This is a preview using prototype parts. Images do not represent the quality for the final game.
Route East is a new game hitting kickstarter in March 2022 from first time designers Lost Venture Games. The game takes inspiration from founders Jonny and George's own experiences travelling the Silk Road from Istanbul to Shanghai. Many parts of the game from the Car on the cover art to some of the events in the action deck take inspiration from their own real-life experiences. The game looks and feels like an adventure. You can feel the truth in the game. For what is essentially an action point, adventure race game, a real sense of adventure oozes from every aspect of this production.
I was instantly drawn in from the box art, and on opening the board, I was not disappointed. Everything looks gorgeous. It feels like something epic and exciting is about to happen. The final game will use a matt rather than a gloss finish, but it already looks like a highly polished game, even in the prototype form. A lot of care and attention has gone into the factual detail and thematic ties to all parts of the visuals.
Setting up is easy. You lay out the board as above then add in the cards to the spaces shown, place the fuel tokens over the off shore rig. Then add the player tokens to the start space in Istanbul and deal three destinations to each player, that's it!
When done, it should look something like this. The rule book is also very easy to digest and read, even in this early form. To win Route East, you must be the first player to move your piece to the finish space in Shanghai via your three destinations. On your turn, you can use three actions. You can either move your piece one, two, or three spaces, or use your actions to draw one, two, or three action cards. These card mostly help you with a variety of fun and interesting abilities.
After each turn, you must end on either a hotel, hostel, or border space. You need somewhere to sleep after all. On your next turn, you will pay either $25 or $50 for your previous night based on where you stayed the night before, then draw an Ignition card to get started. Or if you stayed at a border crossing, draw a Border card if you plan to cross one of the many border crossings in the game that turn. The crossings can be as simple as a $25 fee plus a fuel token, but life does not always pan out like that! Borders are often closed, or require additional payments to get past the corrupt border guards!
On your way, you can stop off at cash points to top up your funds, visit petrol stations to gather more fuel for upcoming crossings, take a short cut on a dirt road or ship crossing, or take a detour to one of the three tourist destinations you need to visit along the way.
At the start of the game, each player will be dealt three random destination cards. They must all be in different countries, if they are not, you must discard and re-draw until this is the case. This will then create your path to Shanghai. Planning your route at this part of the game feels a little bit like Ticket to Ride. And the overall game does have a similar feel to this. The 'map-style' board. Plotting routes to various destinations. It does all feel a bit TTR, in a good way!
When you reach a destination, you must reveal the card and then you can use the bonus that destination card offers. There are some interesting and powerful abilities to be gained for reaching each one. Either helping you or hindering one of your opponents. Plotting your route and making it to each one is the most fun part of the game. I only wish you could visit more of them. I have suggested a variant whereby you need to visit more than three, perhaps with more actions each turn so the game does not get too long. Who knows, it may make the final cut! But you can always house rule this yourself if not. We played a game where you had to visit 6 destinations instead of three and we gave ourselves six actions each turn again instead of three. It worked well.
The three destinations you must visit do affect the game a lot. They could be all along a nice orderly path, or seemingly at the end of long and needless detours. But the game has enough swings and deviations that no matter your cards, it will always feel like a tense and close race. I have played five times so far and each game has ended with the other players only a turn or two behind from finishing themselves. There is nothing worse than a one horse race. Route East doesn’t seem to suffer from this. The final few turns are all through dirt roads where you must roll even numbers to pass. This alone creates a nice catch up mechanic for any players languishing behind.
There are plenty of destination cards to offer a nice variety each game. Each are wonderfully illustrated with thematically tied powers and a nice local titbit. I would like to have more facts about them present on the art or perhaps in a separate guide book. This again I believe is one of the plans for the development of the game before and during the kickstarter.
Everything about this game makes me want to pack my bags, pick up my passport and head off on an adventure. After finishing the game of course! This is the biggest compliment I can pay this game. Route East is a great family friendly gateway race game that sits in a nice place between Ticket to Ride and The Quest for El Dorado, and scratches the itch both games offer.
There are a lot of cards for each of the main decks. The Ignition, Action, and Border cards. There is some repetition on the text, but certainly enough variety to make each draw feel exciting. The wording is clear and there is no need to refer to the rule book once you start playing. Everything just makes sense.
I am excited to see how this game develops and will watch closely to see how the kickstarter goes. I will post a link to that here when it goes live. I would recommend backing this game to anyone who likes games such as Ticket to Ride or The Quest to El Dorado. As mentioned, this game sits nicely between those two and is a nice game to add to your gateway collection. I see a lot of potential for development with this game, either in this first copy, or through expansions. I would like to see different maps, action cards, and events added to future copies. It does feel like this could be the start of something big in the gaming world if the kickstarter gets the right traction.