Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Bärenpark (Mayfair Games)

Phil Walker-Harding is one of my favorite game designers. Looking at my collection, I count no fewer than three of his games in my collection. The reason for this is because he makes family-friendly games that have a bit of crunch to them. These are exactly the types of games that my game group and family like, so its a perfect fit. Therefore, when I heard he had a new game (Bärenpark) coming out, I knew I had to have it. Bärenpark is a game for 2-4 players, ages 8+. It takes approximately 30-45 minutes to play and retails for $42.

1. Place the Supply Board in the middle of the playing area. This will hold all the tiles.
2. Stack the Green Areas on their designated spaces. Use all 10 Toilets and all 10 Playgrounds. Use four Food Streets and four Rivers per person. (Note: there is a typo on the Supply Board, so just follow the rule book.)
3. Select the appropriate numbered Animal Houses, depending on the player count. (Two players = 2,4,6. Three players = 2,3,4,5,6. Four players = all tiles.)
4. Place all Enclosures on their designated spaces.
5. Lay the Bear Statues next to the game board in numerical order, depending on the player count (Two players = 2,4,6,8,10,12,14,16. Three players = 3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14. Four players = all tiles.)
6. Shuffle the twelve Park Areas without an Entrance, and place them in two stacks of six.
7. Give each player a random Park Area with an Entrance. Place it in front of you and orient it right side up.
8. Randomly determine a starting player. Starting player gets a Toilet. Second and third player each get a Playground. Fourth player gets a Food Street. (Note: In a three-player game, the third player would get a Food Street instead of a Playground.)
Game Play - Play goes in clockwise order, with each turn consisting of three steps:
1. Place exactly one tile from your supply in your park. If you can't place a tile, you must pass. (Note: The tile must fit within marked spaces on your Park. You cannot cover the Pit. Tiles cannot overlap, and must be orthogonally adjacent to an already placed tile. You may rotate/flip tiles if you wish.
2. Evaluate icons you covered with the newly placed tile. If you cover multiple icons, carry all actions out in any order. The four icons are as follows:
a. Green Wheelbarrow - Take a Green Area of your choice.
b. White Cement Truck - Take the top Animal House from a pile of your choice, or take a Green Area.
c. Orange Excavator - Take an Enclosure of your choice, or take a Green Area or Animal House of your choice.
d. Construction Crew - Take the top Park Area from one of the two piles. When placing the new Park Area, it must be orthogonally adjacent to another Park Area and fully align. It must be the correct orientation, and it may not be placed below your Park Area with an Entrance.
3. If you completed a Park Area, and covered all your spaces (except the Pit), take the highest valued Bear Statue and cover the Pit. (Note: You may not have more than four Park Areas.)

The end of the game is triggered when someone completes all four Park Areas. After that, everyone else gets one more turn. Tally your points. High score wins!
When Patchwork first came out, my wife and I played that game like crazy. It had a beautiful simplicity to it, and it was very fulfilling trying to complete your quilt. However, the more I played it, the more repetitive the game grew. I also felt like there was too much randomness in the game, and that if the tiles weren't lining up in your favor, then you were forever playing catch up. Therefore, I was always looking for a game with a similar feel, a bit more strategy, and one that plays more than two players. Then, along came Bärenpark.

Bärenpark takes the idea of tile-selection and tile-placement, and adds some twists to it. For starters, you aren't buying the tiles, but instead only gain them by strategic placement of your starter tile and subsequent tiles. So, while you may want all those high point tiles, you might find that they don't quite fit the way you want them to in your current park layout, so you might have to take a slightly less valuable tile. The game is also a bit of a race in that you want to complete your park areas more quickly so that you get the most valuable bear statues. Unlike Patchwork, your board is not identical to your opponents. You will each have the same icons and number of icons on your board, but they will be slightly so different, creating a bit or asymmetry and replay value, in that your park will never turn out quite the same.

The theme of this game is a bit silly, but to its credit, it doesn't shy away from that. Instead, it embraces that in both the art and the rulebook wording. Speaking of the art, I really like the artwork in this game. There are subtle artistic differences in the tiles (even the ones that are the same shape and size) that it creates a fun and whacky picture when complete. What I like best about this game though is that there are really two ways you can play this game. You can play the basic way, which is the way I have been talking about, which is great for beginners and younger people, or you can play the advanced way. The advanced way adds achievements to the game and gives people goals to shoot for, like three tiles with polar bears in your park. With ten different achievements and only three used each game, this adds a lot of replay value to the game and makes it an even thinkier puzzle to solve.

I can see this game being in my collection for a long time. It is family-friendly, gamer-friendly, can play more than two, and is just plain fun. Highly recommended!

This game was provided to me for free by Mayfair Games in exchange for an honest review.

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