Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Thursday 15 June 2017

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Bärenpark


PublisherMayfair Games

DesignerPhil Walker-Harding


Bärenpark was a hotly anticipated game at this year's UK Games Expo, not just by me, but my many others who were disappointed to find the Mayfair only had a few copies being sold at a very inflated price. However there were some copies available with other retailers and we grabbed ourselves a copy early on Friday. I was excited because I'd seen some early reviews call this a Cottage Garden killer. Cottage Garden killed Patchwork for me and even made it onto my Top Ten Games list this year, so if Bärenpark was going to be even better then I was very interested.

Bärenpark is a tile laying game about building a bear park. There are four different types of bear; pandas, polar bears, brown bears and koalas (the classification of bear species is a little sketchy...), which in the basic game is purely thematic, but in the expert game can become more relevant to scoring. Tiles all come in different shapes and sizes and all except the basic green tiles have differing points values. Your goal is to score the most points for your park at the end of the game.

You begin the game with one area of park, on which there is a grid of squares. Some of the squares have pictures of construction vehicles. When you cover a construction vehicle you can take a tile from the supply that matches the type of vehicle you covered (or a less powerful tile if you choose to). When you cover the crowd of construction workers you can add a new empty zone to your park, allowing you to expand. Tiles cannot be used to cover the square surrounded by safety barriers, but when you cover all of the other squares on the tile, you can build a bear statue. Bear statues are worth a lot of points at the start of the game and if you get behind, then there can be a lot of point swing between you an other players as their values range from 1-16 points.

The set-up for an expert game.
In the basic game, the game is really about optimal tessellation of pieces and planning ahead so that you can efficiently incorporate some of the larger pieces with high point values. However, the expert variant adds some bonuses, which reward certain themes in your park. In a two-player game there are three bonuses available and there are points available for being the first to achieve each and also a lesser number of points available for achieving the goal second. For example, these might be goals like, build three panda enclosures or connect lots of basic green tiles. In the two player game there are enough tiles to go round so that you can both complete each objective, although you can deliberately take more as a blocking move. I can imagine that in a game with three or more players, these bonuses become very competitive as there simply aren't enough of each tile to allow everyone a chance to complete the objective.

Halfway through a game. The bonus tile for connecting6 light green tiles has been acquired, but this means a lot of space is taken up by tiles that don't score end game points.
We do have a few concerns with the game. Firstly, for such a simple game I feel there are some holes in the rulebook, particularly whether you have to build a square 2x2 park or whether you can build a line or L-shape park. There is also a discrepancy between the board and the rule book in terms of how many tiles are placed out in the 4 basic light green tile types. I can't write this review without also mentioning the ridiculous insert! Three leftover pieces of punch-board which when placed in the box as suggested doesn't even make a space that can fit the 4 starting park tiles, is not a useful component! 

Our other concern is with balance in the basic game. With two players, we have found that the first player always wins, because they are always the first to achieve the bear statue on each park tile, which is a 4-point swing every time a statue is built. With three players we found this less of a problem and the expert variant also seemed to eradicate the problem because your focus was taken away from just building bear statues and was diverted towards the different opportunities for bonus points.

For us, Bärenpark is a medium length filler game. With both two and three players it has taken us no more than 20-30 minutes, a bit shorter than it says on the box. The game is very simple and I think I could teach it to anyone, including non-gamers, but you do have to think quite tactically and plan ahead with good spatial reasoning to secure a win in what can be a very tight game in terms of point scores. There a now quite a few of these 'Tetris-style' tile laying games on the market, but they do all operate differently because of the different ways that you obtain tiles and the different scoring methods. I think  Bärenpark has enough unique aspects to sit alongside Cottage Garden in our collection. It's noting spectacular, but it's a game I enjoy quite a bit, especially with the expert variant, and the Yellow Meeple gives Bärenpark a 6.5/10.

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