The PLAYlist 08: Bärenpark

Jul 07, 2017 Web Exclusive By Austin Trunick Bookmark and Share


Bears, bears, everywhere there are bears! So many bears. Big bears. Little bears. Bears just coming out of your ears. What are you going to do with so many damn bears? Well, build a park for them, that’s what! For every time, there is a season, and for every bear, there is a Bärenpark.

In the new Mayfair Games board game Bärenpark, you get to run your very own bear zoo. Just what designer Phil Walker-Harding has against other species of animals we may never know, but the name of the game in Bärenpark is bears: sweet, fuzzy, huggable, carnivorous bears. Don’t try to sneak any giraffes past my park gates, because this is bear country and it’s meant for bears alone.

If that wonderfully German-sounding title hasn’t clued you in, this is a Euro-style game, meaning your goal will be to earn as many points as you can before the game comes to an end. You’ll do this through adding funky-shaped titles to your personal, grid-blocked player board. Let’s take a look:

Do those shapes remind you of anything? Something Russian, maybe? Something a little like the most popular and best-selling video game of all time? Bärenpark’s tiles resemble Tetris pieces, and they fit together like Tetris pieces. Therefore, it’s pretty easy for anyone to pick up and learn Bärenpark because everyone has already played Tetris. (If you haven’t, well, get off my planet you damn, dirty extraterrestrial! I’m on to you!)  Out of all the games we’ve covered on The PLAYlist thus far, Bärenpark is probably the quickest and most painless one to learn and teach others to play. The rules are as smooth as butter and as clear as a summer sky.  

You’ll start your turn by carefully placing a token on your player board. When doing this, you’ll take into consideration what icons on your playerboard that tile will be covering up – whether it’s a backhoe, a construction crew, wheelbarrow, or a cement mixer. (But never a sinkhole, which every board also features – you’re not allowed to cover them, and so those dark, bottomless mouthways into Hell itself will gape open as you build bear cages around them and your otherwise beautiful Bärenpark fills up with customers. Weird.) Which icons you cover up determines which section(s) of the main board you’ll be allowed to grab new tiles from, or when you can expand your own park with an additional board from one of two randomized stacks.

When picking tiles, the shape will be one factor into your decision, but so will the point value of that particular enclosure. You see, as the pile of each particular shape gets thinner, the point value indicated on each also shrinks. So rather than just grabbing whichever tile fits your board the best, you’ll be grabbing awkward-looking but higher-value ones and jamming them wherever you can in your park. Also available to you are several tiny, one-, two-, or three-tile squares representing food stands or port-a-johns which you’ll need to fill in the weird gaps you’ve left in your park. (If you examine these tokens closely, you’ll find more adorable details – our favorite is a concessions token that seems to depict a little kid being pulled airborne by balloons.) While these little tiles are very handy, they don’t give you any points. You will need them, though, to finish your boards and claim Bear Statue tiles, which add a nice bonus to your score. (These are what you use to finally plug up those ominous sinkholes in your park.) Once a player has filled a total of four park boards, the game immediately ends and scores are tallied. Highest wins, as per usual.

Played in the basic version I’ve described above, Bärenpark is a nice diversion. Picking and arranging your tiles is fun, it’s incredibly simple to teach, and it’s particularly welcoming to new board gamers. It’s even easy for young players to pick up and jump right in. What kid doesn’t want to build their very own bear zoo?

If you’re a regular gamer, though, you’ll probably crave an experience that’s a little meatier than the plain, vanilla version of Bärenpark. Thankfully, it comes packed with an advanced mode already in the box, and trust us: if you’re a seasoned board gamer, you’re going to want to be playing with this style from the very beginning. (Heck, if you’ve never played another board game before Bärenpark, you’ll probably graduate up to advanced mode once your first few games are under your belt.) The advanced gameplay styles introduces achievement tiles. These offer specific challenges – such as collecting enough tiles of a certain color, or connecting shapes in a designated arrangement – which grant huge score bonuses when they’re completed. These are tougher tricks to pull off, and give players additional strategies to consider as they play. This mode sprinkles in much more direct competition between the players, as well, since there typically aren’t enough of each tile type for everyone to complete a challenge, and savvy players can block their opponents from taking needed tiles.

Both variants play out in under half an hour. Because there are these two versions included, it makes it easy for us to recommend Bärenpark, particularly to families of gamers. The advanced version is a fun, light strategy game for those of you with a more competitive edge, but you’ll also have the basic version you can bust out when the younger children or great grandma want to get in on the game, too.

We couldn’t bear writing about a game called Bärenpark without including a playlist from our all-time favorite bear band, Grizzly Bear. What began, essentially, as a solo recording project for Brooklyn-based songwriter Ed Droste was expanded to its current lineup after Grizzly Bear’s 2004 debut album, Horn of Plenty, was released to critical acclaim. Their following albums, Yellow House, Veckatimest, and Shields built upon their sound, landing on many best-of-the-year lists in 2006, 2009, and 2012. Their next album, Painted Ruins, will release in August. (You can get a feel for that record with three singles, “Mourning Sound,” “Three Rings,” and “Four Cypresses,” included in the playlist above.) You can also read our 2012 cover story on Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste at this link.

And that wraps up this entry in The PLAYlist, my fellow board gaming music nuts. Don’t be a stranger! There are more of these to come.

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Previous PLAYlist columns: Notre Dame & In the Year of the Dragon, YokohamaClank! A Deck-Building AdventureVillages of ValeriaNew York SliceWatson & HolmesHanamikoji.



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