Everyone remembers their first Pooh. Soft and strokable, yet proud, master of both forest and river. Yet somewhere inside, we knew there was a beast, lusting for adventure, for the call of the wild, flexing its claws that have not yet tasted blood. We are brought up cuddling these monsters. We even gave them pet names, Teddy, Mister Ted, Corporal Teddingtons, Ted-masterZ Extreme 5000, and other common monikers. An uncomfortable arrangement, doomed to wither and die – we learn to let these childhood whimsies’ depart. Too cute to see entirely expelled from humanity, yet too dangerous to sleep alongside. Those knifey fingered woodland murderers need somewhere to go… and that is BärenPark!
I have played this game once, and once only, at the UK Games Expo 2017. In its en-sweatened and shout-aholic throngs of the open gaming area I became the keeper, custodian, and destiny smasher of Bear kind. BärenPark sees you fill the guilty boots of both surveyor and architect of a kind of ‘Guantanamo Bear Car Park Simulator’, and you’re going to feel good doing it. Maybe a little too good. But whatever, its only animals. Animals you once loved…
On the table directly in front of you, you’ll all receive your own little square 4×4 containment units/grids. They’ll be peppered with various illustrations. They might be wheelbarrows, cement mixers, lovely diggers, or some guys standing around wondering where to plumb in the showers etc… These icons are very important, and make or break your dreams of achieving your potentially maximum bear imprisonment rate. Some areas will also be blank, and that’s probably the more crucial and also plan scuppering factor. One grid square will be a cordoned off pit area – surrounded by tape. Fill the rest of your grid board up in its entirety, and you’ll be entitled to situate a majestic Bear statue in this pit. You can bury children who’ve been dropping litter or poking animals with sticks under here also (possibly just made that up).
In the centre of the table will be a delightful menu board of haphazardly shaped tetris-ically reminiscent tiles. Some big, some small, some straight, some not, and some just downright obscure. Dependant on their size and victory point worthiness they’ll be graded across this board from cheap to ‘spensive. The cheapies have multiple duplicates, and the ‘spensives are rarer, and some are unique. All the tiles from big to small, just like in the animal kingdom, will be killed and devoured – or more accurately – will be essential in possibly fully fulfilling every square of your player grid. Tesselation’s what you need, but there’s gonna be a speed bump on this Bear hunt, because you’ll all be competing quite viciously for the very limited supplies of those said tiles. Those tiles are essentially sorted into three types, Green areas, Animal Houses, and Enclosures. This translates into stuff that’s not for bears, places where bears live, and exercise yards for bears (may or may not contain basketball hoop and weightlifting equipment). This is where most of the Panda shanking takes place, although this does not translate into VPs (top tip: stay clear of Bearyan Race Polar Bear supremacists).
On your turn you’ll be placing one of these abstractions onto your individual board, and if at all possible laying across one or more printed illustrations. If you cover one of those up – you’ll be able to snatch a corresponding tile from the big menu board for use later. You’ll need to grease up the old mind cogs and have a freshly polished crystal ball in full effect to foresee whether they’ll be space for the various shapes you’ll be receiving. If you filled your board, plant a bear statue, if you couldn’t place a tile, get a free Green area tile instead. Some of these wee tiddlers are just one square big and feature Zoological favourites such as the Great Spattered Portaloo, or two squares such as the Botulism Outlet/Snack van. These are great for jamming into those hard to reach gappy leftover spaces which would otherwise become a massive pain in the bearside.
Particularly effective Bear wranglers may be able to expand their compound up to a maximum of four grids big. More chance to rack up some VPs, and also maybe – just maybe – notch up an expert variant achievement. At game start you may have a smattering of bonus cards besides the tile menu, and they’ll be occasionally granting extra VPs for ground breaking advancements within the field of bear restraint architecture. Basically, you need to get three of a thing, some things touching other things, or several things in a certain way. For instance, the ‘Long Food Street’ VP bonus will be awarded if you have three Botulism Outlets in a row. Just make sure you build a Great Spattered Portaloo somewhere relatively close. Remember, Bears can smell faeces, or fear, or was it faces? Is that why they often have brown faces? Does anybody know? Does anybody care? Is that what Pooh bear really eats?
The first person to complete four grids triggers game end and the round completes. If you ain’t got it all built by now, you ain’t never getting it built. Your empire is broken down into VPs accrued, and depending on your flavours of bear, number of statues and bonuses amassed, you may be declared Grand Yogi of the Picnic Baskets, or just Winner. If you made a Boo Boo and failed to max out your grid efficiently enough, you’re going back to darkest Peru with your head between your furry knees. Pack some marmalade, it’s a long ride.
Does this little game smash it out of the Bear Park? I think so, sort of.
The game itself is a little bit like putting the shopping away from your ‘big shop’ into a tiny bedsit fridge. Every time you think you’ve perfectly nestled the frozen Koala fingers into a lovely corner location with a kitchen-side view, you realise that the Grizzly steaks now have to live at the frosty rear thus leaving a gap you can’t quite fill with a tub of jellied Gobi paws. You are going to have to install a Portaloo. Right there in the fridge. Well done you. You’ll be chipping off that yellow snow for weeks.
However, it turns out you made a repeating online grocery order, and it always contains the same goods. Ok, so they might come out the bag in a different order each week, but they’re still pretty much the same. I might like a little more variety – but I guess you can only do so much within a 4×4 grid. I can’t say I know what I’d add.
It’s a shorter light game for 2-4 players, and it’s easy enough to delve both hands straight into this honey pot and get sticky. What’s more it’s not super hurty on the old grey matter, so both Big Ted and Little Ted can play together. Is that to say it’s only for a bear of little brain? Do long words bother you? No, Not at all. I think this has a charm all of its own, and it is immensely pleasant. But, if you already have other recent shapey–fitterz in your treehouse like Patchwork or Cottage Garden, you may not find this a bear necessity.
– Dan Parker / Danevilparker on BGG