Full disclosure: A review copy of Queenz was provided by Mandoo Games.
Oh heck, am I excited for this game. So Mandoo sent me a bunch of games, and I reviewed them, and then they sent me two more: Dark Horse, and Queenz. That was a while ago, so I’m glad that I can finally get this review out in time for the Essen Preorder to start. I’ve been wanting to talk about it for a while, and while I unbury myself from the Gen Con releases, this seems like a pretty great way to start getting the ball rolling.
In Queenz, you play as beekeepers trying to wrangle your buzzy friends and help them create hives and pollinate flowers. It’s a really good thing to do, provided you don’t get stung. Thankfully, in the game, you can’t! That said, your opponents are also trying to bring up their honey production, so you better prove yourself fast if you want to be the best beekeeper (or the grandest gardener; it’s really up to you). Collect flowers to attract bees and build a garden worth celebrating; will you be able to create something that blossoms into victory?
Not a ton to set up, but it’ll take some doing. Shuffle all the Orchid tokens (there should be like, 125?):
Some of the Orchids in your copy are black. My review copy doesn’t have that variant, so, nope. I’ll talk about it a bit later, but if you want to play with them, shuffle them in, as well. Set out the Garden in the middle of the play area:
Put one Orchid token on every space. Yes, that will take a while; get the other players to help. Now, make a stack of the Diversified Production Tokens:
10 goes on top; then in decreasing order. Shuffle up the Field Tiles and lay out 5:
Give each player a player board:
And a set of honey tokens:
Set out the scoreboard with each player’s score tokens:
Choose a first player, and they’ll put the Gardener on a row or column of their choice (around the edge of the Garden). You should be all ready to start!
Your goal is to become the best beekeeper, and only an impressive garden full of hives will get you anywhere near that. So, to get there, you gotta plant flowers, get bees, and make the garden they’ll enjoy.
On your turn, you may do one of two actions: Take Orchids or Fill a Field. I’ll discuss each in turn.
To take Orchids, look at where the Gardener is standing. You may take 1, 2, or 3 Orchids from that row / column, following these rules:
- 1: You may take any one Orchid.
- 2: You may take any two Orchids, but neither can have bees on them.
- 3: You may take any three Orchids, but none of them can have bees on them, and they must all be different colors.
Add them to your player board, and then move the Gardener a number of steps clockwise equal to the number of Orchids you took. Do not refill the board after taking Orchid tokens.
If you took one Orchid with a single bee on it, that’s a Queen! You may swap it for any Orchid you’ve already placed in a field, but you score no bonus points for it. More on that in a second. If you don’t use that ability when you take it, though, you cannot use it later.
Fill a Field
This one’s fun. Rather than taking Orchids, you may use the ones on your player board to fill one of the available field tile. To do so, take any one field tile from the available display (without refilling) and add it to your garden. If it’s the first one there, just plop it down, but if it’s not, it must be adjacent to another field tile.
Fill it with Orchid tokens from your Player Board. If you don’t have enough, put Hives in the empty spaces. Note that if you don’t have enough to do this without leaving empty spaces, you may not perform this action. Take Orchids, instead.
Now, score! Each honey color that you produce is worth Victory Points. You produce if:
- You have created a contiguous group of at least 2 Orchid tokens of the same color.
- You have added to an existing contiguous group of at least 2 Orchid tokens of the same color.
Either way, count the number of tokens in each of your producing groups, and score that many points. If it’s your first time scoring that color, you gain a honey token of that color to your player board. If you have one of each of the five colors of honey being produced, you’ve achieved Diversified Production! Take the highest-remaining Diversified Production token and add it to your play area. Bees and Hives will score later, so don’t worry about them, for now.
You might notice that I specifically mentioned that you do not refill the Garden or the Field Tiles, so how do you get more? Well, let’s dig into that. There are certain circumstances that will force a refresh:
- The Gardener stops in front of an empty row / column. The player who moved the Gardener (their turn just ended) gains 1 VP, and refill that row / column with Orchid tokens.
- A Player takes the last available Field. The player who took that Field (their turn just ended) gains 1 VP, and refill with 5 more Field Tiles.
- The Gardener crosses the red arrow at the corner of the Garden. This forces a global refresh. The player who moved the Gardener (their turn just ended) gains 1 VP, yes, but refill the entire Garden and replenish up to 5 Field Tiles.
End of Game
Play continues until one player has completed their fifth Field. Every other player gets one final turn. You may take more Orchid tokens or fill a Field as usual, but if you don’t have enough tokens you’re fine leaving empty spaces.
Now, score your final bonus points: your Hives! For each Hive, every bee on an Orchid token in the 8 spaces surrounding it earns 1VP. Many Orchid tokens have more than one bee on them, so make sure you count correctly! Also, a bee can score more than once if it’s adjacent to multiple Hives.
Add your total: Hive VPs + Orchid Field VPs + Diversified Production, if you earned it. The player with the most points wins!
Black Orchid Variant
If you’re playing with the Black Orchids, you may attempt to take them as you would another Orchid token. The only catch is that you can only take that token. When you do, discard it, and draw 3 Orchids from the draw pile. Choose any 1 or 2 of them to keep (even if they have bees), and shuffle the others back into the draw pile. Move the Gardener one step forward.
Player Count Differences
Not really any particularly huge ones; I think the game scales pretty nicely and gracefully at higher player counts or lower ones. I’ve tried all of them and I’ve still really enjoyed the game. It’s possible at higher player counts that there will be more market variability before your turn, sure, but it’s also more likely that the market will get drained or the Gardener will get pushed further, so, it’s hard to say that any one thing is better or worse at higher player counts. Just make sure that your increased number of opponents don’t end up stealing things you absolutely need to be successful; that’s never good when that happens. Anyways, core point here is that I’d happily play Queenz at any of the stated player counts; I have no preference.
- Kinda go deep in one color. This is not a game that will reward you for going wide, generally speaking. Sure, I suppose it’s possible that you could nearly-perfectly score 5 points on every tile placement if you knew what you were doing, but as soon as you telegraphed your intention your opponents would likely take all the Field Tiles useful to you out of spite more than anything else. I certainly would. Instead, going deep gives you a lot of options, especially if you can get a bunch of bees that are similar colors. Just make sure you don’t forget to eventually go after Diversified Production, if you want it.
- Don’t rush Diversified Production. If you rush it, you’re going to gain a lot of points early on that won’t really match up against some of your opponents’ gains. As they get 5 / 6 / 7 Orchid Tokens of a color, they can easily start hitting upwards of 15 points a turn pretty consistently, and even the best Diversified Production token isn’t going to give you that. Instead, try to swing in and get one after you’ve already gotten your engine set up. That might be more useful to you in the long-term, since you’re not sacrificing points.
- Try to set up your Hives to maximize overlap. You really want your bees to count toward as many Hives as possible. Especially those 3-bee tokens. If you can get those between two hives, that’s 6 points, right there. That’s a really quick way to rack up giant sums of points, even if you don’t score as much on the placement part. Take some high-value bees; go a bit wild.
- Plan ahead with your Field tiles. You especially need to do this if you’re planning to try and maximize Hive overlap, but you should also want to do that so that you can consistently be scoring Orchid blooms. Having a turn where you place a Field tile and don’t score is usually a pretty bad turn, so, try to avoid that; it definitely won’t win you the game.
- Remember you only get so many pulls. You get to take 5 Field tiles; that’s not really that much. Try to figure out how to make sure you’re consistently scoring two or three areas of Orchids every round so that you can bump your score up to a preposterous number.
- Try to move the Gardener in such a way that your opponent doesn’t have a great play. This one is one of my favorites; I love forcing someone to a space where they can’t take anything particularly useful to them. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s excellent, especially if they can’t just take a Field tile instead. They get stuck wasting a turn, which is strictly beneficial.
- You want to be the one to force those refills. You get a free VP! Even if your opponents do get to see the new, fresh stuff before you do, I still think the VP is worth it. That said, it’s not the biggest deal if you’re not the person who gets the refill; odds are you’ll still benefit from it.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is impeccable. Again, that’s not really surprising, since it’s Vincent Dutrait, but the entire game just sings, honestly. It’s bright, vibrant, colorful, bold, and everything you’d want a game about how great flowers and bees are to be. It really looks exceptional on the table and I think it’s an absolute joy in terms of table presence to play.
- I love the box. I know there are some green boxes for games, but I don’t have a lot of them and so I’m excited about this green box. The only other one I have is Dark Horse, which, okay, fair. I suppose Islebound is, too, but I’d honestly consider that more of a teal. Oh, Campy Creatures is a nice green, too! Two out of the three of these were recent adds, though.
- It’s about the perfect weight for me. It’s not too complicated, but it still has some interesting strategic bits. I’d put it slightly below Quacks of Quedlinberg in terms of complexity. It makes it easy for me to want to get it to the table, since the rules are pretty straightforward, but there are still a lot of strategies I haven’t considered, and I’m interested in digging into it more and seeing where else the game can go. Especially if I ever get to try the variant!
- I really like the market. It’s a super-cool way to select tokens, in my opinion. It also feels very nicely tied into the theme, and so it makes the whole game feel more cohesive. There’s also something peaceful to the Gardener just kinda making his way around the garden lazily. It’s a very nice aesthetic, and I really like how it comes out in the gameplay.
- The tile-laying component is super interesting. I like that it’s a mix of building out a garden that makes sense but also placing tokens to try and do an area control-sort-of-thing. It requires a lot of planning to make sure you have the right tokens and the right tile so that your opponents can’t mess you up too badly with their own schemes.
- Using the Queens to advance your strategy is a really neat way to do it. I like using them to either bridge gaps or to move bees around; either way is a useful way to do it. One helps you build bigger areas so that you can score even more points, and the other hides a lot of your points in endgame scoring so that you can turn the tide of the game, if needed.
- The scoring is also a lot of fun. I like the area growth aspect of it, and I like how it counts the bees relative to the hives. The whole game feels super polished, and I really appreciate that.
- There really isn’t that good of a way to shuffle 125 Orchid tokens. I think I’ve been putting them in a bag, honestly. If not, you’re going to have to try to shuffle them by hand and that doesn’t work.
- The insert is a bit weird. It looks like it’s supposed to have slots for the Orchid tokens, but they don’t honestly fit in the spots all that well. It just makes for a weird shut experience. It’s also possible that they’ve changed the insert between my copy and the one y’all have, now, so if the insert works for your needs, feel free to disregard this point.
- Refilling the market can be a huge pain. If you have to refill 30 spaces or so, it’s kind of a slog. Again, other players can and should help with this part, since it’s very time-consuming, but it still does make you wish there were an easier way to do that part of the game.
- A lot of players rush Diversified Production early and it feels like kind of a noob trap. It seems like it might be worth making it worth more if you go for it early, or something. I’m not sure how much that would mess with the rules, but I’ve been telling players to hold off on getting it, since so many of them would rush it and then hurt themselves for the rest of the game. It can be frustrating for them, so, I’ve tried to intervene.
Overall: 9.25 / 10
Overall, I kinda love Queenz. I think it’s superb. It’s tough, because Realm of Sand is my normal “this game better not end up being underrated” choice, but since Queenz isn’t out yet I’m really hoping this one takes off. I think everyone involved did an impeccable job on it, and the end-to-end product really shines. The art and table presence are great; the tokens and pieces are thick, useful, and high-quality; the design seems solid and the game has multiple useful paths to victory; the various parts of the game are fun and engaging as it synthesizes two different genres of game into a superior product. I mean, you can tell, I’m pretty over the moon about this game. I’m excited that I got to review it! It was a very pleasant surprise. I’d say, as far as light strategy games go, this is definitely one of my favorites; so much so that I’m really hoping it ends up making a run for some of the awards. I think that’s a good place for it. Either way, I’m really hoping this sees a wider release, because I think Queenz is awesome! I’d definitely recommend checking it out, if you haven’t, especially if you like light strategy games with fantastic art and great components. I’ve really had a blast playing it, and I look forward to the next opportunity I get to play again!