WBG Score: 6.5/10
Player Count: 2-4
You’ll like this if you like:
Published by: Helvetiq
This is a review copy. See our review policy here
On The Road was the big new Essen release from Helvetiq in 2023. The game steps away from the usual small box/after dinner style game they make. It is targeted at families with a weight of 1.5 but comes in a larger box than usual for Helvetiq, and a bigger production overall. The theme is intriguing. You play a touring band making its way to the Sunshine festival, trying to gather as many fans as you go. But does it hit the right notes? Let's get it to the table and find out.
How To Set Up On The Road
Kick things off by placing the barn tile on the table near the bottom of the play area. This tile marks the starting point for our game. Now, mix up the location tiles. You are going to use them to create a road. Starting from the barn tile, randomly placing seven location tiles in a row, and then end it with a city tile. Repeat this two more times. You will have six location tiles left, tuck them in behind that final city tile, and then at the very end of that road place the mainstage tile.
Next up, set up the porta-potty tile and the ticket tiles near the play area. Make sure the ticket tiles are stacked up neatly in ascending order, with the top and bottom tile showing. Next, take the location tokens and organize them by colour. Place them next to the play area. Depending on how many people are playing, you might need to return a couple of the pink tokens to the box: two tokens for a three-player game or three tokens for a two-player game.
Each player will now place their van pawn next to the starting space at the barn tile. They will also take their fans stars in their colour and place three of them into a cloth bag. Finally, shuffle the movement cards and deal three to each player. You are now ready to play. The player who has most recently been to a music concert gets to be the starting player.
How To Play On The Road
Players are looking to attract the most fans as they tour around the country. The game is played over a series of turns where players must play a movement card, and then draw a movement card, unless you are currently on the mainstage tile, and draw fans from the bag; but only if you're standing on the mainstage tile or a city tile.
The movement cards are sadly a little plain, but this does make them very easy to read! Simply discard the card of your choice and move that many spaces. If you are moving from the van tile, you can go backwards, forwards, or advance at double the cards value. Your choice. You will then take a location tile for the space you landed on. When finishing your movement on a location tile featuring a mountain, lake, forest, or field, players will start a performance aimed at promoting your band. Players will place their fans (stars) into the bag equivalent to the number of location tokens of the corresponding type you currently possess, this includes the most recently acquired location token. So, you will want to build up some repeat performance in certain areas to build your fans. But there are benefits to having multiple different types of tickets.
As such, you will want to try and land on as many of the tiles as you can to build up your fan base. Each locations grants you a token or power. When you end your movement on a city tile, draw fans from the bag. This action allows you to discover if your fans want to attend your final concert at the festival. As such, moving forwards and backwards in a strategic fashion, you will want to try and hit all the cities along the way to maximise your fan growth.
When you draw fans, you will take as many fans from the bag as the number of music symbols you have. These symbols are found on the pink location tokens and on the ticket tiles. When drawing fans from the bag like this, you will either draw a fan of your colour, in which case you will place it on the first available space of the mainstage tile. Well done, end game points! However, if the fan is of a rival players colour, you will place it on the porta-potty tile.
When a player arrives at the mainstage they will discard all your movement cards and immediately claim the lowest-value ticket tile from the stack to gain extra fans. They can no longer move, and their only action is to draw fans from the bag. At the beginning of each subsequent turn, any player at the mainstage will take one pink location token. If none are available, you can move one of your fans from the porta-potty tile and return it to the bag. Giving you a chance to move it to the mainstage on a later turn. Then, proceed with drawing fans as usual.
Whenever a player draws fans from the bag, you can take various actions by returning a certain number of different-coloured location tokens previously attained to the box. If you've got two different location tokens after one of your rivals draws some fans, discard them to make them put ALL the fans of your colour back into the bag, rather than placing them on the porta-potty tile. Two different location tokens also allows you to discard the recently drawn fans back to the bag and have another try if you don't get what you want the first time.
If you discard three different location tokens you can send all the fans of your colour from the porta-potty tile back into the bag. And if you ever discard four different location tokens you can put one of the selected fans of your colour straight to the mainstage tile instead of the porta-potty tile. The mainstage tile is where you will score points. The game ends when the mainstage is full. A different total required based on player count. The player with the most fans here is the winner.
Is It Fun? On The Road Board Game Review
Reading an interview with one of the designers, they said, “I was trying to create a game that can be played by families in 20 minutes where children can easily play... without any help. I would like to design a light game with increasing tension... The best physical element is the bag. It is nice and emotional to draw from a bag hoping to reveal one of your fans! In the first phase of the game you try to put as many of your fans in the bag whereas in the second phase you hope to extract them.”
This sums up game brilliantly for me. With families who do not play more complex games, I can see this being a real winner. For my family, where we are used to more complex decisions this fell a little flat for us, which was a shame as the theme and style of the game is delightful. And I did enjoy the process of playing the game. I just wish it has just a smidge more strategy. But I can see this being a real winner in households that play maybe a few less games.
The game flows very smoothly though and can be taught to most ages. The only complex part is the four ways you can use your tokens when drawing fans from the bag. It takes a few turns to remember this by heart, and we found we were referring to the rules a fair few times in our early games for this rule. The game provides a player guide but the symbology on this for the powers is a little off for me.
I would recommend this game to any family with budding musicians in the ranks looking for a nice family game to play as a group. It looks great and offers an interesting theme and after a few games you will realise there are some fun ways to play with different strategies that work in different ways.