#708 – Bunny Party at Maple Valley [Preview]

Base price: $15.
3 – 4 players.
Play time: ~20 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Check it out on Kickstarter! (Will update link when Kickstarter is live.)
Logged plays: 2 

Full disclosure: A review copy of Bunny Party at Maple Valley was provided by Evan’s Games.

Yes, a Kickstarter preview. In January! Usually, this is widely regarded as a “no-no” from the What’s Eric Playing? School of Scheduling Out Kickstarter Previews In A Manner By Which You Can Avoid Holiday Stress, but I’ve actually had this game for a while, so I had plenty of time to get this one done. I basically just don’t count December as a month when I’m planning timetables for reviews, and that’s worked pretty well. Plus, haven’t seen anything from Evan’s Games, so, wanted to support a relatively new small publisher. Woo Kickstarter. Anyways, their latest title is Bunny Party at Maple Valley, and given that 2020 was largely the Year of Animal Crossing So I Could Pretend Like I Had Places to Go, I was curious. Let’s see how it shapes up!

In Bunny Party at Maple Valley, it’s a wonderful time of year! The annual Night Sky Party is approaching, and you’re furiously trying to prove that you’ve got what it takes to host the party at your place by hanging up decorations that will put your neighbors to shame. That said, y’all are a pretty close-knit community, so you don’t mind sharing hosting duties with someone else if they’re willing to make the effort. This does lead to some shady dealing, but all’s fair in love and party planning. You’ll have to get the best decorations before they run out of stock and maybe make some risky trades if you want to be the one who gets to throw the ultimate Night Sky Party, but you think you’re up to it. Will you be able to be the host with the most?

Contents

Setup

Not a ton, actually. Give each player two Character Cards; they’ll choose one and remove the other from the game:

Give each player a Trade Token:

Shuffle up the deck:

And shuffle the Villager cards and reveal 5; keep the 6th face-down.

Once you’ve done all that, you’re ready to start! At the beginning of the game, each player will draw three cards. If you’re playing with three players, also flip the start player token like a coin; whichever side is face-up stays that way for the game (and matters; I’ll talk about it in a bit).

Gameplay

Alright, you all want to host the best party in Maple Valley, so let’s get right to it. You need decorations, and lots of them. Get the most, and you will probably win! That said, you’re charitable and you need a cohost, so another player can win right along with you! Let’s explain how.

A game of Maple Valley is played over a series of rounds, where each player takes turns through a few phases. To start a round, every player draws two cards and takes one trade token. If it’s the first round of the game, you’ll take a third card. After doing that, you’ll shuffle the Villager deck and reveal 5 of them, keeping the 6th hidden (they stayed home and aren’t up to visit anyone).

Once you’ve done that, players can either Tidy a Card or Pass a Card. To Tidy, players place a card from their hand face-down next to the discard pile. To Pass, players spend a Trade Token to give a card from their hand to any other player. You must do one of these. After every player has done this in turn order, players draw the cards they were passed and the tidied cards get shuffled and discarded.

Now, villagers can visit! In turn order, each player takes a Villager card and puts it face-up in front of them. If they have an effect “on visit”, that effect activates now. You cannot take Villagers that are visiting other players.

The bulk of the game happens in this next step, as players play cards in turn order. You must play every card currently in your hand, one per turn, and you must do as much of the card as possible. You’ll note that this means that if you play a card that forces you to discard or pass a decoration and you don’t have any, you don’t do that. Event Cards are immediately discarded after they fully complete, Item Cards have a continuous effect..

In a three-player game, the symbol on the Start Player Marker means that you play those decorations upside down, so their arrow points the same direction as the other decoration type. This matters for end-game stuff.

Once everyone has played all their cards (this means that some players may have more turns than others, depending on who has what cards), players may trade! You may trade any item for any other item, provided you and the player who owns that item agree and you both spend a Trade Token. You can only trade with each other player once per turn. Trading doesn’t really have a “turn order”, so kinda go off until everyone’s done.

As a result of the Trade Phase, some players may end up having drawn new cards. If so, next, all players with cards play them one at a time, just like they would have before the Trade Phase. It’s weird, but, gotta have empty hands.

Now, the most important phase of the game, the Party Start? Phase. During this step, we check to see if any player has enough decorations to kick off the party! If any player has at least 5 Star Decorations or 5 Moon Decorations, the party might be about to begin! Check all players, and if any player has 5 Star Decorations or 5 Moon Decorations and they have more of that decoration type than any other player, the party starts! If there’s a tie, the party is delayed and you can check again next round.

Sharing Victory

If you have started the party, congratulations! You win! However, you need a cohost to share victory with you. This one’s easy to decide. Look at your decorations, and see which way the arrows on the cards are pointing. Whichever direction has more arrows, the player that the arrow points to also wins! (So, the player on your left or your right.) If you have an equal amount, the decoration you obtained most recently determines which player wins with you.

If nobody has won the game, the round ends with the villagers going back home! Put the villagers back into a stack and pass the start player token to the left.

Continue playing rounds until someone starts the party!

Player Count Differences

I think I prefer the game slightly at four to three, but that’s only because then I have a Designated Opponent who cannot help me and I cannot help. At three, there’s a player helping me and a player I help, and that’s everyone. I don’t want to mess with the player helping me, and messing with the player I help is confusing, so I’m always at a loss for who to dunk on. It almost feels a bit like a weird game I played a while ago called Trieste, but that was a delicate balancing act that almost nobody I played with could ever manage all that well, and this is a fairly light game so it feels a bit less intense. At four, you have a designated mortal enemy who hates you back, and it’s great for some light take-that (and I really do mean light take-that), as you pass each other really nasty cards and shoot some looks. That said, I don’t dislike this at three, I just think four the delineation between friend and foe is much clearer, and I prefer that given how tired my brain is all the time.

Strategy

  • If you lean into one decoration type, your adjacent player will probably help you. I mean, if I see that you’re collecting a card in which, should you get enough, you immediately win the game, I’m also going to give you more of those cards, if I can, which may put you over the top. Make it clear that you want to help your adjacent players, and they should back you up, to a point.
  • You should become the mortal enemy of the player sitting across from you. They cannot help you, and you cannot help them. As a result, you must hate each other. I don’t make the rules. It’s unfortunate, but it gives you a nice place to send all your Burst Pipes or Ugly Family Heirlooms. They won’t like it, but, all that trash has to go somewhere.
  • Keeping a trade token or two can be a huge help, especially if you’re trying to get the last decoration you need to win the game. It’s often worth trading decorations to players if it’ll help them win and you’ll win as a result. Plus, trading has the advantage of (usually) mutual benefit, so, if you can trade more, you will hopefully get beneficial things back! Or you can take on things that will hurt the player who will also let you win as a Sacrifice Fly sort-of-play.
  • Giving other players cards can carry a lot of intention, but you need to trust them to do what you want with them. You may give players the decorations they need or cards that let them take cards or Villagers, but are they going to do what you want? You have to trust them. I generally advise against too much table talk for things like that, just because it makes the outcome more interesting.
  • Just be careful that you don’t give any one player too much power. This can be a real problem as there’s a Villager who removes the shared victory condition from play. If they’re around, then players can hit a circumstance where only they win, and their neighbor does not. If you’ve given a player too many decorations, they may opt to move that route and you may not be able to stop them! A well-timed heart emoji can usually change some minds, though…
  • There’s a card in the game that can block you from winning! Be careful. Burst Pipe negates all your decorations! If you have that in hand, either get it to the bottom of the deck, stat, or use the power of Pure Generosity and donate it to your opposite player. They won’t love it, but they may be able to … no, it just screws them over.
  • Choose your villager appropriately based on what you need. I usually grab Kyle because he’s my favorite, but he also lets you draw an extra card which may be useful. Sometimes it’s more useful to give someone a card from the discard or to bury a card in your hand (especially where the Burst Pipe is concerned). You should spend some time evaluating what your goal is for this round and trying to find the right Villager to help advance that agenda.
  • Drawing cards isn’t always a good idea, given that you have to play out your hand before the round ends. You can draw some pretty garbage cards! Cards that negate or discard decorations or even cards that block you from winning the game! Don’t necessarily assume that having more cards in hand makes for a better turn; it may negate a lot of your hard work, if you’re not careful.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • Literally every time I see the Ugly Family Heirloom card with the clown painting on it, I laugh. Not a ton more to be said, but it just implies so much about the game’s lore.
  • This game is so cute that I literally had to sit down for a minute. Easily one of the cutest games that has come out in a while. Big fan of cute games, especially after 2020, I desperately needed this. It’s very pleasant, even with the take-that.
  • I like the way this game encourages microalliances between players and the players who can also help them win. I think that’s a really good thing! It’s an interesting thing to see pop up in games, since usually players are much more in a free-for-all state. Semi-competitive games do exist, but they don’t shift quite as much as this does (or they take longer). It’s a nice introduction to the game type, even shorter than, say, Between Two Cities.
  • I also thought I wasn’t going to like the take-that aspects, but they’re generally just centered on the player who can’t help you win and they’re usually extremely mild, unless you get too many of them. It’s not that players can play bad cards on your stuff, but they can pass you bad cards that you may have to play on yourself, which is interesting. I like the bonus step in the middle that lets you potentially mitigate the effect of bad cards that you’re given. It’s a nice way to make potential take-that less annoying. It turns out nice!
  • Additionally, unless you get dogpiled, the take-that is fairly easy to mitigate. If you do get dogpiled, there’s not a whole lot that you can do, unfortunately, but there are ways to let you discard cards, pass cards, and remove items that you were forced to play on yourself. It is pretty helpful when you get passed a couple cards that can block you from winning.
  • Plays pretty quickly and casually. It’s definitely a filler title, so this might be a good thing if you’re ever sitting around with a few people between games or you’re waiting for more people to arrive… whenever that happens!
  • This is actually a game where I think the trading aspect works. I’m usually pretty vehemently against trading because, after all, the concept of mutual benefit when there’s only one winner doesn’t really make a ton of sense to me. Since Bunny Party has the concept of multiple winners baked in, then trading works because there’s a mutual benefit. And I think that’s really good! It also helps that trading is bounded (you can only trade one card and must spend a token) and simple, so it’s not as lengthy of a negotiation.
  • I’m amused at how simple the fix for three players is. It’s perfect! I love kinda simple versions of player count fixes. It doesn’t lengthen the game or anything; it’s just … you flip the cards upside down.

Mehs

  • There are a few misprints on cards, but I imagine that will get fixed before fulfillment. It’s a prototype for a reason, but, it’s worth mentioning here. If this were a published game, that would end up in the cons since a few of the misprints are functionally incorrect (they tell you to discard the wrong card).
  • The “Play Cards Again” phase is a little clunky, in terms of game flow. Clunkiness, as an idea, isn’t often well-defined in reviews, so I generally use the term to mean that the flow of a game should feel fairly smooth and natural as you progress through turns, like driving a car on the freeway. A clunky part of the game is a minor speed bump to that game’s flow, and it often feels like one, too. In this case, having a part of the round where a limited number of players get to restart interactions with the game feels a tiny bit clunky. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a relatively small issue, but just something I noticed and felt odd about. So, it’s a Meh!
  • Similarly, having all players agree that trading is over is kind of clunky. It leaves the game vulnerable to malicious play, in which someone demands that someone trade with them or they won’t let the game progress in a We Fully Adhere To The Letter Of The Rules sense. In practice, you can just ignore the shouty person and move on. That said, it’s a bit vaguer than other, harder rules in this game, so again, just a minorly clunky feature.
  • The game also needs something to indicate when you’ve used your “once per game” ability. Currently, you can just flip the card over, but the art is really good and I’d like to keep looking at it. This is a relatively small problem but it can cause some issues if you forget and use your ability again.
  • It’s very possible that if you start looking too weak, everyone will start dumping their bad cards on you to get rid of them and you’ll just be torpedoed. For a very cute game, ironically, a “there’s blood in the water” effect can occur and players may be slightly incentivized to give you all their worst cards so that there’s too many for you to easily get rid of. The players adjacent to you probably shouldn’t, but if they’re on good terms with your opponent opposite you, then they may still be fine without your help. It really sucks when this happens, but, at least the game’s short! You can try again next time.

Cons

  • 3 – 4 players is tough to seat, right now, even online. I think I play one four-player game a month, these days, maybe less. This game just can’t fundamentally be played with fewer than 3, and I get that, but it definitely made it more challenging to get to the table.
  • The “if you take this Villager, the mutual win condition is disabled” Villager is … odd. It feels like it kind of goes against the spirit of cooperation that the game has? It also puts a giant target on your back for your neighbors as well as your opponent. I think, personally, it goes against my playstyle of “if we can all win, let’s all win”, but it also just feels odd against even the mild take-that in the game, since it’s a pretty explicit middle finger to your neighbors if you can pull it off. If you can, go for it, but I probably wouldn’t take this villager very often, if at all.

Overall: 7.75 / 10

Overall, I think Bunny Party at Maple Valley is a super fun little game! It’s definitely on the short and fast side, but if you’re playing it with people who like that sort of thing, I think it’ll play well! It’s solidly at the gateway / introductory game weight, so this is a solid title for introducing players to semi-cooperative games, or adding a bit of negative player interaction / take-that without frustrating players too much. The cute art really helps sell this one, in my book, as it makes an already-pretty-pleasant experience fun and friendly, and gently softens the take-that into minor inconveniences and not all-out assaults on your good name or whatever. Not that lighter games should have cuter themes, generally, but a light game with a cute theme is always a welcome combo. Honestly, heavier games with cute themes are a welcome combo, too. More cute themes. I will say that the limited player count makes this one harder to play, and having a readily-available card that violates the kinda, core win condition of your game are two things I don’t like as much, but I can see a lot of opportunity for this game to be extended (as you’d expect for a Kickstarter title). More Characters, more other Villagers, opportunities to name things or add stamps of your design to the game; backers love that kind of thing, in my experience, and a lot of games looking to get funded have been wise to leave opportunities for it without overwhelming the entire game (we can all think of games that have tried to do too much, and thankfully, Bunny Party is not too much). If you’re looking for a cute title to get a few friends excited about gaming, or you just want an upbeat semi-cooperative gateway game, I’d recommend Bunny Party at Maple Valley! I had a good time with it.


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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