Designer: ゆたか (Yutaka)
Artist: ツクダヒナミ (Hinami Tsukuda)
Times Played: 6 times on a purchased copy
Honey Festa is a puzzle game originally released at the Spring 2019 Tokyo Game Market. When I say “puzzle” game here, I mean it in the context of a “bingo” type game, like Take It Easy! or Karuba, where one player acts as the “caller”, pulling a tile from an established pool, and each player then finds their matching tile and…does something with it.
My feelings on this one are…complicated, and I had to break down my rating into three separate categories, but I won’t leave you hanging: I love the gameplay.
The tiles that you will be placing are in 5 colors, with a bee on one side and a flower on the other. Each tile also has a number (the same on both sides), but the distribution of numbers is not the same in each color. (As an example, the yellow tiles are: 1,1,2,2,3,4,5.)
After a bit of setup, where the players’ boards are seeded with a few tiles, the caller also pulls tiles to fill the players’ queues. Rather than a static Bingo pull where each player will be using the same tile every turn, Honey Festa uses a 4 tile queue. On your turn, you can use either of the two tiles at the front of your queue (the oldest two), afterwards sliding forward the next two, and then filling in the rear with the newly called tile. In this way, each player will have three of the same tiles in their queues, but depending upon which tiles they have been choosing from their active pool, the fourth -which is half of the available tiles on your turn- will vary.
What are you doing with these tiles? Well, sending out your worker bees to pollinate flowers, naturally. Each player has a standee bee figure on their board, and the tiles from the queue must either be placed next to the figure or discarded for movement.
If, after placing a tile on your board, you’ve created a chain of bee tiles of a given color that sums to exactly 8, flip them over to their flower side.
If you are using a tile for movement, slide it to the bed on your bee home board and move the standee figure up to that many spaces (without moving over or through bee/flower tiles). Be careful not to lock yourself in, though the game gives you a one-time use “jump” tile to get out of a jam.
Why are we doing all this? Well, to score points. In general, scoring points will be based upon the types of flowers you’ve created, but not all scoring comes that way. The scoreboard shows 11 different scoring criteria, with the first player to qualify for each scoring 2 points, and subsequent players earning 1 each.
The flower criteria are things like ‘have 8 tiles on their flower side’; ‘have at least 1 of each type of flower’; or ‘have 4 blue flowers’. The other criteria involve having groups of certain numbers adjacent, such as ‘3 groups of 3 tiles with the same number’; or ‘a group of 8 tiles with the same number’.
The players stop filling their queues once one player has placed a certain number of their scoring chips onto the score board or there are no additional tiles to place into the queue. Play continues until the tiles already in the queues are used up, and then the player with the most points wins.
For me, the game is brilliant….until the scoring.
As a game in the Bingo category, it unexpectedly does not have the caller simply pull one of their own tiles randomly, but, rather, includes a 5th set of tiles for this purpose. Why? I presume because you really need to know the distribution of what is left, and each player will want to have a face up pile of what is available. Summing exactly to 8 is a puzzle! You can’t sum to 9 or 10 –it has to be 8, so if the 5 is on the other side of the board, or the 4 isn’t coming out, or this color doesn’t have a 4 available, or you blew the last 2 of a color on movement….you’ll need to know. The tile mix is very tight. Before you place a 3 next to a 2, make sure that the remaining tiles of that color enable you to make exactly 3 more.
(It’s the sort of discrete number puzzle that few games ask you to delve into–there’s no change, right? So it shares something there with the bidding in High Society or the Age of Steam map Disoriented Express.)
The movement choices are a similar puzzle. I say “choices” because it is both the choice to move at all and where to move that are tricky. Which tiles are you OK burning, and how do you tactically and strategically balance where to leave the standee? Some places will be better for immediate placement, but limit your future movement options. Others will be subpar for placement, but perhaps offer immediate scoring potential. While there also could be options that work well now, but will require more tiles to be burned in the future for movement, and geez, each bit of ATP that you burn moving around is one you can’t use to pollinate a flower!
That’s the bit I love. The placing and the moving and the balancing of the discrete values available in my pool and the different scoring options -working on not just flowers, but adjacent number placement.
The scoring is, unfortunately, a drag. Each player has 10 scoring tokens, with the end game being triggered after a player has placed 8 of them onto the central board. In our first game, several of us had scored 13 points by the time the game was over, and it was unsatisfying – both the tie and that we scored 30% more points than the components allow. Though in my most recent game, Mark hit 10 or so much earlier than I’d seen in the game’s typical arc, and it felt like the puzzly bit ended prematurely.
The scoring has never felt “right”.
So…I don’t know what to do with this game. I’m not really a house ruler, but perhaps I’ll need to work on something here because I love playing this game, I just don’t like the end of it. Maybe if only the _last_ player to score a criteria earns 2 points. Maybe the criteria aren’t worth the same number of points. Maybe something else. Maybe the whole thing needs thrown out and we start over.
Anyway, it’s a keeper for now, but I’m probably not playing with the scoring rules as written again.
Thoughts from the Opinionated Gamers
Dale – the game is interesting with lots of neat placement rules requiring you to really try to think ahead to get your tiles in the right place. Unlike JN, I am having a hard time looking past the weird scoring rules. While the puzzle was interesting, the overall game experience was not enjoyable for me. I am generally not a big fan of making house rules, and there are enough other Japanese games out there for me to try that I don’t feel the need to try to rescue this one.
Dan Blum (1 play):I agree that the scoring is weird and see how it could be unsatisfying. It didn’t bother me too much because I only played the one time and I was more focused on getting things to work at all, but I can see how it would be a problem. Lots of these Japanese doujinshi games go through multiple editions, so maybe there will be a second edition with better scoring?
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it! James Nathan (3 & 4 player gameplay)
- I like it. Mark Jackson, Dan Blum
- Neutral. John P
- Not for me… James Nathan (2 player) James Nathan (3 & 4 player scoring), Dale