Pack O Review: BUS
Chris Handy’s first Pack O Game has been something of a wild ride, ranging from delightful highs to more than one stretch of tedium. Much like a bus journey, perhaps? Nah, not really, as anyone who’s ever ridden a Greyhound across any significant distance can attest. There comes a point of self-annihilation, usually when the Great Plains stretch out before ye, where you come to comprehend that nothing you have ever experienced has occurred beyond the inverted reflection of light against your retinas, the imposed firing of nerve endings or vibrating cochlea. It’s a moment of tremendous enlightenment, if perchance you permit it to be. Otherwise it might consume you, as only falling upward into the black night sky could do.
Anyway, BUS is a rather good conclusion to the Pack O Game!
In part because it’s a limitation of the medium — being the size of a pack of gum and all — the various volumes of the Pack O Game necessarily distilled their respective influences down to their purest essences. Or perhaps their most rudimentary essences. HUE and TAJ were about overlapping victory conditions and the use of color, TKO and LIE were rock-paper-scissors and liar’s dice writ somehow slenderer, FLY was a dexterity game composed of little more than the act of dropping something, and SHH was a word-builder that was somehow even slighter than one of those children’s nonsense rhyme-games sung across long automobile voyages.
BUS is a pick-up-and-deliver game, albeit one stripped of every last nonessential bolt and wire. As a bus driver — scratch that, as an Uber driver who happens to own a bus, such is your agency to select your own customers — your goal is to pick up folks and drop them off. And that’s the long and short of it.
Each game begins with a random grid of streets. There are a pair of bus stops, the places where you can choose from a rolling selection of three customer pairs. There are the various stops where those customers must be deposited. And there’s a construction space, the game’s singular twist and an undeniably clever one. More on that in a moment.
One of the most crucial tidbits to enjoying what follows is that you must — must must must — play with BUS’s advanced rules. These are essential the way “other ingredients” are essential when consuming mayonnaise. Without them, there’s hardly anything going on at all, as all those buses merrily zip from place to place and everyone somehow winds up with an identical score. With the advanced rules, your buses are confined to a single side of the street as God and every city planner in history intended, and must carefully loop around the city in order to align with pickups and destinations.
And while BUS gets a little longer this way, the payoff is worth it. BUS might present only the most minor of quandaries of positioning and prioritization, but they’re pleasant enough to solve. Realizing that a particular pair of passengers will let you fulfill a route with brisk efficiency may not be the grandest eureka in board gaming, but for a filler it’s not half bad.
Better yet is that construction space. Landing here will let you rotate or rearrange the various city streets, stymieing another driver mid-drop or lining up the perfect corridor for your own passengers. You’re only permitted a single rearrangement per game, but when the whole thing is over as quickly as this, that one relocated stop might make all the difference. It’s the one instance of flipping the bird in an otherwise straight-man act, but it’s enough to give BUS just a flash of pizzazz.
When you get right down to it, BUS isn’t the standout of the Pack O Game — and neither is GEM, which is unfortunate given how appropriate that would be — but it isn’t the letdown either, not by a long shot. Like the best of its companion volumes, it’s a tidy little thing that isn’t half bad for young’uns or camping trips, presenting a jaunty puzzle in a short few minutes.