May 20th is officially World Bee Day: A chance to celebrate these winged, honey-producing, precious pollinators, that are essential to our ecosystems. Falling in the UK in the middle of Spring, it’s the perfect time to get outdoors and plant some bee friendly flowers or shrubs to brighten up your garden and preserve both of our species.
Other great ways to celebrate these remarkable creatures include baking a scrumptious honey cake, donating to a Bee Charity or, of course, playing some of the best Bee-related games on offer (preferably in that lovely Bee enticing garden, with the cake!).
Aside from me thinking of bees as flying, fuzzy, honey factories, I know they are essential to our survival as a species. Bees pollinate plants and crops, promoting biodiversity and in turn preserving our food chain. Quite simply, without bees, we wouldn’t exist. And as such, we should be making it our mission to protect them. We need to raise awareness of their importance within our ecosystem.
This is why World Bee Day (20 May 2021) is such a great idea. And what better board game related way to big up the bees than play Arboretum – a card game all about the bee’s knees of trees!
If you haven’t played Arboretum before, it is one of those games that looks pretty but can also play pretty mean if you like that kind of gameplay - we refer to it as “rage trees” in our house (but then again we even turn Snap into a serious spousal showdown!).
Simple to learn, this is a set collecting, hand management game where you are trying to make paths beginning and ending with the same species of tree. The rest of the cards forming the path don’t have to match but your paths must grow orthogonally in ascending numerical order. And this is done using a combination of cards from your starting hand of 7 and those you draw. Taking two, keeping one and discarding the other each turn.
Sounds easy until you realise that each card in your longest path per species will score you one point. But only if you are also holding the highest total value of the species of trees that started and ended your paths in your hand at end game! Ooft! Oh and bee warned. 1s are worth more than 8s in this game so none of your usual lucky number 8 buzziness here!
The trade-off between what you want to lay down, what you need to keep in your hand. And how much you want to avoid tipping off your opponent. Yes, there is a little luck of the draw to consider. But for me, that also enhances replayability and requires some tree-mendous tactics!
If you’re after some Bee-themed strategic fun then...well the clue is in the name! Beez is a puzzly, buzzy game, from the creators of Azul. So prepare to take flight as you and your fellow competitors carefully plan your pathways in hopes of obtaining the necessary nectar for your individual honeycombs.
What sounds like a wonderfully simple game on the surface is made much trickier by the movement mechanisms of the bees. Each bee figure sits on a hexagonal base, and on this base are numbers. In order to move your bee, you must first select the direction you wish to travel, and that direction will decide how many spaces you are allowed to move and where any nectar you collect must be placed. It can be hard to get your head around for the first couple of plays and depending on how kind your competitors are, you might want to do some test moves before actually taking your turn. For some people (me!) this kind of spatial thinking can be tough! But it definitely makes for great, thinky gameplay.
What I love about Beez, aside from the wonderful components (it’s a great looking game), are the objectives. In each game, there’ll be three public objectives and each player will have two secret objectives. These can have a huge impact on scores but are also fairly difficult to achieve, which means you need to have a clear focus early on, as you’ll only be able to collect 12 nectar during the game. It’s just so satisfying when you manage to complete numerous objectives at the same time!
Light to medium, abstract strategy is where I love to bee. And where Beez shines is the level of planning required to execute the perfect nectar collecting move. Where games such as Sagrada and Calico (two of my favourites) rely a little on the luck of the roll or draw, Beez is all down to you planning the right moves and turns and just hoping you reach the desired piece of nectar before your opponents.
With fairly robust pieces, this is a great game to get outdoors with. Sit amongst the wildflower and help those Beez fill their honeycombs!
Even given the sudden flurry of bee-themed games in recent years, I still only have one game that features the buzzy little heroes. That is Hive Pocket published by Gen42 games here in the UK. This is a two-player abstract strategy game. You want to try and surround your opponent's queen bee using other bug tiles. There are often parallels drawn with chess as each insect type is able to move around in a different way. Much like in Carcassonne, the board is created as you place pieces, but in Hive, the board is constantly changing as you fight to block your opponent's pieces from encircling your precious queen piece.
Hive was almost my pick for the recent article about games to be played outside, where I instead featured Rummikub, see the full article here. The clacky tiles are perfect for British weather as they are heavy enough to withstand the majority of gusts of wind, and with no cardboard pieces at all in the game, there is no risk of water damage from those showers that seem to plague our summers. In the before times, we used to take this to play sitting outside at bars whilst on holiday. It is small enough to easily fit in a backpack and may fit in a pocket, but not the ones on my jeans!
There are few occasions when I would recommend the pocket version of a game for home and travel. But Hive is the exception that proves the rule. The pocket version does have smaller tiles. They are still chunky plastic hexagons that look and feel at least as good as the regular-sized game. The pocket version also has a couple of the expansions included right out the box. These are so worth it. You can always use new bugs. We play with all the tiles available to us. Although, it is very uncommon for us to play out all our tiles. Usually, there will be five or six tiles still in your hand by the time the game is over. Play time is quick (20 minutes) and for us, we will often play a few games back to back.
Petrichor, an area control game with a unique theme, has been somewhat of a slow grower in terms of how much I love the game. It was the unique theme (you play as rain and clouds trying to grow plant life on the fields below) that drew me in. At first, it didn’t quite gel with me. Like the crops within the game, it took time to germinate and flourish in my affections. Now it has blossomed into possibly the favourite game on my shelf.
If you too have been wooed by the beautiful artwork of this calming yet challenging game, I would highly recommend the honeybee expansion. A perfect gift/accompaniment for World Bee Day. (If you celebrate that sort of thing.)
The honeybee expansion not only brings you a super cute, chunky bee meeple. It also adds in a new mechanism for getting your precious droplets on the field tiles in time for harvest. By collecting honey, you may also give yourself a shot at a big points bonus. Only if you can be the most productive bee!
As well as this, you get four new types of produce to add variety to your game setups. These are the fruits, blueberries, apples, passion fruit and watermelon. These plants require more than water and the right weather conditions to flourish. They need a visit from the bee to drop off pollen to get things going.
My favourite thing about Petrichor is the way the mechanisms marry perfectly to the theme. This is carried through in the beautiful artwork and the honeybee expansion slots in seamlessly to this breezy zen experience. On a rainy spring day, why not bring the outside in. Put the beauty of nature out on your game table. Perfect for World Bee Day.
In Rurik, you play the role of a swarm of 11th-century Ukrainian bees attempting to make honey and form a hive...Oh hang on.. No, that’s complete rubbish. But it would be a better reason to include this game than the flimsy rationale that Rurik has honey as one of its resources. Now that’s sorted we can move on to take a look at a rather fabulous game with a great table presence that combines some of the best of Euro s with Ameritrash.
Rurik blends a number of mechanics I am fond of: area control; auctions; action selection and economic management. It shares a lot of common DNA with games like Scythe and Cyclades; however, there are particular mechanical novelties that mean it stands on its own two feet. The action auction at the beginning of each turn is particularly strong: you place meeples numbered 1-5 on a grid of actions. The numbers indicate their power but also initiative order in the ensuing turn. So low number meeples will trigger earlier but are more likely to be bumped down to lower effect levels. This is a fantastic puzzle. A real brain burner that is highly interactive and encouraging both strategic thinking and tactical adjustment.
Other strengths include the VP system with tiered scoring conditions. This is particularly satisfying as once you hit a particular threshold it is locked in place. This means, for example, a quick burst of territory acquisition will get you end game points. But then you don’t have to hold what you have taken.
There is plenty of additional spice through player asymmetry. As well as the acquisition of special cards, individual emergent routes to extra VP and just the right amount of luck in the combat mechanics.
Rurik is pretty crunchy. So it’s best suited to more experienced gamers. It plays from 1-4; all are fine but the more the merrier. It’ll take a couple of hours for a first play through. Well, a little more if that’s via the excellent Tabletopia realisation. Time well spent with some great gameplay which will have both Euro and Amertraah fans coming back for more.
If these Bee suggestions don’t have you buzzing with excitement, there are plenty more out there with variations on this unique theme! Queenz is a juicy pattern building and set collection game. Honey Buzz is the highly anticipated worker placement, tile placement and pattern building game full of capitalist bees! Both Honey and Honey Yummy are great additions if you’re looking to play with your Larvae, or ba-bee’s (if you will). And if you’d rather cultivated the garden for the bees to enjoy Herbaceous could be the set-collection game you’re after! No matter your game choice we hope you have a wonderful World Bee Day 2021!