Bärenpark The Bad News Bears expansion released last year but has recently been restocked, so more gamers can bolster their polyomino bear parks. Designed by the man behind the base game, Phil Walker-Harding, the expansion comes from publisher Lookout Games. The player count has not been expanded despite new park tiles being included, though the game length has been minutely increased. Grizzly bears can now feature in your parks and visitors will even have the joy of monorails to ride. However, is this an expansion that pandas to fans of the base game? Let’s find out!
This review will only focus on the new content of the expansion. For those of you who have not tried the incredible base game check out our in depth review here.
The Bad News Bears expansion is made up of 2 main modules and a few additional goal tiles. The first module, and where the name of the expansion comes from, sees the introduction of large grizzly bear tiles. Covering more spaces than the orange enclosures of the base game, and still coming in the weird shapes, grizzly tiles would fill up the normal 4 tile parks rather fast. To counter this there are two factors to slow progress down. Firstly, to obtain a grizzly tile players must discard to the box a greenery and a white animal house tile. Players’ parks must also be larger, with new exit tiles which feature no orange digger or construction site symbols.
Despite the way the grizzly tiles are acquired, and that a 5th park board is used, the module feels like more of the same. Scoring in exactly the same way as any other tile in the game the grizzly tiles don’t change that much, with the biggest tweak being the extra park size. By not featuring a construction crew symbol the new exit tiles feel more appropriate for a park’s final board. It was always a little odd covering the symbol on the final board but not triggering anything. Unlike the normal park tiles, of which the choice is between 2 piles, the four exit tiles are all available to be chosen – allowing those first to get them the slight perk of increased choice.
The rulebook suggests playing with one module at a time, at least for a game or two. This makes sense as both add a new thing for players to watch out for while playing, with the second module adding monorails. The first time a player adds a green tile to their board they can choose one of the spaces on it to add a monorail tower. At an exact length of 3 spaces away from this tower, in a straight line not including diagonals, if the player adds green tile they can place a second tower and link the two with the top scoring monorail train. From here on the spacings stay the same, though the monorail must for some reason wiggle across the park boards at 90 degree angles and it cannot form a closed loop. Without these limitations placing the monorail out would be easier, and therefore monorails add another wave of necessity into the pre planning aspect of the game.
This could be a nightmare for AP, analysis paralysis, prone players – as it makes the spacing out of green tiles even more important. Still, it does give players a different way to score big. The first monorail most will place will be worth 10 points, though the points earnt decrease as the higher pointed monorails get snapped up. The spatial element of the monorails is often a distraction away from the goals, as you aim to perfectly space out greenery and forget about what tiles you need to place to trigger the goals.
Speaking of goals there are six new ones included. They range from having rivers placed at the corner of park tiles to placing an enclosure without covering any symbols. These merge well with those in the base game, to the extent that while they may be a little more tricky to complete they aren’t more complicated to understand. So, if one or two popped up with new players it wouldn’t impact their experience from an understanding point of view. There is perhaps a slight first player advantage with one goal. It requires two toilets in a players park to be at least 11 spaces away from each other. As the starting player starts with a toilet tile they are part way there, while others have playgrounds. Otherwise they are more of the same, akin to how similar the grizzly tiles are.
If you’re happy to disassemble the monorail towers after each game then the expansion content will fit into the base game box. It is close though. If even a few of the monorail towers are not disassembled you will find there is some lifting of the lid, plus it is a bit like a game of tetris fitting it all in neatly. This does lead to the only real negative of the expansion, coming from a fan of the original. The setup time, regardless of which module is chosen, is slightly increased – especially if you want to pre assemble the monorail towers. The time it takes to get Barenpark setup was never one of the game’s strengths. Alas, this addition only highlights a weakness of what is an amazing game.
Production wise there is little to fault with the expansion, matching the artstyle and quality of the base game. The monorail towers and cars are cardboard like the rest of the components. These could have been plastic to give the game a little extra 3D flair, though regardless they give the game even more of an eye-catching look to it. It’s hard not to peer around and lean in to see what customers would be seeing from the monorail as it passes over enclosures, bear statues and toilets.
Bärenpark The Bad News Bears is on the line between being more of the same and a small new twist. Those that found issues with the base game will therefore not be won over. The new twist is not the grizzly bears that can now feature in players parks but the monorails. These, alongside the addition of new goals to keep things fresh, are the winning element of the expansion. For those that enjoyed the base game, The Bad News Bears expansion is a great excuse to get the game back to the table time and time again.
(Editor’s Note: Bärenpark The Bad News Bears was provided to us by Asmodee for the review. The game is currently available from local board game stores, some of which are reopening! Find your local store here.)