Based on a phenomenally successful video game, Minecraft: Builders and Biomes is a 2- 4 player game of exploration, construction, and combat designed by Ulrich Blum and published by Ravensburger.
Builders and Biomes features Steve, Endermen, Diamond Swords, Obsidian and much more that will be immediately recognisable to Minecraft fans.
For the uninitiated, Minecraft, the video game, is a sprawling sandbox in which it is possible lose yourself entirely. It can be enjoyed alone or in a highly interactive online format. It can even be ‘modded’ by those with the required coding skills.
I’m no expert, however, I’m reliably informed (by my kids) that there are two basic modes: Survival and Creative.
Survival mode presents players with a variation on a shipwreck adventure. Waking up alone and defenceless, players must craft tools to provide themselves with the basics to survive i.e. shelter and food. Once this is mastered, the players can begin exploring the Minecraft world, finding and creating new items as they go. Players must be careful, though. Lose your hearts and you will need to respawn.
Creative mode provides the freedom to build anything your imagination allows, so long as it doesn’t have rounded corners and is shorter than 256 blocks high. Less ‘realistic’ than Survival, the necessary tools and materials are available from the start. There is also no fear of dying, be that a result of falling into lava or through excessive use of TNT.
So, what does one do during a game of Builders and Biomes and how does the game play transfer into the board game format?
Updating Resource Packs…
Set up is straight forward, with building tiles arranged in a 4x4 grid with smaller weapons tiles around the outside. Each player grabs a player mat, a character standee, personal weapon tiles and an experience marker.
Wooden blocks are stacked together, with the help of a cardboard frame, into a large cube. This acts as both a resource area and as a game timer.
On their turn, a player takes two unique actions from a choice of 5
• Collect – take two blocks from the cube. Any block can be taken, so long as the top surface plus two other sides are visible.
• Build – pay blocks to build a structure. These blocks must match the building requirements printed on the tile. Once built, place the tile on your player mat, covering a biome (terrain) including, if you wish, a previously placed building tile.
• Explore – move your character 0, 1 or 2 spaces, revealing the tiles around your final location
• Fight a mob – reveal 3 weapon tokens from hand. If the number of hearts shown is equal to or greater than those shown by the creature, you win. Be careful though, some of your starting weapon tiles are potatoes.
• Collect a weapon – pick up one of the weapons tiles your character is standing next to and add it to your collection. Note: some weapons provide special abilities
Scoring happens on no less than 5 distinct occasions
• When an instant effect is triggered. These are printed on certain tiles.
• Scoring Rounds. These are trigger when a layer of blocks is completely removed. More than one scoring round can be triggered on a single turn
- Scoring Round A
- Score points based upon a single connected group of biomes. Each biome type has a different value and the most numerous biome type may not be the most valuable
- Scoring Round B
- Points are awarded based upon a connected group of buildings made from the same material
- Scoring round C
- Points are awarded based upon connected tiles featuring a building type (dwelling, bridge etc)
- End game scoring – Defeated mobs will provide an end game bonus based upon the total number of tiles featuring a certain type of biome, building or material (Thankfully, there is a beginner’s scoring variant where there is no need to connect tiles to score during the three in-game scoring rounds)
But how does it play?
Wow, this isn’t what I was expecting at all.
I was planning to switch off as I rolled dice to move around a board.
But no, my son wants points and wants them now, my daughter is planning a late game obsidian bridge combo while I repeatedly throw poisoned potatoes at a Creeper in the hope it may fall over its own feet.
We have resource management and variable scoring rounds, instant effects and special abilities. Meanwhile combat holds the faint odour of a press your luck/deck building hybrid mechanic.
The building block resource mechanic has a wonderful tactile feel and good timing can ensure scoring happens at the most beneficial moment.
My goodness…this is a real game!
As my excitement at Builders and Biomes not being a Minecraft themed property trading game subsides, I can take a closer, more objective look.
The game play flows well, turns pass quickly, however, there is sufficient thought required to ensure the occasional pause while players plan for future scoring rounds
To caveat that, this is very much a family game. There are varying strategies although, for seasoned gamers (probably not the intended audience), these strategies are shallow.
So, while Builders and Biomes may sound, look, and even occasionally feel like a mash up of a character-based fantasy quest game and a cube shuffling euro puzzle, it isn’t. Well, maybe a simple one.
Ah, but for families Builders and Biomes is a treat. While there are layers to this game waiting to be explored, it is easy to pick up. The rules are clearly written and the suggested age range (10+) is about correct. This is probably a game suited to older kids and early-teens.
Best of all, as the kids enjoy seeing Steve run around the table uncovering new locations and fighting creatures from the game, us adults can enjoy having that bit more to focus on.
A few games in and I’m starting to notice the cardboard equivalent of frame rate lag. The components, for all their table presence and functionality, are not the best quality. The worst offenders being the thin player mats and the weapons tiles that already show signs of wear from repeated handling.
And I’m not sure about the theme or, more specifically, how it reflects the video game. You see this is neither a sprawling sandbox for the imagination nor a true survival-based adventure game.
Building is limited to what is printed on the available tiles. A creative strategy based upon building increasingly complex treehouses, for example, is just not possible.
While there are weapons and creatures to use them against, there is also little risk. For all the fun to be had from cycling through your hand of weapon tiles, hoping against hope that you have enough hearts to defeat the Enderman, if you lose, nothing happens. There is no penalty, the turn simply ends with nothing achieved.
There is also no real interaction between the players, other than that caused by taking a block or tile that they were hoping to acquire for themselves. For a game based on a video game with a thriving on-line community, this is surprising.
The Minecraft colours and characters are there in all their pixelated blobbiness and I am enjoying the game, however, outside of the branding, Builders and Biomes doesn’t really feel like Minecraft as I know it.
While Minecraft: Builders and Biomes defied my expectations and was a genuinely pleasant surprise, it remains a mixed bag.
The component quality could certainly be improved and the seasoned gamer in me wishes the gameplay was both deeper and more reflective of the source material.
However, it works very well for its intended audience. The mechanics are borrowed liberally from more advanced hobby games, simplified, and then filtered through a recognisable brand. The result is a game that should provide families with a great deal of enjoyment.