I’ll be honest, I’ve had Level 99 Games in my radar for a while. And then I found the Kickstarter for Bullet ❤️. The heart emoji is part of the title of this shoot-em-up board game.
Being a puzzle game that is based on bullet hell “cute-em-up” games, both of which I have not much interest in, it was actually an unlikely purchase for me. However, I ended up backing it alongside 3000+ other backers, and I’m writing this piece to tell you why.
For this review, I’m using the Standard Edition of this shoot-em-up board game, with the conventional cardboard tokens and markers. There is also a Deluxe Edition that comes with the same components made of wood.
Disclaimer: I casually enjoy euro games and miniature wargames, Print-and-Play maker, and a big fan of solo games or its variants. This statement will give you an overview of what kind of bias I might have while writing.
PEEKING WHAT’S IN THE BOX
The cardboard tokens and markers in the standard edition are thick enough. I think they are pretty standard for board game components. It includes some bags to randomize as well as store the mentioned tokens, which is a nice touch.
My main issue lies on the player boards and character sheets, which are made of cards. With a size of 23×13 cm per sheet, I can’t find a suitable sleeve to protect them.
My greatest fear was to accidentally deal damage to these components whenever I take them out. It might have been better if they designed them in the regular size, or perhaps went for something thicker.
CUTE, BUT EASY ON THE GRATIFICATION
Bullet ❤️ leans heavily on its anime-style “cute-em-up” games with a somewhat cyberpunk twist, which I enjoy. It features eight characters meant to represent different countries, of which all are girls.
Now, for a game that features mainly cute girls, how much sexualization would Bullet ❤️ includes was a question that raises one of my first concerns. The answer, to my relief, it’s not much.
However, I’m a bit more concerned with the stereotypes depicting these heroines, though. The Japanese girl is a member of a Yakuza band, and the Chinese is a Maths whizz.
Despite that issue, I think the overall art style is wonderful. The soft, candy-like but vibrant colour palette is easy on the eyes, and compliments the character design quite nicely.
PLAYING THE SHOOT-EM-UP BOARD GAME
During their Kickstarter campaign, what sold me was the sheer simplicity of the game. But I’m not implying that Bullet ❤️ lacks depth.
Bullet ❤️ is, in a way, a simple game. You take bullets randomly from a centre pool to your bullet bag, and then draw the bullets again, one at a time, to arrange them on your player board. It simulates the bullets shot at you. Your aim is to survive as long as you can while also shooting back at your opponents by clearing the bullets on your player board.
You clear bullets according to patterns that are specific to each character. This is due to each character having different relationships with their player board as well as the bullets that come there.
There are also actions that can be taken to manipulate the bullets in the player board. These cost Action Points, which gives this game a layer of resource management. The catch is to do this within three minutes, which is surprisingly tight considering the amount of action you can take during a round.
With each player’s turns going on simultaneously every round, it might be challenging for the first timers. But, after everyone understands the rule, it becomes a quick, cut-throat game of analogue bullet hell.
Level 99 Games even provides some nice soundtracks, each serves for three minutes. It gives the game a more familiar, shoot-em-up board game thematic flavour. or a more thorough tutorial, you can check the official video here.
VARIETY OF GAME MODES
Aside from the standard mode mentioned above, the game also has a score attack and a boss mode. The score attack ended up falling quite short for me, as we can easily see after a few games the soft limit of turns we can reach. It is meant to be played solo, with bullets cleared going into ourselves in the next turn instead of our opponent.
The boss mode is a pretty nice homage in the spirit of a shoot-em-up game, which is pretty great for either solo or co-op up to 4 players.
Flipping the heroine cards shows their boss version with their own corresponding mechanics and skills.
These bosses are suitably challenging, although they are not created equal, of course. Some bosses are much harder than others, and the developer did neither explicitly mention nor explain this fact on the card. This is pretty contrasting with how they explain the difficulty rating of each playable character based on her play style.
Nevertheless, as a solo player, I enjoyed the boss mode quite a lot. It would also be a fun experience for those similar lone-wolves out there.
PUTTING THIS SHOOT-EM-UP BOARD GAME ON REPLAY
With eight available heroines and bosses to play with and go against, Bullet ❤️ should give you plenty of fun for a while. However, despite only 15-20 minutes per game, due to the setup involved, I would suggest this more as a “game you take out and play multiple times” instead of a “quick game between things” like Orchard.
At a glance, the gameplay from Bullet ❤️ might not sound too interesting, especially if you’re not a fan of bullet hell or puzzle games. Initially, I was only drawn to it, thanks to the magical artwork.
Be careful with this shoot-em-up game, though. You might end up surprisingly being in love with it when you give it a try. With the concise gameplay, Bullet ❤️ does not lack in the depth and replay value, thanks to its variety of unique game modes and characters.
It’s a blast to play this game by your own or with some company. It is noteworthy to make sure everyone gets well-acquainted with the whole rules before the game. The timer waits for no one, unless you tweak and tame this rule a bit, maybe for the sole purpose of giving a tutorial round.
I’ve only started getting into board games in 2019 when I discovered solo board gaming and PNP (print and play). I play mostly euro games now, but I’m probably as competitive as a quokka (they’re pretty chill).