Those son of guns over at Level 99 Games have done it again. They’ve created an entirely new board gaming experience that kicks butt. Surely they can’t keep getting away with this?
Designer: Joshua Van Laningham
Publisher: Level 99 Games
If you have never heard of this game think back to the 90’s where there was an outbreak of arcades across the world. Think of games like Raiden or Ikaruga, where you’re a space ship flying through unknown terrain shooting bad guys while all manner of bullets and other projectiles fly your way. Combine these mechanics with competitive tower defense games made a decade later and you have Bullet ❤.
Bullet ❤ is played in 3 minute rounds, which have you drawing tokens from a bag and placing them on a board in front of you. These bullets are colour coded and are placed in their colour column from top to bottom. Jumping over any bullets already placed. Creating a waterfall effect, where if you pull more than one of each colour, then the closer the bullet gets to the bottom of the board.
Also in these 3 minute rounds you’re moving bullets around your board, activating special powers, and using pattern matching to clear out existing bullets. If you can’t clear them out in time then you’ll take damage. Take enough damage and you’re eliminated.
For the most part you’re focused on your own board. But at the end of each round every bullet you clear goes to the person on your left. Likewise, every bullet the person on your left removes, heads your way. If you do well enough in a round your friend’s face will share the same look as 300 Spartans did seeing the Persians arrive.
I enjoyed Bullet ❤ because even though it’s simple enough to play, there’s this loop of learning that you go through. I call them the five layers of Bullet ❤. Similar to seven layers of hell, except it’s fun and light hearted and you don’t get damned for all eternity.
It goes a little something like this:
- First, your only thought is surviving – how do I make it to the next round?
- Once you have a handle on surviving you then begin to feel out your heroine. Take her for a test drive, see how she feels around the mountain corners.
- Then you start thinking about Star Power. Clearing bullets with stars on them gives you mana back. Now that you’ve got a feel for your heroine, you now want to arrange your patterns so that they remove as many star bullets as possible.
- At this point you start to gel with your heroine, and you get comfortable with holding off a lot of bullets. Now it’s time to plan your attack. Instead of focusing purely on survival, you start think about which bullets you’re sending to the next person, and what combinations. For instance sending 6 green bullets to your friend who already has 3 green on his board.
- The last layer I’ve thought about is learning every heroine and their weaknesses, and then tailoring my attack pattern for each.
This is a lot easier to write about than it is to do in practice because you’re going to be on a time limit that gets tighter and tighter each round you play. And with incoming bullets pulled randomly out of the bag, you’re not always going to be in a good space. Which leads to a lot of risk taking, and sweaty hands. Can I pull one more bullet?
It’s the combination of push your luck, and tactical pattern matching that keeps Bullet ❤ interesting. Add on 8 unique characters, and 4 distinct modes of play, and you’ve got yourself a game that will stay on my shelf for years to come.
Bullet ❤ absolutely succeeds at doing what it set out to do – to emulate a bullet hell style game. It’s quick to learn and play, with games lasting around 20 minutes. But has enough layers and addictive game play to make me want to play it more and more. The only knock against the game is that it suggests using music for a timer, and after playing 10 rounds in a row you acquire a Pavlovian response. Now, my heart rate spikes whenever I hear certain songs out in the wild.
Thanks for reading my review, I’m currently ranking all my board games in a list I made in 3 minutes. You can see Bullet <3’s initial ranking below.
With this addition, Level 99 Games secures two spots in my top 10 – so far – and Bullet ❤ takes number 1 for real-time games I’ve played. Here’s two questions for you. Have you played any games from this publisher? If not I’d love to know who your favourite publisher is and why.