Updated: Oct 24, 2020
Much like fox prints have been the vogue of middle-class fashion for a while now - something of which I heartily approve - there are times when certain board game themes come out in a slew. And there has been a veritable swarm of bee-related games emerging from the hive-mind of designers recently. Waggle Dance (Grublin Games), Bees: the Secret Kingdom (Awaken Realms Lite/Van Ryder) (also recently reviewed here on Board's Eye View), Bee Lives, and the even punnier-than-I-can-bee Queenz: To Bee or Not To Bee (Mandoo Games). Add to that list now, The Bears and the Bees, an abstract colour matching card-placing game from Grandpa Beck, probably best known for the trick-taker, Skull King.
In Jeffrey Beck's The Bears and the Bees, 3–4 players try to shed their hand of thematically hexagonal cards by placing them adjacent to ones already in the hive which have matching colour sides. Bonus plays are gained by matching three or more sides; forced draws for opponents are triggered by placing cards that are harder to get into play. The eponymous Bears are the most awkward, especially later in a round. When one player places their last card, the round ends and the other players score penalty points for cards left in hand; three rounds and lowest total wins.
Each round starts out simply: the initial Queen Bee and honeycomb placed offer guaranteed spots to put your first card and, it'll beehoove you to take advantage of the adjacent card rule, whereby you can play a second card from hand so long as it is placed adjacent to the first. This leads to some deliberation because missing out on a basic double play like this is hugely detrimental to winning a round. There is a pleasing push-pull of more places to go versus cards in hand as each round evolves and the game gives players the opportunity to chain clever card plays. Rounds can't quite go on forever as there is a hard limit on the deck running out, but one player should be able to sting the others well before then.
I like the game but it has a few playability issues. First, given that the cards are effectively taking the place of tiles in a tile-laying game, they feel a little lightweight; a clumsy paw can wreck the beehive quite significantly. Less forgiveable, the colours used include not only the dreaded blue/green combination, but also a red that is very close to the purple and I struggled with this latter pairing in anything but perfect lighting. Lastly, I would have liked a quick reference card for each player: the worker bees and drones get confused and the triggers for some of the bonuses are subtly different and, again, get confused; there is a chart in the rules, which hovered around the table, but individual reference cards are always preferable to thumbing through even a slim rulebook or rules sheet.
With a respectable play time of about 10 minutes per person, The Bears and The Bees is an enjoyable pocket-sized filler with attractive art by Apryl Stott that will appeal to players who like a little abstract card play and don't get too upset by the possibility of drawing late in a round a 15 point card that they can't play. As someone who is usually quick to take his turn, I did find myself in more than one sticky situation in the middle of a round when the options are plentiful. Given that caveat, I'd caution that this is probably not suitable for the AP-iary prone among us.
(Review by David Fox)