Reaping the Rewards: ‘4 the Birds’

4 the Birds cover

Reaping the Rewards is a series looking at finished products from crowdfunding campaigns. Today’s topic: 4 the Birds, a board game originally funded on Kickstarter in May 2015 and delivered to backers earlier this year. Note that this is not a full review, since I wrote up the game during the Kickstarter campaign (my original review is here). This post mostly focuses on the finished product and any rules changes.

At a glance: 4 the Birds was designed by Steve Ewoldt and published by Breaking Games. It’s for 2 to 6 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 30 minutes to play. The retail price is $40, and it’s available from the Breaking Games website and from Amazon, as well as other retailers. The game is easy to pick up and learn and suitable for both kids and adults.

4 The Birds components
4 The Birds components. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Components

  • Game board
  • 36 player birds (6 each in 6 colors)
  • 6 Crows
  • 3 Hawks
  • 4 custom dice (2 8-sided dice, 2 10-sided dice)
  • 36 cards (6 each in 6 colors)
  • 12 round tokens
4 the Birds birds
The bird pawns look excellent. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

When I first reviewed 4 the Birds, it was with a prototype that used laser-cut wooden birds and a laminated print-out for a board; I had seen some images of Ben Crenshaw’s bird designs but not the final product. The finished version still uses two-piece birds that slot together, but they’re cardboard punch-outs instead, and the artwork is colorful and really fun. The birds should fit together pretty tightly—I only had one bird that was loose, though that was easily fixed with a dab of glue. One nice touch is that the birds aren’t all the same: each color is a different type of bird, with little variations in the design.

4 the Birds board
The cut edge of the board had some minor peeling of the printed surface. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The board in the prototype was double-sided, because for fewer players you use a smaller grid, but as mentioned in my original review, the final board is single-sided and instead has an outer ring of spaces that is only used for the larger player counts—it’s dimmed a little so you can see the difference, but using the right dice will also limit the numbers you can roll. The grid is also now a square, rather than the rounded square of the prototype, which was sometimes hard for players to interpret. The board has some spaces along the edges for you to store your birds (though not the crows and hawks), plus some reminders about what each card does. (One note: the first edition does have a minor error in the card explanations, an artifact of an earlier version of the game, but I’ll leave that as an exercise to the reader.) I did have some peeling on the cut edge of the quad-fold board, where the printed surface had been pushed away from the cardboard. It wasn’t major enough to affect gameplay and I was able to brush it back down, but I thought it worth mentioning for those who would be bothered by it.

4 the Birds cards
Each player gets 6 action cards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The cards are now small square cards rather than standard card size. The cards are color-coded to match the birds, plus they have the name of the bird. The cards are easy to read and understand.

The dice come in two sets: you use 8-sided dice for 2 or 3 players, and the 10-sided dice for 4 or more players. Each set of dice has one black Crow die and one brown Hawk die, with a crow or hawk icon on one of the sides.

4 the Birds starting setup
Starting setup with four crows (under older rules). Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

How to Play

I won’t go into all the details here, just a quick overview.

The rules have changed slightly from my original review (and in fact the second printing will include an updated rulebook, replacing the rulesheet that came with my review copy), but for the most part gameplay has remained the same. The goal of the game is to get 4 of your birds in a straight line or in a square.

At the beginning the board starts with 2 Crows and 1 Hawk, placed either at random or by a player—this is a shift from rolling three times to place Crows and only placing a Hawk if it is rolled on the brown die.

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The rest of the gameplay is pretty much the same: on your turn, you roll the dice, and then either place a bird on one of the indicated spaces or play one of your cards. Rolling a Crow or Hawk means you play one of those instead, and rolling doubles lets you retrieve a discarded card before playing a bird (or card). Birds have a “pecking order” that determines whether you can bump a bird from its spot.

The one added rule is the circular tokens—in fact, the first edition rulesheet does not explain how to use them, but they were explained in a Kickstarter update and in the updated rulebook. If you have played all of your cards, on your turn you may place a bird or place a token on a spot corresponding to the dice rolled. The tokens block a spot and no birds may land there for the remainder of the game.

4 the Birds play
The finished game is colorful and fun to play. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Verdict

I’m pretty pleased with how 4 the Birds turned out: the finished components look really sharp and I really like the look of the birds with Ben Crenshaw’s designs. It looks like some of the things I was concerned about were changed, like the “reflective” look on the numbers on the board; the little plus signs were perhaps just decorative spots for the tree but have been removed to avoid confusion.

My opinion on the game itself remains the same, since the gameplay hasn’t changed much: at first it might seem like it’s just a luck-based connect-four game, but once you start playing cards instead of just placing birds, you’ll find that it opens up a lot of other choices and tactics. It’s still easy to teach and quick to play, so it qualifies as a casual game, but it’s not just for kids. It’s also great that it goes up to 6 players (and the more players there are, the more jostling there is), making it a nice title with some flexibility for game nights.

The addition of the tokens allows for some more advanced strategies, too—in many cases players won’t play all of their cards, because they’re trying to get birds onto the board. However, the tokens may encourage some players to get their cards down more quickly so they have the option of blocking off spaces—but having no cards in hand can also limit your options. It’s an interesting tug-of-war going on there, and I’m excited to break this out and explore it a bit more.

4 the Birds is available from the Breaking Games website as well as from Amazon.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this game.

Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, who loves to read, is always up for a board game, and has a bit of a Kickstarter habit.