Highways & Byways, the latest game by designer Brandon Rollins, is a drafting/hand management game where players are planning out driving routes along the country’s byways and completing those routes before returning home. The game launches on Kickstarter on March 26th, but I received an extremely professional prototype to check out how the game plays.
The board for Highways & Byways contains a map of the United States broken into 7 main areas: the Northwest, Upper Midwest, Great Lakes, Northeast, Southwest, Great Plains, and Southeast. The entire map is covered with roads that are either A) white highways, or B) red or blue byways. Throughout the game players will traverse these roads, trying to complete routes they set up in the first phase of the game. There are also 6 spaces at the bottom right of the board for Construction cards.
The game starts with everyone choosing a vehicle. There are 6 different cars to choose from, each with its own special ability. Players then take turns taking their Home Marker and placing it on one of the start spaces indicated by stars in each of the board’s 7 regions. Event Cards, Construction Cards, Blue Byway Cards, and Red Byway Cards are separated and shuffled into their respective decks and every player is given a hand of 5 Event Cards. The game now starts with the Planning Stage.
During the Planning Stage players will be drawing two Red Byway Cards, keeping one, placing a Travel Marker on the corresponding road on the board, and passing the other card to their left. Once each player has 2 Red Byways they’ll repeat the process, this time with Blue Byway Cards and until each player has 10 of these. At this point, the board will be filled with the players’ Travel Makers and all the Red and Blue Byway Cards can be placed back in the box. Each player may now remove one of their Red Byway Travel Markers and two of their Blue Byway Travel Markers from the board. What’s left is the route the player must complete in the Driving Stage.
The Driving Stage of Highways & Byways consists of several phases starting with the 1st player drawing and placing a Construction Card on the board. For that round, all highways with the same letter as the card are closed and cannot be used. The player to the left then chooses an Event card from the current player’s hand at random to resolve. After that, the current player has 6 actions points to move their car. They can also choose to use as many movement actions to discard and draw new Event Cards. If on their turn a player drove the complete length of one of their Byways they may remove their Travel Marker to denote that route has been completed.
After the player finishes their movement they draw a new Event Card and play continues clockwise. Once each player has taken a turn the 1st player draws a new Construction Card for the new round, turning the previous one face down. Once all the Construction Cards have been placed their removed from the board, shuffled, and a new one is placed from the start. All players also pass their hands to the player on the left.
Highways & Byways ends when a player has completed all their Byways and returns home. Play continues to determine 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place.
For more details about the rules, including what some of the Event Cards do, check out the full rules.
While it’s simple to learn, Highways & Byways present players with plenty of choices and paths to victory. While Events are random, players have control over what type of Events are drawn from their hands by discarding and drawing on their turns. They can also plan to hand over a hand of awful cards to another player when they know the Construction slots are going to be filled and hands are to be passed. It’s certainly a game that rewards careful planning and a keen eye. The game is just as much about hand management as it is planning routes and moving your car around the map.
I have a few qualms with the game, and I’m interested to see how much, if anything, changes by the time it wraps up on Kickstarter and is released. The Planning Stage feels a bit too long and tedious and is the least enjoyable part of the game. If it could be tightened up/shortened in some way it would go a long way in making the game more fun overall. The Driving Stage works really well, though the board feels a bit cramped at times with all the Travel Markers and Player Tokens. I really love the hand management aspect I mentioned earlier that rewards clever play and good timing.
Highways & Byways hits Kickstarter on March 26th and a pledge of $50 will get you a copy of the game when it funds, which I have no doubt it will do. The flaws I mentioned aside, it’s still a good game that just needs a little bit more tweaking to bump it up to a truly great game.
A prototype of Highways & Byways was provided free for review by Pangea Games. This preview was set up before A Pawn’s Perspective 2018 Preview Policy went into effect.