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BarBEARian Battlegrounds Review

Quick Look:

Designers: Walter Barber and Ian VanNest
Artist: Pablo Hernandez
Publisher: Greenbrier Games
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: 20-30 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com.

TLDR: BarBEARians Battlegrounds is a good introduction to worker placement for younger gamers, with a complexity ranking slightly higher than most “My First…” games. It's a potential family game that older players shouldn’t tire of too quickly.


I had always shied away from reviewing games for younger players because my kids aren’t quite old enough to pull up a seat at the game table and sit through learning a new game. But then along comes Greenbrier Games’ BarBEARian Battlegrounds, a “great for families” game for ages eight and up.

Bluffing? Secret unit deployment? Dice rolling? Forget the kids, it sounds like something I would want to play – sign me up!

Regardless of my desire, it didn’t change the fact that this was a family game of sorts, and to fully review a family-friendly game, it should be played with a family and with family members that are as close to the ages as possible, right? Upon receipt, I played with my wife, but there was still that underlying nagging that I needed more familial input. So once again, in order to write a review in a different way, I needed to approach this game in a different way.

Enter the niece and nephews for family review time.

I employed the game playing talents of Jay (age 10), Jenn (age 12), and Reid (age 15) (not real names) for an afternoon of playing BarBEARian Battlegrounds. I met at their house on a perfect-for-board-gaming rainy Saturday, and began my prepared introductory speech – “BarBEARian Battlegrounds is a worker placement strategy game that includes secret, simultaneous dice placement. You assume the role of one of four Bear tribes…”

I barely made it through the first sentence before I was barraged with a combination of glazed eyes and questions. The questions could be succinctly summarized as, “What?”

I had grown so accustomed to using board game mechanic vernacular that it didn’t dawn on me I might as well be speaking Greek. I was inadvertently acting as a board game gatekeeper of sorts. And it was clear that approach was not working.

There is a memorable scene from an episode of the U.S. version of The Office where Oscar (a staff accountant) presents Michael (the regional manager) with a copy and explanation of a financial report, to which Michael, unable to understand the most basic of accounting jargon, ultimately responds with, “Explain it to me like I was 5.” Though the scene is obviously included for comedic effect and to highlight the manager’s ineptitude, there’s a labored metaphor here: are the rules clear enough on their own to explain gameplay in a way that they could all understand?

I needed to get out of the way and see if we could just let the rule book do its thing.

We collectively decided on an approach that would be devoid of industry vernacular. Even though I knew how to play (as I had spent time in the rule book and playing it with my wife), we opened the rule book and I simply began reading it from the beginning.

We started with the thematic text – There are a few things on every bear’s post-hibernation agenda: stretch, shed that winter coat, and concoct epic schemes to create the best neighborhood in the forest…

So far, so good. The idea of battling bears was received better than, say, zombies. On to the objective – Prove your clan has the best bears of all be reaching seven glory tokens…

Green Glory Tokens. Note the "locked" side to differentiate between the locked and unlocked glory.

I held up a Glory token, a small disc with a red, blue, green, or yellow (each color representing a different clan) showing the flags. Everyone was still at the table, so we moved to setup.

I passed out the glory tokens, clan screens, village boards, and colored dice that matched their chose colors. I placed the resource tokens (honey, ore, faith), specialist tokens (honey, ore, faith, and defense), and Upgrade cards in the center of the table and explained the role and costs of each. When there was concern over remembering the phases and costs, I was able to point to the inside of the clan screen and show them the reminders of game play – the four phases of a round, the icons that designated costs of the different tokens, the icons that showed when certain actions could be taken.
This game summary on the inside of the clan screens was invaluable and routinely referenced. I still had everyone’s attention, so we went on to a sample round.

Each player starts with three dice, but can add more as play progresses.

Plan phase: “First, we all roll our dice at the same time. Make sure that everyone can see the results and then place them on the board behind the clan screen. You can put the dice on the colored squares at the top to attack the player of that color, on the row below to resist an attack, or the bottom row to gather resources. Doubles can be stacked, but otherwise they have to go on their own space.”

And we did. Dice scattered across the table, and after everyone felt that they had a chance to observe the roll results, we went to work making the placements on the village board.

Dice placed on the red player's village board.
 After all the dice were placed, the clan screen were removed. The oldest two came after my bear clan immediately, both attacking me and locking one of their glory tokens by placing a six on the temple space at the bottom of the board. The youngest played a little more conservatively, electing to double up on defense and place on the honey resource space. Not wanting to seem too aggressive, I placed my three dice on each of the three resource spaces. Personalities were quickly presenting themselves in the gameplay. We continued forward.

Brawl phase: “Now you both attacked me – Reid with a five and Jenn with a four. Had I placed any dice in the defense row, your attack would have had to be equal to or higher than the dice I played. But as I have no dice in the barracks spaces, we’ll go around clockwise and you can choose to take one of my glory, or if I had any resources, I could give you one of those instead.”

Each player starts with two glory tokens. I lost both of mine in round one.
They happily took both of my glory tokens. The youngest slid his glory tokens a little closer to himself.

Gather phase: “So now everyone that placed a die on the resource row gets the corresponding resource. Sixes in the temple will lock a glory token from being stolen during a brawl.”

I distributed the honey, ore and faith as necessary. The two oldest each locked one of their glory tokens by flipping them over to the side with the lock icon.

Dice placed on a village board's resource spaces net the player either honey, faith, or ore.

Build Phase: “After you gather a few more resources, you’ll be able to spend them at the end of the round for the tokens. The tokens give you extra resources or defense. You can also purchase an extra black dice for one round, of save up two of each resource to bring in an additional die of your color for the reminder of the game, or three of each resource for a glory token.”

Based on the first-round ambush, I decided to spend one of each of newly acquired resources on a defense specialist token, and the others plotted their ways to get what they wanted. Strategies were forming, and game play was slowly being understood.

Specialist tokens can give the players added resources each round, or extra defensive help.

It went for several more rounds. I took the brunt of most attacks, and the oldest two players soon found a balanced strategy of collecting resources and being aggressive while still protected. The youngest, for reasons I never quite understood, decided to spend most of the game hording honey tokens. But after an hour (slightly longer than the estimated time frame on the box), the oldest announced he had just secured his seventh glory token and the game ended. 

Upon finishing the game, we were discussing set-up for another, when I asked for their opinions of the game overall.

The 10-year-old wanted me to leave it at their house. I told him that I needed to play it a few more times and take pictures of it, but I would let him borrow it soon. I took his desire to keep it as a good sign.

The 12-year-old thought that the game was over her younger brother’s head. Based on the honey-hoarding strategy, I lean towards agreeing with her. She also thought that the box art portrayed the game as simpler than what it actually was.

A look at the artwork on the outside of a clan screen.

The 15-year-old’s feedback was the most unexpected – “I liked it, but the game could have easily had been Game of Thrones themed. The only thing that really makes this a 'family game' is the bear illustrations.” After reflecting on the statement for a few days, I had to agree in part.

Having played a family-friendly game with a family, I felt prepared to look at the game through a family-game lens. Here are the things I look for in a family game and held BarBEARian Battlegrounds to the same Nick’s Family Game Standard™:
  • Does the player count work? 2-4 players. This will fit my family (after my kids get older), but a much larger family might have to pair up or trade off.
  • Is the theme appropriate for the recommended ages? It’s animated bears in place of barbarian hordes, and cartoonish bears can make anything seem less threatening (Think Ewoks - they ate people, but they looked so cute and cuddly that no one seemed to care). The attacks are never described as anything but attack, so you don’t have to worry about seeing bear heads on pikes.
  • Are the rules simple enough for the youngest player? Based on the positive shift from me explaining it to simply reading the rule book verbatim, I would say that the rules are easy to understand for the recommended ages.
The inside of the clan screen has a helpful reminder of game play and the marketplace.

  • Does it play like anything else the family likes? I cannot think of a family game that implements these mechanics. It doesn’t play like any family game I am aware of, and I am completely okay with that. This is a good introduction to worker placement and falls nicely between My First Stone Age and Stone Age in my collection. It passes as a gateway game to different genres.
  • Are the recommended ages accurate? This one is a little tricky, as only you will know the capabilities of your child, but the overall consensus from everyone (adults and children) that I played with is that an eight-year-old could probably grasp the mechanics, but to grasp the strategy aspect, they would need to be a pretty sharp eight-year-old. The 10-year-old I played with picked up the mechanics quickly, but his strategies among plays were all over the place. I couldn’t recommend this for an eight-year-old, but would give it a thumbs up for 10+.
  • Is the play time accurate? This was my biggest concern after playing. The game box has 20-30 minutes, but I didn’t finish a game in less than 40. Granted, most of the games I was actively teaching, but even in subsequent plays, the game played past the high end of the estimated time. If your kids can focus for 40 minutes, it’s good to go. If their attention span is limited to 20-30 minute blocks, this may be a challenge.
  • Do kids want to play it again? They did. It passed their test.
  • Do adults want to play it again?  Viewing this as a family game, it would grade it high. This will fill a hole that many collections have between the “My first…” versions and their adult counterparts. I think this is a good gateway game for anyone young or old that hasn’t played a worker-placement.

Various upgrade cards that can be purchased with resources.

Overall, BarBEARian Battlegrounds is a family-friendly game and is a great next step from the “My First…” board games and a good introduction to the worker placement genre. If you have a budding board gamer that is too advanced for children’s games, but maybe not ready to grasp the strategy necessary for higher complexity games, this will be a good fit.   

For those that have grown accustomed to the usual format, here is a high-level, bulleted version of the above information for easy digestion.

Four sets of five pipped dice, village board, seven glory tokens, and clan screen, each in a different color (blue, yellow, red, and green).  Resource tokens, specialist tokens, upgrade cards, and black dice.

Set-up, Rules, and Game Play:
The objective of the game is to be the first clan to possess seven glory tokens. Glory tokens can be obtained through either successful raids or by completing trials cards. Once a player obtains a seventh glory token, the game immediately ends. The complete rules can be found here.

Various trial cards.

Upon selecting a color, the player takes the corresponding dice (of which only three are initially active. The other two can be purchased with resources as the game unfolds), glory tokens (of the seven glory tokens, players are only in possession of two at the start of the game, the rest can be earned by completing trial cards or via purchase in game play), village board, and clan screen. The black dice, resources tokens, specialist tokens, and upgrade cards are placed in their respective stacks in the center of the table.

Village boards in yellow, red, green, and blue.

A round consists of four phases: plan, brawl, gather, and build.

Plan: All players simultaneously roll their dice in view of the other players. After the results are observed, the players assign the dice on the village board located behind the clan screen.

Brawl: The clan screens are removed, revealing the dice placement. If a player places any of their dice in the battleground area on the village board, they are attacking the player of the corresponding color. Attacks are resolved starting with the first player and proceeding clockwise. If the attacking players dice total on the battlegrounds area is higher than the value of the dice played on the defending player’s barracks (defense) total, then they win the brawl and can choose to take one of the defending player's unlocked glory tokens or a resource.  

Gather: Any player that assigned dice on the farm, temple, or forge collect the applicable resource tokens (honey, faith, ore). Players can also place a six at the temple to lock one of their glory tokens. A locked glory cannot be stolen by a raiding player.

Build: Players can use gathered resources to purchase specialist tokens, upgrade cards, or use abilities from the marketplace.

At the end of the fourth phase, the dice are gathered, and clan screens are placed in front of the village boards. The first player marker is passed clockwise, and play continues until one player obtains seven glories.

Mechanics Recipe:
Equal parts dice rolling, worker placement, and simultaneous action selection.

Theme and Artwork:
The most frequent word I heard used by adults to describe the theme and artwork was “charming.” The younger players seemed to enjoy it, too. They seemed to appreciate the juxtaposition of a cuddly cartoon bear attacking their bear neighbors. The theme and artwork are in line with what one should expect from a game listed as ages eight and up.

First player marker.

The Good:
The simultaneous action helped to limit downtime for the younger players. The rulebook is also only one-page front and back and still provides clear instruction for game play. It's a good next step for younger players that are too old for the “My First…” variations of games.

The Bad:
The idea of an eight-year-old playing this with a strong understanding of a strategy is a tough sell. I feel that the theme may be the only thing that was intended to make this a family-friendly game. It could have easily been any other type of attacking horde.

Final Thoughts: 
BarBEARian Battlegrounds is a family-friendly game is a great next step from the “My First…” board games and a good introduction to the worker placement genre. If you have a budding board gamer that is too advanced for children’s games but maybe not ready to grasp the strategy necessary for higher complexity games, this will be a good fit. 

For Players That Like: Introducing younger gamers into the worker placement genre.

Check out BarBEARian Battlegrounds on:

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/244267/barbearians   http://press.greenbriergames.com/sheet.php?p=project_barbearians   https://www.facebook.com/Greenbriergames/   https://twitter.com/greenbriergames   

About the Author:

Nick is a compliance consultant by day, a board gamer at night, and a husband and father always. When he is not bringing a game to the table, he is running (most often to or from his kids) or watching the New York Yankees. You can follow what Nick is playing on Twitter at @ndshipley
BarBEARian Battlegrounds Review BarBEARian Battlegrounds Review Reviewed by Nick Shipley on July 24, 2018 Rating: 5

1 comment

  1. Be careful when dealing with Greenbrier Games. They took my money, ignored me when I told them I hadn't received the product, tried to steal my money when I told them to make it right and the only think that got me my money back was threatening to report them and call my credit card company to get the charges reversed.

    Buyer Beware!