It seems like everywhere you turn in 2023 there are polyomino tiles and games that ask you to place multi-sided style pieces on a specific board. What is a surprise is that it took so long considering the world domination of the classic computer game Tetris way back in the 80s. A polyomino is quite simply a tile with lots of different sides, creating strange shapes. These have become a staple in board game design in recent years but one of the earliest games to take this mechanism to the masses was 2017’s Barenpark by Phil Walker-Harding. Taking the theme of building a bear sanctuary, this mega hit has become a modern classic.
You will begin with one tile that sets up the entrance of your park and spread out on a central board are a wide array of possible enclosures. Each section of the communal board contains different sized tiles. The smallest tiles make up public toilets and food stalls, all vital for a good park. They are great for filling up those awkward spaces but you don’t want to get too many of them as they won’t score any points at the end of the game. What will score you points are any bear enclosure tiles. There are a number of different bears up for grabs. Pandas, kodiak bears, polar bears and (controversially) koalas. But building a park is a huge task, so how do you go about becoming the next bear park tycoon?
Grin & Bear It
On your turn you will place a tile onto your park from your supply. Starting with a basic tile you can place the tile anywhere you like but from that point on your tiles must be adjacent to another. From that point on comes the planning. In order to collect more tiles throughout the game you must cover certain symbols in your park. If you cover a wheelbarrow then you can use any one of the small facility tiles. A cement mixer will get you a mid-sized tile or a small one and if you manage to cover an orange digger then you can take any of the previously mentioned or one of the big high scoring tiles. As you can only play from your supply each turn, the puzzle for this game really is about how you can keep your tile supply replenished. Thinking ahead to when you might want to place a tile on a space without a symbol means you need to stack up soon to be able to do that. If you can’t place a tile, either because you haven’t got any or they are the wrong shape or size, then you miss your turn and take a small tile instead. The other symbol you can cover are work sites. If you do, then take another park tile and add it to yours and when the first player has expanded to four tiles and filled up every space, the game will end.
The Bear Necessitates
Finally we get to scoring. There are two main ways to score in the base game and a module you can add to introduce a little complexity. First of all, you will notice on every park tile there is a hole. This is designated for a bear statue. Statues can only be built on a park tile that is complete. As soon as you cover the last square you take the highest scoring statue and place it on your board. One tactic is to go as quickly as you can and aim for as many of the high scoring statues as possible but to do so will mean missing out on some of the higher scoring tiles. These decisions are what keeps this game interesting. The other way of scoring is simply adding up the totals of all the bear enclosures on your board. Like the statues, the enclosures are stacked from highest points on top to lowest on the bottom creating that race to get points from the off. Finally the extra module adds in some mid game scoring tiles. These will set certain changes such as have three of a certain type of bear or have four small tiles in a row. These will again score ever decreasing points for each player who completes it. I love these tiles, they really change up the method from game to game.
If you like polyomino tiles but want more crunch then maybe try out Isle of Cats which adds in a card drafting mechanism or if you like the zoo theme then New York Zoo is a great choice with its rondel selection system and animal breeding and multiplying phase.
Barenpark really is a fantastic introductory game for anyone getting to the hobby and also a lovely relaxing game for those who want a little puzzle without hurting the brain too much. And cute bears am I right?!
This blog was written by Dan Street Phillips