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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Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Game Shelf Reviews:- 4 The Birds


Game: 4 The Birds

Publisher: Breaking Games

Designer: Steve Ewoldt

Year: 2016

4 The Birds is an abstract strategy game where you each take on a flock of birds of a certain species. your goal is to stick together in the treetops, forming a length four line or 2x2 square by cleverly avoiding the attacks of crows, hawks and other species of bird. This game is so heavily bird themed, it's hilarious, and for once we have to share a snippet from the publisher to highlight this in our review.

From the publisher "4 the Birds is the board game in which you will use beak-and-taloned strategy as well as a peck of luck to be the first to "flock" four of your birds together in a tree besieged by a menagerie of other birds trying to do the same. By constantly balancing the goal of flocking your own birds and "Flock-Blocking" opponents' birds, a see-saw battle for avian supremacy ensues — and beware the non-player bird-baddies (crows and hawks) that can swoop in to un-nest a would-be winner."


Gameplay

4 The Birds has a simple victory condition: get 4 birds of your type together. In order to do this you are going to roll dice in order to place your birds on the board, as well as block opponents using hawks and crows.

Each turn you will roll both dice, should you roll two numbers then you may place one of your birds on the grid using either order. for example if I rolled a 2 and a 5 I could place my bird on 25 or 52. Should your opponent have a bird there then you may be able to chase them off the space, all birds have a "pecking order" in terms of colour, in 3 player plus games there is an element of rock paper scissors in terms of who can push who about, but in two player you both get to dislodge each other.

If instead you rolled a number and a crow then you are able to place a crow on any spot with that number in it, for example if I rolled 2 and a crow I could put a crow on any of the 20s or any number ending in 2. Crows are always on top of the pecking order, so they can chase birds away and are hard to shift once landed. If instead your roll a hawk and a number you would place a hawk in the same way. Hawks are large and take up a 2x2 square in addition to chasing off other birds.

If you don't like the roll you got then you can instead elect to use a card, each player has the same hand of cards witch have abilities along the lines of "move two of your birds" and "move one of your opponents birds". The cards often are absolutely vital to winning the game, but you can run out of them. You only pick a card back up after rolling a double. should you not have a card to place you can instead elect to permanently remove a space from the board.




Amy’s Final Thoughts

4 The Birds is a 4 in a row game done wrong. As soon as you limit a player's selection in a game like this you absolutely destroy any chance of satisfaction for the winner. I wouldn't have minded if the number we placed our bird on had to include one of the two dice faces, you'd still be limited to placing on 1 row/column, that's enough restriction to keep things interesting. As it is in 4 The Birds you usually only have 2 spots to choose from, and once hawks, crows and doubles are taken into account you can easily only have 1, or even no choice at all. I've had games were my opponent got 5 birds onto the board while I'd only placed 1. Bad luck to be sure, but a 4 in a row game that doesn't let you place your pieces reliably is doing something wrong.

On a positive note the birds themselves are deeply charming, they are made from 2 pieces of cards that slot together, creating a lovely cutesy bird to play with. The hawks do suffer slightly from their size, they are large enough to not fit back into the box easily without disassembly. During the game however they are too small, not clearly covering the 4 spaces that they restrict. The board doesn't live up to the bird tokens, it's a large grid with numbers written on each space and a vague attempt to make them look like trees. I would have much preferred a axis based grid system, they could have left the numbers on the outside and make the board look as nice as the birds.

I fully appreciate that we played this game two player, where the pecking order goes from being an interesting mechanic to being a footnote, and also even with not using the outer rows there was a lot of space to work with. Also in a larger player game you will have threats coming from more than one side, in a game like this there is always the balance of stopping your opponent, or furthering your own goals and hoping someone else stops them. So perhaps I have seen the worst that 4 The Birds has to offer, but to that I say this. If your game isn't fun with two-players, If the core mechanics fall apart, if the game becomes two open. And if making the changes necessary to make it work two-player would ruin the game at larger counts. Then don't market it as a two player game!

Fi’s Final Thoughts 

When I took the components out of this box I was really excited about the photos I could take of these birds. When I saw the board, I was considerably less excited by how it is no functional and not very visually appealing. Nevertheless, some cool cardboard components are a reason to be interested in trying out a game.



Fundamentally, 4 The Birds is a 4-in-a-row style game, much like Connect 4, Pentago or OK Play. The main difference here is that there's significant dice luck involved in where you can place your pieces. I am usually pretty bad at abstract strategy games, especially with 2 players, so at least this element of luck did give the opportunity to win, however, I didn't appreciate it. There isn't much joy in winning a game because you rolled some dice and it went your way.

There are other options, such as using the cards in your hand to try and manipulate board position, but these cards are single use and once you've used them all, 4 The Birds does become a game of 'who can roll the number required'.  We've found this a particular problem in two player games, where we pretty much ended up in a long drawn-out stale mate situation. Personally I experienced one good game of 4 The Birds where I felt like the dice were being fair and I really was playing my cards at the right moment to maximise an opportunity, but in all other games, the dice decided the winner in my mind.

4 The Birds works, and perhaps for younger children or families, as a quick game, there is some fun to be had with 4 The Birds. However, for me, I'd rather play a classic game of Connect 4 and feel in control of whether I win or lose, even though it is far less visually appealing.

The Good
  • The production quality of the 3D birds is fantastic.
  • The game has some fantastic puns, and the 'pecking order' pun in the rulebook will never grow old.

The Bad
  • For such a simple game, there are lots of situations that the rulebook fails to clarify.
  • The combination of dice luck and take-that into an abstract strategy game is not a good mix for us.

The Verdict
4.5/10 the quality components are unfortunately wasted on a game that is very luck based and can drag out as you wait for a single dice roll to end a pretty tedious game.

4 The Birds was a review copy provided to the Board Game Exposure reviewer collective.

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