First Impressions - Barenpark
Based on two plays (one play with two players and one play with four-players).
Designer: Phil Walker-Harding
Artist: Klemens Franz
Player Count: 2-4
Barenpark is a polyomino tile placing game about building a bear park. Players take turns placing tiles, representing enclosures for different types of bears, food stands, paths, and toilets, in their park. These tiles will cover different symbols which will either allow players to take different tiles from a central board or expand their park. Each bear enclosure will give players points at the end of the game, and tiles are stacked so that tiles taken early are worth more points. In addition, one type of symbol allows players to choose a large, one of a kind, high scoring tile. Filling up an entire portion of you bear park will grant you a bear statue, which also gives more points to players who gain them early.
Games of placing or orientating polyominoes have had a lot of success in recent years. When I played Barenpark with a friend of mine, he noted that was really happy to play it because he said he had always loved spatial reasoning puzzles. It makes sense that polyominoes would have become a genre of board games given that it scratches that spatial reasoning itch. There are already numerous economic games that allow us to practice our mathematical reasoning, word games that allow us to practice our verbal reasoning, and deduction games that allow us to practice our logical reasoning. Barenpark is all about spatial reasoning. In fact, that’s almost all there is to it.
Your reaction to that sentence might tell you a lot about whether this is a game for you. Unlike Patchwork there is no economic element to Barenpark. There is minimal player interaction, merely who takes the tiles that score more points before the other players. Player interaction is slightly increased if you use the optional scoring tiles, which score for things like first player to put down two statues, or first to put down 3 koala tiles. To be honest, I’m not sure why the scoring tiles are optional at all, they barely increase the rules complexity, and without them the game lacks any real bite. With or without the optional scoring tiles, I never found myself particularly interested in other players’ boards.
So Barenpark is a game for people who like pure spatial reasoning? Well, not really. The spatial puzzle of Barenpark is far too simple to hold the attention of such a player for very long. There is only one of each of the most difficult to place tiles (you will place a maximum of three in a game), and you’ll likely be placing them as soon as possible, and thus likely on a blank part of your park, to ensure you get the ones needed for end of game scoring or the higher scoring ones. This makes them very easy to place. That challenge of when to take just the right tile to finish off a corner of the board or how to place a tile so as to not screw yourself on a future turn is what keeps me coming back to Patchwork. I had hoped that Barenpark might fit into my collection as a Patchwork-like game for more than two players, but alas the search continues.
The theme of Barenpark is quite novel and has a lot of potential, but its ultimately squandered by the fact that different bears don’t do anything different, concession stands don’t do anything, toilets don’t either. That’s not to say I expected Barenpark to be a complex bear park simulator, but some form of placement restrictions to these tiles might have added something to the puzzle of the game and might have helped the them come to life. As is, the theme feels flat and lifeless. The artwork manages to be bright, and evoke feeling of being at a zoo, and saves this somewhat.
On balance, Barenpark is fine. If you are looking for a very simple tile laying puzzle with a bright lick of paint, then this might be for you. If you can, I’d recommend trying before you buy though.