Full disclosure: A review copy of Minecraft: Builders & Biomes was provided by Ravensburger.
Licensed games! They’re definitely a mixed bag, but I can’t help myself; I’m always so curious about what they’re going to make into a board game. This time, it’s Minecraft’s turn. It’s got some interesting pedigrees so far, though: named designers, published by Ravensburger, pretty consistent blend of theme and mechanics; but will it hold up? Only one way to find out!
In Minecraft: Builders & Biomes, you play as one of many explorers in likely a private server building structures, exploring new lands, and fighting off a ton of monsters that want to devour you, bones and all. You do so by doing what you do best in Minecraft: mining and crafting. Will you be able to forge a path and explore this new world? Or will your resourcefulness run out of, well, resources?
First thing is the most fun part of the entire game: the cube thing! Take the blocks and dump them into the cube holder:
They will become a beautiful cube of cubes! You might have to shake it a bit. Give each player a player board:
Have them set up a standee and take an Experience Marker:
Give each player a starting Weapon Set; have them shuffle the tiles into a deck:
Take the tiles and make a 4×4 grid of 3-tile stacks:
Add the remaining weapons around the grid such that they’re adjacent to a tile. It’ll make a 6×6 grid with the corners removed:
Set all players in the center of the grid. You should be ready to start!
A game of Minecraft: Builders & Biomes is about building up your little slice of the world such that you score experience. The player with the most at the end, wins! The game is played over a series of turns, during which you can take any two different actions, of five possible actions. Let’s outline them.
Take two blocks from the large cube of blocks. Note that you may only take a block if its top face and at least two other faces are visible.
Move up to 2 spaces away. A space is any junction of tiles on the board; you never move onto tiles. When you stop moving, reveal the tiles (not the weapons) that are now adjacent to your character if they haven’t already been revealed.
Multiple characters can be on the same “space” at the same time.
To build, you must be adjacent to the tile you want to construct. Spend the blocks pictured on the tile (green blocks are wild; you may use them as any block) to take that tile and place it anywhere on your player board (even on top of another tile). Put the spent blocks back into the box; they cannot be used again.
Some structures cost more than usual; in return, they provide immediate experience points upon construction.
Do not flip over a new tile when you take a tile; it must be flipped via an Explore action.
Some tiles are decidedly not friendly. They’re monsters! To fight them, shuffle your weapon stack and reveal the top three tiles. Hopefully they have hearts on them; some are potatoes, which are decidedly not useful for combat reasons.
If you reveal at least as many (or more) hearts than the printed value on the mob tile, you defeat it! Take it and place it next to your player board; you immediately gain the experience on the tile next to the lightning bolt. Do not flip a new tile. If you do not reveal as many hearts, the mob stays where it is. You did not defeat it. You have to live with that.
Some defeated mobs will allow you to perform a bonus action on your turn; others will give you end-game points. It’s worth considering which mobs provide what bonuses when you want to fight them!
If your character is currently adjacent to a weapon token, you may take one and shuffle it into your weapon deck.
End of Round
At the end of a player’s turn, if a complete layer of the big cube has been depleted, the round ends. Immediately score based on the round number:
- Round 1: Score based on the type of biome.
- Round 2: Score based on the type of the material used.
- Round 3: Score based on the type of the building.
Generally, you score your largest contiguous area of the same type of thing. You may choose to score a smaller one if it’s worth more points per tile. For younger players, ignore the contiguous part of that requirement; just give them points for every tile they have of that type.
If you clear more than one layer, it’s possible to end multiple rounds at the same time. Score in round order, in that case.
End of Game
The game ends immediately after the third scoring round. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Weirdly, the game has no accommodations for player count increases; I figure it just leverages that there are more cubes than you’ll need and more tiles than you could ever want, so, knock yourself out, various player counts. That’s generally not bad, but it does mean the game tends to go faster at higher player counts, not slower, since the cube of cubes (cube cube) tends to be more quickly picked apart by players. Isn’t that weird? But in a fun way. You’ll notice turns going by a bit slowly, though, since you do see three times as many actions before your turn in a four-player game. It also means that the game can get away from you; technically, a player can (usually) only take two blocks on a turn, so you’re safe from the round ending if there are at least three blocks on the current layer at the end of your turn. In a four-player game? You need to have at least seven blocks to make sure that the round won’t likely end before it gets back to you. That’s a much larger area! I generally like low-chaos and high-control games, so, naturally, I tend to enjoy this game most at the lower end of the player count spectrum, personally. I don’t really have a problem with the higher player counts; I just think I like it best at two.
- Get some weapons. This is pretty key; you’re not playing on Peaceful Mode; Creepers, Endermen, and some really gross skeletons are coming for you and you need to be able to beat them up. If you have zero weapons, that’s not going to work out for you.
- Double down if you need to. This is especially true if you get the Golden Hoe; you should be fighting constantly to try and get its +2 points every turn if you can. It’s a ridiculously good item. Similar for the Diamond Sword, but that’s just because it’s incredibly strong. If you can get those to activate pretty regularly, you’re going to be cutting through most things and getting some pretty great bonuses, to say nothing of what the mobs give you when you defeat them.
- Take emeralds when you can. They’re just generically good blocks. You can use them as any other block, so, they’re great in a pinch or if you just want to flex on your opponents. I’d recommend using them in a pinch instead, but I’m a reviewer, not a cop; I can’t tell you how to live your life.
- Plan a bit ahead. You should be building for this round’s bonuses, yes, but it’s not a bad idea to build for next round‘s bonuses, too, if you can. That lets you potentially sneak more points on your unwitting opponents. Either way, you’re likely going to need a radically different board for scoring Round 1 versus Round 3, so try to look beyond just Round 1.
- Don’t necessarily avoid a mob that you can kill just because it doesn’t give you many end-game points. It’s still worth some points, and you might be able to activate your Stone Pickaxe or Golden Hoe and get some extra bonuses out of the fight if you win. You’ve often got to think about the downstream effects of your actions in this game.
- Watch where other players are. If you see another player about to build something that’s going to get them a ton of points, end the round immediately. Don’t let them get to it! You can tell what blocks they have and what they’re close enough to in order to move to it. That said, they might get lucky on a flip and there’s not much you can do about that, but you should try to prevent good outcomes for them as much as possible.
- It’s a wild flex, but it’s possible to end more than one round in a turn. If you take enough cubes (remember, Mob Bonus Actions let you repeat), you could potentially take four or more cubes and burn through two layers. That is definitely going to catch your opponents off-guard. It might even work to your advantage, if you’re lucky.
- Don’t give into the sunk cost fallacy. If you can’t beat a mob, get more weapons! Don’t keep fighting it in the hopes that you get that 1 in 6 chance of drawing your best weapon.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I’ll admit; I was pleasantly surprised by the cube thing. The cube thing is the best part of the game. Dump 64 cubes into a little container, shake it around a bit, and suddenly you have a 4x4x4 cube! And it looks very Minecraft-y. Whoever came up with this particular idea deserves a raise or something; it’s a really great selling point.
- Lots of solid design decisions made with this one. Limiting the pullable blocks to any block with its top and two sides visible is a super simple way to explain it without having to talk about load-bearing blocks, for instance. Also the mini-deckbuilder as a combat mechanic is fascinating. I haven’t seen much like what this game is doing in some respects, and I’m pleasantly surprised, to be honest. Really pleasantly surprised.
- Easy to learn, especially for younger players. Removing the adjacency requirement for scoring is a really streamlined way to make the game easier to learn, and I respect that. Beyond that, it’s not a terribly complicated game, though it has a lot going on.
- It’s even got bonus simplified rules! And they can be played with the full version! Love scalable difficulty. This is probably one of my favorite things. I’m hoping to try it with my stepnephew over the holidays, to be honest. It seems up his alley, but who knows. Gonna give him the easier scoring, though; I’ll keep you updated via the Can Eric Beat A Child At This Game tracker.
- The tableau- / tile-building elements are nice. I mean, it’s Minecraft; what would it be if you couldn’t build and stack things? I wish there were a bit more stacking, but I’m satisfied by the terraforming / biome construction elements. It’s a fun little thing.
- I’m unsure whether or not I like that any player can end the game without other players getting another turn. I think it’s interesting, because you can keep the game in a “threatened” state for a while, if you want (where any player could take cubes that will give another player the ability to end the game), but I also kind of wish other players got another turn before the game finished? I think I’m leaning favorable on this one, though.
- Fair amount of luck of the draw at play in this one. The major elements are which tiles get flipped when you move (which is randomized), which cubes are available in which positions when the game starts (fairly randomized), and which tiles you draw from your combat deck. There’s nothing you can’t necessarily overcome, but there might be too much happening for players who prefer less random games.
- Which players sit where can matter a fair amount. It’s similar to Splendor; if you have a player after you who keeps unblocking emeralds but not taking them, the player after them has a distinct advantage.
- The mob tiles just being blank white tiles is kind of odd. Honestly, it makes the game look a bit cheap. Some art around them in the background would make it look a bit less like stock photography, and I feel like that’s generally a good thing? Plus, it’s easier for me to photograph a game if it doesn’t have prominent white and black elements, sigh. This is going to be hard, but I’m still stressed about trying to do Letter Jam.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, seriously, I was pretty surprised by Minecraft: Builders & Biomes! Look, I’ll be honest with you; licensed games are always a mixed bag. Some are extremely good (The Legend of Korra: Pro-Bending Arena, and that’s a hill I will die on), and some just … aren’t, as much (-EXAMPLE REDACTED-). Minecraft: B&B is a strong entry in favor of licensed games, in my opinion. I think that it does a lot of things that are true to what you’d want a Minecraft game to do in board game form. There’s combat, there’s exploration, and there’s building; that’s a pretty good set of options, if you ask me. Then again, I played Minecraft for a while and gave up when it got “too complicated”, so, who knows. I think I really appreciate the rules that help make it easier to learn for younger players, though, as I’m hoping this will get my stepnephew excited about board games; he’s around the right age for that sort of thing. The one thing I’m weirdly disappointed by is that the mobs are just on blank white tiles; it feels like a missed immersion opportunity and I’m kind of surprised by that. Beyond that, though, the mini-deckbuilding element is quite endearing, the game has a lot of variety and different strategies emerge during the game (it’s fairly tactical), and it does a nice job nodding to the actual Minecraft for inspiration. Plus, the cube thing is super cool. If that sounds appealing to you, I’d definitely recommend checking out Minecraft: Builders & Biomes! It was a lot more than I expected it to be.