Full disclosure: A review copy of BrilliAnts was provided by Sphere Games. I also didn’t get to playing the ChildrAnts variant because like, I only have so much time in a day.
While I’m always a bit behind on reviews, I’ve been a bit uh … delinquAnt on reviewing BrilliAnts, the first major Kickstarter release from Sphere Games. I’d rather not come off as recalcitrAnt or truAnt, so I’m aiming to be compliAnt by … you know what, I’m going to stop.
Anyways. In BrilliAnts, you command a colony of various ants seeking to make their fortunes in what is likely either a forest or someone’s yard. You do this by taking on objectives, gathering resources, avoiding predators, and digging holes. Sort of like Minecraft? Maybe? No? Okay. Anyways, you have to manage your fortunes, but will you be able to emerge triumphAnt?
Sorry, I needed to get one more in.
There are slight differences in Setup and Gameplay for each “level” of the game you’re playing — I’ll try to highlight them each in order.
You’ll notice that you have a few things. Each player will take a player board and 15 ants (Hunters with a spear, Gatherers with a scythe, and Diggers with a shovel) in their chosen color:
There are objective cards corresponding to each type of ant (note that there are extra cards for 4+ players, and you should remove those for 2-3 players):
And some Special cards, that don’t get used in every game:
There’s also a day/night tile. Set it to whichever side you want and have every player set their ants to match. It doesn’t really matter which side you pick (sort, of). Next, change the board depending on your player count.
The left is the 2-3 player side, the right is the 4-6 player side. Can you tell the difference? Well, now configure it:
- At 2-3 players, use the 2-3 player side of the board. This side has three spaces for birth tiles.
- At 2 players, cover all but two hexes with the big hexes included in the game.
- At 3 players, cover all but three hexes with the big hexes.
- At 4-6 players, use the 4-6 player side of the board and the extra birth tiles with 4th – 6th on the back, depending on your player count. This side has six spaces for birth tiles.
- At 4 players, cover all but four hexes with the big green hexes.
- At 5 players, cover one hex with one of the big green hexes.
- At 6, all hexes should be uncovered.
Now let’s talk game-specific setup. You’ll basically want to do all of the General stuff and then do stuff specific to your game.
For this setup, you just need to have each player draw 7 objective cards of any combination they want, and then take 5 ants of any type that they want, setting them down by the big “1” on their player board. They won’t use any other ants or objectives.
That’s about it.
As you go up in game complexity, you go up in setup complexity. For this one, you’ll put all 15 ants on your player board on their respective spots, then choose three ants to start with, putting them on the 1, just like in ChildrAnts.
Next, instead of drawing 7 objective cards, draw 1 objective card for each ant you have of the same type. For instance, if you start with 3 diggers, draw 3 digger objective cards. It’s very straightforward.
This is the “after you’ve played a game of ApprAntice” level. At this level, you start using the species cards (essentially starting player powers) and special cards. You’ll want to give each player a species (or let them pick) and deal six of the special cards to each player, then follow the ApprAntice Setup rules.
You may also want to change things up by giving each player one of these player powers to start the game:
These do various things like:
- Once per night, you can cancel two predator movement.
- You can move through opponents’ pheromone tiles.
- Your ants can move one space further, once per turn.
- You can birth any kind of ant you want.
- You can, once per turn, look at the top card of any objective pile.
- You can ignore day / night requirements on special cards.
- You can build your nests one space further away.
And etc. Check the rulebook for more details.
This is where the game really picks up.
So, instead of drawing objective cards, you’ll shuffle the objective card decks together into one deck, and then flip X cards face-up so that all players can see them:
- 2 players: 5 objectives
- 3 players: 6 objectives
- 4 players: 7 objectives
- 5 players: 8 objectives
- 6 players: 9 objectives
You’ll be directly competing for these during the game. Sad.
Next, draft special cards (similar to 7 Wonders, Between Two Cities, or Dark Dealings) by drawing 8 special cards, taking one, and passing the rest to your left. Once every player has taken 6 cards, discard the rest.
Each player will now, in player order, choose a starting ant and show it to the other players. This continues until every player has chosen 3 ants.
There’s also a solo game! For this one, you won’t take any species card, and you’ll use the 4-6 player side of the board. Place your nest hole tile marked 1 (oh, that’s when you use it!) on the water. Reveal 5 objective cards, and then take 6 special cards of your choice from the deck.
Next, you’ll want to add one of each type of resource to the black bag that comes with the game, along with one each of the three different types of resources that each ant you picked can collect.
Once you’ve done any or all of these things, you should be ready to start:
Gameplay will also be broken up into parts based on your game complexity. I’ll try to explain each in turn.
So generally speaking, the game is made up of rounds, which are made up of turns. Each round takes place during either the day or night, and you’ll move ants, potentially make more ants, or move predators on a turn. Once you’ve done so, they generally need to rest until the night or the day before they can move again.
Your goal in moving ants is to collect resources so you can spend them on objectives, which earn you points. There are a variety of ways to do this, again, depending on what level game you’re playing. One thing, however, doesn’t change. Ants can only collect resources that match their type: Diggers collect soil resources (there are three types) from the player board, Gatherers collect plant resources (also three types) from the main board, and Hunters collect insect resources (three types, surprisingly) from the main board as well. When you are able to buy an objective card, you can spend the resources depicted on the card and take it, giving yourself points.
Ants can generally move up to three spaces a turn, with some game-specific caveats, but moving from the 1 on your player board to the 1 on the main board is free, as they’re considered to be the same “space”. The other spaces on the player board are different spaces, though, so be careful with that. There are some general caveats, too:
- You cannot end your movement on water, another ant, another ant’s pheromones, or a predator.
- You cannot enter a space occupied by water, another ant’s nest, or another ant’s pheromones.
- You also cannot enter another player’s nest — this isn’t Dragoon.
- Diggers generally should only be moving on the player board. Bit of free strategy advice.
- A Digger must stop moving at the first soil they hit, which they harvest as a resource.
- Hunters and Farmers may move over resources they don’t want.
Alright, let’s talk the first level of gameplay.
So, in this version, every player will take turns collecting resources by moving their ants up to three spaces and then collecting a resource of that type from the supply. If it’s a Farmer or Hunter collecting one of their resources, add a pheromone tile to the board. If it’s a digger collecting soil, add a “already dug up” tile to your player board. You can still enter both types of tiles, they just won’t generate you any resources. Pheromones, however, are worth end-game points, which is nice. If you run out of pheromone tiles for some reason, just add the blank brown circles to the board. You won’t get any points for those, though. Tough! After you’ve done this, move the ant you just moved’s day/night toggle to the other side, to symbolize that they can’t be moved again this round. It’s now the next player’s turn.
At any time, if you have enough resources to complete an objective, you can reveal the objective card, pay the pictured resources to the bank, and then score it, as mentioned in general rules.
Cool, so, once a player has completed all of their objectives, tally the scores! Each player earns points for their completed objectives and one point for each pheromone they have on the board. Most points wins!
ApprAntice adds a bunch of new rules that form the foundation of the subsequent game levels. Most of the general rules, however, still apply.
At the start of each round, the first player (the one with the Day / Night tile) will now spin the Weather Wheel, determining which type of ant gets a +1 boost to movement this round:
What a delight. If it lands on the ?, the first player chooses the ant type they’d like to receive the bonus.
You now have three actions you can choose from on your turn, as well, in any order:
- Give birth to an ant
- Move an ant
- Move a predator
The round ends when you are unable to take any more actions, and all players must birth a new ant, move all of their ants, and move a predator. I’ll explain each in turn.
Giving Birth to an Ant
So there are those birth tiles on the side of the board. Take one of the remaining ones and put it on your player board on the Queen’s Room (the one with the symbols matching the birth tiles) and put an ant of the type you just birthed onto the space that the birth tile used to be on. That ant was just born, and will need to be moved this round. However, it takes a 1 space penalty for having just been born. Otherwise, it’s considered to be on your player board.
Moving an Ant
Moving an ant works just like the previous mode (move up to three spaces, Diggers mostly stay on the player board, Hunters take insect resources, Farmers take plant resources, and the latter two place pheromones on the board). There are a few subtle changes:
- Diggers: If you dig out the top three spots on your player board (the ones with numbers) you can place additional Nest Holes, which allow ants to enter the nest from those locations. Placing a Nest Hole also earns you a point, which is nice.
- When you place a Nest Hole, you must place it on a space that’s either empty or has your pheromones on it. You cannot place it on any spaces that are considered invalid (there’s a predator, another ant, another ant’s nest hole, or water).
- You must place the Nest Hole no more than 3 spaces away from another Nest Hole. Them’s just the rules.
- It seems like all the Nest Holes are considered to be the same tile. This is handy, as it makes it easy for you to move quickly around the board.
- Library: You can also send ants back into your nest to go to the Library. We were a bit confused about this, but it seems like it’s considered the same tile as your nest hole / player board. When you send an ant in there, you draw two objective cards of that ant’s type, and then put one of the drawn cards on the bottom of the deck, keeping the other. Again, caveats:
- You can only have 4 total objective cards in hand at any given time. If you have more, you must activate one of those objectives (and pay the resources), or you can’t draw any more objectives.
- An ant can stay in the library each round to draw more objectives. Some ants are just studious.
Move a Predator
Everyone’s gotta do this at least once per round, so, no hard feelings. There are three types of predators, each with their own quirk:
- The Grasshopper can move to any tile on the board and will consume any plant it finds. Put a blank tile below the Grasshopper.
- The Spider can move to any tile on the board and will consume any insect it finds. Put a blank tile below the Spider.
- The Worm can travel to any player’s player mat and will consume any soil it finds. Put a “already dug” tile below the Worm.
Once you’ve moved one of them, flip over the Predator tile on your player board so you remember you’ve already moved one. You can move a predator even if another player has moved it already this round, so there’s no weird restrictions on it, either. Once a predator’s stomped a resource, however, no player can gather it for the rest of the game. If you walk one of your ants through that space or end your movement there, though, you must place a pheromone on that space. You’ll get a point (but have fewer pheromones).
After all players have done their actions, the round ends. Flip the day/night tile to the other side, flip your predator tiles over to the non-crossed-out side, and give the day/night tile to the next player. They’ll spin the Weather Wheel to start the next round.
Once a player has completed 8 objectives, finish out the round. Don’t forget that you can reveal objectives on other players’ turns, so you should make sure to claim any completed objectives if it’s another player’s turn and the game’s about to end. Once that’s finished, the game ends. Each player gets an extra point for each pheromone and each nest tile they placed during the game. Player with the most points wins!
Turns out there’s really no difference between this and the previous version, just that there are the six Special cards. These, unlike objectives, can only be played on your turn. See the rulebook for descriptions of what each one does, but generally they add to the diversification for the game, so everyone doesn’t feel like they’re playing the same way.
So you’ve already drafted your special cards and picked your ants. Mostly, other than that, the game is the same, with two major changes.
This has been significantly altered. Now, you only place pheromones if you’re placing them adjacent to existing pheromones or on a nest tile. If you gather with a Hunter or a Farmer and it’s not adjacent to a pheromone or a , place an empty tile instead of a pheromone.
However, later in the game if you have an ant (even a Digger, which you now might want to move outside for extra pheromone placement) that passes over an empty tile, you may still place a pheromone on it (as you could in previous versions), provided it’s adjacent to another pheromone or a nest hole.
You do not add pheromones to the empty spaces around a new nest hole when you place it unless you have ants on those spaces. In that case, go for it.
There’s also a change to how you score objectives. Instead of just playing them on your turn, you have to move an ant of that type to the library to claim it. Suddenly, it’s possible to swipe objectives that your opponents want just by beating them to it! This is a pretty big deal.
There are also some changes to the special cards, but that’s mostly because the Objective cards are shared by everyone rather than taken by each person. Other than that, as with the other game modes, you can’t walk through other players’ ants, and game ends when any player has completed 8 objectives. Tally the scores as with the previous modes. Most points wins!
So, what’s changed? Well, you’re basically playing Antermediate mode, but with some changes:
- You can only gather resources from the center big hexagon. Tough!
- You will not use the predator action this game. That’s actually probably okay.
Your resource gathering is also different. Whenever you gather a resource, take it from the bag and then immediately move a predator onto the space closest to one of your ants that’s of the same type. Not only does it eat the resource, it keeps track of it and will use its stash to complete objectives. How frustrating.
Play six rounds and see how you did!
- > 100 points: IntelligAnts
- > 110 points: BrilliAnts
- > 120 points: FAntastic
- > 130 points: MagnificAnts
Heh, the puns.
Player Count Differences
It seems as though the major differences are the game board layouts, but at a three-player game it seemed like everyone could “specialize” without much issue, since nobody was really fighting each other to birth certain types of ants. That may have just been a fluke, though. No concrete recommendation for a certain player count, yet, but I’ll update as I think of some. It really only gets crowded in more advanced game modes as you approach the later game.
- It’s not always the best idea to complete a requirement as soon as you have the resources for it. For one, it gets you a lot of attention. Have the predators not moved this round? If not, get ready to get swarmed, especially if you just took the lead. Note that this pretty much no longer applies in ExperiAntced mode, since you kinda want to complete it to score the points before someone else does. You’d only want to hold off if you know nobody can score it before you.
- You can use the predators to seal off areas. If you clear out an area with predators and then add your pheromones, other ants can’t move past it. If you do that successfully, you can lock an ant colony inside their own hexagon until they manage to put a nest hole on the other side of the line you’ve made. It’ll take some doing, but maybe it’s worth it?
- Pay attention to the Special cards. Given that they change effects a bit between modes, that alone suggests that they’re important, but also they’re a major way to swing points on your turn — some will let you move further, dig faster, insta-score an objective of a certain type, or a bunch of things that are unexpected to your opponents. That’s pretty awesome. Some cards are also just generally more useful (especially depending on your mode), so make sure you’re aware of them.
- As far as special cards go, I’d recommend the ones that score points. Sometimes the other ones are useful, but it’s much more situational. Use these to essentially design a strategy.
- If you’re using the starting player powers, let them inform but not necessarily decide your strategy. Some are a bit stronger than others, in my opinion, so I’d say it might just be a good idea to let everyone pick in reverse player order. I think there are some that just … don’t make sense.
- It kinda pays to specialize? If you’re the only one going for gatherers, it might not be a bad idea to go for them at the start of the game. At higher difficulty levels, I’d honestly say it makes the most sense to specialize in two types of ants, at most. This isn’t immediately obvious, and I think it depends a lot on your special cards, if you’re playing at those difficulties.
- Strategic blocks are usually best, especially on the Digger ants. If you see someone endeavoring for a specific objective (or if you can guess it), denying them the objective when they’re one piece away from it is usually the easiest. For the diggers, it’s not super easy to get new pieces, since they’re usually pretty split up, so that’s where I find it most useful to block someone. For the other ants, it’s pretty hard to deny someone a beetle or a raspberry since there’s usually another one within three spots.
- Try to keep track of the objectives you’ve seen so far. If you know that you’ve seen a bunch of types of cards already, you know what resources you might want to stay away from later on. This isn’t an exact science, since a bunch of times you’ll just luck out with a one-resource-worth-four-points card towards the end of the game or something.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Man, there’s a lot of content. So many special cards, pieces, player powers, board configurations, ways to play, you could be playing this for a long time and not really get through all of it. Plus there are a number of different styles of gameplay depending on who you’re playing with, their experience level, and the amount of player interaction you’d like.
- I like that there are different levels so you can play the game with different groups of people. For me, it feels like Takenoko+ in that regard, plus it has a mode for kids and new players such that you can really grow up with the game.
- The puns are amazing. The ant-ire game is just puns, everywhere. It doesn’t always make the rulebook easier to read, but there are a solid number of groaners in there.
- Nice variety of player colors. I just like that I have like, three solid options, which I don’t always get in games other than, like, Carcassonne. The black pieces are extremely difficult to photograph in my current setup, so that’s why they don’t appear in a lot of shots.
- Lots of interesting strategies. Do you go heavy on one resource category? Do you try to block your opponent in a two-player game? Do you save all your objectives and try to get them all in one round? Do you shoot for lots of pheromone placement? Possibilities are fairly diverse, so there’re a lot of different ways to play this game. And that’s only thinking within one game mode.
- I feel like the analysis paralysis gets a bit better over the course of the game. Once you’ve started to commit towards strategies there are fewer long-term things you can do since you’ve already gotten certain ants birthed (and you’ll really only have like, 5 – 6 rounds over the course of the game in ExperiAntced mode), so the game actually takes the longest at the start when you’re trying to get things set up. Or at least, that’s been my experience. And that’s nice because everyone else is also thinking about their turns. I always appreciate games that feel like they accelerate towards the finish.
- Man, there’s a lot of content. Not too much of a bad thing, but there’s definitely a lot to get through. Took me a while to get the pieces assembled, at least, and then figuring out how everything fits together is definitely a time-consuming endeavor.
- Heavy setup and teardown time. The game just takes a while to put away, which can be a bit annoying. Usually it’s a team effort, but the box is a bit tight. An insert would have done wonders, here.
- Bit of a tough game to explain, but once you get it most things pretty much make sense. It’s a big cognitive load to take on at once, but if you can push through it the icons and cards make sense pretty quickly.
- Rulebook is definitely not the most clear. I just have some issues figuring out how to read through all the rules in one go. There are a few wording issues + etc. Seems similar to Wolf & Hound in that it was likely translated from another language first and then edited, but not everything made it through. There are a few ambiguities that I’ve had to look up, and not everything is organized in a way that prevents new players missing significant rules changes. It happens, but, it’s definitely a problem I’ve noticed. I imagine this will be cleaned up a bit for a retail release, though.
- Some of the player powers and special cards just seem … not-good. The Kickstarter player powers seem a bit too useful (they give an ant extra movement or let you birth whatever kind of ant you want), but my pheromone-placing power in one game scored me all of two points and my friend never used her “you can walk over another player’s pheromones”, but I definitely would have done some interesting stuff with the “you can place your nest holes one space further” and “ignore the day / night icons on cards” powers. I’d say just let players pick those rather than dealing them randomly. With the special cards, I’d say for your first game, regardless of mode, just deal them out randomly.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, BrilliAnts is a fAntastic game! (heh) I generally refer to it as Takenoko+ when I’m talking about it with my friends, as it retains some of the objective-based gameplay of Takenoko, but expands on it with a more diverse set of actions and goals, as well as the ability to make it more difficult or complex as you play with more experienced players. For most gamers with significant experience (I’d say if you’re playing anything past or including Catan), you’re going to want to start with the experienced mode, even if it takes a fair bit of time to set up and learn, but you’re going to enjoy it. The choices are interesting, there’re many ways to plan out useful strategies, and overall I’ve enjoyed the games I’ve had the chance to play, and have had friends ask to play it again. Would recommend!