Giant Fire Breathing Robot
The players are travel bloggers ready to move from place to place and report their sightings. Despite being designed by the awesome Vlaada Chvatil, I had my doubts that a geography game would be any good. But, you know what? Travel Blog is pretty god. For a geography game.
The Basics. The game is played over seven rounds and can use either a map of the United States or a map of Europe. In the first round, players get a small stipend. Then six cards are dealt out face up. These represent possible destinations. Then a seventh and final card is dealt representing the starting point. The goal is to pick the closest destination from the starting point that does not share a border.
And players don’t simply make their selections in turn. Instead, it’s a free-for-all as anyone can place their marker at any time. But if someone places their marker, it’s down for good. And if you want to place in the same spot, you’ll have to pay a penalty fee. Once placed, you grab the relevant map and count the fewest border crossings to get from the starting place to your chosen ending space. Every border crossing costs you money. And if you pick a place that shares a border, you pay a penalty.
After two rounds of that, you get another stipend and now must choose two destinations. You’ll go from the start space to each of your two destinations. Once again, you want to avoid paying for extra border crossings, but will be penalized if you choose neighboring countries. Rounds five and six deal a starting and an ending location and you pick two places in the middle.
Finally, in round 7 the roles are reversed. You’ve made it big and now have a budget to go wherever you want. So this time you want to pick the farthest apart cities because you’ll be paid for each border crossing you make. Whoever has the most money at game end wins.
The Feel. It’s important to note that I went into the game with fairly low expectations. European geography is not my strong suit and Travel Blog seems to track along the same lines as other “educational” games that are unerringly boring. But I was surprised.
What really makes the game is the real-time element after the cards are dealt. If the players took turns, or had a good amount of time to really think about it, you’d probably end up with a plodding endeavor that landed on the “right” answer more often than not. But the game is cleverly designed to avoid that.
Because it’s a free-for-all, you simply don’t have time to analyze every possibility. While you’re giving it studious thought, the other players are choosing. And if they choose what you want while you are thinking, you’ll be penalized. So it’s important to act quickly.
As a result, Travel Blog is no so much a geography game (though it is still that) as a speed game. It mashes up the fun and excitement of speed play with the need to carefully consider your options, lest you find yourself spending far more money than you should have.
It’s also great that it comes with both U.S. and Europe maps. The U.S. map will be easier for most players reading this blog. You have a good idea of where the states are and can be a little more confident in your choices. The European map is a little more challenging. Sure, you know where France and England are, but where is Bulgaria in relation to Romania? Or Macedonia to Serbia?
I think it’s important to note that Travel Blog is a fun game, but it is still a geography game. What I mean is that, it is surprisingly enjoyable and one that I’d happily play again. It doesn’t have an “educational” feel and provides an unexpectedly exciting time. But it’s also no Space Alert or Mage Knight. It’s definitely worth playing, but I don’t want to oversell it as something that it’s not.
Components: 3.5 of 5. The pieces are pretty good, considering. The map is easy to read and colorful with clearly delineated borders. The tokens are on thick punch board. And there are small glass beads to keep track of where you’re going. It does make use of paper money, but that’s the only real negative here.
Strategy/Luck Balance: NA of 5. I found this a hard metric to score. Travel Blog has almost zero luck. Sure, the cards come out randomly, but they present all players with the same puzzle. So it’s not as though one player can gain an advantage through a lucky draw. But there also isn’t any real “strategy” other than “go fast.” It’s really more of a timed trivia game than one where you carefully plot your moves.
Mechanics: 4 of 5. That said, as a timed trivia game it’s quite excellent. The real-time phase makes the game tense and exciting. The penalty for choosing what has already been selected by other players provides consequences for slowness. And it scales well at all player counts.
Replayability: 3 of 5. Like many trivia games, if one person is really good at the subject matter, it can be hard to play. But, without that problem, Travel Blog has a good amount of replay value. It isn’t the subject matter that makes the game fun, it’s the fast-paced selection and trying to get it right before your opponents.
Spite: 0 of 5. There are no “take that” actions here. And I don’t see any way to harm your opponents other than simply playing well.
Overall: 3 of 5. For a game that could be played in any 8th grade classroom, Travel Blog is phenomenal. It’s smart, well designed, and tense. The fact that it can make geography an exciting experience is telling. But when compared to the rest of the hobby market, the game is certainly good, but lacks the depth of other titles. Still, even in that scenario, it’s go enough fun in the box to warrant a play from time to time.
(Originally posted, with pictures, at the Giant Fire Breathing Robot. Check out and subscribe to my Geeklist of reviews, updated weekly)