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Berd Review

Quick Look:

Berd is an abstract strategy game that plays like a mashup of Backgammon, Chess, and Legos. It has four different game boards, two very different modes of play, and a bunch of optional rules that make it easy to scale the difficulty and playtime for almost any situation. The pieces are plastic boxes that snap together. Your goal is to get more of your pieces across the board than any other player. To that end, you will block spaces and steal pieces from opponents as you strategically maneuver toward the finish line.  

Designer: Michael Mikaelian
Artist: Michael Mikaelian
Publisher: Self Published
Year Published: 2016
No. of Players: 2-6 (depending on the version)
Ages: 6+
Playing Time: 5-120 minutes (usually about 30)

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com


Rules and Setup:

First, decide how many tokens you want to use (somewhere between five and eleven, depending on how long you want the game to be). Players choose their color and receive equal numbers of corresponding tokens. Each player rolls two dice. The high roller places their stack on one of the corner spaces, then everyone else follows suit. You can start in the same space as another player, but it's probably a bad idea, as you'll be limited in spacing out your pieces initially. It depends on how you play it, though. There's a lot of strategic wiggle room here.

Note: This is very scalable. The more pieces you have, the more complex it is, and the more time it will take. I'd recommend seven. I have the four-player version with nine tokens of each color, but the site offers several other options, including a six-player version with eleven tokens of each color.

The rulebook is a single tri-fold page. The rules are pretty simple, but the book isn't translated very well. Most of it comes across, but there are a few lines that we had to work to figure out. The mechanics are simple and easy to teach. The book explains the basic game and also adds a bunch of optional rules. I'll explain the full game, then tell you what's optional.

Theme and Mechanics:

Berd is Armenian for "prison" or "fortress." I didn't really pick up on a theme beyond that. It's abstract, though. Who cares?

There are four boards, but you only use one at a time. Below is the big board. The other side looks the same but has fewer spaces for a faster game.

Movement: If you're playing this version, you use two dice to determine movement as you race your tokens around the board, capturing other player's pieces as you go. Like Backgammon, you move one token the number of spaces on each die. Both can move the same token or be split between two. If you roll doubles, you get to move twice for each die rolled. (i.e. if you roll two sixes, you can move one token 24, two tokens 12, four tokens 6, one token 12 and two tokens 6, or one token 18 and one token 6). Movement is always clockwise. When a token moves, all the tokens it's taken move with it.

Berd with me.

The same-colored tokens on top of the stack are Active. All colors below it are Inactive. Two tokens on top of the same stack make a Berd (i.e. the stack is guarded. See below). You can have as many of your tokens in a stack as you like, but you can only move one of them with a die.

Look at the last two stacks of the lower pic. The red player controls both. Tokens underneath it have been taken (see below) and are inactive, so the whole thing moves as one unit. The one to its right has two reds, so both are active. Red could move one red token with one die, taking as many of the other colors with it as it wanted.

Guarding: A token is guarded if there are two tokens of the same color on the top of a stack, or if the top piece of a stack matches the color of the space it occupies. Other players can't land on that space or take your pieces if they are guarded.

Capturing: If your token ends its move on a space with another player's unguarded token, they snap together, and it's now part of your piece. The stack moves as one unit. A big part of the game is snagging other players' pieces because the winner is the player who gets the most pieces to the finish line before the game ends.

Reclaiming Captured Tokens: It's important to keep your stacks guarded and break them up strategically. If another player lands on your unguarded stack, they take control of it and move any of their tokens in that stack to the top, forming a Berd.

Scoring: When a token makes it all the way around the board to its starting space, it is removed from the board and placed in front of the controlling player. All other players must then choose one token under their control to give to the scoring player. These tokens can be any color and come from either the board or from the player's score pile. Each token has a different point value (this is an optional mechanic). At the end of the game, you can either add up points on each player's score pile or simply count how many tokens they got to the finish line. Sometimes, it might be better to give up a low-value tile you've already scored; other times, it might be better to give up one that's lagging.

Note: One of the most confusing sentences in the rulebook concerns this mechanic. It sounds like you only score pieces of your color. Not true. Everything in your score pile is worth points. What it's saying is that other players have to give you a piece for each token of your color you get across, not the inactive ones attached to it.

The game ends immediately when there is only one active player left on the board.   

Berd comes with two other boards that play very differently. I think they're for two players, but the book didn't specify. Both of these boards use the same rules; one is merely tighter than the other.

This version doesn't use dice. Each player places their stack on a space on their side of the board. On your turn, move one token one space forward or sideways, never back. Pieces score when you move off the opposite side of the board. Capturing, guarding and the end-game work the same as the other version. You don't have to learn another whole game, but you do need a whole new strategy.

The optional rules are:
Color protection - a piece is guarded when it's on a space of its color.
Numbered tokens - pieces are worth points indicated by their stickers.
Hidden numbers - Stickers go on the inside, so only the controlling player knows what their pieces are worth.

I don't think any sticker will hold up well to being pulled off and stuck somewhere else over and over, so you should probably figure out if you want the values hidden before putting them on.

Game Play:

Most of the strategy on the big board is figuring out which pieces you want to run ahead with and which you want to put into defensive positions to attack with. When you form a Berd or land on a space of your color, you generally want to hang out and wait to capture another player's piece. If it's a higher value and there's a lot of empty space around you, you might want to charge ahead. It's about 40% strategy, 40% opportunism, and 20% luck.

The smaller boards play very differently. It feels like a cross between Chess and Tic-Tac-Toe. Starting positions are up to you as long as it's on the opposite side from the other player. No dice are involved. You simply move one piece one direction (not back). Initial moves are extremely important. Things get tight very fast, making this a delicate and tense gaming experience.

It takes a couple of plays to get the hang of it. The first time, I felt completely screwed two minutes in. I took more pieces but got around 100 fewer points. The key seems to be setting it up so the other player has to take a piece that's guarded, then immediately retake it. Make a Berd, then wait them out. If you can pull that off a few times, you have a good shot.

Artwork and Components:

The art isn't fancy, but it is colorful, and the games are more complex than they look.

It's a little disappointing seeing the 3D castle board on the box, then opening it up to find a regular game board. Just about any other image would have been better, because you quickly go from, "Cool, a 3D board" to "Oh..."

The tokens are really cool. They snap together well and pull apart with a satisfying pop, sort of like Legos. Holding a stack of them sideways, they feel like a snake. A small stack makes a nice little rattle to fiddle with. I was curious how many of them I could pick up as one stack. The answer is all of them!

That's all 36 being held by the top piece.

The big board is thick, glossy and durable. The 2-player board is thick card stock, less shiny and durable, but decent quality. Dice are good quality. It doesn't have an insert.

The Good:

Berd is actually two games. Both are solid. Some mechanics are similar to other abstract games, but it's definitely its own thing. If you don't like one version, you'll probably like the other.

Fast setup and play. Easy to teach. Lots of options for scaling time and complexity. Good replay value. Cool plastic snappy bits. Great family game.

The Bad:

The rulebook is hard to follow due to the translation into English. The 2-player board is very thin. The aesthetics are lacking compared to current games out on the market. And having so many variants can be frustrating when learning from a book.

Final Thoughts:

I don't care for Backgammon. I recognize it's a good game, but it doesn't click with me. The big board Berd is similar enough that I'm iffy on it, but I definitely like it better. I really enjoyed the two-player version.

Players Who Like:

Backgammon, Chess, or abstract strategy games in general.


Since the completion of this review the publisher sent us the following: "The game website has better, refined rules and more game variations. After publishing the game we developed new game variations that were not included in the original issue. Berd is an open-end gaming concept that allows gamers to develop new games or improvise existing games. Berd is a perfect game for tournaments. Gamers can collect scores/points playing with different players on different boards."

Photo courtesy of the publisher. 

Check out Berd on:

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/214576/berd   Berd   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJ3qkB8tcoU

Special EBG Member Deal - 30% off using the discount code EBG_BERD at BerdGame.com

Stephen Gulik - Reviewer

Stephen Gulik is a trans-dimensional cockroach, doomsday prophet, author, and editor at sausage-press.com. When he’s not manipulating energy fields to alter the space-time continuum, he’s playing or designing board games. He has four cats and drinks too much coffee.

See Stephen's reviews HERE.
Berd Review Berd Review Reviewed by S T Gulik on March 28, 2018 Rating: 5

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