Updated: Oct 24
Minecraft: Builders & Biomes is a 1-4 player tile placement game with a touch of battling monsters and just a smidgen of Jenga (Hasbro). It's designed by Ulrich Blum and published by Ravensburger.
The board is comprised of 16 stacks of tiles arranged in a 4 x 4 square with three face-down tiles to a stack and corridors between each stack that players will move through. These tiles display either buildings, set within a certain biome which can be constructed for points, or monsters which can be slain for points and additional benefits. Item tiles are placed around the edge of the board face down and the coloured wooden resource cubes are stacked randomly into a large cube-shaped resource mountain within easy reach of all players. The chunky resource cubes are 'poured' into a cardboard mould which makes assembling the resource mountain a breeze.
Finally each player takes a player board, a player token in the colour of their choice and a stack of equipment tiles in their player colour. Player pieces are placed in the centre of the board, where the corners of the 4 central stacks meet and then you are ready to roll - except that that's not the movement mechanic in this game. Players perform two actions per turn including moving and exploring. You can move 0-2 spaces (a space being from one corner of a stack to another, moving down the corridors between the stacks of tiles) and then reveal those tiles and/or item tiles to which you are adjacent.
You may pick up a revealed item that is next to you, in which case you add it to you deck of equipment tiles. If you fight a revealed monster in an adjacent stack, you draw three tiles from your face-down equipment deck. If your attack is equal to or greater than the monster's life points then it is slain and you get the points/bonuses on the card. Bear in mind that each player's equipment deck includes three mouldy potatoes, which are worthless in battle and so do zero damage. Big monsters are worth big points but with dud cards in every player's deck it is often tricky to draw enough attacks to win - which is why you may want to buff up your attack deck by collecting items. There is no penalty for failing to kill the monster, except that you will have wasted an action.
As an action, you can mine for resources. This is where you may take two of the chunky resource blocks from the cube-mountain: stone, sandstone, obsidian, wood or emerald. Each of these can be used to construct buildings, with emeralds being wild. You can only take a cube from the mountain when it at least three sides visible. Finally, you can use an action to construct a building: spending the requisite resources to take a face-up adjacent building tile from the board and placing it anywhere on your player board. All buildings are worth points based on the biome (forest, desert, tundra or mountain) building type (farming, bridge, decorative or house) and the material used for the building (wood, stone, sandstone or obsidian).
This is where the game gets interesting. Scoring is split over three rounds: in the first you only get points for biomes, scoring points for the largest number of orthogonally connected biomes of the same type. For example, three tundra in a line would score 3 x 6 for a total of 18 points. Some biomes are worth more points than others reflecting their relative scarcity. In round 2, you will only score according to the construction material used in each building, and in round 3 you will score for building types. Each scoring round is activated when the last block of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd layers of the resource cube are depleted. This leads to a surprising amount of depth: if you don't plan ahead, you can find you've invested a lot of effort into creating a huge, high-scoring biome in round 1, only to realise that none of the building types are connected in round three and so score almost nothing in the last round. The fact that players can easily choose to mine out a layer to force a round to score at a favourable time means you must pay close attention to what everyone else is doing. Monsters will also score based on certain biomes or building types, adding an extra layer of complexity.
Minecraft: Builders & Biomes turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. The resource cube-mountain is tactile and enjoyable to use, the deck building and combat adds a little luck into the mix, and the scoring system that at first appears simple has, in fact, a significant amount of depth. I would go so far that, in some ways, the scoring is more complex and detailed than in some mid-weight euros, especially when you are competing against others for a limited number of tiles using limited resources against a clock which every player can influence in their own favour.
Despite its hidden depth, Minecraft: Builders & Biomes remains an easy-to-learn game for younger gamers looking to get in to boardgames and a great choice as a family game. And yet it's a game that experienced gamers will also enjoy. Thoroughly recommended!
(Review by Toby Hicks)