Billion Road is set for release soon on Steam and the Nintendo Switch eShop! We’ve played it! We can tell you about it! Ultimately, though, it feels like we need to start from the beginning on this one.
What the heck is Billion Road? Am I supposed to have known this already?
Well the answer to the second question is no. Billion Road hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, so it’s totally reasonable for this article to be your introduction to it. (Though we here at Siliconera have written about it a few times.) Billion Road is a digital board game in the very Japanese sugoroku style, meaning it’s less like Catan or Magic: the Gathering and more like The Game of Life or Monopoly. They’re roll-and-move games that are more about telling a story and having a whimsical time with friends than they are about cunning strategy.
Sugoroku games don’t often make it outside of Japan, but we’ve seen them occasionally: Animal Crossing amiibo Festival was a big first-party one, and games like Fortune Street come close, but the most popular sugoroku series that most have played is Mario Party, which adds minigames into the mix but is based on a similar board game setup.
Okay, you’ve told me about the genre in general, but what does Billion Road itself have to offer?
It’s definitely a game for people who like Japan, unsurprisingly. With games in the genre, you really need to buy into their aesthetic trappings, so the conceit of entering a Japanese game show and traveling around notable Japanese cities to trigger events and invest in properties will need your buy-in if you want to enjoy playing.
Outside of that, it does build in some choice for players through its monster system. Along the way, you’ll collect monsters that have various abilities, like sabotaging opponents, controlling the randomness of your dice rolls and giving you bonus cash. A lot of playing the game is deciding when to sprint straight toward the goal for a chance at a big bonus and when to detour slightly to buy properties, collect monsters and generally land on a better space. A bad monster gets assigned to whoever’s furthest from the goal when someone reaches it and depletes your funds or items in some way, so you can’t wander around aimlessly and find success.
What sorts of modes are in Billion Road?
If you’re looking for an abundance of options, Billion Road isn’t your game. Primarily, the design of the game is to either play a short, three-year turn with friends or test your skills in a 30-year campaign that sees last place kicked out and replaced every so often to ramp up the challenge. As a single-player experience, it’s not particularly compelling and offers repetitive events to get through. Still, if you’re looking to understand the game, one run through that mode can get you familiar with how things work before you put it in front of your pals.
The game does offer a mode with custom parameters, but the 36-turn short game seems like the smart, optimal call for having fun with friends and family without burning them out. If you play for too long, the game’s randomness has a devastating effect on your plans and it just feels bad. Like what if, say, a monster arbitrarily gives away half your stuff in Year 13? Not fun. You’ll never recover.
What do I get if I keep playing?
Billion Road has a series of unlockable items for earning various milestones, and these allow you to dress up your in-game avatar with various outfits and accessories. They have no effect, but at least there’s something?
Wait! Why should I care? You promised you’d answer that in the headline.
Hrm. Yeah, I did. Maybe we should back up, then.
So… should I care?
Honestly, there’s an audience for this as a fun thing to sit around and do without investing too much in the outcome. It’s not everyone, by any stretch, and there are ways to do games like this that feel more meaningful. (Like Culdcept and Fortune Street!) Judging by the reception of amiibo Festival, the Western sugoroku audience is small, but those people are out there.