Bears. They’re big, hairy, and mammals. That’s about the best I can do. They’re also numerous, just from the c-ursa-ry glance I made over Wikipedia and their List of Bears. But that’s neither here nor there. In case you’re just interested in games about bears, I would also recommend Ursa Miner, a game I reviewed a while back that also is full of bear puns.
In Bärenpark, you are intrepid bear park creators that realized Jurassic Park was a bad idea, so you settled on various types of one of the most dangerous creatures currently alive rather than invent bear-dinosaur hybrids. It’s bear-ly an improvement, but, hey, whatever, this is a bear pun review now. In your park, you’ll have panda bears, gobi bears, polar bears, and koala bears (yes we know they’re not bears there’s a specific call-out in the rules about this don’t @ me). Will you be able to use your skills to build a high-koalaty park? Or will you have to put your dreams on paws?
Setup takes a bit of effort, but it’s nothing too big. Essentially, you’ll have a big board:
Set that out in view of all players. There is a misprint on the board (at least in my version), so be careful. They’re apparently fixing this in the second edition
Next, add your Wheelbarrow Tiles:
I call them this because they all go in the space on the board marked with a wheelbarrow. There are four types:
- Toilet (1 tile)
- Playground (2 tiles)
- Food Street (3 tiles)
- River (3 tiles)
The player count matters, though:
- 2 players: 10 toilets, 10 playgrounds, 8 food streets, 8 rivers
- 3 players: 10 toilets, 10 playgrounds, 12 food streets, 12 rivers
- 4 players: 10 toilets, 10 playgrounds, 16 food streets, 16 rivers
My board indicates that you should be changing the number of playgrounds, but that’s incorrect. Anyways, next, move on to the Cement Mixer tiles:
These are worth points, but I’ll talk about that later. They’re all four-tile pieces, but in various Tetris-reminiscent shapes. Here’s what you’ve got:
- 2 players: Use the 6-, 4-, and 2-point tiles.
- 3 players: Use the 6-, 5- 4-, 3-, and 2-point tiles.
- 4 players: Use all of the tiles.
Handy. Make sure to organize them so that they’re sorted from highest to lowest, with highest on top. Now, check out the big backhoe tiles:
These are all five-tile pieces, and you’ll use all of them every game.
Last up, there should be some bear statues:
You are legally required to build them to praise bears on your park, and they’re worth a lot of points, so, it’s a good trade-off. Use the following in your games:
- 2 players: Use the even-valued bear statues. (16, 14, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2)
- 3 players: Don’t use 1, 2, 15, or 16. (14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3)
- 4 players: Use all of the bear statues.
These should also be organized highest to lowest, with highest on top. You can also lay them out in a line, if you’d prefer. Congratulations! You’ve completed the board setup. Now, give every player a starting board:
Shuffle up the extra Park Tiles:
And you should generally be good to go. If you feel like playing a slightly more complex game (or if you’re playing with experienced gamers), you can also add in Achievements, which give extra points under certain conditions:
If you want to do that, grab three stacks of matching tiles and place them near the board.
Once you’ve done all that, you should be ready to start!
For this one, it’s the gameplay that’s pretty simple. Basically, on your turn, you’ll have tiles in your supply, like the tile you start the game with. Similar to Patchwork, you’ll place one tile on your turn, anywhere on the board, with a few caveats:
- You must place the tile adjacent to one of your existing tiles, if there are already tiles on the board.
- You must adhere to the grid, so no placing tiles haphazardly wherever you’d like.
- You cannot have tiles overhanging the edge of a board if there is nothing there. Everything must be on the board or combination of Park Tiles.
Other than that, go crazy. You’ll notice there are a few icons on the Park Tiles. Whenever you cover them, different effects happen:
- Hole: You cannot cover this. Don’t play a tile here; it’s for something else.
- Wheelbarrow: Take a tile from the Wheelbarrow section of the board and add it to your Supply (don’t add it to the board, yet). Whatever tile you’d like.
- Cement Mixer: Take a tile from the Cement Mixer or the Wheelbarrow sections of the board and add it to your Supply.
- Backhoe: Take a tile from the Backhoe, Cement Mixer, or the Wheelbarrow sections of the board and add it to your Supply. You’ll notice there are no Backhoes on your starting tile; this is intentional.
- Construction Crew: Take an extra Park Tile from one of the two Park Tile stacks and expand your park. You must place it orthogonally adjacent to an existing Park Tile (or your starting tile), and it cannot be placed such that it goes below your Park Entrance. It makes fences too hard to build. You also cannot have more than four Park Tiles in the game. Your fourth Construction Crew, when covered, does nothing.
As a result of actions taken on your turn, you may end up covering multiple icons. That’s fine! You take all of the tiles you would get from covering those icons. If you cover no icons, you uh, get nothing. If you would start your turn with no tiles in your Supply, you take a Wheelbarrow rile from the Supply and then skip your turn. You really don’t want to do that (unless you need to).
If you cover every tile except for the hole on a Park Tile, that tile is deemed complete! You may take the highest remaining Bear Statue and place it on the hole, since every part of your park needs a commemorative Bear Statue. Also, early Bear Statues are worth a lot of points, so, yeah.
Over the course of the game, you may qualify for some achievements, as well, based on what you play. There are a variety of achievements, such as:
- Placing two Bear Statues in one turn;
- Placing all three of the Backhoe tiles you get adjacent to each other;
- Placing six Wheelbarrow tiles adjacent to each other;
- Making an unbroken path of three river tiles;
- Making an unbroken path of three food streets;
- Having one of each Cement Mixer tile;
- Having three of each individual type of bear tile;
They’re worth a fair bit of points, especially if nobody else takes them.
Play continues until one player has covered every tile on their four Park Tiles. When that happens, every other player gets another turn, then tally scores (points are the numbers on tiles). The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Not really any, other than adding more tiles. It means there’s a wider gap on some achievements (since, in a two player game, the point difference if both players get the achievements is only 3 points per achievement), but it also means you might get unlucky and have one player get all the achievements (just like in any other mode, to be fair), meaning that one player will get none. That’s a 24- to 29-point difference, which is a bit rougher. Try to be careful about that. There’s also a bit more contention over “desired” pieces for higher player counts. You might never get a koala tile, which is sad.
I think it’s best at two, but then again, I think that about most non-party games (generally speaking). I wouldn’t mind this at three or four, and I have enjoyed the games I have played at those player counts. The game takes a smidge longer because there are more tiles in play and more players to analyze what their best options are.
- Honestly, go for the Achievements. You’ll generally get a lot of points along the way, but if you’re playing with Achievements, go for them. It’s easier to get them than Bear Statues, and they usually require you to play point-scoring tiles along the way.
- If you can’t do that, take high-valued stuff. I know that seems obvious, but if you can get all of the 6-point Cement Mixer tiles, you’ll already have a 4+ point lead on everyone else, which might come in handy. Even more so if you get both the 16- and 15-point Bear Statues. That’s 31 points, just from those.
- Don’t be afraid to take a lesser tile. If it’ll get you an Achievement before your opponent, it’s probably worth it, to be honest. Just … don’t do it with a Backhoe. Take the Backhoe tile.
- Do not get your turn skipped. There are slight exceptions to this rule (for instance, getting an achievement before an opponent), but getting your turn skipped is a pretty bad penalty.
- Certain achievements reward certain park shapes. Keep that in mind when adding Park tiles. If you’re playing with the 3 Food Streets achievement, that’s going to be 9 tiles’ worth of space, so you should definitely make a long park. This also helps with getting 3 Backhoe tiles adjacent to each other. Be mindful of these constraints when placing Park Tiles.
- If you’ve got nothing else worth doing, take something someone else wants. Try running down the value of piles or taking the Backhoe tile that someone’s obviously made the perfect spot for, if you don’t care. Make people think a bit more on their feet.
- You should be doing some forward-planning. Try to plan out a few turns in advance and be flexible so that you know what you need to grab in order to execute on achievements or Bear Statues, but also remember that this is just a game and we don’t have twenty minutes for you to geometry out the next 10 rounds.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Bears! Bears.
- Very nice art. It’s a bear-y pleasant-looking game. The bright colors help a lot with that, too.
- I’d say it’s easier than Patchwork. I think Patchwork can punish you a lot for poor planning, and Bärenpark is a lot more flexible in that regard. Doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy both; just that it’s a fair bit easier, in my mind. It’s also nice because most tiles can be formed by configurations of smaller tiles, so it’s rare / almost impossible to completely shut yourself out (who knew toilets would be so valuable?).
- Seems expandable. There are so many bears we haven’t uncovered yet! I would be fine with Bärenpark 2: The Sum of All Bears or something. Plus, bigger parks would be a lot of fun.
- Plays fairly quickly. There aren’t a lot of turns where the game gets stopped up (it happens occasionally), but I would credit the game’s simplicity with preventing a lot of the deadlock.
- I’m generally a big fan of tile-laying games. Those, word games, and deckbuilders are probably my favorite types of games, at the moment.
- Setup is a bit of a pain. I just bag it as “2-player”, “3-player”, and “4-player”, now, and that helps a lot with setup speed.
- The misprint on the board is annoying. It’s getting fixed in the second printing, though, so just allow me to vent.
- Not all of the achievements are super clear on their effects just from looking at them. I played with someone who thought you had to have three of the same type of Backhoe tile adjacent to each other to get the achievement, which was a bummer, since that slowed him down a lot.
- Be careful not to knock your boards. Your tiles will go everywhere and it’s very frustrating. It’d almost be nice to have a border or something that can go around the park, but that seems … infeasible.
- I can’t tell if the insert is a joke or if it’s bad on purpose or …?: It’s not quite Bezier-games level where they give you a ton of pieces and no bags or insert (New York Slice, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, etc), but it seems almost intentionally designed to be bad. Just bag everything and forget the insert.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, I like Bärenpark quite a lot! I think it’s a solid entry-level tile-laying game without a ton of frills (please feel free to make a “bear necessities” joke, here) or bells / whistles. That’s not always a bad thing; sometimes it’s nice to have a simple, easy, and most importantly fun game to play as a warmup or an ender to a game night. Personally, I’d highly recommend it to gamers looking to expand their collection with a nice, no-nonsense game, or I’d also recommend it to people who love bears. It’s got a good mix of strategy and fun with some simple, easily-repeated mechanics but a lot of good room for players to test out different ways to win. Check it out!