Date played: February 24, 2019
Gist of the game: You are creating a bear park, complete with green spaces for visiting humans, houses for the bears, and bigger bear enclosures. The park features four types of bears, including honorary koalas. Place tiles on your board to gather more tiles for future use. When you fill a board (and you’ll have a total of four during a game), you get a bear statue. Bear houses, enclosures, and bear statues bear (get it?!) points, while the green spaces help you fill stray tile slots that get left behind by the bigger pieces. One spot on every board cannot be filled except by a bear statue when all the other spots are filled. Once the first person fills their fourth board completely, or no player can place a tile, the game ends. The player with the most points wins.
Color commentary: Ok, first, this game is practically perfect, because it a tile-laying game AND features bears! I’m having a hard time imagining a game that could have a more auspicious set of starting features. And, as an added bonus, it also features my favorite aspect of German games:
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is a bag of bags for the various components. And unlike Power Grid, which gave us a seemingly random number of bags, Bärenpark came with exactly the correct number of bags for the various components.
While you can technically place your additional boards (unlocked with special spots on each board, including the first) in any location fully adjacent to at least one other board so long as it is not below the entrance to your park, I worked exclusively left to right, so that my four boards formed a line. I did this all three games. Now, it could be because my broad spatial reasoning is such that I easily get lost in restaurants and other enclosed spaces, but I was having a hard time envisioning what building my boards out in other directions would look like. On the other hand, constructing them the way I did gave me a horizontal Tetris board, where I do much better (seriously, if you ever need help packing a bunch of stuff in your car, let me know. I’m a pro at this). M adopted this strategy after the first game, and his scores went up markedly (though he also changed his strategy which, as I type this, probably made a bigger difference, since I had no idea what he was doing in the first game). M says he had no idea what he was doing in the first game. Also M remains unconvinced that this is the four-board-long is the best strategy, but none better have come to him.
I also liked the feature where the first of the bear houses you take have the highest points and you work down to the lowest number of points. In a two-player game, you had three houses each of the four bears. There were three enclosure pieces per bear, worth 6-8 points (with points escalating with difficulty of playing the piece). Also, green spaces came in 1 (toilets), 2 (playground), 3 (L-shaped river), and 4 (food street) spaces, so they were pretty handy for filling spots. The last piece I played in the last two games we played were rivers. There was a run on toilets the first game, but not in any of the subsequent games. I enjoyed this game a lot, and am looking forward to playing it again.