Dale Yu – Review of Beacon Patrol

Beacon Patrol

  • Designer: Torben Ratzlaff
  • Publisher: Pandasaurus
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 8+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Pandasaurus

Beacon Patrol is a coop tile laying exploration game in which you navigate the coast of the North Sea to secure its beacon buoys, lighthouses and waterways.  You are captains of the Coast Guard. Together you check beacon buoys and lighthouses to ensure the safety of the North Sea coast.  You place your tiles next to tiles that are already on layed out, move your ships and explore the sea.  Your goal is to explore as many tiles as possible. A tile is considered explored when it’s connected to other tiles on all four of its sides.

– from the publisher

To start the game, place the HQ tile in the center of the table, and then mix the 54 exploration tiles face down in a draw area. There are two mini expansions included in the box. If you want to play with those, add in the 9 extra tiles. Each player in the game takes a wooden ship and a starting hand of tiles and movement tokens,  the number of which are determined by player count. The goal is simple: to explore the sea as much as possible. You will score for fully explored tiles at the end of the game, i.e. tiles which have other tiles connected to them on all 4 orthogonal directions.

On a turn, you have three main action options, and you can take them in any order: place a tile, move your ship, or swap tiles with another player.

When you place a tile, you must place it in a space orthogonally adjacent to your ship’s current tile, and it must always be placed so that the black arrow is in the same orientation as the tile on the Beacon HQ tile. Additionally, all the features on the tile edge must match up to its neighbors. Finally, when you place a tile, you are obligated to move onto the new tile. Although there is no cost for this movement, you are of course on a ship, so you must be able to move there via water. If you cannot legally move to the new tile, you can’t place it. On a turn, you are limited to placing 2 tiles in a 4p game and 3 tiles in all other player counts. You don’t draw new tiles in the middle of your turn.

When you move your ship, you expend a movement token (flipping it over to the red side) for each tile edge you cross; you can only move orthogonally, and of course, you can only move over water edges. If you run out of movement tiles, you can also discard one of the tiles in your hand for an extra movement.

If you are playing with other people, you can also swap tiles. Once a turn, you can exchange any of your hand tiles for that of a partner’s. This can be helpful as you are only allowed to play tiles from your own hand.

When you are done taking all the actions you want, you discard all remaining tiles in your hand, and draw up to the hand limit. Well, unless you’re playing by yourself. In the solo game, you can keep one tile from turn to turn if you like before drawing up to the hand limit of 3. Flip your movement tokens back to the blue side for your next turn.

The game continues until all the tiles are played or discarded. Scoring is pretty simple – you only score for fully explored tiles; that means tiles which have other tiles on all 4 orthogonal directions. Each regular explored tile = 1 pt; each explored tile with a buoy = 2pts; each explored tile with a lighthouse = 3pts.  [If you are playing with the expansion Windmills, they score 1VP for being complete and 1 bonus point for each orthogonal open sea tile. If you are playing with the expansion Piers, they score 1VP if explored plus 1 bonus point for every building on the landmass that is connected to the pier].  Total up your points and then compare it to the scoring chart in the rules to see how well you did. There are different charts for the base game and the expansion game.

My thoughts on the game

Beacon Patrol has been a nice, chill solo game that I’ve kept on the side table in my office for some mid-workday challenge/relaxation. I have played it once in the multiplayer setting, and it worked pretty well, but the bulk of my play has been solo, so let me talk about that first.

Here, you are tasked with getting as many tiles close together as possible, as you only score for tiles that are fully explored. Thus, a single blob is going to be way better than an octopus-like structure. The trick is figuring out the right order to place your tiles. In the solo game, you can only keep one tile between turns, so you have to plot your turns to allow you to place as many tiles as possible AND leave yourself with options for future turns! It sounds simple at first, but man, those tiles with island edges can really block your movement if you aren’t watching…

You do get the flexibility of being able to move up to three times each turn (and even more if you’re willing to permanently discard a tile), but you’ll soon find out that 3 moves isn’t really a lot.  What it means is that you will mostly be building in a single direction on a turn, and ultimately for most of the game. Once you move away from a section of your blob, you may not have enough movement to get back to the other side easily, though you might be able to get there in a couple of turns as you move around the outside of the blob.

Thus far, I’ve started most of my games by trying to spiral outward from the HQ tile – the main reason being that this tile is worth 3VP, and it seems easy enough to try to get this one in the bag early. After that, I go where the tiles allow, building ever outward, oftentimes in one direction so that the HQ ends up at one extreme end of my blob.

I try not to use tiles for movement because, obviously, each tile discarded that way is one less tile you’re able to place on the table. Of course, sometimes you just need to do it – especially if you have managed to pen yourself in a bunch of islands, and you need a way to get your boat out of there so that you can legally place tiles!

This game has been perfect for the office because it’s solo and untimed. I can take a turn whenever I want at whatever speed I like. If I want to think about a move, no one is there to complain but me (well, and my office manager). The artwork is simple but pleasing, and the blue/white motif obviously brings the icy sea theme to life. I also like the way that all the scoring parts are in bright orange; this makes it easy to see what my goals might be for later tile expansion. This is definitely not a game where things hide in the graphic design; everything here is simplistic and easily seen.

The two expansions are both interesting in their own way, and I’m not against playing with them – each causes you to approach building in different ways. The windmills cause you to play a risky sort of game where you may have to intentionally leave holes in your sea areas so that you can come back and plop down the windmill when you draw one. They score best when surrounded by open sea, so a 5 point play is possible, but you’ll need decent planning to make it happen. The piers also can score well, but man, putting a big island together can be dangerous as you might find your movement heavily restricted due to all the land edges!

The multiplayer game uses most of the same rules but has a much different feel to it. Here, each player has their own boat, so the team can maybe work a bit better at expanding multiple areas of the blob, though of course each player is restricted to only playing what is in their hand.  I like the fact that each player, on their active turn, can trade one tile – so with clever tile shenanigans, you can hopefully get the right tile into the right hand, even if it takes multiple passes to do so. 

The downside, for me at least, of multiplayer is that you get many fewer opportunities to play as the same finite tile set is split up amongst the players. In the solo base game, you get 17 turns.  In a 3p game, you only get 5 – the whole team gets 15, but you have to split that into 3!  I mean, I love the guys in my game group, but 5 turns in a 30-40 minute game is getting close to Descent territory…  Of course, YMMV and everyone will have a different sweet spot. The game does have added complexity in multiplayer as you will have to cooperate to explore together and pass tiles around the table, and for some, this will be the more desirable form of the game.

However, for me, I’ll explore the icy seas alone on my desk and like it. This will probably be a lunchtime diversion for the near future. It’s a fun puzzle to try to figure out as you try to maximize your tile placement.  Ahoy!

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Dale (solo)
  • I like it. Eric E (solo)
  • Neutral. Dale (multiplayer)
  • Not for me…

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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