15th April 2022
It's a Friday and we're logged into Board Game Arena for some afternoon gaming.
Take a road trip across America, visit the landmarks, go wildlife spotting, play some sports, end where you started? Send a postcard (Or write a letter from America.), walk 500 miles, maybe walk 500 more...
OK, enough of the tenuous references.
Boomerang: USA combines set collecting and roll and write mechanics into a point salad of a scoring game.
Caveat: We've only ever played Boomerang: USA digitally.
What's in a game?
The only artwork in the game appears on the 28 cards and is obviously referencing the locations the cards represent. It's pretty artwork too, with blue skies and bright colours.
Using letters/symbols for cities is a smart move and easily understood. Boomerang: USA makes use of 4 types of sets to collect and each set will feature its own range of icons, it means that the game has a fairly large array of icons. Luckily, it's clear which icons belong to which set and players don't need to reference a rulebook to know what they mean since the game is about matching icons in their respective sets.
How's it play?
Boomerang: USA is played over 4 rounds and uses a drafting mechanic where players pick a card from their hand and then passes the remaining cards to their left, then all chosen cards are revealed (Or not for the first card.) simultaneously. This continues until all cards have been selected and players have acquired 7 cards.
Once the 4th round is completed and scored, players then total their final score from across all 4 rounds.
Points are tallied, highest score wins.
On a basic level, Boomerang: USA is a straightforward drafting game. It's point salad of scoring mechanics makes the game complex, most of the blog above talks about the 7 ways to score VPs.
Some of the scoring methods have pretty standard elements, collecting matching pairs or 1 kind of set are common, however, restrictions on how these are scored, particularly for Americana activities add an unusual twist.
The throw and catch mechanic is the standout here, presenting players with a clear risk and reward choice right at the start of a round especially when this is when they'll have all 7 cards to choose from.
Play a 1 as the throw card and it's guaranteed to score but is only worth 1 VP. Playing a 7 as the throw card earns 7 VPS but requires a 7 as the catch card; since player have no control over what their last card will be it's a risky proposition.
Typical for a game of this type, it's more or less impossible to score well in all categories at the same and the dilemma of what a player should prioritise is what drives the gameplay.
Should a player concentrate on getting locations and regions (Which are another type of set really.) over other sets?
Is it a good idea to have a steadily increasing Americana score over round, or go high then score 0 to score high again?
When is a good time to try and get a good score in a particular activity?
A lot of this will be contextual or unpredictable, it's the nature of this kind of drafting game. Players will probably start a round with no clear direction and will need to adapt to a strategy and recognise what to prioritise as it emerges from whatever cards they pick.
There's also a higher level of play where players can watch their opponents to try and gauge what they're concentrating on and deny it to them: If it looks like an opponent is trying to complete coast-to-coast, a player might chose and play a card with the location needed themselves in order to deny that other player.
Although I'm not sure that denial tactics are that effective though, it's entirely possible blocking a opponent will involve blocking yourself as well.
I felt like the travelling, roll and write element was a bit out of place here, adding extra layers of what seem like unnecessary complexity the game. So while the game has depth thanks to all these scoring opportunities, it actually felt like it was perhaps a little detrimental to the experience, increasing thinking time and inducing some analysis-paralysis as a consequence.
Otherwise I can't really find fault with Boomerang: USA, it's not a bad game by any stretch, it just somehow didn't appeal and seemed a little unengaging. Maybe the theme of being a tourist did quite gel with me?
I feel that there are other mechanically similar games that are a little more accessible and quicker to play.
Obviously, YMMV, a fan of card drafting games who plays them often might find the roll and write part of Boomerang: USA a fresh take in the category.
I play, I paint.