The Inquisitive Meeple interviews Scott Almes about Boomerang, and then reviews the card-drafting roll and write game, currently on Kickstarter.
Note: In this article, features pictures of laminated score sheets, this was done by me for my print and play review copy. The published version of Boomerang will feature paper score sheets that are not laminated.
The rundown ^
Description from BGG:
Boomerang could be described as a card-drafting game (like 7 Wonders or Sushi Go!) mixed with a roll-and-write game (like Yahtzee or Qwixx).
Each turn, players select one card from their hand to play, then pass the rest of their cards to the next player. Will you take what you really want, or a different card so as to deprive another player of something cool?
At the end of each round, players mark different things off on their score sheets, corresponding to what they earned from the cards they selected. Players earn points for seeing sights, collecting Australiana, seeing animals, and so on. After five rounds, the player with the most points wins.
The Qs ^
Scott, thanks for joining us for this interview. It has been a while since we last did an interview, which was for Problem Picnic, since that time you have had like 15,001 new games come out. How have things been and are you any closer to coming a full-time game designer?
Scott: Has it really been since Problem Picnic? Time flies when you’re having fun. I’ve certainly been working on some cool projects with cool publishers, so it definitely feels like that many games. Although it’s not helping my quest to quit caffeine, haha. Lots going on! I’ve been working hard on my “Tiny Epic” and “Heroes” series with Gamelyn Games. I’ll have a couple medium box games coming out in the future, too, which I haven’t done in a bit. You’ll see my first co-designed game before too long, which has been a great experience. I still haven’t taken the dive to be a full-time designer. In addition to being a game designer, I do love being an engineer as well. They are both big parts of who I am. I’m not sure what the future holds, but right now I’m able to do both!
What published games have been hitting your table lately that you have really been enjoying?
Scott: I simply cannot get enough of the escape room game trend. The Exit series is my favorite, and Escape Room The Game is a close second. I already have the next set on preorder and am eagerly awaiting their release. Besides the escape room games, I’m still playing a lot of Hanabi, Schotten-Totten, and Patchwork. However, I’m most eager to get Power Grid to the table. That is one of my favorite games of all time and it’s been far too long since I’ve played. It is such a classic.
We are here today to talk about yet, another Scott Almes game on Kickstarter, Boomerang. Boomerang, a Roll and Write (or more accurately a Draft and Write) seem to come out of nowhere. What can you tell us about the gameplay?
Scott: Boomerang is a game about traveling around Australia. At its core, it is, as you said, a Draft and Write game, which is a twist on the Roll and Write style of games that are taking over. Players get a hand of cards and will draft them in an effort to score points. Cards have multiple ways to score, and you’ll be keeping track of everything on a score pad that has a map of Australia. You can score by visiting different locations, seeing local flora and fauna, and taking part in tourist activities such as swimming or hiking. And, the twist is the boomerang mechanic…. Which I’ll explain shortly.
Would you be so kind to tell us the story behind the game?
Scott: The game started off with wanting to do a “cool new roll and write game that was kinda different but still within that same family”. I noticed some “roll and write” games used cards instead of dice, such as Avenue, and I thought that was a cool place to start. I tinkered around with a few concepts and found that drafting gave a lot of cool options. It also allowed for players to interact with each other a bit more. Some roll and writes can feel a bit too solitaire, so I liked having a way to interact with other players. The game was mechanics first, and after some development, I came up with the Boomerang mechanic as part of scoring… and that led to the Australian theme!
One of the things that makes Boomerang unique is the whole “Throw and Catch” mechanic, could you tell us a little bit about that and what it adds to the gameplay?
Scott: Each card has a boomerang value on it. When you start a round, you place a hidden card down in an effort to score it (This is your Throw Card). At the end of the round, you compare your final card (your Catch Card) to this hidden card. If the Throw card is equal to or less than the value of the Catch, you score points! It adds a nice little twist to drafting where you kinda gamble on what might come back to you.
Another thing that stands out, is that when you draft cards, you are not just drafting for a single purpose. So for example, in your other drafting game, Best Treehouse Ever when you draft you are drafting really for the symbol type. Here you are drafting for multiple reasons – because you have to score multiple things on the cards and each thing scores in its own unique way. What inspired this idea?
Scott: I wanted players to give the players some good agonizing decisions and feel like they are juggling plates. After all, who hasn’t traveled somewhere and wanted to try to do everything! So, thematically it works, too. On the geeky designer side, I haven’t done too much with multi-use cards so I wanted to experiment with that mechanic a bit and it luckily suited this game very well! As you said, each card has several ways to help the player score. So, when choosing a card, you are hit with several decisions: “Am I trying to complete this section of the map for a bonus, or should I try to get this pair of animals, or should I get another tourist activity… but I’ve already traveled there so I wouldn’t get the benefit of checking another place off my list… ah, what do I do?” Luckily, there aren’t really any bad cards, so you’re just trying to figure out the best one for you!
A lot of people can be on the fence when playing a card drafting game 2 players (note: Boomerang is for 2-4 players). What would you say about the 2-player game for people on the fence?
Scott: I play most games two players, so designing games that play well with 2 is a key feature of every game for me. In this game, the multi-feature cards with several different ways to score keeps the decisions nice and difficult in two player games. Also, the Throw and Catch mechanic is especially cool in two player games when you are trying to guess head-to-head what will come back to you.
As we come to a close, could you share with us your favorite part of Boomerang’s design?
Scott: I am especially fond of the tricky decisions in the game. Since each card has several different ways to influence your score each selection is a tricky and fun decision. I also love how the final art came out. The retro-adventure-travel feel is very cool, and it feels like you are exploring Australia as you tick off all the different locations.
The play ^
Boomerang is a pretty unique Australian-themed game that mixes card drafting and roll and writes into one game. On top of that, there’s a twist not often seen (if at all) in family card drafting games. That being, the choices you’re given with when drafting cards isn’t limited to just one aspect on the card (like Sushi Go or Best Treehouse Ever), but multiple aspects found on the cards – locations, collections, Australian animals, and outdoor activities. (Note: Not every card has every aspect – well they all have a boomerang number and tourist site, they may not have collections, animal or outdoor symbol). Each of these aspects scores slightly differently, for example when scoring animals you only score pairs. While in collections you have to achieve a higher score than your score from the previous round or you score zero points. These aspects throw a nice little twist to the gameplay.
As in all card drafting games, there is a pretty good amount of interaction with other players when you are passing and taking a card, back and forth during the round. Of course, depending on how much blocking, or “take that” you want to practice during the game, you could take things that you know your opponent needs. For example, if you know there are only 2 Kangaroo left, and they just took one, you could take a Kangaroo in hopes that your opponent cannot create a scoring pair. I say “in hopes” because the very first card you play in the round is played facedown and hidden from the other player. That is another way to interact with the player, if I think you may be trying to push your luck to score a Throw & Catch combo (if your facedown card is lower or equal to the last card, you score points) I can stick you with a low number hoping you will bust. Finally, the last way you interact with players are the bonuses you can get in the game for being the first to mark down all 4 locations of a certain state on the map. Once that bonus is taken, the other players cannot receive it.
With its small footprint, Boomerang needs only enough space for the score paper and room to lay out 7 poker cards in a line per each player and a place to stack this rounds unused cards. It takes up more space than a normal roll and write that may use just paper and dice, but I would still consider it a smaller footprint game. The game itself has only 28 cards, all of which are used in a 4-player game, with 7 and 14 cards being left out in 3 and 2-player game, respectively. Now, I am not color-blind, so I can hardly speak to the issue about the colors on the cards, but I can tell you that each region is linked to a certain Australian state and that there is a picture on each card of the state to show where you find it on the map. Also, on top of each card having its own alphabetic code, so I don’t think that colorblindness should be an issue. Grail Games marks the playtime at 40 minutes, now I have only played 2-player so far, but our 2-player games are only about 25 minutes long. Since all players in all player counts play at the same time, 4-player shouldn’t take much longer than that, unless you have some AP-prone players in your group.
After my initial play, the thoughts I wrote down about Boomerang were that it would be a perfect coffee shop game (or even nightcap game to end the night with) and after subsequent plays, I think it still holds true. A game that you can sit around and play casually with friends (gamer or non-gamers) as you drink coffee and chat. It has a relatively small footprint, rules that are simple to understand, and some interesting choices when it comes to scoring (that can easily be followed by non-gamers). It also has a pleasant theme, with its circa 1940’s look to the map on the score sheet and the idea of traveling through Australia. It’s a theme that won’t put-off your non-gamer friends (i.e. it’s not fantasy or sci-fi, etc). Now don’t misunderstand me, you can certainly play Boomerang as a cut-throat game and watch every little thing the other players are doing and try to block them, but we have enjoyed it as a nice casual game. One that has enough thinking and tension to keep the game entertaining, but also not so heavy that Mrs. Inquisitive Meeple and I can’t relax either in chatting with each other or in silence when playing. It’s also one we found we can play when our youngest children are still up at night, as interruptions aren’t really jarring in this game, and you can easily pick up where you left off. Boomerang serves as a great little “nightcap” game, even for those that live in a houseful of interruptions.
The last word ^
Thanks to Scott Almes for agreeing to do the interview. We also like to note that Grail Games gave The Inquisitive Meeple access to the print-and-play file of Boomerang, for an honest opinion. Boomerang is currently on Kickstarter and can be found by clicking on the link below:
If you like to follow Scott Almes on Twitter, you can: @Scott_Almes
If you like to follow Grail Games on Twitter, you can: @GrailGames