Bullfrogs is a small box game that plays with very few components. Each player will receive an army of frogs that they will use to take over the swamp, consisting of flat, but well shaped, wooden frog tokens in one of four colors, as well as two larger bullfrog tokens. They also each have their own deck of beautifully illustrated lily pad cards in their color. Some reference cards and starting location cards round out the game. That’s all you need to play. Overall the components are well made and the game looks fantastic. The game also comes with a rulebook which is short but concise, and does a great job of explaining the game, and provides easy to follow examples.
Probably the best thing about the artwork in this game is that, in many cases, the lily pads manage to join the other cards on the table in a way that at least almost looks like they are forming a consistent picture. Each card has unique artwork, but they do a great job of tiling together.
The game play in Bullfrogs is easy to pick up while still providing a lot of depth. It starts with five cards on the table, representing the swamp: a log and four lily pads, one on each side of the log card. Each player then takes turn adding a new lily pad to the swamp, playing one card from their hand of three adjacent to any card on the table. Placement is everything, because it determines what happens next. The player’s actions are limited to other cards in the same row and column as the one they just played.
Each card has an indicator in the upper left corner to show how many actions the player will get when they play that card, two, three, or four. There are two actions available: they can place their own frogs on a lily pad, or sabotage their opponents by jumping their frogs off of a lily pad to an adjacent location.
Each lily pad has a set number of spots where frogs can sit, and filling a lily pad will make it sink. After a player uses up all of their actions its time to battle on any lily pad that is full. Some of the frogs will get to jump off of the sinking pad to adjacent cards, and the player that had the most frogs on the lily pad when it went down will get to keep the card, scoring points for each spot on the card. The jumping frogs will sometimes cause a chain reaction, sinking additional lily pads. When the battles are all over the player may need to rearrange the board so that all of the cards are connected, and play continues with the next player.
The other aspect of game play is the use of the bullfrogs. In many ways they act like the regular frogs, except they count as two when determining who won a lily pad, and cannot be sabotaged. They also jump last when a lily pad sinks, and don’t go back to a player’s frog reserve if they sink, so they need to be used carefully to get the most advantage out of them.
The game ends when the last player has played their last card, and the players count up their total taken points, scoring bonus points for any frogs that they managed to get jumped to the log in the center of the swamp, and for any of their own cards that they managed to capture.
The theme in Bullfrogs is a bit of a weird one: factions of frogs fighting for dominance in the swamp. But it comes across beautifully. You have frogs hopping from lily pad to lily pad, lily pads sinking under the weight of too many frogs, the inability to move the bigger frogs, even the lily pads floating around and being rearranged when they aren’t connected to anything. Every aspect of the gameplay, outside of the scoring, plays directly into the theme, and even the scoring awards more points for having taken the larger lily pads.
Replay and Expansion
The nature of the game guarantees that you will see every card come out in every game, and there is not a lot of variety in those cards anyway, so visually each game will be very similar. Even so the game is in the strategy of where and when those cards are played, and how the players react to their opponents actions and the board as it stands. It’s possible that the game will start to wear thin after several plays, but the level of strategy available should continue to keep the game interesting for a long, long time.
Also, keep an eye out for the single player expansion. It adds a special die that can be rolled to control the actions of your opponent “Issac”. It’s a nice little addition that will let you hone your skills at the game.
Bullfrogs is surprisingly deep for such a small and simple game, with more strategic depth than you would expect. Combine that with a relatively short play time and the ever changing “board” and you’ve got a game that’s sure to entertain. It hits a good sweet spot on challenge and fun.