They may look adorable, but watch out: these aren’t teddy bears. They’re tough warriors seeking glory for their clans, and they’re about to face off in the BarBEARian Battlegrounds.
What Is BarBEARian Battlegrounds?
BarBEARian Battlegrounds is a game for 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 30 minutes to play. It releases today and retails for $24.95—look for it in stores or on Amazon. The game does involve battles and raiding other players, but nothing gory or explicit, so the age rating seems about right to me.
BarBEARian Battlegrounds Components
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, so it is subject to change and does not reflect final component quality. The player screens will be a slightly different size, and the glory tokens were reversed on the backs so that the word “Locked” was printed backward, but that will be fixed in the final version.
- 4 player mat
- 4 player screens
- 25 dice (5 per player color, plus 5 black)
- 28 Glory tokens (7 per player)
- 24 Specialist tokens (6 each of 4 types)
- 12 Upgrade cards (4 each of 3 types)
- 16 Trials cards
- Resource tokens (honey, ore, faith)
- First Player token
Most of the components are fairly simple—cards, cardboard tokens, standard six-sided dice—so I’m confident that those will turn out just fine. The one component I’m somewhat concerned about is the player screens. The screen is intended to hide your dice placement from other players. However, because the player mat is vertically oriented, the bottom half of the mat (closest to the player) sticks out quite a ways from the screen, and so we found that it was hard to keep your dice hidden from players to your left and right. Hopefully the finished screens will have wider wings.
The artwork in the game is adorable and wonderful, depicting the four clans of warrior bears in their native habitats: desert, forest, volcanoes, and snowy mountains. The player mats also have fun details on them, including beehives where you gather honey and a forge where you process your ore. I do wish there were more illustrations of the bears in the game, though—there are some small illustrations on the cards, but primarily they’re on the player screens.
There’s some nice touches that help with color blindness—the glory tokens have the name of the color printed at the bottom of each token, and each clan has not only a color but a unique banner with a symbol on it, shown on the player boards and the player screens. I think it would have been nice if the glory tokens also showed each clan’s banner rather than a generic flag. The dice are not differentiated by anything but color, but the color of the dice actually doesn’t matter much, as long as nobody has more than five.
The cards in the game are the small, half-sized cards; they work okay, but some of the text is fairly tiny and I never really enjoy shuffling small cards.
The whole thing comes in a fairly compact box (perhaps a little smaller than Go Nuts for Donuts), which is a nice size without a lot of wasted space.
How to Play BarBEARian Battlegrounds
You can download a copy of the rulebook here.
The goal of the game is to be the first to reach 7 glory.
Give each player a set of components in their chosen color: player mat, player screen, dice, and glory tokens. Each player starts with 2 glory tokens and 3 dice, setting the rest aside to be gained later. (Glory tokens start on the “unlocked” side.) Shuffle the trials cards (after removing some based on player count) and deal two to each player. Everyone chooses one to keep and shuffles the other back. Choose a first player at random and give them the first player token.
Place the resources, specialists, mercenary dice (black), and upgrade cards in the center of the play area. The number of specialists used depends on the number of players.
Each round consists of four phases:
- Plan: Everyone rolls their dice, letting everyone see their results. Then players secretly place their dice on their player mats, behind their screens.
- Brawl: Starting with the first player and going clockwise, players who assigned dice to attack will attempt to raid their opponents.
- Gather: Players with dice (or specialists) on the bottom half of their player mats will collect resources.
- Build: Players may buy specialists, upgrades, and use abilities by spending resources.
Here’s a closer look at the actions.
After rolling, you may spend 2 faith to change a die to any face of your choice using the “Change Fate” ability shown on your player screen.
Your player mat has 8 places to place dice. The top three are battleground spaces for attacking other clans—each one shows a banner above it, representing which clan you plan to raid. The next two (with the shields) are barracks for defending your own village—both spaces defend against all attacks together.
At the bottom are three spaces for gathering resources:
- Farm: You may place a 1, 2, or 3 die to get honey.
- Temple: You may place any number here to get faith. A 6 die will get you 2 faith or allow you to lock one glory token.
- Forge: You may place a 4, 5, or 6 die to get ore.
Each space may only hold dice of a single value, so if you roll multiple dice of the same value, you may stack them on the same space.
Raids are resolved starting with the first player and going clockwise.
The dice you have on your battleground spaces show the strength of your attacks on the other clans. First, check if the player you’re attacking is also attacking you and compare strengths. If one is larger, the difference between the two dice is used as the attack strength (and the lower number fails to raid at all). Then, compare your remaining attack strength with the total defense in the defender’s barracks. If you exceed the defense value, then you have successfully raided.
Note: You may use the “Empower” ability shown on your player screen by spending 2 ore to add +1 strength to any die in your battlegrounds or barracks.
For each successful raid, you may either steal 1 glory token (of any color) from that player, or take 2 resources (of the defender’s choice).
After raids are resolved, everyone gains resources according to the dice on their Farm, Temple, and Forge. Each die (regardless of value) gains 1 of that resource, except for a 6 on the Temple, which can gain 2 faith. If you use a 6 on your Temple to lock a glory token, you may flip it over to the “locked” side, and then it may not be stolen by another player in a raid.
You may spend resources to purchase various things. The inside of the player shield shows the marketplace and how various resources may be used:
- Mercenary: spend 2 honey to take a black mercenary die, which is used for the next round and then returned to the supply.
- Hire Specialist: spend 1 of each resource (honey, faith, ore) to purchase a specialist tile and place it on your mat.
- Reinforcements: spend 2 of each resource to gain another die of your color (up to 5 total).
- Grand Offering: spend 3 of each resource to gain 1 glory token of your color, if available.
You may also purchase upgrade card (not shown on the player screen), up to one of each type:
- Captain Training (2 faith, 2 ore): Your 5s and 6s can be stacked with any other dice values on battlegrounds and barracks.
- The 2nd Amendment (2 faith, 2 honey): Your Empower ability now affects all of your dice on battlegrounds and barracks.
- Pillaging (2 honey, 2 ore): When you raid an opponent, you may now take 1 glory and two resources of your choice.
The specialists are tokens that are placed below the barracks, farm, temple, and forge spaces. Each specialist in the barracks spaces adds +1 defense during attacks. Each specialist on the farm, temple, and forge spaces will gather 1 of the corresponding resource (even if you assign no dice to that space).
Each player has one trial card as a secret objective that provides an additional way to earn glory. If you complete your trial, you reveal it and claim a glory token of your color from the supply. Then draw 2 trial cards, keep one, and shuffle the other back into the deck. Note that there are only 5 glory tokens of your color in the supply; once these have all been gained through Grand Offerings or completing trials, you may no longer gain glory with those methods.
The game ends immediately when a player has collected 7 glory (of any colors); that player wins.
Why You Should Play BarBEARian Battlegrounds
BarBEARian Battlegrounds is a fun mix of dice-based worker placement, resource management, and staring suspiciously at your rivals to see if you can figure out their plans. In a perfect world, everyone would just mind their own business, gathering resources and making Grand Offerings and we could all achieve glory together. But no, these bears aren’t interested in just sitting at home and investing in infrastructure—they’d rather just take glory from neighboring clans. That means you’ll have to increase your military spending, of course, investing in defense. And everyone knows that the best defense is a good offense, so you better put some of your best bears on the front lines, too. Oh, and how will you support all of that fighting? Well, hopefully you still have some bears left in the village to work on the farm and in the forge.
That’s the trick, of course: deciding how to allocate your limited number of dice to the various spaces on your player mat. You’ll definitely need to collect resources in order to hire specialists and get more dice, but if you spend all your dice gathering, then you’re a sitting duck (bear-duck?) when other clans come to raid you. On the other hand, if you put a bunch of dice on defense and then nobody attacks, you’ll wish you’d just stayed in the village instead.
I like that you get to see what everyone rolled at the start of the planning phase, because it gives you an idea of how much potential attack or defense a player has, and whether they’ve rolled multiples of the same number that they’ll be able to stack up. If all of their dice are different, you know that they can’t attack you with more than one die. But beware the player who rolls double 6s … they’re probably sharpening their little flinty spears. At the same time, it’s great that you can sometimes pull off surprise attacks: if you roll really low numbers, other players may assume you’re not going on the offensive, and you might get away with a successful raid with a lone 1.
Locking your glory tokens at the temple is extremely useful, because then they can’t be stolen—and if you have nothing to take, then nobody will come raid you anyway. The difficulty is that locking happens after the raids. So you have to successfully defend a glory token and still have a 6 leftover in your temple to lock the glory. Being able to predict who’s raiding whom is really important for this, too.
As in most worker-placement style games, getting more workers can be a huge boon. In this case, you can get mercenaries fairly cheaply (2 honey) to get an extra die, but it only lasts a single round. Or you can save up to buy one of your own dice from the supply, which will last you the rest of the game. The specialists are somewhere in the middle—they’re not as expensive as extra dice, but they’re also not as versatile. Then again, if you can get enough specialists to produce resources, you can spend your dice attacking and defending.
BarBEARian Battlegrounds reminds me a little bit of Fantastic Factories, another excellent dice-placement game (which was on my mind because I had both prototypes at about the same time). In both games, you’ll need to split your dice between gaining resources and spending resources to get points, and you need specific numbers for certain actions. However, BarBEARian Battlegrounds has the player-vs-player interactions because of the raids, which means you can’t just focus primarily on your own player area, and you really have to watch what other people are up to.
Honestly, though, you probably shouldn’t be taking strategy tips from me anyway—I’ve lost most of the games I’ve played, I think in part because I’m too focused on building up infrastructure. I love the idea of getting enough specialists so I can hire all my dice and then move on to raiding other players while making Grand Offerings … but usually the game is over before I can get to that point. But you do have to use some of your dice to get resources or complete some trials, because otherwise there just aren’t that many glory tokens to go around, especially when people start locking them up. I really enjoy the tension between raiding, defending, and gathering, because you have a limited number of dice and can only do so much each round.
There is, of course, a high degree of luck, as you’d expect from a dice game. There are a few ways to mitigate bad rolls, like spending faith to choose a die face, or investing in extra dice, but if one player consistently rolls 6s and you’re consistently rolling 1s, it’s not going to be easy to overcome. Still, if you like dice games in general, you’re probably okay with that already. Just don’t play it with that friend of yours who is always lucky, right?
Overall, BarBEARian Battlegrounds is a cute, clever game with plenty of player interaction and your daily quota of bear-related puns. Look for BarBEARian Battlegrounds at your local game store starting today!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.