Is there such thing as a typical family? Probably not: I know mine certainly isn't 'typical'; fairly sure no-one would choose to put the Fox clan on the cover of a cheesy '70s board game box as, for a start, we're missing at least one child and, frankly, I'm not that photogenic. However, board game companies present their games very differently these days and there is one thing absolutely certain about Bees: The Secret Kingdom, it looks gorgeous and you wouldn't pass over it on the shop shelf to get to, say, SET. Bees: The Secret Kingdom hums with stunning artwork by Dagmara Gaska and, as such, presents a welcoming veneer, but is there any substance beneath that sweet art?
Published by Van Ryder Games and Awaken Realms Lite (Awaken Realms' new family game imprint), in Kamil 'Sanex' Ciesla's Bees: The Secret Kingdom, 2–6 players gather Pollen gems of four colours in order to acquire Honey cards of value 1, 2 or 3, with the objective of outscoring their opponents. Gems are gained by choosing to select one of two cards from the Pollen deck, with everyone getting something while the active player usually gets twice as much; players can hold onto a maximum of three of each Pollen colour. Alternatively, on their turn, a player may choose to buy a Honey card using their gathered Pollen: value 1 cards usually have a bonus; value 2s occasionally; while value 3s often have a downside to them. Optionally, and advisedly, there can be three end-game scoring objective cards in play out of the five supplied. These may well add more direction to the purchasing.
That is the whole game: yes, it's simple, but that is the intent, as Bees: The Secret Kingdom is aimed squarely at the family market. The decision space is low, the opportunity for clever manipulation of the few card powers occasional and obvious, and one can bumble through a game while having a friendly chat. The game fits well in gateway settings, too, but an intriguing game night filler this is not. After one play, you will have seen all the variety that is on offer and the deciding factor for gamers of equal skill will be drawing the 'right' cards from the Pollen deck to beat an opponent to a particular Honey card. That, though, worked in the game's favour for my non-gaming queen bee, as she was soon comfortable with the game play and enjoying the activity of playing more than competing.
So, before I drone on too long, Bees: The Secret Kingdom is not the next Coloretto (Abacusspiele), or even a No Thanks (Amigo). It has a similar feel to Splendor (Space Cowboys), but there is no engine to get up and running, just the best use of Pollen gems. If aesthetics are more important to you than content and you like the idea of an accessible, unashamedly light victory point race game, then look it up at your friendly local or online game store, because I don't think this game will be getting a lot of buzz on BoardGameGeek.
(Review by David Fox)