Minecraft: Builders and Biomes is a game for 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about 60 minutes to play. It’s currently available on Amazon and other fine retailers.
The board game roughly follows the same concept as the video game: players mine resources in order to build stuff while avoiding an assortment of vaguely menacing bad guys.
Inside the box, you’ll find:
The components are all very high quality, as you might expect from a finished commercial game from Ravensburger.
The Building and Mob tiles are the components that most directly invoke the look and feel of the game. Twenty of the 64 tiles show “mobs,” the villains of Minecraft. They include five Creepers, five Skeletons, three Witches, three Endermen, two Zombies, and two Spiders.
Note: Thanks to Jessica for helping me ID those mobs.
The remaining 44 tiles are Building tiles. Each tile has a set of three attributes, each of which comes into play during the game’s three scoring rounds. I’ll discuss these attributes in detail when I discuss the gameplay below, but for now, it’s worth noting that the icons are mostly helpful here. The biomes are by far the easiest to distinguish, as they are indicated not only by icon but also the background of the tile itself: forest tiles are green, desert brown, mountain dark grey, and snowy tundra white. The materials are where things are harder than they should. Each tile shows a unique building (and there really are no duplicated buildings), and that building is made from the appropriate type of material. But it’s not necessarily obvious to beginning players, particularly those of us who haven’t played the video game. And while the icons for two of the materials are very obviously different—the sand is a light brown and obsidian is black—the other two are a bit tougher to distinguish at a quick glance. Unfortunately, the designers chose here to have the building represented in the icons be the same for all four, with only the color to tell the difference, and if you are playing in a darker place, the brown for wood and grey for stone can be tricky.
The final attribute is the building type, and here the designers redeem themselves. The icons for the four types are clearly different. The decoration is a picture frame (although I’ll admit that Minecraft-novice me thought it was a briefcase, which elicited two teenage eye rolls during the game), the dwelling is a house, the animal house is a stable, and the bridge is, well, a bridge.
The game also includes 36 Weapons tokens. Twenty of these are color-coded to the players, making up the initial set of weapons each player begins the game with. Although, only two of the five are actually weapons (a wooden sword and a stone sword). The other three are useless poisonous potatoes.
After setup, the other 16 Weapons tokens are arranged around the outside of the board. Players must go out there and spend an action to collect them. They are, however, much more powerful weapons: there are four iron swords, two diamond swords, two hoes, two pickaxes, three bows, and three sets of TNT.
Note: Thanks to Xander for the explanation of the different colored swords.
Player pawns are represented primarily by four brightly-colored plastic bases in the standard four colors of red, blue, yellow, and green. However, each player also puts a “skin” in this base to move around. These skins primarily match the colors of the bases with their big heads of hair, with one exception: the green piece is Steve. There’s a set of matching colored Weapons and a matching Experience Token for each color.
Note: That one I got myself.
The Overview Cards are of two types. Six of them show the various attributes needed to score in each round. The other six provide an overview of the player turns, but for many game groups, only two will be useful, as each set of two cards has the turn actions printed in one of six languages.
The player boards are much thinner cardboard than everything else (something I was pretty surprised by). There are supposed to be four, but my copy had five. Each of these has a scoring track around the outside edge, with the inner portion divided into a 3×3 grid, with each space showing one of the four biomes. Each board is slightly different, providing an added level of replayability.
The component everyone will be talking about with this game is the Big Cube. This is made up of 64 wooden blocks, representing one of five materials. There are 10 black (obsidian) cubes, 12 grey (stone) cubes, 12 green (emerald) cubes, 14 light brown (sand) cubes, and 16 dark brown (wood) cubes. At setup, these are assembled into a 4x4x4 cube, from which the materials are “mined” during play. The final two components are there to help with the cube. There’s a cardboard base that it sits on during play and a thinner cardboard support to help create the block in the first place.
Note: Thanks to the rulebook for identifying the material types, although it’s worth pointing out that the rulebook incorrectly states that there are 16 each of the sand and wood cubes, which would give you 66 cubes, not 64. As the Big Block can only come together with 64 cubes, this is obviously a typo.
Other than some minor issues with the second attribute type, the components really are pretty great. The best part is that they really evoke the look and feel of the video game. Add in some Minecraft music (we turned on this one), and you really will feel like you’re playing a direct analog version.
The goal of the game is to end up with the most Experience Points, which you gain from building the right kinds of things at the right time and from defeating Mobs.
Start by shuffling the 64 Building and Mob tiles and laying them out in a 4×4 grid, which each space containing a stack of 4 tiles. Leave some space between the stacks. Then, shuffle the 16 white Weapons tiles and place them at the end of each row and column, expanding the grid to 6×6.
Assemble the Big Cube, which is easier than it sounds. Place the base on the table, and then assemble the supports. Drop the cubes into the support and shake it a bit to get the cubes to fall into place. I found I needed to help the top row out a bit, but then once the support is pulled up, the Big Cube is ready to go.
Each player picks a color and selects the colored base and matching skin. (Remember, even though he has brown hair, Steve is green.) Give each player their matching Experience Token and five colored Weapons. Set the Overview Cards where people can see them, and you’re ready to go.
According to the rules, “the person who most recently found a diamond in Minecraft is the starting player.” But otherwise, the youngest player goes first.
On each turn, players can perform two of five possible actions. You cannot perform the same action twice. The available actions are described below.
You can take two blocks from the Big Cube. You can pretty much take any blocks you want, so long as the top and at least 2 other sides are exposed. In the picture above, you could take either of the grey blocks in the back two corners, any of the four light brown blocks in the front, or the dark brown or green blocks in the corners on the second row. None of the other blocks on the top are available since they only have their tops or the top and one side exposed. The black block on the second row, and the green one behind the corner green, also have the same problem—only their top and one side are open. And, because this isn’t Jenga, none of the blocks still covered in the other rows can be taken.
Players are free to rotate the cube, which worked better than I thought it would.
You can move your character 0, 1, or 2 spaces. Spaces are the intersections in the grid. You never move on to cards. Multiple characters can be in the same space.
If your character is next to a building card in the grid, you may be able to build that card. The cost of each card is indicated in the bottom right corner. You pay the cost by discarding from the game the indicated number and type of cube. Green cubes are wild.
Once you have paid the cost, you take the card and place it on your player board. Cards can always be placed anywhere on the board.
A few cards have an additional reward. In the top right corner will be an icon for experience points, which are gained immediately.
You can place your new building on any biome on your board—you do not need to put forests on top of forests, and, in fact, it’s often beneficial to place similar biomes next to each other. Also, while a tile cannot be moved after it is played, you can be allowed to build new buildings on top of already-existing buildings.
Some of the cards on the grid represent Mobs rather than buildings, and you can choose to fight them to gain a reward.
Each player starts the game with a deck of five weapons. Additional weapons can be acquired (see the next action). To fight a mob, you shuffle your weapons and then draw and reveal the top three. Each weapon shows a number of hearts. If you reveal more hearts than the number shown on the Mob card, you win. If you have fewer hearts, you lose. Except for the TNT, you keep any weapons you used for the next fight.
All Mobs give you experience points right away, as indicated in the top right corner of the card, but the game includes two types of Mobs. Some of them have an icon showing a box with a turkey leg. These allow you to gain an additional action by discarding the Mob card. You can perform any action, including one you already performed this turn.
Most of the Mob cards, though, simply give you points. However, they are points you do not gain until the end of the game, and only if you have a matching characteristic. So, for example, the Wizard shown above will nets you two additional end-game points for each desert biome on your final board.
There is no penalty for losing a fight, other than having basically wasted an action.
The last action is to collect a weapon. This is basically the same as building—you need to be on an intersection next to the weapon. But there’s no cost here; you simply pick up the weapon and add it to your weapons deck. The additional weapons on the grid have additional benefits when they are used in a fight. The Bow lets you reveal another weapon when you play it, potentially giving your four weapons to fight with rather than just three. The Golden Hoe gives you two experience points when it is played. The Stone Pickaxe lets you collect a block from the Big Cube, following the rules outlined above. And the TNT gives you a choice. You can detonate it, giving you five hearts in this fight, or chose to ignore it and not use it. If you detonate it, though, it is removed from the game.
Three times during the game, everyone pauses and scores points. The first time is after the turn of the player who mines the last block from the top row of the Big Cube. (It doesn’t matter if blocks from lower rows have already been mined.) The second scoring round occurs when the last block from the second row is mined, and the third and final round (and the end of the game) is triggered by mining the last block on the third row.
In the first scoring round, you pay attention to Biomes. Each player picks a single biome and scores points for the largest group of connected tiles of that biome. Forests score 3 points per tile, deserts 4 points, mountains 5, and snowy tundra 6. While it may seem obvious to try to collect the higher-scoring biomes, there are fewer of them available and they tend to be more expensive. And ending up with five connected forests is more points than only two connected snowy tundras.
For the second scoring round, players pick a material, and again count points for each tile in a connected group of that type. Here, wood is the cheapest and most abundant and scores 3 points per tile. It then goes sand, stone, and obsidian at 4/5/6 points. This is where, by the way, it potentially makes sense to build a new building on top of an existing one—if you have a tile you had played for the first scoring round because of its biome, but you are now trying to work on connecting materials, as biomes possibly don’t matter at all after the first round.
The game ends after the turn of the player who mines the last block from the third row of the Big Cube. That triggers the final scoring round, this time for structure types: decorations, dwellings, animal houses, and bridges at 3/4/5/6. Any Mobs grant their bonus points, and this is why I said that biomes “possibly” don’t matter after the first scoring round. Mobs give these points for biomes on your board, connected or not, so you do want to be careful when covering up an existing tile to make sure you aren’t losing bonus points.
Players compare their scores and the highest score wins. In a tie, the player with the most remaining blocks wins.
While I’ve never played even a minute of the video game, I did spend a lot of time watching my kids play when they were younger, and I did always enjoy the aesthetic of the game. So I went into the boardgame pretty much expecting to like it, but honestly, I was still surprised at how much I liked it and how much there was to like.
The game is fairly simple—it’s not one where your friends’ eyes glaze over as you explain the rules. And yet there’s a lot of depth. For example, you have to be careful and think through mining from the Big Cube. Sure, you may need a black and a brown cube, but if pulling them off exposes two green cubes for your opponent, is it worth it? Also, what if mining your cubes leaves only a single cube on a row, allowing the next player to chose to end the round before you’re ready?
There are also a ton of decisions to be made every time you think about building. Almost always you will have a choice of four tiles to build, but you may not be able to afford several of them. So do you wait and mine and hope and opponent doesn’t grab the one you want, or do you take the tile you can afford right now? And since every tile has icons to score in each round, you have to decide if you want a tile now that is possibly sub-par for the upcoming round but may let you score bigger in a future round.
One thing I found quite interesting was that when my kids played the video game, they almost always focused on building things and rarely fought mobs. Yet, when we played the board game, both of them tended to focus more on fighting than on building. I took the opposite approach—I think I only fought one Mob in the entire game. One kid beat me, while I beat the other, so I’m not sure our sample size was big enough to draw any conclusions on the fight-vs-build divide.
I also really enjoy games that have end-of-round mechanics that can be intentionally triggered by players, rather than having set events or random cards that trigger them. This adds additional levels of strategy to the game, allowing you to end a round to screw an opponent out of a scoring opportunity or try to extend it to give yourself a chance to earn a few more points. Minecraft has an added level to this, though, in that it’s possible for two rounds to end simultaneously if you have two blocks remaining stacked on top of each other. In that case—which the players could actually work towards—you could force two back-to-back scoring rounds, or even go from still working on round 2 to suddenly ending the game.
And, for a game with this much depth, Minecraft still manages to play fairly quickly. Our first game latest maybe an hour, and that included rules look-up time. Future games would undoubtedly go quicker.
I’m sure that Minecraft: Builders and Biomes is going to stick around as a family favorite.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.
This post was last modified on November 14, 2019 2:35 pm
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