So, there I was deep underground. The empty halls echoed with the distant moaning of unseen zombies. Droplets of molten lava condensed above my head occasionally falling to the ground with a hiss. Darkness pressed in from every corner and an ever present sense of danger surrounded me. But still I persevered. I was after diamonds and nothing was going to get in the way of me finding them. Except for maybe the cobblestone.
I’d been down there for hours without much to show for my efforts. Tunnel after tunnel, torch after torch, but no diamonds. I was in a rhythm at that point. Dig, shovel, dig, shovel, dig, shovel, place a torch, repeat. I’d gotten so into the rhythm that I was on autopilot and not paying as much attention as I should have been. Dig, shovel, dig, shovel, dig, shovel, place a torch… but it was one torch too many. I had dug beneath a pocket of gravel and my ill-placed torch set off a chain reaction. Before I knew it tons of gravel was cascading down around me and on top of me. Soon my entire body was surrounded. I could barely move and my air was running out. I was certain that I was going to die there. But then I remembered that I had a torch in my hand. If only I could set it on the ground beneath my feet the gravel around me would be destroyed and I would survive. So, struggling against the crushing weight, I began my descent…
Anyone that’s ever played Minecraft has experienced times like these — heart pounding moments of near death and fortunate escapes. They can tell you that Minecraft is more than a game about collecting blocks to build stuff. Underlying everything is a sense of adventure, discovery, danger, and fulfillment. There’s nothing quite like it.
Ever since I started playing Minecraft nearly 10 years ago, I have found myself wishing that there was a way to translate the video game experience to an analog one. Several Minecraft games have tried (and failed), but now there’s a new contender. Does Minecraft: Builders & Biomes deliver? Read on to find out.
In Minecraft: Builders & Biomes (MBB) players will gather materials to construct building tiles, move around the board to uncover new building tiles and monsters to fight, and gather weapon tokens that will improve their deck of combat tiles to make them more successful at fighting these monsters… all in the name of scoring the most victory points.
Victory points come from several different quarters. Monsters and weapon tokens provide a few here and there, but the glut of the victory points will come from how well the players meet the objectives of the three different scoring rounds. After the final scoring round, the player with the highest score wins.
This is a high level overview of MBB. If you’re just interested in what I think, feel free to skip ahead to the Thoughts section. Otherwise, read on!
Get Set For Adventure!
First, shuffle the building and mob (video game slang for “monster”) tiles together and then place these, grass block side up, into a 4 by 4 grid with 4 tiles in each stack. Then shuffle the weapon tokens and place one face down at the end of each of these columns and rows. The 3 scoring criteria cards (labeled A, B, and C) should be set off to the side close by so everyone can see them. Next, the resource cube block is assembled by dumping all of the blocks into the mold and lifting it away.
With the main area assembled, each player will choose a color and take the matching figure stand, scoring marker, weapon tokens, as well as a player board. The scoring marker is set onto the 0 space of the score track on the player board. The weapon tokens are shuffled and placed face down next to this. Then, the players will select one of the cardboard figures, place it into their figure stand, and set it into the middle of the main area at the epicenter of the tile display. Finally, a start player is selected and you are ready to begin.
Time to Explore!
MBB progresses over the course of a variable number of rounds depending on when scoring is triggered (more on that later). During each round players will take turns, in player order, choosing and performing 2 different actions from a single set of selections:
Collect 0-2 cubes: In order to remove a cube from the resource cube block there are two criteria that must be met: the cube must not have a cube on top of it and at least 3 sides of the cube must be visible. Initially the only cubes that will fit this criteria will be the corners.
Move 0-2 spaces and reveal tiles: A space is defined as the intersection between 4 tiles. The player will move their figurine up to 2 spaces and then reveal every tile around their figurine.
Build structure: If the player’s figurine is standing at the corner of a building tile, then they will look at the cost for constructing that building (bottom right corner of the tile) and build it if they can pay the cost. The constructed building is then added to their player board and can even cover previously constructed buildings.
Collect weapon: The player picks up a weapon token and adds it to their weapon token deck.
Fight mob: If the player’s figurine is standing at the corner of a monster tile, then they will look at the number of hearts shown on the tile and try to produce as many hearts drawn from their randomly shuffled weapon token deck. If the monster is defeated, the player collects the tile and keeps it in their play area for later scoring. If it is not defeated, it remains where it is.
So Many Biomes!
As previously mentioned: when a player constructs a building tile, they will add that tile to their player board. There’s more to it than just paying for a tile and adding it to the player board, though. There are several considerations that the player should keep in mind and to better understand those, it’s good to know how scoring works.
At the beginning of the game, the 3 scoring criteria cards were laid out for everyone to see. These depict how many points the players will receive for different things during each building phase. During each scoring round the players will score points for their largest connected cluster of specific types of icons. A scoring round is triggered whenever the last block has been removed from a layer. Because of this, it is possible to experience multiple scoring rounds back to back.
In scoring round A the players are going to score for biome types. Each type is worth differing amounts of points so the players will want to score for whichever type nets them the greatest number of points. For instance, while your largest cluster might be 3 forest biomes, 2 connected cold taiga biomes would be worth more overall. Forests are only worth 2 points each whereas cold taigas are worth 6 each. This same principle holds true for scoring rounds B and C which score for building colors and building types respectively.
So the big question is: is Minecraft: Builders & Biomes a satisfactory analog port of the digital game? The answer to that question is a definitive… sorta. There are a lot of things that MBB gets right and there are a few things that just aren’t as good as they could be. I’m going to start with those first so that I can end this review on a positive note.
First, I feel like this is something that I find myself saying over and over in review after review: this game doesn’t provide any kind of storage solutions aside from the giant plastic bag that the oversized wooden cubes come packaged inside of. If you don’t want everything sliding around inside of the box, then you’re going to have to provide your own baggies. HINT: you probably don’t want this stuff sliding around because a lot of the printed components are very thin and I can see them getting bent up pretty easily.
Another thing is that the scores in this game typically surpass the 30 point mark by quite a large margin but there is no way to mark this on your player board. The scoring markers look the same on both sides. I feel like an opportunity was missed here. The publishers could have slapped a 30 on one side and easily resolved this. My final component related gripe has to do with the resource cube block. Once you’ve got all of your little cubes stacked into the block formation, it is very unstable. If you brush up against it with your sleeve by mistake or remove a cube too hastily, it loses its shape and definition and can eventually topple altogether if you aren’t ultra careful.
Aside from those component related issues, I do have a couple of gameplay related concerns. For one, when it comes to fighting monsters, there is a lot of luck involved and the outcome of your weapon token flips is heavily skewed towards failure. While revealing poisonous potatoes every time you try to fight something can be very silly, it’s also annoying not having a way to mitigate this in any way. When I find a poisonous potato in the video game, I toss it out. They’re utterly useless. Having a way to get rid of them in MBB would be very welcome.
A larger concern, though, is that while MBB does a pretty good job of capturing the “mine” portion of “Minecraft” it utterly fails at capturing the “craft” portion. Part of the joy of Minecraft is in the gathering of the materials needed to craft the tools needed to build things. The progression from wooden tools to stone tools to iron and then, finally, diamond is part of the challenge and I wish that it had been incorporated into MBB somehow.
For the most part, though, I really like MBB. I’m sure that my initial concern that this was going to be a kid’s game is a concern shared by many Minecrafters out there, and I hope this review will help you decide whether to pick it up or not. What I have discovered is that MBB is a game that speaks to gamers and non-gamers alike. You don’t even have to love Minecraft to enjoy it (but it sure helps!). The scoring round criteria will provide heavier gamers with an interesting puzzle to solve, but the interconnected tiles rule can be removed entirely for less seasoned players. These two modes can even be played simultaneously. Someone can be playing the advanced game while someone else is enjoying the lighter, easier version. Most games force you to make a choice between the two, but MBB is the first one I have ever encountered that allows them to be mixed in this way and that’s really neat.
Minecrafters will enjoy the familiar sights: creepers, witches, forests, taigas, etc. but the artwork is just as appealing for people that are not familiar with the video game, or haven’t made their own minecraft banner designs. I am personally delighted that the graphic designers chose to maintain the Minecraft font across all of the player aids, scoring cards, and other tiles. This attention to small details makes me feel bonded, as a Minecraft junkie, to the board game in a way that I might not feel otherwise. I also really dig (pun totally intended) the resource cube block. This game could just as easily have achieved the same thing by having me pull cubes from a bag, but turning this aspect of the game into an actual block was a little bit of thematic brilliance. It’s just so Minecraft in its execution.
I highly recommend Minecraft: Builders & Biomes for Blockheads like myself and non-Minecrafters alike. It’s a delightful game that’s easy to set up, easy to play, and easy to teach. And it’s actually pretty fun. In the end, that’s really what’s most important, right? Well, that and finding diamonds, of course.