Jul 19

Hitting It Out of the Park – A Review of Barenpark

Quick Board Game Reviews That Pack a Punch. No Rules, Just Opinions. 

Bärenpark takes you into the world of bears, challenging you to build your own bear park. Would you like another polar bear enclosure or rather a koala* house? The park visitors are sure to get hungry on their tour through the park, so build them places to eat! Whatever your choices are, make sure you get the next building permit and use your land wisely! (* No, koalas aren’t bears but they’re so cute, we couldn’t leave them out of this game!)

In more detail, each player in Bärenpark builds their own bear park, attempting to make it as beautiful as they
can, while also using every square meter possible. The park is created by combining polyomino tiles onto a grid,
with players scoring for animal houses, outdoor areas, completed construction, and more. The sooner you build it, the better! Cover icons to get new tiles and park sections. The game ends as soon as one player has finished
expanding their park, then players tally their points to see who has won.


When Tetris first came out, I must have played hundreds of times. I enjoyed moving the polyominoes around inside my head and trying to find the optimal space to drop it. Bärenpark gives me that same challenge, but thankfully without the speed component. Since you must play a new piece off of the existing structure, planning out which tiles you are grabbing is essential in being efficient. Cause if you ain’t first, you’re last! in the race to victory points.
At first glance, Bärenpark seems to take out a lot of the guesswork found in most tile-layers by having everything laid out face up in a lovely menu for you, making it seem like a pleasant little lark through the zoo. But below the surface lies a more demanding exercise. You must plan your park efficiently, and you mustn't run out of tiles. Expand your park, nab early bonuses for completing regions, and, at the same time, plan according to the milestone bonuses to pad your score.

I think it’s fair to say that Phil Walker-Harding is a master at designing accessible games that still have some depth to them. Check out some of his other creations if you doubt me. The game is super simple. Play a piece in hand off of an existing structure. Do the actions that you cover with the piece. If you can’t place, then you grab a greenery piece instead. It’s simple, except when it’s not because you just can’t think about the next piece you are playing. There are bonus goals to get and you have to think way ahead. It is so easy to back yourself into a corner, and that is where the analysis paralysis moments happen.
The mechanics are so simple almost anyone could learn this game, but it’s the planning towards efficiency that makes this game so satisfying. You'll need to plan sometimes two or three moves ahead to earn big points. The player who can claim tiles and bonuses first will be rewarded a few extra points for doing so. Tile inventory is limited, so towards the end of the game, you may discover the tile you created a perfect spot for is no longer available. Figuring out how to place tiles to both get you the new tiles you need and set you up to get the tiles you want further down the line is fun and challenging.

When I saw a game that has a Bear Park theme, I was all over it. It’s a pretty abstract game, so theme really just come in on all of the illustrations on the tiles. I can’t say it’s all that immersive, but I love the idea of creating an animal park. So yeah while it has a theme, it’s not particularly integrated into the mechanics. I give it high marks for at least trying to attach a lesser used trope to it.

Who wouldn’t want to design their very own zoo? Bears are probably my favorite animals, so I was super excited over the prospect of building my very own park for them. It’s a very appealing theme but this is hardly what I would call a thematic game. There’s nothing in the game that is related mechanically at all to building a bear park, but it’s still pleasant and fun and stands out among other games.

Klemens Franz did the art. I almost feel like I should stop there because to me it says so much. For as long as I have been playing hobby board games, his is the art that I have come to synonymize with the “Euro” game. Agricola, Le Havre, Orleans, Isle of Skye, yada yada yada, there are too many games to list. There are other artists I like more, but there are no artists that I feel maintain such a high-quality look throughout their games.
Besides the lovely box illustrations, the tiles are colorful and designed so players can easily tell to which groups they belong. The illustrations used as iconography, like the excavator and the cement mixer, are detailed enough to be interesting yet are still clear enough to easily identify, which is a tricky task for some artists. Klemens Franz, seasoned pro that he is, handles this with ease.

With a list price of $42, it’s a little on the high side of what I like to spend, but I spent it all the same. The tiles and art are great. The mechanics are simple. The gameplay is accessible, and the theme might bring in the gamers and non-gamers alike. So all of that makes for good value. What’s not so good you may ask? the insert. I am not an engineer, so I don’t know how I would have done it differently. There are 3 pieces of cardboard that stick together to create a “Y” shape in the box, and you nestle the pieces in there somehow. I bag my pieces based on creating an easier setup process, so the insert is pretty worthless.
Yeah, I’m not an engineer either, but I do know how I would have done it differently -- not include it at all. This insert is a complete joke. It almost seems like Mayfair is trolling people with it. But it’s honestly a minor quibble. It’s a lovely little game that is probably a little more expensive than it should be, but it’s a really solid experience and has nice components, and you can get it on the table with gamers of all levels of experience. It’s a nice addition to almost any collection.

I think my biggest complaint is that depending on the player count, you have to adjust the pieces you use. Every piece has a point value, so it’s flat out annoying to set up if it’s less than 4 players. The game board is supposed to make it easier with all the information written on it except there is a typo on it. But I like this game. Every play has revealed subtle strategy, that I didn’t see the previous time. All the player counts have felt balanced, and the race to completing objects or filling in the spaces on the boards is very fun for me. I am having a difficult time giving a rating. Ultimately, I feel like if someone suggests it, I will rarely turn down a play, so I think that makes it a 5 on the Duchy scale.
The theme initially drew me in, but the gameplay keeps me coming back. It’s a game that capably wears a lot of different hats: a filler, a game night opener, an introduction to modern games, and a strategic tile-layer for more seasoned folks. The cute bears on the cover belie the depth and strategy involved. I’m a big fan of games with simple rulesets and deep strategy, and Bärenpark definitely fits the bill. Before I played it, I thought I might like it, but with several plays under my belt, I’m a little surprised with how much I like it. I’m giving it an enthusiastic 5 and I’m looking forward to playing it again soon.

The Dukes of Dice Rating System
1 = Poorly designed but playable. Not necessarily fun.
2 = Game has some merit but has significant detractions.
3 = Game is okay, not exciting. Will play in the right situation.
4 = A good game. Worth playing, just not all the time. Belongs in the Duchy.
5 = A great game, will rarely turn down a play of it.
6 = An all-time favorite that is a contender for the top 10

If you want to connect with us you can find:

Matthew on Twitter as @uncouthtooth or matthew@dukesofdice.com

Matt on Twitter as @matosowalker

Join the discussion in our Board Game Geek Guild on this review HERE

1 comment

  1. BJ from Board Game Gumbo

    Another stellar job on the quick review. And you picked a great game! My wife’s favorite game of Dice Tower Con and one she keeps asking to put on our own game shelf (that doesn’t happen very often!). Thanks for reviewing it.

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