Time: ~45 minutes
Times Played: 30+
On BGG, I have six games rated as a perfect 10/10 (at the time of this writing). Chinatown (my favorite game of all-time), Castles of Burgundy (the greatest two-player game I own), Azul (my only rival to Chinatown), Great Western Trail (a testament to what modern Euro’s can be), Twilight Imperium 4th Edition (an epic experience), and…Bunny Kingdom. One of these games is not like the others.
According to BGG rank (at the time of this writing), Bunny Kingdom is the lowest of my six “10’s” as it falls in at 450. Chinatown is the closest at 380 (but I expect that to change with the upcoming reprint. It has been out of reach for so many for so long). If we exclude Chinatown, the next lowest is Azul at 37.
BGG rank isn’t the end-all, be-all and games are subjective (just like everything else) but I find it funny that I have Bunny Kingdom aligned with such universally praised heavy hitters whereas the vast majority…don’t.
In case it isn’t clear, I am about to heap a ton of praise on Bunny Kingdom.
Bunny Kingdom is an area control game where the prime mechanic is card drafting. Richard Garfield, the designer of the game, is well-known for his fondness with this mechanic as he’s responsible for games like Magic: The Gathering, King of Tokyo, Keyforge, and Netrunner. He also has explored non-card drafting games such as RoboRally. Needless to say, his resume is exhaustive and speaks for itself and it shouldn’t be a surprise that Bunny Kingdom lives up to his pedigree.
Ignoring the game play for a moment, the theme and artwork of Paul Mafayon really bring alive a genre that tends to be more serious than what Bunny Kingdom is offering. Rabbits taking over valuable land and erecting castles and fiefs isn’t much different than a game doing that with dwarves, orcs, or a mid-century medieval power but Mafayon makes sure the art creates its own world. Like Clank!, Bunny Kingdom is full of references to various mediums of pop culture while also creating new and special art that help build and nurture the world they’ve created.
I’m not saying that I feel like a lord of bunnies nor do I end up roleplaying as a hare, but the theme is fleshed out enough that it has its own world and most importantly, it’s something different. There are so many games that has players being Vikings or Conquistadors or Knights that being able to play as something as simple as bunnies helps make the game stand out. In terms of theme, Bunny Kingdom has a lot in common with Root, as it’s a game that has overtures of battle and violence that masks itself with the adorableness that is pop culture references and animals.
Besides the artwork, the miniatures are a great way to sell the appearance of the game. The bunny sculpts are tiny but will multiply across the landscape by the time the game is over, just like bunnies do. The models look and feel pure, which creates a wholesome aura for the game.
The Cities castles stand out and are functional as a bunny model will fit snugly in the middle of the walled structure. You can easily identify their worth thanks to the number of towers. The color choices (black, pink, red, and yellow) of the bunnies are different than the rest of the colors used and help make the models pop against the board. The game is incredibly easy on the eyes and the color choices and castle designs help make scoring relatively easy.
The basis of the game is that at the beginning of each round, players will receive a set of cards (excluding the two-player experience, more on that later). The cards that are available to players will let them claim a square on the main board, place a City, place a Sky Bridge, place an extra resource tile on the main board, or contribute to end of game scoring. It’s up to the players to decide what they need and what will grant them the greatest impact over the course of the game. In addition to taking what you need, you may also need to take what your opponent needs instead to help mitigate their success.
At the end of each round, players will score the current state of the board. The Victory Point formula is the number of towers (not Cities, the actual towers on the castle miniature) in a connected region multiplied by the number of unique resources in those regions. For instance, if a player has seven territories that produce three wood, two fish and two carrots with two Cities that each have two towers, the total amount of points for the region would be twelve (12), as you’re multiplying the four (4) towers against the three (3) different unique resources. The scoring is the most ‘complex’ aspect of the game and after a game, it’s relatively easy to follow along with.
At the end of the final round, players will play end of game scoring cards one at a time until all have been played and the player with the most points will win.
The original version of Bunny Kingdom came with a smaller board and while it did become crowded very quickly (particularly in four-player games), I never really saw the big issues with it. There was a lot of information in a tight space but with everything being multiple distinct colors, we found it easy to differentiate pieces when it came to scoring. There would be trouble if you couldn’t have a top-down view as the bunnies, cardboard chits, and Cities could cover the resources and the slightest bump of the table could spell doom for the board (but honestly, what game doesn’t have that problem?).
IELLO did come out with a full-size board though due to the backlash they faced from players and I believe that board is now standard in purchases (but I could be mistaken). We only use the big board now because it is clearly superior. The larger board makes it much easier to read everything from a glance and when comparing the two, it’s easy to see the gripes although I personally would have never called the original board a deal breaker. I compare it to Ticket to Ride and the expansion, 1910. The original small cards were fine for the game but obviously not ideal for many and the 1910 expansion changed that.
However, I do feel for Bunny Kingdom as a lot of the original reviews that came out for the game prominently feature the smaller board and how much of a hindrance it was/is. Many have not been amended to speak towards the change to the larger board and I wonder how many people have been put off by those old reviews. If you have a copy with the smaller board, you can get a larger board for free* (*actually the price of shipping) from iello here.
The box itself is a standard box, with a divider creating separate compartments for game pieces. I still bag our pieces as it’s easier to pull them from the box that way but the compartment breakdown does help keep items tidy.
The Cards are the major selling point of the game as not only are they constantly being cycled through your hands but they are the crux for playing and scoring. My only complaint with the cards is that they feel cheap to me and over the course of our plays, a few cards have started to fray. I am disappointed that a game that strictly deals with shuffling and using cards didn’t spring for better material than the stock that they were printed on. The craftsmanship appears the same in the expansion as we had a card immediately suffer damage on the first shuffle. I have reached out for replacement cards but am awaiting a response (6/1/19).
Bunny Kingdom itself is the tale of two games. There is the two-player variant and the three- and four-player versions. Normally, I’m incredibly hesitant over variants as they change the core game play and make a game that wasn’t meant for a certain player range into something it’s not. I like to think that Bunny Kingdom bucks that stereotype.
At two-players, each player begins the game with two separate decks of ten cards each. One deck is face down and the other is in their hand. Each turn of a round, they will draw a card from the face down deck and add it to their hand (increasing their hand by +1). Then they will choose one card to play and one card to discard before passing their hand to their opponent (which decreases their hand by -2). Discarded cards are removed from the game entirely and are hidden. This will continue until the face down draw pile is depleted. This is in stark contrast to the three- and four-player plays as players do not discard any cards at that count.
The drafting in two-players can be fiddly as players need to remember to draw and discard each round. I personally advise players to speak that step out loud each time just so it’s not forgotten. Besides the drafting, nothing else changes regarding the rules of the game.
The purpose of the drafting, in my opinion, is to allow more options for the players over the course of the game. Whereas we are constantly seeing one another’s decks in non-two player games, the additional cards add an element of surprise and randomness so players cannot always just target the cards that they know were previously in a players hand. I think it’s a great way around the issue of having only two players draft from the same hand of cards and ensure that they see a great variety of cards over the course of a game. The secrecy (to both players) ensures a unique experience with each play through. This variant doesn’t alter the core of the game but it does enhance certain aspects of it.
There’s internal turmoil as you know you want to claim a parchment card that should be coming back to you as you pass your deck…but then you draw a great location card that would really shore up your position on the board. Now what do you do? It’s a small strategic decision that very well might impact the winner of the game.
Personally, I think two-player Bunny Kingdom is phenomenal. It is one of our favorite two-player games. This is area control without direct interaction. You can impact your opponents decision making without outright attacking them. It’s hate-drafting at its finest and one of the better games that deals with combating your opponent without causing hurt feelings. Don’t get me wrong; players may still get upset but unlike Blood Rage or The Godfather, you’re not directly taking over another players territory by force.
The nature of the two-player draft make for quick games and each feels different as you can either play your own game and work on your fiefs or you can vindictively go after your opponents land, discarding and swiping cards they need. You also have much more control of the game due to this draft. In three- and four-players, the cards being passed around are all that you have for the entire round and you’re sharing the board with the others. At two-players, there are plenty of cards in play that you don’t know about and the entire board is up for grabs.
The card draft, for all player counts, also helps mitigate the luck factor that is randomly drawing cards from a pile. Some players hands will be vastly superior to others but that’s fine since those cards will be passed around. You cannot keep everything. You’ll also see what players are placing on the board and you’ll have the decision of taking something that is important for your opponent (and thus, keeping it from them) or taking something that benefits yourself.
Playing at the higher player counts stresses board management more for each player, as they’re now working against more than one other player (and the randomness of the deck). As you need to ensure that you connect spaces on the board, higher player count games means you may have to forgo that unique resource or end of game scoring card to guarantee that your kingdom is connected. It’s not unheard of for a player to have a turn where two or more opponents turn up the heat on them by grabbing cards that would have helped you but did nothing for them. There are also games where a player spends time hoarding luxury resources but then ends without a place to put them on the board, rendering their previous turns moot. In the three- and four-player count games, players need to find the right mixture of strategy to ensure a victory.
Bunny Kingdom is not a long game. Once you’re adept at the rules, a two-player game may run only thirty minutes. Our average is around thirty-five. When adding more players, it’s typically around ten minutes per additional player but after a play or two, high player count games shouldn’t be more than an hour. This is a perfectly acceptable time frame for a game that I would put right outside the gateway tag, mostly due to the scoring and the “take that” nature of the gameplay.
So what’s not to like?
Unlike other drafting games, there really isn’t much raising of the stakes in regards to Bunny Kingdom. All cards are available from the get go and there’s no real progression as the game plays. Obviously some cards have restrictions that need to be met to be played, but there isn’t anything in the way of progression that unlocks better buildings, resources, or bonuses. This isn’t a negative to me but it’s worth noting since many games have players vying for an opportunity to play their ‘better’ cards whereas Bunny Kingdom, for 90% of the time, lets you do it from the jump off.
The luck of the game is heavy as each round features a random card draw. There are games where it will feel like nothing is going right for you. Again though, I don’t mind that. Maybe you draw an absolute banger hand (some Cities, some luxury resources, a few good locations, etc.) and in games without a draft, this would be debilitating to your opponent(s). However, in Bunny Kingdom, that hand is being passed down the assembly line and is now being sifted through by your rival(s). All those good cards may be gone by the time the hand gets back to you. This can impact a players ability to connect their territories as the card they need either doesn’t appear or does appear but it’s too late to make a difference. The Camp cards help mitigate this a little but they’re more of a band aid to a problem that might require stitches.
In addition to the randomness, when the cards go a certain way for a player, it can create a runaway leader that is incredibly hard to catch up to. A player with a strong foothold on the first round will be able to build off that for the rest of the game while other players are struggling to catch up. This can make for an unfun experience and will force players to spend their actions negatively impacting their opponent more than positively impacting their own kingdoms, which may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
The only other negative I have is the scoring. Mathematically, the scoring is not challenging in the slightest as it’s just a matter of simple multiplication. What is the challenge is the time it takes, particularly in the later rounds when fiefs have grown large and sprawling, to tally all the points. The player aids are helpful for the rudimentary math but you still need an eagle-eyed player to check not only the math of the player but to ensure they counted the correct number of resources and Cities.
Bunny Kingdom is a great next step game for players new to the hobby and it’s also a quick, lighter fare for more experienced players. If you’re fine with the luck that comes with the card drafting, I would recommend checking out Bunny Kingdom. It has been a huge success for us and dominates our recent plays.