Buzzworthiness: Bullfrogs (on iOS)

Thanks to Thunderworks Games for providing a digital copy of this game for review.

I’m a big fan of Roll Player, the dice rolling character creation game designed by Keith Matejka of Thunderworks Games. But before that game…forgive me…rolled out, Matejka and Thunderworks had another game called

Bullfrogs is a 2015 game for 2-4 players about warring frogs. It’s essentially an abstract game where you’re trying to place your frogs in the ideal spots and score lots of points in order to win. The game is currently out of print, but there is a recently released mobile version, which is what I’m reviewing today. I have not played the physical version, though I thought it looked cool when it was on Kickstarter (I even covered it in my fourth Kickstarter Blitz) and I followed it for a while after that.

At the start of a game, you’ll get a deck of 10 cards (9 in a four-player game), as well as 14 regular frogs and two bullfrogs. You’ll draw a hand of three cards from the deck. A log card comes out into the middle of the table, and four starter lilypad cards are placed around it, one per edge. Each of these has six spaces, and is worth five points.

On your turn, you’ll play a card so that it is touching the edge of at least one other lily pad. Then, based on how many lily pad icons you see on that card, you’ll put out that many frogs. Frogs can be placed on any card in a vertical or horizontal line from the card you just placed, but not the card you placed. Also, you can’t place more than two frogs on any card.

Alternately, instead of placing a card, you can knock a frog off a card onto another, including the log in the center. This takes up one of your actions for a round.

At the end of your turn, if any lily pads are full, they sink. You’ll first check to see who had the most presence on that card by counting up the frogs (bullfrogs count as two). If there’s a tie, no one wins, but otherwise the player with the highest strength will win the card and the points written on it. First, you’ll clear the card by moving losing frogs, then bullfrogs off to adjacent lily pads (only one per pad). If there are still available cards, the winner’s frogs can jump off. Any remaining frogs go back to their owners, but any remaining bullfrogs are removed from the game. You’ll do this for every lily pad that scores, in the order of the active player’s choice. It’s possible that jumping frogs off will create a chain of scoring lily pads. Once the card is clear, the player who won it takes it, and slides any pads that are now separated from the rest into an empty spot.

At the end of your turn, you’ll draw a new card and play passes to the left. The game ends when all players have played all cards from their deck. You’ll score for lily pads you have collected, plus one for each lily pad card that is in your color. You’ll also score two points for each frog you have on the log, plus three more if you have the most. The player with the high score wins.

There are two things to review here – the game itself and the iOS implementation. I’ll cover the game first. The theme is cool – I like frogs. Although it’s strange that they named it Bullfrogs when those pieces play a pretty minimal role in the game itself. I guess there was another game named Frogs. Really, the game is pretty abstract in nature – you very easily could have just putting pieces down with no theme at all. But the frogs give it some extra appeal.

Mechanically, this boils down to an area control game. You’re trying to have the most presence on each lily pad to score it. Unlike some area control titles, there’s no points for second place here – it’s all or nothing. Which makes it a challenge to figure out where to put your frogs. My general AC strategy is usually to have presence in a bunch of places and rack up a bunch of second place points, letting someone else use more of their stuff to close it out. Then I have points from a bunch of places while they have points from a few. But that doesn’t work here. You have to win. Though having presence on a bunch of lily pads might work out for you because you can spread out your frogs more when the pad sinks.

Only being able to place two frogs on a lily pad at a time keeps things competitive and keeps people from putting everything on a single card before anyone else gets a chance. But, even so, it’s not always a good idea to put all your frogs in one basket, so to speak. If you get four frogs and a bullfrog on a six space pad, not only have you spent a bunch of turns on one card, but no one else has any motivation to go there. So spreading out and keeping an eye on your opponents is crucial.

Having the bullfrogs that are worth two points worth of frogs is nice, but they are basically single use pieces, whereas you can keep recycling the frogs. If you need that bump over the top, the bullfrogs can help, but then they’re gone. So you have to be careful and use them judiciously.

Overall, the game works very well. It’s pretty simple to understand, and provides strategic depth as you determine the positioning of all your cards. Gameplay gets a thumbs up.

The app itself is simple to use. There’s a tutorial that walks you through how to play and use the controls, and it’s pretty good. It only runs you through about half of a game to get used to stuff, and the computer doesn’t even play for a couple of those turns. Still, it teaches the rules and UI effectively. It’s sometimes a little difficult for someone with big fingers like me to tap on a frog on my iPhone, but generally everything works pretty well.

The app also includes a solo mode, which is based on the solo mode published in 2015. It basically consists of two dice that move around an AI bullfrog that simulates going up against another player. The goal of the solo mode is to score enough points to get high on a chart, which is similar to the solo mode for Roll Player. So it’s basically a beat your own score game, but with achievements you can aim for to see how well you did.

There are three levels of AI in the game. I’ve beaten all three on two-player mode, but it gets a lot harder with more players. They provide a good challenge. The game also keeps track of different achievements and stats so you can see your records for scores.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? As a game, Bullfrogs is a strategic abstract with some nice visual appeal and unique gameplay. As an app, it gives you an opportunity to play this out of print game and not have to worry about doing your own accounting. I enjoyed the game, and recommend you check it out. The game is $5 on the App store or Google Play, or you could get it for $10 on Steam. The version I played was on iOS, so there may be some changes for the other versions, I don’t know.

Thanks to Thunderworks Games for providing a digital copy of Bullfrogs for review, and thanks to you for reading!

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