When people learn I love board games, their follow up question is often what games I’d recommend. I usually utter some combination of Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, Codenames, Azul, or any of the other games on our “Play These Games First” list from a few years ago. But these days, I find myself mentioning Bites.
Designed by Brigitte and Wolfgang Ditt, Bites was originally released in 2008 by Schmidt Spiele under the name Big Points. The game was a success, earning a Spiel des Jahres nomination that year. Nonetheless, I had never played it. But in 2019, Chad Deshon, owner of BoardGameTables, told me they were going to reprint Big Points as Bites. And when my copy arrived, I instantly fell in love.
The only problem was that my copy arrived in early 2020. So I played the game a few times, then it — like many new arrivals at that time — got put on a shelf. Opinionated Gamer Brandon Kempf wrote an excellent review at the time, with all of us giving the game positive comments. My love of the game has grown these last three years, so this article is me singing the many praises of a game I’ve come to love.
Bites is remarkably easy to play. Five ants start behind a line of food tokens, ten each of Grapes, Apples, Bread, Cheese, or Peppers. On your turn, you move an ant — any ant, since you don’t own them — to the next food token of its matching color (for example, the yellow ant goes on cheese, or the red ant on apples). You then take the food token in front of or behind where your ant is standing. Eventually, the ants will reach an anthill, which has spaces marked as 4, 3, 2, 1, and 0. The space each ant lands on denotes how many points its food is worth. The game ends when the last ant reaches the ant hill, and at that point the player with the most points wins.
The game is that simple mechanically. The trick is that each game has four different “rules” cards that vary the gameplay in simple yet meaningful ways.
One card type controls the order in which ants are placed on the hill. For example, the first ant to arrive might go on the bottommost space (0 points for the first ant) or the topmost space (4 points for the first ant).
One card type denotes how chocolate tokens are handled. There are five in the game, and these can be traded in on a players’ future turn. They might, for example, allow you to take the card in front of and behind the space you land the next ant
Another provides how wine tokens score. There are five in the game, and the way they score varies depending on the card in play. For example, each wine token might be worth as many total wine tokens you have.
Lastly, the fourth card type varies other rules in the game. For example, one puts a log out, and the first person to take an ant across the log takes it and scores negative points.
The game comes with a stack of these “rules” cards, and they can be mixed and matched to vary gameplay. None of them are complex, so by making minor changes to an already-intuitive game, a high degree of replayability emerges.
Why Bites is One of the Best “Gateway” Games
To me, Bites deserves a mention along the great “gateway” games of our time. Bites is beautiful in its simplicity, but challenging in its depth. It is a game that virtually anyone can learn — there aren’t many rules, and the ones the game does have are intuitive — yet there is enough of a decision space here for both non-gamers and gamers alike. The game can be explained in just a few minutes, and new players seem to pick it up with ease.
Bites is a versatile game, one that fits in a variety of gaming situations, everything from a family game night to a tournament setting. Even my four-year-old niece and seven-year-old nephew understand how to play the game, and we let them join in, but they rarely win (at least without significant help from older family members).
That’s because being good at Bites requires skill and foresight: the game has more strategy and tactics than games that are considerably more complicated. The race of the ants is deeper than it seems. If an ant moves ahead you have score tokens for, you might think that’s a good thing (especially if the first ant to arrive gets 4 points) or a bad thing (if they instead get 0 points). But there is more subtlety than that: moving an ant can shorten the line for other ants by taking their food tokens, so players must balance moving (or not moving) the ants they support, with taking the food tokens they think will be worth the most points, with the impact that creates on the food trail.
When you take something can be as important as what you take, because it can inspire other players to react. Bites is highly interactive: the game unfolds based on the decisions of those at the table. No ant will likely make it to the end of the line based on just the actions of one player, and even if that did happen, that player likely would not have the food tokens to win the game.
Despite this depth, gameplay is fast: the decisions simply aren’t the sort to inspire long turns. And having the different cards switches up gameplay, keeping it fresh play after play. Even after more than a couple dozen plays, I still love getting in a play of Bites. So does my family: it has, in recent months, been their most requested game. And when I teach it at gaming meetups, people frequently ask to play again, or later tell me they sought out a copy.
In short, Bites has simple, easily understood rules, yet there is strategic depth. It is a game that can be enjoyed both with family and friends and with gamers. It accommodates a wide player count (2-5). And to top it all off, it is exceptionally well-produced: the ants are fun, the food tokens and ant hill have a stunning table presence, and the rulebook is well-written and easily understood.
Bites has a permanent spot on my shelf. But it also deserves to be mentioned among the modern classics: Bites is a shining example of modern game design and production.
I’ll be reviewing the game’s expansion, Bites: New Recipes, later this. month.
Based on your recommended games, I can only assume this game is terrible too.