Dale Yu: Review of Wurfel Bohnanza

Wurfel Bohnanza
Designer: Uwe Rosenberg
Ages: 10+
Players: 2-5
Time: about 30 mins

Times played: 6 plays (all with 4 or 5 players) with purchased copy

Review by: Dale Yu

The Bohnanza train keeps chugging along.  Similar to Carcassonne and Age of Steam, the expansions/version simply keep coming out for this beloved series.  In keeping with the big trend of 2012, this new release is a dice version of the game.

From the unofficial English translation of the rules (thanks to Player77) – Bean farmers want to have fun with a dice game after a hard day’s work at the field as well. Here they have the possibility to roll Bean orders with luck and skill. When a Player completes more Bean orders, he will earn more Beantalers. What’s special: The opponents can use the active players dice rolls to complete the Bean orders on their own Harvest cards. The first player to earn 13 Beantalers is the winner of the game.

The game uses cards whilch will be familiar to those which have played Bohnanza in the past – the backs of each card shows a coin (Beantaler), and cards on this side are used to keep score. The front of the cards each depict a series of bean orders which must be fulfilled by the player.

Players always have two cards face up in front of them, placed one above the other as in the photo.  The top card is the “active” card, and the player is most concerned with the rows on this card.  These combinations must be achieved in particular order – from bottom to top of the card.  As each combination is achieved, the lower card is slid upwards covering any lines on the top card that have been completed.

So, how does one achieve the bean combos?  There are two different ways to do this, depending on whether or not you are the active player or not.

If you’re the active player, you’re the one rolling the dice.  You start your turn by taking all 7 dice and rolling them.  You have 4 white dice and 3 light yellow dice (make sure you are in good light or else you might not be able to see the difference).  Each type of die has a slightly different distribution as seen in the chart below.

purposefully taken in low light to show how close the white and the beige are

You roll all 7 dice and examine your results.  You must freeze at least one die each time you roll – to do so, you take the die and place it on the beanfield mat (obviously without changing the face on the die).  You then re-roll any remaining dice and continue to freeze at least one die per roll until all are frozen.  It’s important to always remember the different distributions of faces on the two types of dice to give yourself the best chance of getting the beans you need.

Once all 7 dice are on the beanfield mat, then you are allowed to complete lines on your card.  And, when you are the active player, you can only score your card after you are done rolling all of the dice! If you have the correct dice on the mat, you simply slide the bottom card upwards to cover the completed line.  It’s important to note that you can complete multiple lines on the same turn because each die can be used to finish multiple orders.

Here you see a roll which scored the bottom three lines on this card

If you’re not into working out the math on your own, you can always refer to the teeny-tiny numbers found to the right of each row.  The number there tells you the percent chance of completing the order with the 7 dice.

But how do you score points (Beantaler)?  If you look at the cards, you’ll notice that there are coins starting on the fourth line up from the bottom.  Once you have completed at least the first three lines on a card, you can cash that card in at any time for the number of coins seen on the lowest visible line (anywhere from 1 to 4 coins).  If you are only cashing in for one coin, you simply flip the card over – revealing the coin on the back – and place it in your scoring pile.  If you are getting more than 1 coin, you draw the rest that you need from the deck.  The card which was previously on the bottom, covering up lines on the active card, becomes your new active card.  You now draw another card from the deck, placing it face up below your new active card. As soon as you cash in a card, you can immediately start scoring lines on the new card.   You can only cash in a card, though, once you have completed at least the first three lines.  You are not allowed to abandon a card which you have not gotten that far on otherwise.

This roll scores the bottom three rows of the top card. The player could choose to turn this in for 1 Beantaler, and then immediately start the lower card — this roll also finishes the first two rows on the other card

When you are not the active player, you can still work on scoring your cards, but in a slightly different manner.  When you are not rolling, you can only score using the dice being rolled at that moment.  So, at the start of someone’s turn, you can look at all 7 dice and complete any lines that you can (again, you are able to score multiple lines if the dice work out in your favor).  If the active player freezes three dice off that initial roll, when he rolls next, you can then only use those four dice being rolled to complete lines on your card.  You still have the ability to cash in your cards whenever you want and move onto your next card.  Wurfel Bohnanza is NOT a speed game, though!  The active player needs to give the other players a chance to look at the dice to see if they can score anything.

The game continues on around the table until someone cashes in a card to score their 13th coin.  The game ends immediately at this point.  Importantly, this means that if a non-active player can score 13, the active player cannot roll anymore.  Whoever gets to 13 first wins the game!

So do I like it?  No.  I love it!  This is one of the best dice games to come out in recent memory.  For me, it stands far above the other dice games that are currently flooding the market.  Why?  Two big reasons for this:

First, it doesn’t feel like a filler.  The game has been going 30-40 minutes in my experience (all 4 or 5 player games), and there are enough decisions to be made along the way to give the game some heft.  Sure, it’s still a dice game, and luck of the dice will likely be the biggest determiner of your overall success… but trying to decide when to cash in a card isn’t always easy.  Being able to change your scoring card on the fly also allows you to hedge your bets when deciding which dice to freeze.

Second, the game constantly engages you.  Because of the fact that you can still score on the other player’s rolls, you are interested in at least one-half of all the rolls in the game.  This is unlike most other dice games where all you have to do is root against the other player when you don’t have the dice in your hands.  I was usually surprised at the length of the games because it never felt like the game took as long as it did.

The game seems to hold to the Bohnanza theme pretty well – the cards still have coins on the back, the artwork is the same, and you still have to play your cards (and the lines on those cards) in order.  But – to me, that’s not overly important.  The game is cleverly constructed and stands alone on its merits as a game.  Admittedly, I was drawn to it to continue completing my Bohnanza collection, but having played it a number of times, it is eminently qualified to stand alone from that franchise.  It is a great dice game, and one I see myself playing for years to come.

Opinions from the Other Opinionated Gamers

Rick Thornquist:  Holy crap, a dice game that I actually like.  Larry Levy is not going to believe it.

There’s one big reason why I like this game: there is very little downtime.  Most dice games have reams of downtime – there is little to do but fall asleep while other players are taking their turns.  Wurfel Bohnanza sidesteps this problem by allowing the players to fulfill their orders during another player’s turn.  There’s also some decent decisions to be made.  For a light dice game, this one is not bad at all.

Joe Huber:  If you’re looking for things not to like about Würfel Bohnanza, it’s not hard to find them.  Most importantly, it’s critical to the play to be able to tell the two colors of dice apart – and they are nearly identical in color, particularly in poor lighting.  It’s also not an automatic purchase for fans of Bohnanza, as the trading element is completely removed.  It was also pointed out to me that the difficult to see yellow bean character is racially insensitive; fortunately, this character is also very difficult to see against the white die face.

Those issues aside, it’s a very enjoyable little game.  As Rick notes, the ability to take advantage of everyone’s rolls helps to make for a much more compelling game, as there’s little time wasted when no rolls can help.  Overall, it’s one of the more enjoyable Bohnanza-derived games produced.

Mark Jackson:  This is an unusual animal – a dice game with almost no down time that is NOT a real-time game. (We’ll be talking more about Bears! and Escape… from the Mayan Temple later – two real-time dice games.)

The thing that distinguishes great dice games from good ones is the involvement of other players – in the classic Can’t Stop, you find yourself gaming out “what would I do with that roll?” as well as “what do I hope they do with that roll?” even when it’s not your turn. In Würfel Bohnanza, you are working your own card relative to the remaining dice available, the current scores of the other players, and if, in the words of Clint Eastwood, “Do you feel lucky?’ Well, do ya punk?” It makes for a great gaming experience.

Luke Hedgren:  As the current lone dissenter here, I’ll just chime in with my thoughts on the out of turn, player “involvement.” So, the big deal is that you have to watch the other players play, because you might accidentally score a row? The game is being praised for forcing me to track and check more info, where I have no control over the rolling or outcome? I guess hoping counts as involvement. Ugh. The rest of the game is a fine, well balanced “Roll and Freeze” game, if you are into that kind of thing. I normally am, but I think I have too many to play, at this point, so this iteration left me feeling kind of “meh.”

Larry Levy:  Rosenberg has a knack for coming up with seemingly simple solutions to sticky gaming problems.  Want to give players incentive to trade during the game?  Don’t allow them to reorder the cards in their hands!  How do you introduce player interaction in a dice game?  Allow everyone to use the dice every turn!  In addition to that very clever rule, the dice combinations on the cards are painstakingly worked out (you can always make three consecutive lines with 7 dice, but never four) and there’s some nice probability management issues to consider, particularly since you’d like to reserve as many dice as you can, to make it harder for your opponents to leech off of your turn.  But it’s the “everyone plays at once” mechanic that turns this into such a boisterous affair, with cheers and curses on almost every turn.  This is one of the few new published games that really worked for me this year and I plan on picking up a copy at my first opportunity.

Jonathan Franklin:  This is a good dice game because it has a hook.  The hook is not so much that you can score on other people’s turns, but that you get the psychological feedback that you get from a slot machine.  You don’t score, you don’t score, you don’t score, you hit it big, you don’t score . .   It plays on that part of the brain that is the source of addictiveness.  If something is too easy or too hard, people bail.  If the feedback is no, no, no, yes, you keep playing because you got such pleasure from moving up three levels in one turn.

We are all touting the play-all -the-time aspect.  Interestingly, in playtesting a dice game, I found that normal people actually like downtime to socialize/trash-talk/etc.  Some people don’t want a high level of involvement all the time.

I really liked the game and would never turn down an offer to play it, but this game had something that I found odd.  You have to pay attention to the players first and second rolls, but after those two, they are often rolling too few dice for it to help you, so you have this odd – my turn – pay attention – zone out – pay attention – zone out cycle as the other players roll.  I wonder how many people miss combos they could score because of this flow of the game.  In addition, I found having everyone check the first two rolls slowed the game down, which for me moved it out of pure mindless filler.  One aspect that is great is that you can calibrate the number of points to victory to suit the amount of time you have, at approximately 5 points for every 15 minutes.

All this said, it was one of my favorite games of the week.

Erik Arneson: I agree with Jonathan’s opening line: This is a good dice game because it has a hook. Würfel Bohnanza is unique and therefore worth playing. Whether you like it or not, of course, is a matter of personal taste. But the unique nature of the game has left me wanting to play it again.

Mitchell Thomashow: I agree with Luke. I didn’t find the “tracking” process all that engaging. I also agree with Joe. The dice can be hard to read. And as Jonathan suggests, after the first two rolls, your options are really limited. I’m not sure the game is as skillful as it first appears. Still, I find the game has some interesting probabilities to consider and it’s a lot of fun to play. It’s a refreshing change of pace in the dice game genre.

Mary Prasad: I like the game in general. Yes the dice are a little difficult to distinguish but other than that, the game moves along rather well. Of course there is luck and lack of control on other players’ turns – it’s a dice game! To make up for this, a player may decide to cash in her current card (once it has passed the 3rd line) to start on the easier rows of her other card. Thus if I see a player looking for similar combos to what is listed on my other card, I may cash in my current card to start moving it up so when it gets to my turn I can work on the harder stuff for more coin. By the way, the game doesn’t have much in common with Bohnanza except for some of the images of beans and a familiarity of flipping a card over to the back to represent money.

Tom Rosen:  Wurfel Bohnanza is a pleasant enough retheme of Bingo if that’s what you’re looking for.  Now instead of calling out and hoping for B15 or G46, you can call out and hope for blue or green.  I know, I know, try to contain your excitement.  I’m utterly confused by the love this game is getting, unless you’re all secretly Bingo fans.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • Love it!  Dale Yu, Mark Jackson
  • Like it.  Jonathan Franklin, Larry Levy, Dan Blum, Rick Thornquist, Ted Alspach, Joe Huber, Erik Arneson, Mitchell Thomashow, Mary Prasad, Jennifer Geske
  • Neutral.  Luke Hedgren, Jeff Allers
  • Not for me.  Tom Rosen

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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