Publisher: Mayfair Games
Designer: Phil Walker-Harding
Bärenpark is a 2-4 player tile laying game in which you compete to create the best bear zoo. Quite what Phil Walker-Harding has against other animals I don’t know. The premise is you are filling your zoo with different bear enclosures and amenities to attract guests and be successful. Many people are calling Bärenpark a Cottage Garden killer, which certainly piqued our interests enough to pick up a copy at the UKGE.
The basis of the game will seem quite familiar if you have played Cottage Garden, you place tiles seeking to complete your board, gain new boards and fill those too. You do this by collecting and laying a series of Tetris-style shapes. Where Bärenpark differs is that it’s far more competitive. Completing your tiles feels like more of a race to get bonus points and efficient play is highly rewarded. That being said, at least in a two-player game, the advantage of being first player seems to be consistent access to slightly higher points until you make a mistake.
|The game set up ready to play, set up can be a bit tedious as you have to separate all the shapes, and there is actually a typo on the board (there should be varying numbers of the size 3 greens, not the size 2), we don't mention the insert...|
While it may not seem like it at the time Bärenpark is very punishing to mistakes, one wrong move can result in having to spend an extra couple of turns to finish a board, which in turn can set you back behind the other players. Part of this is the way you gain tiles, covering up icons on your board rewards you with tiles. Different icons give you access to a wider variety, and the basic tiles don’t even have points (though they are in very convenient shapes). So where you place a tiles isn’t solely dependant on what best fills your board, but also on what tiles it will give you for future turns. Since you pick tiles in advance you may find that actually the shape you took isn’t quite what you end up needing.
It’s all very well balanced, but since the variety of shapes is always the same, and always available (until someone takes it), I’m sure there is a best way to complete any one board. This would leave the game a bit stagnant if not for the advanced mode. They call it advanced, but there is really no reason to play without it. Advanced mode adds 3 achievements to complete, things like, have 3 Koala tiles, or build a small river with the green tiles. These achievements give good rewards, so suddenly you have to consider not only the fastest way to complete boards, but also how to build to complete these challenges. You can also attempt to block your opponents by diminishing the supply of tiles that are needed for the achievements once you are done!
|There are a good number of achievements, you pick 3 for each game which should help keep things fresh between games.|
Overall I think Bärenpark is a great game, probably technically superior to Cottage Garden, but I don’t like it as much. I think I prefer the ability to plan ahead and the more relaxed feel of cottage Garden. Bärenpark is more of a gamers game, competitive and punishing, while maintaining a cute theme (everyone wants a park full of koalas!). If not for the advanced mode I’d say that the game is imbalanced, but with those extra rules giving you multiple objectives to chase the game really comes together. So Bärenpark might not be a Cottage Garden killer, but it has earned its place on the shelf!