Bärenpark Review

I will be perfectly honest, at first I passed on Bärenpark, a tile laying game where you build a zoo specifically for bears. I will admit that the theme didn't grab me and the mechanics looked a little too simplistic for my tastes and, worst of all, the cover artwork did nothing to inspire me. But I am happy to say that Bärenpark has proven me wrong because not only is it a fun and light game it's also got a surprising depth of strategy.

The correct term to describe Bärenpark is a polyominoes positioning game (or Tetris shapes as I prefer to call them). Each turn you will attempt to place one of the odd shaped pieces, made of either public amenities or one of the various bear enclosures, into your park.  The name of the game is efficiency, as you race to fill your park as quickly as possible but also maximise its scoring.

Placing tiles is a balance of fitting enclosures in neatly and choosing which tile to grab next. As you place a tile you will cover one of a number of icons on your empty park, each covered item allows you to grab point scoring bear enclosure, zero point amenities or even expand your park.  There's also a cordoned off pit, reserved for a bear statue which is automatically awarded when you have filled every other space on your little board.

barenpark tile laying game review

Every bear enclosure that can be added to your park scores you points but the regular enclosures and bear statues offer diminishing returns. This turns Bärenpark into a race, rewarding the player who can grab them first. And this race element is why I think Bärenpark doesn't really work as a two player game. There is just too much of a gap between the point values for both the bear statues and enclosures, it means that as soon as one player starts to get ahead, their opponent really struggles to catch up.

For those that desire a more advanced game—which if you're reading this blog then you are obviously of the mental fortitude to handle such a thing, you beautiful brainy person—then an optional achievement system exists. These are randomly selected objectives that add even more scoring opportunities to the game and thus increase the complexity. You may be required to build three polar bear enclosures, or build a three-tile long rubber dingy rapids ride. Just like the bear statues and enclosures, the points available for completing these achievements lessen as they are awarded, so they aim is to complete these achievements before your opponents.

To me, achievements are the way Bärenpark was intended to be played, and although vanilla Bärenpark is perfectly suitable for more casual gamers and kids, the extra options elevate the game a step further.

barenpark polyominoes board game review

Let's take a brief moment to talk about the insert, because it's the oddest piece of board game packing furniture I have ever seen. Within the cardboard punch boards are three pieces that form a deep Y shape that is apparently designed to slot into the box and help you keep everything organised. But... well...to be quite frank it does nothing of the sort and it's not clear how it's supposed to work, to the point you will probably be binning it faster than a Fantasy Flight Games' trench.

If I have a complaint about Bärenpark it’s that I have come across a weird little flaw where it is impossible to complete the game. The rules state that the game ends when a player has completed their fourth board but, especially at 4 players, it’s possible that all players can reach a point where it's completely impossible for any player to complete their final board due to a lack suitable tiles. My annoyance here is not that this can happen, but that the rulebook has no provision for this and it occurred in our very first four player game.

By now you are no doubt asking; so Steve how does it compare to other polyominoes games like Patchwork and Cottage Garden? At which point I can either guiltily admit that I haven't played any of these games so don't know or I can distract you with this cute gif of a panda licking an ice lolly:

I'm very happy to say that I like Bärenpark, in fact I like it a lot, which has actually come as a bit of a surprise to me. I originally passed on the game because the artwork and mechanics didn't real jump out at me, I was worried that the game was going to be too cutesy and aimed at a much more casual audience. Which was wrong of me. 

barenpark bear park board game review

While it is definitely true that Bärenpark is toward the lighter end of my game collection it's a game that takes seconds to teach and yet still contains plenty of juicy decisions to wrap your brain around, especially at higher player counts where somebody could have grabbed your first, second and even third choice of tile to select by the time it gets around to you. The added option of the achievements elevates Bärenpark from a fairly simple tile layer to something much more advanced with plenty of options. Don't get me wrong, it's still a light family friendly game but there's enough meat to the game that can exercise your spatial awareness and build a pretty theme park for bears.

This review is based on a full retail copy of the game provided by the distributor.
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