Minecraft – Builders and Biomes
- Designer: Ulrich Blum
- Publisher: Ravensburger
- Players: 2-4
- Ages: 10+
- Time: 30 minutes
- Played twice with review copy provided by Ravensburger USA
So when I first read about Minecraft – Builders & Biomes (pre-Essen), I’ll admit that it was with some trepidation. I have honestly not had the best of experiences with the mass-market targeted Ravensburger games from this year, and based on the IP source, this game portended to be more of the same. I honestly didn’t look at it while at SPIEL as a result.
Later, I did more reading, and I actually found myself interested in playing it. Unlike the other games from this year, this one appears to have originated in Germany, designed by Ulrich Blum – and while he’s not a prolific designer, he does have a track record of Eurogame design, most notably for Grand Cru (Eggertspiele, 2010). Given this pedigree, I held out hopes that this would be a solid Euro-design. I was also interested in the game due to the theme/IP. While I don’t play Minecraft, my sons do, and I thought this would be a game that appealed to them – and I’m always looking for games that my boys want to play with me.
In M-B&B, players explore the Overworld and collect tiles on their personal boards to eventually score points. The Overworld itself is made up of a 4×4 array of tile stacks, each 4 tiles high. There are a mix of tile types here – buildings and mobs (enemy creatures). Outside this, extra weapon tokens are placed at the end of each row and column. You also make a big cube of blocks (again, 4x4x4) using a nifty cardboard template – there are 5 different colors of blocks, and the end result is a cube which perfectly mimics the pixelated look of the computer game.
Each player gets a mover with a color coded base – these all start at the center of the tile grid. Players take a personal board, put a chit on the 0 space of their VP track, and they also take their 5 color coded weapon tokens, shuffle them, and make a face down stack.
The game is played through three scoring rounds, though the spacing between those rounds is variable. In each scoring round, players will score points based on the arrangement of tiles on their player board; though each round uses a different criteria to earn points.
On a player’s turn, the active player must take 2 different actions from a pool of 5. There are 2 player aids to share amongst the players to remind everyone of the options:
Collect Blocks – take 2 available blocks from the big cube. A block is available if its top side is free in addition to any two other sides. Add these two cubes to your personal supply.
Explore the Overworld – move your figures 0, 1 or 2 intersections. If not already revealed, flip up the top tile on the 4 stacks of the intersection you end movement at.
Build – build a building tile which you are currently next to (one of the 4 tiles in the intersection where your figure stands). The cost to build the building is found in the bottom right of the tile. You can use your green (Emerald) blocks as a wildcard for any other color. Place the tile on any space on your board; you can cover up existing buildings. Also note that you do NOT have to match the background illustration on the board space. If the tile has a VP symbol in the upper right, score those points when you place the tile.
Fight a Mob – You can choose to attack a Mob tile that you are next to. The strength of the Mob tile is shown in the number of hearts on the tile. Take your pile of weapon tiles, shuffle them, and flip 3 over. If you have at least as many hearts on your weapons as the Mob tile, then you win. Take the Mob tile and score a number of VPs as shown on the tile. If you do not win the fight, nothing happens. Mob tiles are kept face down near the player board – they give two possible benefits, either granting an extra action (which could even duplicate an action taken earlier this turn) on a later turn OR offering an endgame bonus based on the state of your player board at the end of the game.
Collect a Weapon – if you are next to one of the white weapon tokens in the grid, you collect it and add it to your personal stack of weapons. Some of these weapons have special abilities which may make them more valuable than the basic ones you start with.
Scoring occurs at the end of a player’s turn. The first scoring round is triggered when the entire top level is fully mined. The second scoring round is triggered when the entire second level of the block is mined, and not surprisingly, the third round happens when the third level is completely taken. Note that it is possible that two scoring rounds could happen together if somehow the final two blocks on two levels are taken on the same turn (well, this could happen only with the help of a Mob tile which grants an extra action or the use of a special weapon).
The first scoring round scores the Biomes. There is a scoring reference chart “A” to use, and all players choose any one biome and calculate the largest orthogonally contiguous area they have of that biome, multiply it by the multiplier on the chart and score points accordingly. For this scoring, you use the background pre-printed on spaces on your board as well as those on the tiles.
The second scoring round scores the Materials – here, the reference chart “B” shows you how much each type of material is worth. Again, pick a material type, find your largest orthogonally contiguous area of that time and score points by multiplying. If you have problems with the types, there is a key in the upper left which lists the biome, material and type in a column. Just match the icons in the middle for this scoring round.
The third scoring round scores the Types of buildings – – here, the reference chart “C” shows you how much each type of building is worth. Again, pick a building type, find your largest orthogonally contiguous area of that time and score points by multiplying. If you have problems with the types, there is a key in the upper left which lists the biome, material and type in a column. Just match the icons in the bottom of that column for this scoring round.
After the third scoring round, the game ends with a final bonus scoring stage. All players flip up their collected Mob tiles that offer a bonus, and scores points for each tile they have that matches that on the Mob tile. The player with the most points wins. Ties are broken in favor of the player with the most unused blocks in their supply.
My thoughts on the game
I received this game just before the Thanksgiving holiday, and we played it here during our festivities, and I must say that this game certainly meets most of the criteria that I would think are good for a game targeted at the mass market. First and foremost, the graphic design and overall feel matches that of the computer game. It is easily recognizable, and I was amazed by how many aunts/uncles/unrelated adults came up to the board and instantly knew we were playing a Minecraft product. That level of awareness can only help this one as people see the box on the shelves at ye olde big box store.
Gamewise, this is on the lower end of complexity, and I think this is a good match for the assumed target audience. But, make no mistake, this is a Eurogame, and that pleases me to no end. The game starts out with a combination (generally) of tile exploration and block procurement. There is always a high demand for the green blocks as they are wild, and then players spread out as they search for tiles with the desired characteristics.
There is a nice decision space on which tiles to get and where to place them. As the three rounds in scoring each reward a different characteristic on the tiles, you often have to work at multiple levels during the game – setting up a portion of your board for biomes while also starting to work on aggregating buildings of a certain type on the other side. I like that way that scoring is triggered – it gives people a chance to estimate when it might happen, yet the timing is really never quite certain.
I also like the simplicity of the combat system. It’s easy to figure out when you win or lose, and there rewards make it a worthwhile vocation in this game. You can improve your chances by picking up more weaponry (thus reducing the chance that you draw the dreaded 0-heart potato), but of course, it will cost you turns to move to the weapon and then pick it up. I like trying to get one or two early, if nothing else to give me an overall focus to how I want to place tiles on my board to make sure that I score bonus points. As I have yet to win a game though, I’m not sure how sound this strategy is though 😊
The rules are simple to teach/learn, taking only 6 pages. There are plenty of examples to help players learn sticky points, and so far I have only found one thing that I wished were better stated – that is how to move your figure (I assume orthogonally, and I assume you can turn the corner) as well as the limits to your movement (as in, can you exit the grid and come back around the other side? Or have the flat Overworlders proven their point?) The game plays quickly, and has been enjoyed by all who have tried it here. The euro-game mechanics are non-complex, but there is enough here to keep me interested as a gamer.
I think this could be a great gateway game as it helps introduce some advanced planning/strategy without being overwhelming. It’s nice that there really aren’t any negative plays here – i.e. no penalties for not winning a battle with a Mob tile. The artwork is…. Well, distinctive might be the best term for it, but as I mentioned, it is clearly recognizable by folks of all ages, and that familiarity will also likely help it get played. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m really surprised by how well this plays, and for now, this will get a spot on my gateway game shelf
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y
- Not for me…