy if you have a 3, 4 or 5 dice roll item.  

Getting to the goal can be some tense business, like the board game Frustration as you can’t go back on yourself to cheese your landing space. But here the stakes are much higher because of the follower monsters. Items make matters even more tense if that was possible, as an opponent (if they have it) can use an item to switch places with you, but you can also do the same.

There’s some real risk/reward strategy here as sometimes best way forwards is actually backwards as from time to time the Monster island will open up, a special land that has a few gates littered around Japan and at the end will bring out next to the goal.

All the items and monsters you get are down to chance really, you do see monsters on the map to collect but they change regularly and even when you get ones you like unless you have Shieldon to stop your foes swiping your goods you can easily lose them.

From time to time Kaiju type monsters called nemesis beasts appear, unless you destroy them with your monsters they’ll damage random properties or one that swaps everyone’s monsters. Your monsters come back tired and can’t use their abilities so you really have to judge if you want to send them out to attack especially later in the game or a short game when you have handy monster buddies.

If there’s one common complaint about sugoroku games, it’s the pace of the gameplay. Have no fears here though, Billion Road makes Sonic feel slow as even on the slowest setting I can barely read what’s happening during the CPUs turns, you can also fast forward to make it whiz by at the speed of sound. This can cause issues though as when a giant monster appeared during a CPUs turn I had to save a video to read what properties it will destroy.

Tournament is the main single player mode in which the character worth the least money is replaced every 5 years with each new opponent coming with monsters, money and items as well as inheriting the properties from the player they replaced. It will take around 16hours in total to complete. The AI characters aren’t the smartest peanuts in the turd for example getting rid of a monster that makes you land on the goal when they were near the goal but honestly you’ll be glad for this as with each new character the uphill struggle becomes even greater. Tournament autosaves every new financial year in April which is roughly every 20-30 minutes but you can’t save manually which is a real shame for what should be a great game to dip into for 10 minutes here and there. However other modes you change when the games save up to every month.

Free play allows you to change the characters during a game and all their assets will transfer across, you can even change a player controlled character to a CPU. This isn’t all you can change, you can also change the length of the game on the fly up to 99 years.

The final mode is Exhibition a short 3 year game that takes a little over an hour and is fun short game perfect for a quick game with friends.

Luck plays an amazingly important role and games will end because a Nemesis beast happened to trample 40 of your properties because the CPUs didn’t bother to attack it or they transfer a follower that throws all your money away, not giving you a chance to buy properties and overcome the total assets of your opponents within each 5 year time slot. This can easily create some mildly soul destroying situations to say the least. Especially if it ends a tournament 10 hours in. I have to admit I went back to my save a few times to stop game ending bad luck like these. After one year where the bad luck was game ending I didn’t have any bad luck that extreme again and you and your opponents will experience a lot of both good and bad luck throughout the game, the best part is you can create your own luck by your decisions particularly when you have an opportunity to buy items and which monsters to keep in your party of 3. 

As you venture around Japan your ears will be greeted by a foot tappingly good happy go lucky tune playing. Despite there only being a handful of songs in Billion Road, at no point in my 20hours I played did it start to grate on me.

The graphics are cutesy to the max which is perfect for this board game styled game that really is fun for the whole family, you can make your character look super cute, the monsters in your crew are all at least fairly cute or ugly cute and even one of the nemeses dual wielding axes is quite cute and fuzzy.

At first glance you’d think like Mario Party or Monopoly, Billion Road is a game to be enjoyed with friends but actually due to its excellent tournament mode, frantic nature and extreme play times for what is essentially a board game I can highly recommend this as a solo venture. What it could do with is a small map mode maybe just around Tokyo so that shorter games can take place with more character interaction and less devastating bad luck in the 16 hour long campaign. Though the Exhibition mode is actually more fun than I was expecting for a short game, where choices and luck really mattered in the short term. As such I can happily recommend Billion Road for a single player to enjoy Tournament and for local multiplayer to enjoy some hour long Exhibition games or a long haul free play, so long as everyone can cope with a bit of debilitating bad luck and stealing items, properties and monsters from each other.

A huge thank you to Acttil for providing the review code. Billion Road is available digitally on the Nintendo eShop from 16/04/20 for £35.99/€39.99/$39.99.

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