Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Monday, 21 October 2019

The Game Shelf Reviews:- UBike Tour: Taiwan

Game: UBike Tour: Taiwan

Publisher: Big Fun Games

Designer:  Chih-Fan Chen

Year: 2019

We’re excitedly preparing to make our first visit to Spiel in Essen, Germany. The listings show over 1200 new releases, but I’m also excited to discover games that haven’t made the list of hot new games. Looking at the maps of Halls 4, 5 & 6 shows how many small publishers will be present from all over the world. Taiwan Board Game Design represents lots of small publishers from Taiwan and brings them all under one banner. They can be found at booth. The first of their games that we have had a chance to try is UBike Tour: Taiwan – a game based around a city-wide cycle hire scheme, which I assume is like London’s ‘Boris Bikes’.


We wanted to check out this one because of its really endearing cartoon artwork and also because it’s from a publisher who has never before been on our radar. It’s a family-weight card drafting and set collection game for 2-4 players which plays in around 20 minutes, where you are cycling around different sites in the city and gaining points depending how far and where you’ve travelled.


Gameplay

At the start of the game each player gets given a starting card on which their bike trip must grow. The rest of the deck of location cards is shuffled and cards are dealt out to form 5 rows of 1 card below the draw deck. Players are attempting to go on an enjoyable Cycle Tour of Taiwan by collecting 9 locations cards. Once a player has reached 9 cards the game will end that round and scores will be totaled.

Each turn the active player will chose between two options: taking a row of cards or adding more cards to the table. When you add cards you draw 2 cards from the top of the deck. Each card has a number on the top corner so you place them on the row that is numerically closest but lower in value. If the card you drew was below all currently available rows then you give that card to an opponent who will use it to earn bonus cards.


Alternatively, you can take a row of cards. when you do this you add one to your ongoing cycle route, and place the rest in your discard to be used to earn bonus cards. Every card has a distance number on it. You can only place a card that is the same distance or one lower or higher than you previous card (cycling is tiring!). However during the game you can acquire bicycle cards, either as bonus cards or as part of a collection. These cards can be used to extend the distance you can travel, let you get away with a wider selection of cards.

Bonus cards can be earned for every 5 cards you gain as discards. Theses cards come in a few varieties, some are worth raw points, some are worth points if you meet certain conditions and others give you bonus abilities or bicycles. At the end of the game players will be rewarded for distance traveled (the sum difference of all your location cards in the order you played them), for sets of pairs/triples or quadruples of a distance number, for visiting the extreme high/low numbers and a bonus if you managed the whole 9 cards.


Amy’s Final Thoughts

UBike Tour: Taiwan tasks you with cycling around a gorgeous landscape of lovingly illustrated cities. Fittingly all 4 cards of the same distance number are illustrated to create a single scene of the location you are cycling through, which makes for a beautiful card game. The only slight downside being the odds of you gaining all 4 cards of one distance in a row are so slim that you'll never see the larger pictures during gameplay!

The game itself is certainly on the simpler end of things, while still giving players a lot of options on how they want to try to win. Though unfortunately a large number of the points available only come from receiving the relevant bonus cards. This can create the feeling of luck in the final victory when one player has gained 6 points worth of bonus cards, while the other player got a couple of bikes. The core gameplay mechanic works well, though in the two player version of the game it highly rewards being able to grab the first pile that you can. In a larger player count game play would continue with one less player in the round. But when you are the last player not to take you can only add 2 more cards before being forced to pick yourself. The system works, but can result in a feeling of being hurt by luck.

Another huge luck factor is the order in which cards appear, if you draw too low a card you must give it away. Over the course of a round then the rows get progressively higher, making it less likely drawn cards can be added to them. This can create a system where luck can cause your turn to achieve nothing but give your opponent two fifths of a bonus card. Wasting your turn like this doesn't feel great. Of course it feels fantastic to be on the receiving end of that scenario! While the game is simple there are certainly elements of push your luck versus preparing for bad luck. Spending a turn or two collecting bicycle cards can pay dividends when the numbers you need just aren't showing up, but you run the risk of your opponents racing to the finish line before you!

Overall UBike Tour: Taiwan is a relatively light card game, with enough bite to keep things interesting and a fairly large luck factor. The art design is both attractive and consistent making the game easy to pick up and play. While the game is fun, for me luck was too high a factor in victory for me to truly appreciate it.


Fi’s Final Thoughts

There are really two elements to UBike Tour: Taiwan – the drafting and the set collection/tableau building. I really enjoy the tableau building as you create a route between locations in the city. It feels like there are lots of different ways to make points, either by collecting lots of locations with the same value, deliberately seeking out low or high numbers, or travelling a really long way using bicycles. In particular I enjoy how the bonus cards can lead you towards a specific strategy, like collecting certain types of location, for example restaurants, or to specifically use lots of bicycle tokens. I wish that there were a few more different objectives in this deck and that maybe you could start with one or two to work on early in the game, or have a choice when you draw from the deck. That way, your strategy might diverge a bit and become more differentiated game to game.


On the other side of things, the drafting aspect of the game can be particularly frustrating. The players are basically operating as an AI, with no control. You get to choose whether to draw cards from the top, which is risk, especially when all of the rows end in high numbers, but that’s your only real choice. If there’s nothing you want in the market and the two cards you draw have low numbers so get given to an opponent, then you really have had a wasted turn. The market rows build themselves, so you’re not reading other players and trying to build a row you want that won’t appeal to others, you’re just beholden to whatever is drawn off the pile. Sometimes the game just seems to play into the hands of one or other player just through luck of the draw. I think there’s a real missed opportunity for more interaction or mind games in this phase.


UBike Tour: Taiwan has great art and has an interesting was of trying to depict a journey in a card game, but I feel like it both could’ve been and needed to be something more to stand out in a world of clever card games like Piepmatz, Ravens of Thri Sahashri and many other of our favourites.


You Might Like...
  • The artwork is cute, although it’s very rare to manage to make the panorama from the cards.
  • The player interaction from drafting, discarding and flipping over new cards for the central market is pretty high.
  • Scores are always pretty close as players pursue different strategies.
You Might Not Like...
  • The luck in the game can make it very swingy and a bit frustrating.
  • We would prefer a few more scoring objectives to work towards, rather than the more ‘boring’ bonus cards in the deck.

The Verdict
6/10 UBike Tour: Taiwan is a very light card game and probably too light for us. The element of luck, combined with the frustration of having no control over the market you jointly build, is a little too much, even for a short game. The ways to score are pretty varied and allow you to play with some different strategies, but ultimately there’s just not enough going on in the game to hold our interest.


UBike Tour: Taiwan was a review copy kindly provided to us by Taiwan Board Game Design.

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