Full disclosure: A review copy of The Bears and the Bees was provided by Grandpa Beck’s Games.
Alright, I’ve gotten a few more games in from Grandpa Beck: Cover Your Assets and The Bears and the Bees. You might remember them for localizing Skull King (though not the other two from the same series, which, … they are also fun, so maybe that would be cool?), a game that I loved a while ago. Either way, let’s start with a talk about The Bears and the Bees.
In The Bears and the Bees, you play as bees building up a hive while trying to avoid honey-grabbing bears. They just … really like honey. Along the way, you can use flowers, drones, and workers to help you out and potentially thwart your opponents. Will you be able to build the best hive?
Surprisingly, not a ton. Shuffle the cards:
Place the Queen face-up in the center. You can’t miss it; it’s double-sided and has honey on all six hexes. Next, deal cards to players:
- 2 / 3 players: 9 cards each.
- 4 / 5 players: 8 cards each.
Once you’ve done that, flip the top card of the deck and place it adjacent to the queen. If it’s a Special Card (Drone, Worker, Flower, Bear), discard it and flip another card. Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to roll!
The Bears and the Bees is a pretty straightforward card / tile game. Your goal is to empty your hand by playing tiles to the board. If you match well, you’ll be able to make extra plays, and maybe even give your opponents extra cards! The first person to empty their hand wins the round, and best of three rounds wins the game!
On your turn, you may Play Cards or Discard. More on that:
On your first turn, you can only play one card. Play it such that it matches two or more sides of adjacent hexes in the play area.
On your second and subsequent turns, you may play up to two cards per turn. Your second card must be played adjacent to your first card, or it cannot be played. Generally, all cards being played must follow these rules:
- No Special Cards may touch the Queen.
- Honey sides are wild; they match everything.
- Every card played must match at least two sides.
Speaking of Special Cards, let’s talk about those:
- Drones: These half-honey cards have no special abilities; they’re useful because they match lots of things and can help you set up a combo nicely.
- Worker Bees: They’re kinda one of everything. When you play one, you may force any player to draw a card. For each additional side you match with it after the second, you may force a player to draw a card. Cards may be distributed between multiple players. This means a Worker Bee played matching 4 sides will give you 3 cards to force other players to draw.
- Flowers: These cards are only one color. Like Worker Bees, they give other players cards, but they give every other player cards. When you play one, you may force every other player to draw a card. For each additional side you match with it after the second, you may force every other player to draw a card. This means a Flower played matching 4 sides will force all other players to draw 3 cards.
- Bear: Ah, the worst cards. These must be placed adjacent to a Honey space and are wild. Once they’re played, no card may be played adjacent to them ever again. Also, when you play one, that’s your whole turn. No second plays, no bonus plays, nothing.
All this talk has made me realize I haven’t really clarified Bonus Plays. So, in addition to the effects I mentioned earlier, playing a card so that it matches up with 3 or more adjacent hexes earns you Bonus Plays, which let you play additional cards from your hand:
- 3 sides: +1 card to play
- 4 sides: +2 cards to play
- 5 sides: +3 cards to play
- 6 sides: You win the round!
Note that Bonus Plays can earn you additional Bonus Plays, and so on.
Discard a Card
If you can’t play or you’d prefer not to, you may either draw 1 card or discard a card and draw 2 cards.
If you’re getting clever and think you can discard a Bear card, you can; you just have to draw 3 cards instead. Bummer.
End of Round
A round ends immediately after a player finishes playing cards from their hand. All other players score points (which are bad) depending on what cards they still have left in their hands:
- Honeycomb Cards: +5 points each
- Drone / Flower / Worker Bee Cards: +10 points each
- Bear Cards: +15 points each.
Shuffle the cards back together and play another round!
End of Game
After the third round is played, the player with the fewest points wins!
Player Count Differences
Not much, honestly, though higher player counts tend to be a bit better because there’s a richer hive created, so it’s easier to play cards well on any given turn. At lower player counts, it’s sort of like Einstein where you have to do a lot of the work yourself to get certain shapes in place. The major problem with higher player counts is analysis paralysis caused by the playable area being much larger, which isn’t great. In its ideal form, I think the game is best played at that higher player count, though; feel free to use a sand timer or something to compel players to take shorter turns, if necessary. It really does do wonders for the game if you have a lot of good spots to play off of, and you just can’t get that at two players, generally.
- Use Drones to set up combos. They have a lot of Honey spaces; using them well can lead to a lot of Bonus Plays. And then your Bonus Plays can get Bonus Plays can get Bonus Plays, etc.
- Never even come close to letting someone play a 6-match. If you do, they win instantly. Just don’t even leave those spaces on the board or create those kinds of spaces; they’re a bad idea.
- If you have a Bear, hold on to it as long as you can. Even drawing 3 cards is better than tanking an entire turn. Just make sure you don’t keep it if another player is about to end the round; you’ll take a bunch of extra points (though not that many if it’s your only card). You could just dump it early and draw 3 cards, though.
- Personally, I’d recommend living the true Worker Bee spirit and distributing the cards from a Worker Bee as evenly as possible. The only exception is if a player is only holding one card; if that’s the case, just give them everything. You’d rather generally irritate everyone than give one person a reason to develop a vendetta.
- Don’t leave Honey spots open. Don’t make it any easier for your opponents to play Bears on their turn. It should be as difficult as possible to get rid of one of those furry jerks.
- Try to leave spots where you can play, though. Other players may be able to play off of them, but hopefully you at least leave yourself one location you can hop on during your next turn so that you don’t have to draw new cards.
- Flowers are kind of challenging to play. hopefully you drew enough cards with the right colors; if not, consider discarding them. They’re worth a bunch of points if you can’t get rid of them.
- Your best pathway to success is making combos. High-yield combos can not only give you Bonus Plays, but they can also force your opponents to draw a lot of extra cards, if you’re throwing out Flowers or Worker Bees. If you can make those 4- or 5-side matches, you’re going to be able to ride those Bonus Plays to a quick win. Naturally, making a 6-side match is nice because you win instantly, but nobody should let you do that, so, not necessarily that useful to plan around. Focus on high-match combos with Flowers to benefit yourself immensely and punish all your opponents at the same time.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Decently simple to learn. They might have been able to do with a few fewer type of cards, but it’s essentially just color-matching with some combo potential if you match more than 2 cards at once.
- Portable! It’s a very small box; about the same size as Skull King / Cover Your Assets / other releases.
- I enjoy the real-space requirements of the game. I like that it’s specifically stated in the rules that you cannot go off the edge of the table. Getaway Driver has a similar policy and I think it’s good to have it explicitly called out. It also adds a strategy quirk, which I appreciate.
- Very nice art. It’s super colorful! Also, the Bear cards look great, though hopefully you’ll never end up with one in your hand to see up close.
- If everyone’s playing quickly, it can move fast. It’s got the 7 Wonders sort of thing where playing with a bunch of experienced players can be really satisfying. I imagine players that don’t much care about the ramifications of decisions might also qualify for this.
- Whew, hex cards are a pain to shuffle. At least they all have symmetric backs. Usually cards have some kind of seam or spine that you can riffle shuffle on; since there are three different symmetry axes, it’s hard to get all the cards on the same one and it makes them difficult to shuffle. This is, as all things in the Mehs tend to be, a very specific problem. Just trying to make sure my nitpicks remain powerfully on-brand.
- The Bears are pretty aggressively dead weight. The rulebook implies that you must play a Bear and no other cards on a turn, which makes it seem like you can’t even play them as the second of the two cards you play. If that’s true, then it’s usually pretty difficult to play any Bears. It would be nice if you could play a card, then a Bear, but at the very least the rules aren’t clear that that action is allowed.
- Analysis paralysis is essentially the name of the game. It’s got two of the great threats for people who have trouble making quick decisions: lots of tile-laying options and high-combo-potential decisions. You’ll often see players agonizing over their choices; you may be best served by bringing a sand timer for games. Or playing with people who don’t have that issue. If players get AP at all during a game, you’re gonna be there a while.
- I still think it’s mildly frustrating when games just suggest you play three consecutive rounds of them to pad the game’s length. I know it’s how things are done, but I would be happy if there were some changes to the game’s state to try to balance the winner and the loser each round. Some sort of catch-up mechanism would be nice.
- There’s some potential for ganging up on one player. The various cards that force a specific player to draw cards can be pretty easily abused by other players to knock one specific player out of the round without much recourse; it would be nice if the number of cards you could play in one turn was somehow a bit more proportional to the number of cards in your hand or something to disincentivize that sort of dogpiling.
Overall: 6.5 / 10
Overall, I think The Bears and the Bees is fine. It strikes me as a pretty solid family game, both in theme and gameplay, and I think that’s the right niche for it. Among some of the people I used to play with, I fear this would be a nightmarish game; their desire to analyze every move and find the best outcome is a slow algorithm, at best, and that makes for a long game where you can’t do much planning since the board state changes so much between turns. My other gripe with this game is that the two-player mode underwhelmed me, a bit; you mostly end up planning on your own structure and occasionally building on your opponent’s, if it’s expedient. At higher player counts there’s no real concept of “your own” structure, which is nice. I also wish the Bears felt better integrated into the game; by my current understanding of the rules, it doesn’t seem like they’re particularly easy to play, especially if other players are playing even slightly adversarially. That’s okay, though. I think, while I like combo potential, in games, it actually hurts this one, since it adds another thing to the pattern-matching for players to stress about. This is in contrast to other family-weight tile games, like Kingdomino, which eschew it in favor of simplicity (which works), or Eco-Links, which adds in the real-time threat to help tamp down the analysis problem. That said, if you really like combo potential in tile games or games with cute bear art (which this game has plenty of), The Bears and the Bees might be for you!