Beasts of Balance
- Publisher: Sensible Object
- Players: 1+
- Ages: 6+
- Times played: well, I’ve spent 2.5 hours with it so far in 4 different sessions.
Beasts of Balance was offered to me in a recent press box. I had heard nothing about it – but the blurb in the intro email was intriguing. Here is what I read:
- Beasts of Balance: Did you love Jenga as a kid? A fan of Pokemon GO? Well, this fun new interactive game combines your favorite aspects of those and more. Beasts of Balance is a true testament to your stacking ability.. As you build the tower, connect each piece to the play plinth and watch the creatures come to life in the connected app through innovative AR technology. Beasts of Balance provides tons of fun family game night with the kiddies or even a fun party game for guys’ night. Ages 8 and up. MSRP $99. www.beastsofbalance.com
I like Jenga. My kids play Pokemon Go. We all love neat games that leverage the newest technology… So, we decided to give it a try. The box is quite large – about a foot square by about 5 or 6 inches tall. When you open it up, you see the white “plinth” in the center of the box surrounded by a bunch of plastic animals – Each of those animals has a glyph on them (usually near the butt area). When you remove the first tray, you reveal a bunch of other colorful plastic bits as well as some white crosses and arrows.
There are really no instructions in the box other than a single sheet that tells you to put batteries in the plinth and then to download the Beasts of Balance app from the Android or Apple app store. Once the app is installed, the plinth then talks to the app via a Bluetooth connection. The setup for that part is remarkably simple and the two devices simply recognize each other and pair automatically.
The “game” then dives right into the introductory scenario where it teaches you the rules to the “game” as it goes. Essentially, you have a bunch of plastic pieces. You will be balancing these pieces on the plinth as you play. When you want to place something on the plinth, you touch the glyph on the item to the matching area on the front of the plinth. The app on your device will confirm that the game knows what you’re trying to place. Then, you stack that piece onto the growing structure in front of you.
I assume that it knows what has been placed by either the weight or possibly RFID. Once the object is balanced on the plinth and is stable, the game recognizes it and then something happens on the app.
When you place an animal, that animal is added to the landscape on the app (with lots of cool graphics and neat sound effects). You will score a certain number of points – i think between 3 and 6 – and the animal on the screen gets some number of health points. Then, you place something else on the plinth, and that object is added to the digital world. Once you have more than 2 animals in your world (usually this happens by the second object on the plinth), if any one beast is stronger, all weaker beasts will lose a point per turn.
You can also place either a Migrate (arrow) or a Cross (X-shaped) artefact onto the plinth. Migrate moves an existing animal from one type of landscape (air, water, land, etc) to another, and in the process, this creates a new creature. The game tracks how many different creatures that you’ve ever managed to create. The Cross action makes a hybrid from two different animals present in your world – sometimes this creates a new chimera species. Again, each time you make a new animal, it is added to your overall collection.
One thing which was never explained in the tutorial directly is that as you play the game, there is a little firefly which moves from beast to beast on your landscape. When you play a Migrate or a Cross, it affects whichever beast is nearest to the Firefly.
There are some food objects that you can place on the plinth, most of them are bi-colored; and each color represents a type of animal – when placed, these will give health points back to the matching types of animal. If you pump up a Beast high enough (I have since discovered that it is >20 health points), it changes form into an Elemental – and this type of beast never loses health.
Each time that you place an object onto the plinth, the game scores some points. It never actually explains how you score the points, but you can usually figure out what you will likely get after you play for awhile. The game continues until the entire structure topples over. The game gives you a woefully short time period to rebuild the entire structure – and then when you inevitably fail at this, the game ends. Your score is whatever your current point total was when the pieces fell off the plinth.
You are encouraged to get the highest score possible. You also have alternate goals of trying to discover how to create all the different beasts in the Bestiary. However, other than that, there is not really a “game” here. It’s a very pleasant and challenging activity – both in the physical sense, trying to balance all the pieces on the plinth, as well as the mental sense, trying to figure out how all the pieces work together and trying to discover how to combine things.
The teenage boys and I had a fun time with it for a few hours, but at this point, we’ve learned that we’re just not the target audience. We had it out at a recent family party, and the smaller kids (first thru fourth graders) were completely enthralled by it. So much so that they ran the battery out on my tablet as the game was in constant use. I can see where this could be a great learning toy/activity for a younger kid – again both for the balance/dexterity aspect as well as the puzzle solving aspect.
But, as to the claim in the email that I got that this would work well for my regular games night? Not so much. It held the attention of the group for about twenty minutes. There just isn’t really a game here, even in the cooperative sense. You just place stuff and it happens. It was actually a bit frustrating to have to learn the rules through the tutorial games. As it turns out, there are actually formatted rules which explain the whole game and how things work in the Press Kit, and I would have much preferred these to be available in the box rather than having to infer them from gameplay in the tutorials. But, of course, YMMV. I suppose that part of the education learning experience of this game/toy is the discovery of the rules in this organic sense.
So, in the end, we had a fun couple of hours with this one, but it’s nothing that my regular adult group will ever play with. If we had this ten years ago, my boys would have loved it then. As it is, I’m gonna look like a rock star when I give this to my four year old niece at the next gift giving opportunity!
Ratings – no rating here as this is really more of a toy/activity than a game in my opinion. I would certainly recommend it for a child in the 6-12 yo range.