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A few weeks ago I announced a Kickstarter campaign for a hybrid digital/analog game called Beasts of Balance. I finally got a hands-on demo of the game last week, so I can tell you a bit more about how it works. (Note: The game was originally called Fabulous Beasts, but for trademark reasons was changed to Beasts of Balance after the campaign ended. This post has been updated to reflect the new name.)
In Beasts of Balance, you and your fellow players are young gods and goddesses who have been left in charge while your parents are off on a trip. They’ve left you with strict warnings not to mess around with the world, so of course that’s exactly what you’re going to do.
The game comes with:
- 1 Electronic Base
- 6 Beast Artefacts: Bear, Warthog, Octopus, Eagle, Shark, Toucan
- 10 Element Artefacts
- 2 Miracle Artefacts
- 3 Cross Artefacts
- 3 Migrate Artefacts
There’s also an accompanying app for your tablet (iOS or Android).
The base is a large twisty hexagon, with a round disc on the top that can sense the weight on it. It’s battery-powered, connects to your tablet via Bluetooth, and also has an RFID reader built into one side.
Each of the Artefacts has an RFID chip embedded in it (marked with a little icon), so that when you touch the chip to the base, the app recognizes which one you’re holding. They all have pleasing geometric shapes, with angles and sizes that can fit together nicely but can also be quite difficult to balance. The Element Artefacts are each made up of two halves, one for every combination of Earth, Air, Water, and Fire (including the same element on both halves).
The Cross and Migrate Artefacts are large flat pieces, shaped like Xs and arrows. Finally, there are two “Miracle” Artefacts which have odd shapes. The Miracle of Distraction is a long curvy ribbon-like shape, and the Miracle of Haste is a red and pink knot.
How to Play
To play the game, you connect the tablet to the base, and then hit Start. You’re presented with an empty landscape and instructions to scan a beast. When you tap the beast to the base, the app recognizes it and displays its name and little constellation. Place the beast on the base, and it’s added into the world in the app.
As you add beasts, the app adds them to the display, showing whether they’re on land, in the water, or in the air. Each one starts with a certain amount of that element, and each turn they consume 1 point of the resource. If they run out, they starve and go extinct. However, if you add Element Artefacts to the base, each half will feed 2 points of that element to each animal of that type; Fire feeds all animals regardless of type.
The Cross and Migrate Artefacts are where you really get to have fun: when you place a Cross on the base, it chooses two of your beasts and combines them, giving you things like a Sheagle (Shark + Eagle). These new mixed beasts can also be crossed with other beasts. Migrate causes an animal to move to a different region, changing to match it. For instance, a Toucan on land becomes the four-legged Outran. A Shark in the air becomes the flying Sky Shark.
Each creature you add to the world gives you Fabulousness points, and the goal is to get as many points as possible. Feeding the beasts (particularly Fire) starts giving them eye-popping colors, and when they hit 20 points, they turn fabulous.
Of course, while you’re adding beasts and crossing and migrating them, you’re also physically balancing all of these objects on the base. If anything falls off the base, the app starts beeping and gives you 5 seconds to restore everything before the world falls apart and the game is over. When one thing falls off, we were able to scramble to put it back. But if the whole tower collapses–well, you’re out of luck.
The Miracle Artefacts give you more points, but also make things harder. For instance, the Miracle of Distraction introduces things that you’ll have to pay attention to on the app while you’re stacking. There are some moons that float by that you have to keep tapping, or a sun that you’ll have to press and hold while placing the next object onto the base. The Miracle of Haste adds a time limit for adding pieces to the tower, so that you have to hurry and can’t spend as much time thinking about your next move.
I shot a few video clips of Beasts of Balance in action. Here you can see what happens when you scan a beast, crossing two beasts, and my panicked rescue when a piece fell off the base. And, of course, the whole tower collapsing:
Fellow GeekDad Andy Robertson has this FamilyGamerTV video of Beasts of Balance, showing some more gameplay, with an audio interview with project creator Alex Fleetwood.
I only got to play with the Beasts of Balance prototype for an hour or so before we had to pack it up and say farewell, but I really enjoyed it (as did my toddler). It’s interesting to me how seamless the experience was for her–she’s young enough that she doesn’t think it’s a big deal that the bear toy she placed on the base pops up on the iPad screen. She just enjoys the play.
To me, though, the combination of the digital and the physical always feels a little bit like magic. This version of the app was a development build so it wasn’t complete–sharp-eyed readers may notice that some beasts on the screen were invisible–but it worked well enough to keep us playing the whole time.
The physical stacking part of the game has the same appeal as any stacking game like Jenga or Animal Upon Animal: how far can you stack it before it all comes crashing down? And even though the goal is to keep stacking, everyone loves watching the tower fall.
The digital part, though, introduces a new goal: not just stacking up high, but playing to get a high score. You have to keep adding elements to keep the beasts from starving, but you only have so many of each element. It’s also fun to get as many interesting beasts as possible, so you’ll try lots of combinations of beasts, crossing and migrating them in different ways. (I hope the final app will come with some sort of menagerie section where you can see all of the beasts that you’ve created.)
Beasts of Balance looks great and is fun to play–the only barrier may be the price. I’d love to get a set for my family but at about $85 (plus shipping) for the Core Set, it’s something I’d have to budget for rather than an impulse buy. The price is comparable to the Osmo, another digital/physical set that we’ve reviewed, and it’s less than you’ll end up spending on something like Skylanders or Disney Infinity if you’re trying to collect a lot of characters. I really do like the look and feel of Beasts of Balance, though, and I think it’s something all of my kids would play a lot if we decide to buy one.
The project has just over a week to go and is closing in on their funding goal. I’d love to see this project get funded and for these Beasts of Balance to make their way into the world. Visit the Kickstarter page to check it out!