City parks, theme parks, amusement parks, butterfly parks — but, bear parks? Yep, it turns out they’re a thing. Germany already boasts two of ‘em. (Really!) Now, thanks to Mayfair Games’ delightful Bärenpark from designer Phil Walker-Harding, you can build a bear-centric, tourist-pleasing nature preserve of your very own.
Let’s get straight into the ‘Top Five’ things you need to know about the game. (I can’t “bear” waiting any more… just wanted to get that joke out of the way early.)
~ Quick to Learn ~
Bärenpark’s rules fit onto a single sheet of paper, which makes the teaching and learning process fast. Combined with well-designed graphics on the player boards and the supply board, the game practically teaches itself.
Icons on the player boards drive actions in the game. On your turn, you place a tile from your supply onto your board, adding a new area to your park. You then put one or more tiles from the supply board to your personal supply, depending on the icons you covered this turn.
~ Choices, Choices ~
Player choices entirely drive the game’s action, which puts your planning front and center every time you play. Choosing the position of your tiles and paying attention to which icons sit nearby becomes a key, strategic factor. Those board icons determine which pieces you can take from supply each turn. If you plan correctly, you’ll have exactly the tiles you need. Plan poorly, and you might have to pass a turn just to get a fresh tile.
Wheelbarrows — the most common icon — give you a green space piece. Cement mixers offer you an animal house. The orange excavators let you snag one of the high-value large exhibit spaces. The construction crew icon lets you immediately add another 4x4 area to your park.
You can always choose a smaller tile than the icon you covered will let you take. That seems unimportant now, but late in the game you might need something small and specific to wrap up some last-minute victory points.
~ Scoring the Points ~
Speaking of points, your goal in Bärenpark involves gaining victory points by building valuable animal habitats and enclosures. You also want to include strategically placed green spaces because they use every bit of the land available. Green spaces don’t score any points on their own, but they help you gain bonus points by filling your 4x4 park areas.
~ All About Speed ~
As you probably guessed, there’s one more wrinkle to the game: You need to do all of this in the fewest turns possible. By moving fast, you get first pick from the limited pool of high point value enclosure tiles. (And we’re talking about plenty of extra points there.) On top of that, the sooner you complete your park areas, the more bonus points you receive by erecting beautiful bear statues. The statues start at 14 or 16 points (depending on the number of players), and then gradually fall to one or two lonely points by the end of the game.
~ Indirect Competition for a Family Win ~
Bärenpark uses an indirect competition playing style, which makes it great for mixed groups of adults and kids. Each player works their own board, looking for the best combinations of the remaining tiles, but not directly messing up the others while doing it. In fact, the only direct competition in the game comes from the race to claim high point value enclosures and bear statues before your opponents do.
~ The Verdict ~
With its light playing style, engaging theme, and intriguing strategies, Bärenpark will keep your family (or friends) well entertained. The puzzle-like, tile-laying mechanic recalls both the classic video game Tetris and the more recent board game Blokus (especially because of the familiar pentomino shapes used for the tiles).
Thanks to the four different starting boards and 16 unique park area expansions, Bärenpark enjoys a high re-playability factor that will keep players coming back for more. The simple playing style also makes this a good gateway game to introduce your hobby to others.
Good luck building your (bear) park!