Time: ~35 minutes
Times Played: 12+
I remember the exact moment that I saw Bärenpark for the first time. It had just been released and was sitting on the new display shelf. I was with a friend (we had just played Keyflower for the first time) and I remarked “if that’s a game about building parks for bears, I have to have it.” I went home, did copious amounts of research and within a week, I was the proud owner of a box where a bear appears to be having sexual overtures for a woman.
Bärenpark is a light tile-placing game where you design and build your own theme park/zoo structured around…wait for it…bears. Gobi, Polar, Panda and/or Koala to be precise.
And yes, I know what you’re all thinking. Koala bears are not bears; they are marsupials. We know. The creators of the game know. But that’s the bear they went with. If this is game breaking for you, I am sorry.
Anyways, over the course of the game, players take turns placing tiles on their own bear park boards and then claiming new tiles from the general selection area until one player has completely filled their park.
There are four starter boards, with each side representing a different country. While one board has two countries printed on it, the tile placement on either side is identical.
After selecting the bear board, players are given a greenery tile (a bathroom, a food vendor, a playground, a river) depending on their order of play.
On a players turn, they must play one of their tiles onto their bear board. The only restrictions to placement are that it must be orthogonally adjacent to a previously played tile (minus your very first tile, as that has no other tile to be placed near) and it cannot cover any other existing tiles, hang off the board or cover the pit with caution tape surrounding it.
Depending on where the tile was placed, you may have covered an icon on your board.
Covering a wheelbarrow (green) allows a player to select a tile from the greenery area of the general selection board. There are four types, ranging from one to four tiles. These offer the player no points but are valuable in completing the board;
Covering a Cement Mixer (white) allows a player to select a tile from the bear enclosure area of the general selection board. There are four types of bear enclosure shapes and they are stacked in descending point value;
Covering a Backhoe (orange) allows a player to select a tile from the unique bear habitat area of the general selection board. There are twelve unique habitats that differ in points and shape; and
Covering a Construction Crew (people) allows a player to select a new bear board tile to add to their expanding park. This can only be done if the player has less than four park tiles.
If your last placement completely fills a bear board (minus the pit with the caution tape), you will claim the highest remaining bear statue and add it to that pit.
Once a player has completely filled their boards, the remaining players have one additional turn and then the game is over. Players will then count up all the points they have accumulated and whoever has the most points is the victor.
Right off the bat, this game is incredibly accessible. The only reason we refer to the rules is to see how many tiles to start the game with. After one reading, you don’t really need to go over anything again. The icons are clear and vibrant and mark the board areas where you’ll be taking from.
But the tally’s are written right on the board! I can see them! That is correct, however, it is a misprint. The numbers have been reversed. Not a deal breaker but something to point out so this review isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
This is a game that we’ve explained to people in a minute or two and then banged out four or five games in a row. I also know this game is accessible because my parents picked it up fast.
The biggest worry I had with something so accessible is that I (or we) would get bored of it quickly. I think the base game, as is, is phenomenal but there is also a variant that adds achievement objectives (for the first player to do ‘x’). The strategy for the game is not overly deep but there is a nice balance between picking a piece that is worth the most points or what will best fit your board. Adding the achievements is another dimension to that puzzle.
There are plenty of these achievements to mix and match that add just enough variety to the game to spice it up without over-complicating anything.
Bärenpark also looks good. Fun bear art, vibrant colors and the thick cardboard cutout shapes make the game solid. This is a game that is fun to look at while playing and really stands out when compared to some of the more monochromatic games that tend to hit the table.
The board also has outlines on the general selection areas which make set-up quick and easy, which is no small feat with the amount of pieces available to everyone. Without even going over the rules, people will know where the general pieces go because of this layout.
Something small that tends to get overlooked is that almost all of Bärenpark is used when playing the game. You don’t have to sift through pieces for set-up or variants (minus the achievements).
The game came with a divider as well to help separate the pieces and while I appreciate the initiative, it just made things more messy and difficult to use so I stopped using mine. It was not difficult to set-up though, so points for that.
Bärenpark plays two to four and I think it works at all levels. The higher the player count, the better the experience as the game involves more moving pieces at that level but this is still a fun and serviceable game at two players. At two, you’re basically mimicking one another as everything is worth the same points but it’s still a fun time. The game is basically a race to finish first and I feel at two players that is where it is most pronounced.
No matter the player count, scores will be close. Almost all of our games have a variance of around ten points. If the winner scores ninety points, last place will have eighty, with third place sitting at eighty-five points and second falling two shy at eighty-eight.
I personally love that and it makes me want to play again and again because I was so so close but I can also see why others would be frustrated with these outcomes.
I think Bärenpark is a great addition to any collection and should be essential to any family collection. This game without achievements could probably be played by anyone aged six or seven. This is just a well-designed, fun time. Not too long, not too complex, and it involves some slight interaction among players. There’s not much to not like.