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Barenpark

Strategically construct your very own bear park using polyominoes in the Phil Walker-Harding tribute to the ursine.

Gameplay

Barenpark is a 2-4 player game allowing players to build unique bear parks using multiple player boards and polyominoes. Each player begins with an entrance board tile, which will contain green wheelbarrows, white cement trucks, a construction crew, and a pit. Players will begin by drafting a green tile from a shared player board (a 1 by 1, 2 by 1, 3 by 1, and an L-shaped polyomino) to cover one of these symbols in hopes of gaining bigger and better polyominoes to use within their growing parks. If a player covers a green wheelbarrow, they will be able to draft another green piece and place it into their reserve for future turns. If a player covers a white cement truck, they will take another of the 4 types of polyominos from the shared board they wish to take (with the highest point totals at the top, and the lowest at the bottom). Once a player covers up a construction crew, they are able to take a new park board to add to their entrance board, ensuring that the rows or columns line up exactly to the entrance board. These boards contain the same symbols as the entrance boards, but will also include an orange excavator, which allows players to select one of the unique shapes from the shared board into their reserves to use at any point.

Once a player completely covers one of their boards (minus the pit, which is a space where nothing can be built), they will earn a bear statue to place on any open legal space immediately. These provide a sizeable point total and much like the polyominoes, the first to be taken will be the highest point total and then subsequent bear statues will be at slightly less point totals. The first player to acquire and then fill all four park boards (the entrance board plus three gained park boards) signals the end of the game. Players add up their points and the highest point total wins.

The latest expansion, The Bad News Bears, adds a few new wrinkles to bear park construction. Grizzly tiles are introduced to the community. To gain a grizzly polyomino, which are bigger and worth more points than the base game tiles, players must trade in a white and a green polyomino from their reserves (they cannot be used in the game after being traded in). This is a hard and fast rule. Second, The Bad News Bears add a fifth park board for everyone’s park: an exit. Finally, monorails are introduced, where 3D pillars are built on green tiles and players draft monorail cars that connect pillars across the park. There are restrictions: monorails must have two spaces between pillars, pillars can only be built on green, non-scoring tiles, and monorails cannot be built in a continuous straight line or in a loop, so they must weave back and forth throughout one’s park.

Barenpark components

Review

The base game of Barenpark provides just enough variability to make it one of the better polyomino games. Considering how different each starting board and the subsequent park boards are, no park will ever be the same from play to play. However, after a few plays, Barenpark can fall into similar patterns of play and strategy that, while not boring, does not make it the go-to game for a family wanting some element of surprise.

The Bad News Bears expansion not only fixes those issues, it improves upon the game exponentially. Considering a finite supply of white cement truck tiles exist, they now become even more valuable currency as players race to claim the bigger grizzly tiles that score even more points and cover more park areas, allowing players to chain multiple symbols in one turn to build a more robust reserve. Monorails are a fun puzzle considering their restrictions. Since monorails can only be built on green, non-scoring tiles, players have to deduce if it’s better to draft and use more green tiles to build their monorails and claim the highest scoring monorail cars or to take a high-scoring orange or grizzly tile and score those points at the end of the game. The 3D nature of the monorails, with pillars that come up off the board, and monorail cars that hook into each pillar, provides tactile fun to an otherwise flat board of fitting polyominoes together. There are now multiple opportunities of puzzling available, and though the monorails may raise the stakes in a family setting where children may just be coming of age to understand the basic puzzle of Barenpark’s core gameplay, the monorails add a layer of fun. Likewise, monorails transform Barenpark from a good, but light casual game into a puzzle that requires a bit more strategy and thought.

This is the only issue with the game: the expansion feels necessary. Sure, Barenpark at its most basic is a fun game but within a limited window. The Bad News Bears expansion’s three additions all work well together, add new strategies beyond just the basic drafting mechanics of the base game, and provides a fun, tactile experience with the monorails that will make children and adults equally happy with that raised element to gameplay. If you have been considering buying Barenpark, make sure to include room in your budget for The Bad News Bears expansion. If you have been allowing Barenpark to gather some dust on your shelves, go buy the expansion and give the game the breath of new life it needs.

Pros: Multiple puzzles happening at once, light but strategic, expansion provides depth to the base game

Cons: The expansion seems required to make the base game feel complete