What Is Billionaire Rumor?
Billionaire Rumor is a gambling game for 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 45 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $440 Hong Kong (about $57USD) for a copy of the game. It’s designed by Isaac Liu, Man Chi, and Ivan Poon; published by Headblown Studios from Hong Kong; and illustrated by Roxy Dai.
I’ll note that the “8 and up” age recommendation is what’s provided by the publisher, though the game seems a bit more complex than many games that are typically marketed as “12 and up” here in the US. The 45-minute estimated play time also seems low to me, though I was limited to playing over videoconferencing, which does tend to make games longer.
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Billionaire Rumour Components
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and may not reflect final component quality. The doll figurines and the movement dice in the prototype were 3D printed, and the cards are hand-cut, so all of those will be improved in the final version. Art and graphics should be close to final, but they may also have some changes as well.
Here’s what’s included:
- Main board
- 3 Doll boards
- 3 Doll figurines
- 20 Meeples (4 each in 5 colors)
- 18 Chips (3 each in 6 colors)
- 60 Money tokens (in $5B, $2B, and $1B denominations)
- 60 Soul tokens (in 1, 5, and -5 denominations)
- 10 Betting cards
- 60 Items (gold taels, cell phones, sardines, and poop)
- Cloth bag (not pictured)
- 36 Death dice
- 6 Movement dice
- 10 Reference cards
The main board includes a map of Hong Kong divided into various regions, with treasure chest icons for items, as well as phone booth icons (used for movement). There are also six features marked on the map, including some landmarks and animals—these are used during setup but also add a little flavor to the board. (I do wish the board had a chart showing which features correspond to which numbers, because currently you have to refer to the rulebook.) The rest of the board also includes a betting area, some reference charts, and space for the betting cards.
The illustrations, by Roxy Dai, have a curious aesthetic: Billionaire Rumour is set in the “Soul Casino,” and there are lots of elements designed to look like neon lights. There’s also a purely decorative dial based on the I Ching trigram chart that looks weathered but also has a power cord. The map of Hong Kong looks like a monitor, with a couple of sliders and a switch at the bottom, and both the main board and doll boards have various exposed wires and other doodads on them.
The three dolls—Hinako, Joker, and Crazy—are a mix of cute and creepy; they’re intended to make you a little uncomfortable, and they definitely achieve that. The figurines will come unpainted, though they will be molded plastic instead of 3D printed as in the prototype.
The various items that the dolls will be collecting are an odd mix: gold tael (the little dumpling-shaped gold ingots) and cell phones are good, and the sardines and poop are bad. The game will include wooden tokens, but early bird backers will also get a set of the custom pieces like the ones pictured above. While the tokens are cute and have some lovely details (the cell phone actually has a raised frame and a home button), the unique shapes do make it a little trickier to truly randomize items when you’re drawing them out of a bag, and allow the potential of cheating when placing items during setup. Printed cardboard tokens would prevent that, but would be less exciting.
Overall, I feel like I may not have the context to really appreciate what’s going on here, because much of the theme and the look of the game seem kind of bizarre to me, but I like that it looks so different from most games made in Europe and the US. Your mileage may vary, of course.
How to Play Billionaire Rumour
You can download a draft of the rulebook here. There is also a Tabletop Simulator module available in case you’d like to try playing it before backing (though you will still need to learn the rules first).
The goal of the game is to amass the most souls by gambling on the actions of the three living dolls.
Lay out the main board and the three doll boards next to it. Put the items in the bag and draw out random items, placing them on all the item spaces on the map. Also draw 1 item for each doll, placing it on the top of the first column on their doll tracks. Place the three dolls on the map, rolling dice and placing them on the corresponding map features. (Each doll must start in a different location.) Shuffle the betting cards; draw a number equal to the number of rounds (based on player count) and place them face-down on the right side of the main board. Flip the first one face-up.
Each player takes $8B, 5 souls, 3 dice, and 3 betting chips and the meeples of their player color. Place one meeple on each of the doll boards in the first column of the track (on the space with one heart). Roll the dice immediately. Any time you roll dice, you may pay $1B to re-roll a die. For every 3 re-rolls of the same die, you get a $1B refund.
Choose a first player at random.
Each round follows 8 phases (shown above on the reference cards):
- Planning: Buy or sell souls and dice
- Buy-in: Pay a die for doll movement
- First Betting: Place bets with a discount
- Action: Use death dice for actions
- Last Betting: Place bets without discount
- Movement: Use a movement die to move a doll
- Rewarding: Gain (or lose) souls based on the doll tracks
- Scoring: Gain rewards for correct bets
Planning: You may buy or sell souls and dice from the supply—at the end of this phase, you must have at least 1 die, and no more than 6 dice. Once per game, you may take a -5 souls token to get $10B from the bank.
Buy-in: The first player rolls a death die, which will give one of the dolls a movement die (1 or 2: Crazy, 3 or 4: Hinako, 5 or 6: Joker), placing the movement die on the doll board. The movement dice only have 1 and 2 values. In a 2-player game, roll and place 3 dice instead. Then, each player must discard one of their death dice, and choose a doll to give a movement die to.
Betting: The betting card for the current round shows the criteria that the dolls will be judged on at the end of the round. It will be based on either a single item type or all items together, and will either want the most or the least of those items. In the case of a tie, both dolls will share the lower rank.
Players will take turns placing betting chips face-down on the betting area, based on whether they think a particular doll will place first, second, or third for that round’s criteria. The different betting spaces let you wager souls, dice, or money—if you’re right, you double your wager; if you lose, you forfeit your wager. Each betting space may only have one chip. Note the heart track across the top of the betting area—that will come into play during phase 7.
Players may place one bet or pass, continuing until all players have passed. (You may place more than one bet during this phase.) During this phase, you get a 1 resource discount on wagers. So if you place a bet in the “2 souls” column, you only need to pay 1 soul.
Action: In turn order, players may spend a death die to take an action, or else pass for the rest of the round. Each die value provides a different action:
- Place a bet on the betting area, paying the full wager. You may place a bet on an occupied space.
- Move another player left or right one space on a doll track.
- Either reroll the death die and immediately take the new action, or remove a doll’s movement die and reroll to see which doll gets it.
- Move a doll one space on the map, picking up any items where it lands. (More details in the Movement phase.)
- Roll a die and gain or lose money based on the result.
- Discard one item from any doll’s board (either from the bottom of the doll track or from their accumulated items).
Once everyone has passed (or is out of dice), this phase ends.
Last Betting: This is another betting phase, similar to the First Betting phase except that there is no discount on the wagers this time.
Movement: Choose a movement die from a doll board, roll it, and then move the doll that many spaces on the board. Phone booths are all adjacent to each other. When a doll picks up items, it goes on their board on the bottom portion of the doll track. Each column can hold 2 items (and you only use as many spaces as there are rounds in the game). If there isn’t enough room for items, discard items to make room for the new items.
Each player will move one doll. (In a 2-player game, each player will move twice.)
Rewarding: Reveal all of the betting chips. Each player’s meeple will move left or right on the doll tracks based on their bets. For instance, in the photo above, the blue player will move 1 space to the left on Crazy’s track, and the yellow player will move 2 spaces to the right on Joker’s track. (If you reach one end of the track, you just stop moving.)
Then check what items are in your column of the doll track (both above and below the track). You gain or lose souls based on the items there: gold taels and cell phones gain souls, and sardines and poop lose souls. Then, move all of the items on the bottom of the track onto the meters at the top right section of the doll boards.
Scoring: Compare the items accumulated by each doll to the current round’s betting card to figure out each doll’s ranking. For each correct bet, the player gains double the indicated wager. Return all the betting chips to players.
To reset for the next round:
- Reveal the next betting card.
- Move the item at the top of each doll track one space to the right.
- If there are 5 or fewer items on the map, refill the item spaces on the map.
- Rotate starting player.
The game ends after the requisite number of rounds. All players may sell dice and buy souls at the usual prices.
The player with the most souls wins, with ties going to the player with the most money left.
Why You Should Play Billionaire Rumour
Let’s start with the obvious: Billionaire Rumour has one of the most bizarre themes I’ve encountered in board games, though as I said earlier this is at least in part because it’s from a different culture. It’s about dead billionaires gambling for souls to buy their way back into the land of the living, and they’re placing bets on some creepy dolls wandering around Hong Kong who can teleport, Matrix-style, through telephone booths. Oh, and the items they’re collecting include cell phones and sardines—not the usual resources you see in games, right?
Although I’m ethnically Chinese, I grew up in the US, and I don’t know how much gets lost in translation (including the title itself), and how much of this would seem strange to gamers from Hong Kong. I met some of the folks from Headblown Studios last summer, when I had the opportunity to attend the Moonlight Boardgame Festival in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, and it was refreshing to see so many games from Asian publishers that were very different from what I’m used to seeing. I certainly don’t need yet another game about colonialism.
It’s not just the theme that’s unfamiliar, though: the gameplay also feels like nothing I’ve played before. Billionaire Rumour is a gambling game that involves a lot of random chance, but is more about reading your opponent’s than predicting how the dice will land. Your available actions are randomly determined by die rolls (and one action is even a random action in itself); the dolls’ movements are also controlled by dice (though since each one is only 1 or 2, it’s at least a narrower range of possibilities there).
Each round, when betting takes place, there’s a lot of information already out there: you know what dice each player has and what actions they’re capable of; you know what items are on the map, and how many potential moves each doll can make; you know what the dolls have already accumulated in previous rounds. All of that info can feed into your decisions, including how much money you spend on dice, which doll you give a movement die to during the Buy-in phase, and whether to pay for re-rolls when you get dice.
The betting itself is fascinating to me because there are several things to take into account for each bet. First, of course, you’re guessing what rank a doll will be based on what it can collect. You’ll have to compare the betting card for the round to the doll’s current items, and also look at the map and see whether the doll could reach more of the relevant items based on the number of movement dice it has. Next, you have to consider what you can afford to wager or what you need the most: souls, dice, or money. Keep in mind that more dice means more actions, so if you don’t win some dice from gambling you’ll be spending your cash instead. Finally, you have to consider where your bet will move you on the doll track, because you’ll gain or lose souls based on the items collected there. (And here you also have to think again about each doll’s potential movement and what it might be able to pick up, and where those items will be placed.)
As you can see, each bet is a complex web of interactions. There were many times where I had a good idea of which doll might place first or last for a betting card, and I really wanted to wager 2 souls—but I didn’t like where that would put me on the doll track. Or, I knew where I wanted to move on the doll track, but couldn’t afford the wager to get there.
Of course, once all the bets are placed, then you’re trying to outthink the other players. If you can figure out what somebody else bet on, you might be able to use your actions or the doll movements to ensure that the doll doesn’t achieve their desired rank. Or, you can figure out where they’ll end up on the doll track, and make sure that you put some sardines and poop there so they’ll lose souls even if they win the bet. If you think somebody is going after certain items on the board, you can try to beat them to it with a different doll, or else move their desired doll farther away in the wrong direction. Your ability to figure out what other players are up to is as important as the actual outcomes of the movement dice rolls.
At first, the death dice seemed like a very strange way to determine what actions you get to take during the Action phase. In most games with various options, you just take actions in turn order, from a list of choices. Or in worker placement games, you can choose actions but you might be limited by what other players have taken before you. Here, though, your actions are determined simply by what value you roll, with an opportunity to buy rerolls if you have enough cash.
The relative value of actions is contextual, too. A “1” is fantastic if you want to place a bet in a spot that’s already occupied, but is worthless if you place all three of your bets during the First Betting phase. A “4” is great if you want to get a doll into position before the movement phase even starts. A “6” may be crucial for getting a doll to the right ranking by discarding that extra cell phone they collected. The “3” is kind of a bizarre option: it’s basically a random action, to be determined during the action phase, so you don’t know what you’ll get to do until you do it. But the advantage there is that your opponents can’t plan for you either. They don’t know if you’ll be able to bump them along a doll track, or move a doll, or discard an item.
Due to quarantine, I was only able to play a couple 2-player games, though I can see that with more players it could be even harder to predict what everyone is going to be doing, and the Final Betting phase may be more useful with players wanting to wait for more information before placing their wagers. I’m very curious how the game will feel with a full table (and I’m not sure how it would still fit into a 45-minute session).
Billionaire Rumour is delightfully strange. Both the theme and the gameplay may feel out of the ordinary for Western audiences, so if you’re looking for something to surprise you, check this one out! I like the complex decision process of making wagers, and then the battle of wits with the other players to line everything up for success.
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Billionaire Rumour Kickstarter page!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype of this game for review purposes.