SPACE WESTERNS REALLY CATCH MY ATTENTION. I think my love for the genre comes from my early watching the original Star Wars Trilogy and playing Classic Traveller RPG (GDW, 1977). Firefly is one of my favorite TV series (along with the movie Serenity). The RockyMountainNavy Boys even prefer the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire RPG (Fantasy Flight Games, 2012) over others in the Fantasy Flight Games Star Wars line. So when I saw Cowboy Bebop: Boardgame Boogie (Jasco Games, 2019) I was intrigued. I am not an anime fan but it was one series I had watched (subtitled, not dubbed). On a recommendation from another gamer I picked it up. Although I am happy to own the game, it also serves as another reminder that strategy boardgames and I are not a great mix.
Cowboy Bebop: Boardgame Boogie (CBBB) is a cooperative game based on the Cowboy Bebop anime series. As the publishers blurb puts it:
3… 2… 1… Let’s Game! Choose your favorite member of the Bebop crew and take on their role and carry their weight as their space adventure unfolds!Cowboy Bebop: Boardgame Boogie
Travel the Solar System! Fly between the Astral Gates, visiting contacts, bars, shops, and spaceports to gather leads and resources!
Face your Demons! Complete your personal Session with a little help from your friends. Everyone wins when the past is put to rest!
Get Paid, Keep Flying! Combine your leads to locate iconic Bounty Heads and chase them down! Earn enough woolongs to pay for fuel and delicious bell peppers and beef to keep your adventures going!
In CBBB, one to four players take the roles of the crew of the Bebop and try to survive. If you run out of food then you Starve and lose the game. To keep from starving players need manage three resources; food, fuel, and money. You earn money to buy food and fuel by being bounty hunters and collecting bounties. Of course, even those big bounties don’t pay much “after expenses” so survival is always on a razor’s edge. At the same time, each player has a personal story (in two parts) that they are trying to wrap up. All players need to complete Part I then Part II of their story to win…before starving.
The cooperative element of CBBB comes from the fact that players need to uncover leads to find bounties, and then to Chase the bounties they will need skills – skills they may not have enough of by themselves. So the Bebop crew will have to work as a team, helping each other to find Leads and Chase bounties. Oh yeah, to complete a Part of one’s story you will probably also need assistance too.
Theme in Cowboy Bebop: Boardgame Boogie comes in two flavors. The art & presentation of the game is highly thematic with all the imagery taken directly from the anime series. Although the game board is highly abstracted, the game takes advantage of the series to use some really helpful iconography. Gameplay is also thematic, if one understands that the anime series was about bounty hunters who were always trying to make ends meet, always needed help from their friends, and had a backstory that needed resolution.
Gameplay in Cowboy Bebop : Boardgame Boogie is rather straightforward. Each turn, a player will Draw an Event and resolve the card. Then they can Perform 3 Actions. There is an element of losing time in the game as bounties move down the track and can get away if not caught soon enough. Spatially, players need to move about to reveal Leads but they also need to carefully keep or discard Leads because to Chase bounties players also need to have the right Leads showing as well as be in the right place. The players also need to manage their hand of Skill Cards, playing then to their tableau but also recovering them at the right time. Not very complicated by the rules, but challenging to execute.
This year, I have been less-than-successful with new thematic strategy games. The year started off with Villainous: Wicked to the Core which I found to be less-than-inspiring. We then tried Star Wars: Outer Rim which should be right in my wheelhouse (smugglers and mercenaries and bounty hunters, oh my!) but ultimately fell flat. Now I have Cowboy Bebop: Boardgame Boogie which once again is in my wheelhouse for theme but gameplay is…a bit dull. I mean, the game looks like Cowboy Bebop, the goals of the game scream Cowboy Bebop, but the gameplay is just kinda boring. Players quickly learn they need to help each other out. They need to work together to get the right Leads out. They need to get together at the right places to Chase bounties. They need the right Skill Cards in their hand to catch the bounty, even when a complicating Jam comes out. The game works but just without that extra spark that makes me really want to get the game back out on the table. Thankfully, one can play in less than 90 minutes. Oh yeah, it supports solo play by having a player play with two characters. (Really? Why not just play with all four?).
In the end, Cowboy Bebop: Boardgame Boogie is another game I bought with high expectations. The game drips with theme and plays well. It’s a good game, just not as good as I hoped.
Feature image Jasco Games