We all know what our toys do when we go to sleep, but have you ever thought what takes place in the pond behind your house? Don’t worry, neither have we, but that’s all about to change. Unbeknownst to most, an epic battle of warring frogs takes place to lay claim to the pond. Many will fall, others will simply get wet, but make no mistake; the struggle is real! The most famous frog champion of them all said “It isn’t easy being green.” Well, sir, it certainly seems better than being covered in red…
Bullfrogs is a 2-4 player strategic area control card game, from Keith Matejka and Thunderworks Games, in which players will engage in amphibious battles to gain control of the pond (think Battletoads meets A Game of Thrones). The players are given identical 10-card decks. The cards (lily pads) will create the play area as players place one each turn. Each card designates the number of actions that can be taken when the card is played, a number of spaces for frogs to occupy in order to control the lily pad, and the point value for winning that pad. Managing your hand to maximize the placement and effects of your actions is crucial to your success in the pond. Simply put, Bullfrogs involves playing lily pads, strategically assembling your frog troops, and overtaking the opponent with strength in numbers or brute, bullfrog force.
Bullfrogs’ components are currently your basic colored cubes. This is a shame considering the really nice art of the lily pad/pond cards. The pond design on the card is lost a little as you’re generally paying more attention to the placement circles and cubes atop the card, but this is not to say the art isn’t well done. Also, each set of 10 cards, when laid correctly, creates a polyptych as a neat little easter egg.
If the Kickstarter campaign, which is happening as you read this, reaches its stretch goals the components could be drastically upgraded with linen finish added to cards, custom frog and bullfrog meeples, and unique art for each of the 4 sets of cards. The meeples would greatly lend themselves to the theme which, currently, in prototype-state is lacking.
Each player is given an identical set of 10 lily pad cards and a supply of 16 amphibians—14 frogs and 2 bullfrogs—in their chosen color. The 4 neutral lily pads and the log card are placed in the center of the play area in the shape of a cross. Each player draws the top 3 cards from their deck to form their starting hand. Determine a first player and you’re ready to begin!
A player’s turn consists of the following 4 steps:
1. Play: Place a lily pad card from your hand orthogonally adjacent to another card.
2. Take actions: (equal to the amount designated on your placed lily pad).
- Deploy: Place a frog or bullfrog on a lily pad space. Up to 2 frogs can be deployed on a single lily pad per turn, but only those in the same row and column of the lily pad that is placed. You may not place frogs on the lily pad you placed on the current turn.
- Sabotage: Move an opponent’s frog to an adjacent lily pad. Bullfrogs can not be sabotaged; the same goes for any frogs on the central log.
3. Score: If all spots on a lily pad are occupied, a battle commences, frogs are totaled (each frog placed has a value of 1, while bullfrogs have a value of 2) and the player with the highest value of frogs is declared the winner. Following the capture of a lily pad, it sinks. But before it does, the winner of the battle leaps up to 4 frogs from the lily pad in the following order of precedence:
a. Losing frogs;
b. Losing bullfrogs;
c. Winning frogs; and
d. Winning bullfrogs.
Once the lily pad is scored, there occasionally may be an unwanted gap in the play area. To correct this, you must slide the lily pad back to a space that is adjacent to the original set up of log and lily pads.
4. Draw: Draw one lily pad card from your deck.
Play continues until everyone has played all of their lily pad cards, ensuring that each player has an equal number of turns. There are several ways to score points in Bullfrogs. You gain a set value of points from overtaking a lily pad (shown on the bottom of each lily pad), for each frog or bullfrog on the central log, as well as bonus points for having the most frogs on the log, and bonuses for scoring lily pads of your own color. The player with the most points wins the game, takes control of the pond and saves a ton of money on moat defenses.
Bullfrogs is a unique take on an area control card game. The draw, placement, and continual movement of the lily pads ensures that no two play areas will be similar, adding greatly to the replayability of the game. The lily pads themselves, although identical in each deck, offer players a choice in how they want to manage their action points. The value of each lily pad directly correlates to the number of actions a player can take when placing it in the pond. The general rule for these two factors is the lesser the point value of the lily pad, the more actions you’re able to take when played and vice versa. For example, a 3-space lily pad worth 3 points (the lowest possible amount) can give you 4 actions (the most actions granted by a card). While more actions are useful, you’re also placing a vulnerable lily pad that is easier for you opponent(s) to control. This provides the players with some difficult decisions right from the start.
There are a couple of interesting mechanics that when woven together really add to the theme of being a frog. For instance, when a lily pad is scored it sinks but unlike the captain of a ship, the frogs doing battle aren’t going down with their sinking ship. Instead, the frogs abandon the sinking lily pad and leap to an adjacent log or lily pad. There’s something about moving the cubes from lily pad to lily pad that really felt like a frog’s leap. With frogs jumping in all directions, they may end up on another lily pad full of frogs, creating successive battles. This is my favorite aspect of the game. There is no greater feeling than when you and your frog troops perfectly chain together a series of leaps to score multiple lily pads in a single turn.
While battling it out on the lily pads you must also be cognizant of your bullfrog usage, as you are limited to only 2 per game. Unlike your regular run-of-the-mill frogs, which return to your supply after a battle, if a bullfrog does not make it to the central log or an adjacent lily pad following a battle, it is out for the game. As commander-in-chief you must time your bullfrog deployments perfectly to minimize casualties and ensure all of your troops maintain a presence on the pond.
Aesthetically speaking, the art of the cards is very clean and it felt more realistic than the personification of frogs actually duking it out with armor and axes as the box art would imply. This is also supported by the frogs fleeing off a sinking lily pad. (Who’s fighting these battles—Brave Sir Robin?) Had they been using medieval weaponry there would certainly be bloodshed. It feels more like rival frogs are just pushing each other around (Bully-frogs, anyone? Wink.)
Overall, the gameplay is nicely balanced with enough choices to keep things engaging throughout the entire 30 minute playtime. Bullfrogs scales well at all player counts, yet you’ll find that planned strategy fades with the more players involved. This is largely due to the fact that so much can happen between your turns with lily pads being played, conquered, and slid around the play area. Players will have to try their hardest to visualize the consequences of their actions in order to capitalize on all the moving parts in this dynamic pond. There is surely some depth to be had in terms of strategy which puts it just above your typical filler.
Bullfrogs doesn’t have the strongest theme, but its dynamic gameplay makes for a lively experience. The successive battle mechanic, for me, is outstanding and really changes the course of the turns ahead. You have to adapt as one battle leads to another and lily pads are submerged, altering the layout of the pond. There is no greater satisfaction than when you’re able to link several attacks together successfully or leap a precious bullfrog to the log just in the nick of time. I excitedly backed this one!
Frogs fighting for dominance of a pond is a theme that is highly under-represented in our hobby. I am glad someone decided to address this. While I have not personally experienced being a frog, a number of the mechanics in Bullfrogs perfectly portray what I imagine it to be like to live a day in their webbed-feet. The art of the lily pads is beautiful however, my one criticism is that the battle thematically taking place does not fully shine through. Maybe having some weapons and/or blood strewn about the lily pads would help players understand the struggle of their frog troops. Only then could you become the leader you were born to be. The stretch goals for actual frog meeples will also greatly aid in the immersion of the game theme.
All-in-all, Bullfrogs is a great first offering from Keith Matejka and Thunderworks Games! While quick and simple to learn, it offers players a number of interesting decisions throughout the game which offer a bit more complexity than your normal filler game. I highly recommend Bullfrogs for anyone looking to add a mechanically sound, decision rich filler game to their collection.
I had the chance to play Bullfrogs once in a 3-player game. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the strategy in this game. It almost felt like playing a chess match, trying to figure out what your opponents are going to do next before making your move. I decided from the start that I was going to try to score as many cards of my own color that I could. By doing this, I missed out on endgame points by not having very many frogs on the central log, but I still was not out of the running. Our 3-player game ended with each player separated by 1 point at the end. While it’s a very small sample size, this to me shows that there is a good balance in the game. I do agree with Biff that the theme of frogs does fit with the jumping from log and or lily pads, but you do not get a sense of battling. Maybe there needs to be an added mechanic to simulate battles. In the end, I did enjoy this game. I really hope the Kickstarter campaign is successful and they can unlock the wooden frog pieces to really help with the theme of the game.
Smee’s Two Pence
I’ll admit that my initial impression of this game was a bit wobbly; I was drawn in by the armed and armored frogs on the cover, was disappointed when I saw it was simply cubes on lily pads, then excited again once I had played a few games and had a good look at the actual artwork. The game itself is quick and easy to teach, and plays almost like a puzzle once you know what you’re doing. I found myself working to create as many chain-reaction battles as possible, grinning fiendishly as I sunk opposing frogs to their watery doom! All in all, I’ll give Bullfrogs two thumbs in the light-games category. Anyone want a game?
The League of Nonsensical Gamers would like to thank Thunderworks Games for kindly providing us with a prototype of Bullfrogs for this preview.
Bullfrogs is currently funding over on Kickstarter. If this game piques your interests, leap on over to the campaign page by May 2, 2014 and show your support by backing it. For $22, you receive a copy of the game along with all reached stretch goals.