I’m a sucker for video game adaptations of board games and, if I’m being honest, that’s what I thought Billion Road was before I started playing. It didn’t take me long to realise that this wasn’t just some game you could easily play around a table with a group of friends though, but was actually a frantic and zany experience that revolved around exploring the whole of Japan, making investments and beating up the occasional monster, all with a board game-like twist.
It sounds weird, right? Well, it is, but it’s also incredibly addictive and an absolute blast to play on your Nintendo Switch with your friends and family.
Billion Road’s gameplay revolves around competing with other players as you travel across Japan through dice rolls, all whilst investing in properties, earning (and losing) money, gathering monsters to join you on your journey, and then defeating the big nasty beasts that’ll try to bring your investment portfolio down along the way. It’s a pretty bizarre concoction and there’s a fair bit to learn as you head on your first trek across the board – whilst there is a lot going on though, the game’s turn-based board game set up and easy to follow instructions make it a straightforward experience to get completely absorbed into as you look to make billions of yen.
Players start out with a fixed sum of money, which they can then spend when they land on investment tiles. There are an assortment of different business types for players to invest in, but ultimately it will come down to what you can afford – at the end of a year in-game, you’ll reap the rewards of these investments when your money starts to come in. Of course, it’s possible to earn and lose money as you travel across Billion Road’s map, with certain tiles either giving you extra cash or deducting it from your balance. There’s a random element in place as to how much you earn or lose, but if you do find yourself in negative equity, you’ll have to sell off some of your previous assets to find yourself in the green again. This means that you’ve got to be sensible with your cash and balance out a healthy bank balance with an assortment of wise investments… it might sound a little daunting, but it actually makes for a really fun and charming experience. If you’ve got some experience with Monopoly, you’ll have a basic idea of what to do.
It’s not just your finances that you’ll have to keep on top of in Billion Road. You’ll also find monsters roaming through the streets of Japan, though fortunately they’re not out for your blood – instead, up to three of them can join your party and offer an assortment of boosts and abilities. Some of these are straightforward such as protecting your businesses from attacks and so on, but there are also those that can prove especially helpful when getting around. One monster will even grant you an additional dice roll if you’re not happy with what you rolled, which I found ESPECIALLY useful during my time playing. I mean, no one wants to be forced to land on a negative-cash tile, right? Be warned though: there are some monsters who can cause problems for you or your rivals, so make sure to keep those out of your party…
Your monsters will also prove useful when one of the bigger and nastier monsters invades Billion Road, with vicious beasts making their presence known on the board with their huge appearance. You can either send your monsters out to attack and try and take these nasty foes out to earn a lucrative cash bonus, or alternatively you can just hope the damage they cause isn’t too brutal – either way, they add a fresh element to Billion Road’s gameplay that keeps you on your toes.
Ultimately, your goal in Billion Road is to earn as much cash as possible in a fixed amount of time, with the previously mentioned core mechanics making for a good means to earn some Yen. However, there are plenty of other gameplay elements that can alter your cash flow too, with random events, awards, goals to reach, player attacks, and mini-games bringing some unique situations into the game that can either work in your favour or completely catch you off guard. You also have items that can be used to either protect yourself of throw a spanner in the works of another player’s finances, though these can be used against you too. It’s very unpredictable and anarchic in design, but in that incredibly satisfying way where you know anything can happen at any given time.
This adds to the random nature of Billion Road where it isn’t just a touch of strategic finesse that’ll lead you to success in the game, but luck too. Besides the fact that you’ll rely heavily on dice rolls, sometimes things will occur that you just have very little input into – sometimes they’ll help you out and sometimes they won’t. This sort of thing could be frustrating in a typical game, but in something like Billion Road where silly fun is at the forefront, it ensured the experience remained fresh and completely unpredictable.
There are a few different games modes to play that span across different lengths of times, with some games easily lasting a few hours depending on how many players there are and how many years you’re playing across – fortunately, you can save mid-game, so you won’t be expected to complete these marathons in one go.
The best way to play Billion Road is in local multiplayer though, with support for up to four players. Between the elements of strategy, the heavy influence of luck, and the game’s zany nature, it’s a heck of a lot of fun to play with some buddies. Whilst there’s a lot going on in the game, there’s an air of simplicity to it that makes it very easy to pick up and play and essentially get good at with very little experience. Who needs board games when you can just play Billion Road with friends, right? It’s ideal considering that we’re all living in a lockdown with our families right now…
Another thing I appreciated about the game was the visuals, which were cutesy and charming throughout. One neat detail saw the map change up a little in between seasons, with plenty of greenery on show during the Summer months and snow gracing the streets of Japan when it was Winter – it’s a minor detail that doesn’t change up the gameplay in any way, but it did help emphasise the fact that time is constantly moving on in the game.
Billion Road offers a unique and addictive board game-like experience for Nintendo Switch players to get stuck into, with its zany investment-based gameplay, its monster collecting antics, and its quirky mini-games and events coming together to make for a heck of a lot of fun. Add some friends into the mix in local multiplayer too and you’re in for a really, REALLY good time.
I didn’t expect to have as much fun with Billion Road as I did, but I’m completely hooked – if you’re a fan of digital board games, you’ll definitely want to check it out.
Developer: Bandai Namco
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC