Translated from German, Phil Walker-Harding’s Bärenpark means ‘bear park’. Here, up to four players compete to see who can create the best zoo, which is dedicated to housing different subspecies of bear.
Bärenpark is a gratifying tile-drafting/tile-laying, set collection game by Lookout Spiele. Players start with a single 4×4 grid, the entrance to their park, all of which have different layouts. There are various icons on some of the squares, ranging from ‘level one’ wheelbarrows, to ‘level two’ cement mixers, to ‘level three’ diggers, as well as construction workers and barricaded pits.
On your turn, you place a polyomino tile into your park, adjacent to a previously placed tile, taking note of which icons you have covered up. For every icon covered, you get to take a bear enclosure tile of corresponding victory points value (as well as varying size and shape). Some larger tiles are unique in shape, while others decrease in value, so there is a first-come-first-served nature at play.
However, the puzzle is that you cannot place any tiles in a way that covers up a pit. Instead, once the other 15 squares have been filled, this pit gains a golden bear statue, worth precious victory points. You need to get in early though, because they decrease in value the later you complete them.
The ‘level one’ wheelbarrow tiles earn you small tiles, such as a 1×1 public restroom, a 2×1 kids’ play park, a 3×1 pathway or an L-shaped river. None of these are worth any points, but wow, do they help you out when you’re left with an awkward, specific-shaped hole to fill!
Covered up the construction workers? That means you can extend your park by adding a second 4×4 grid section adjacent to your bear park. The player to first successfully fill up four sections will trigger the end of the game – but the winner will be the person that has scored the most points.
Bärenpark has quite the racing element to it. There are also mini-quests worth points upon completion to the first player to achieve them. One mini-quest, for example, requires you to place a certain number of polar bear enclosures within your park.
There are a lot of lovely things going on in Bärenpark. The artwork by Klemens Franzis cheerful and pleasant. It’s really quite simple to teach and it has the bonus of leaving you marvelling at the individual zoo you’ve created, sitting there in front of you. Bärenpark has the kind of, “Look at the pretty thing I’ve made!” factor, where you’re half-reluctant to take it apart afterwards, and put it back in the box.
When you consider the other hugely popular, family-friendly games that Phil Walker-Harding has designed – it’s no wonder that Bärenpark is such a roaring success.
Player Count: 2-4
Time: 30-45 Minutes