Minecraft Builders & Biomes is a board game for 2 – 4 players for publisher Ravensburger. Designed by Ulrich Blum, the game sees players move around an overworld, mine for resources and score points based on what mobs they defeat and what they build. This is achieved by combining grid movement with bag building like mechanics, all wrapped up in the amazing Minecraft theming. Lasting around half an hour, does the game do the theme justice? Let’s find out!
Forming a large grid based overworld the biome and mob tiles are shuffled and put into facedown stacks of 4. The treasure chests are placed around the edge of this grid, effectively being a barrier to the play space. All of the wooden resource blocks are tipped into a large cube forming cardboard container, which is lifted to reveal a giant block, which is ready to be mined. Players choose one of the four available characters and colours, taking their matching set of starting weapon tokens of their colour. The players start in the middle of the overworld grid, with the youngest player going first.
On a player’s turn they perform 2 different actions from a list of 5 possible actions. The first is appropriately to collect blocks by mining. Any resource cube from the large cube can be obtained if the top of it and at least two sides of it can be seen, with the player claiming two resources as an action. These resources cubes can be the classic wood, stone, sandstone, obsidian or emerald blocks – which are considered wild. Players can also explore the overworld, moving 0 – 2 spaces across the grid. Where the player stops they reveal the four tiles surrounding that grid position, enabling them to be interacted with.
Using cubes they have previously mined a player, can build a building tile they are adjacent to by discarding to the box the appropriate cubes. These building tiles are instantly added to the player’s personal board. It can cover any space, and even other building tiles. While some buildings will come with experience points for building them, most of the points from buildings come via their positioning during the scoring phases.
Sometimes when a tile is revealed instead of being a building it is a mob, with the rewards and health of the mob denoted on the tile. When adjacent a player can fight the mob. The weapon tokens a player starts with are 3 useless poisoned potatoes, a 1 damage wooden sword and a 2 damage stone sword. Shuffling all of their weapon tokens a player draws 3, comparing the number of drawn damage with the mob’s health. Equaling or beating it sees the mob defeated, experience earnt and another benefit gained – either extra scoring opportunities or the ability to perform an extra action at some point.
If the player doesn’t manage to kill the mob nothing bad occurs, though that action was wasted. They cannot try again that turn, as the two actions a player performs on a turn must be different. To increase their chances of defeating mobs a player can collect extra weapons from the chests around the edge of the overworld. These range from a 4 damage dealing diamond sword to a golden hoe that does 1 damage but also awards the player 2 experience points.
Once a player has performed their two actions play moves onto the next player. When the top layer of the giant resource cube has been depleted the first scoring round “A” is performed. Players choose one biome type and score experience points based on the number of adjacent spaces on their player board of that type. Each biome type scores differently, based upon how easy or difficult it is to have built up a group of spaces.
Two further scoring phases occur when the second and third layers of the resource cube become depleted, based upon the building materials and building type respectively. When the third scoring phase is over the game ends, with any additional mob based scoring opportunities then counted. At this stage whoever has the most points wins, with ties split based on who has the most resource cubes.
Building a tile of one biome over another biome is on the unintuitive side of the scale, it isn’t something that happens in the video game and looks a bit when doing it. Yet, it is a key concept to utilise to score big for scoring phase A. Conversely, the ability to build over the top of previously built structures fits the theming well, with structures often being rebuilt or tweaked.
Some of the more unique biomes such as the mushroom biome haven’t made the cut. Regardless, the mixture of forest, desert, mountain and snowy tundra allows Minecraft Builders & Biomes to capture the glorious visual presentation of the video game. The tiles don’t blend together on the player boards to create a flowing land. Still, each tile comes with a neat building design and often has little features, from rabbits to music boxes and nether portals to pandas. Without these touches the tiles would be bland, so the inclusion of many animals and different blocks from Minecraft really steps up the visual appearance of the board game.
Adding new weapons to your arsenal is a great way to swing the odds of fighting mobs in your favor. It is always random though, with no way of knowing what you’ll draw when it comes to fighting. This is down to the way tiles are always shuffled back in. Mechanically, the ability to gain more weapons but never draw them is like bag building, but without an actual bag to put them in. Always having the threat of pulling the dreaded triple poisonous potatoes does impact the choice of going up against the bigger mobs – though even a 2 hearted skeleton can be your downfall just like in the video game. The only real oddity is that players don’t die if they lose a mob fight, and restart at the center “spawn point”. This could have been a thematic and simple inclusion that wouldn’t put players too far behind others and give more weight to being killed by mobs.
If the player boards and tiles weren’t enough to get people to glance at the game the large resource cube will do the trick. Using chunky wooden cubes it is a substantial thing sitting at the side of the overworld grid. The size of the cubes is ideal to take what could be an irritatingly fiddly aspect of the game and turn it into something that players can play with in their hands. Thankfully, rotating the big cube is fully allowed within the rules, and it is sat on a large tile so it is easy to do so. However, during play it is possible to get tunnel vision only seeing the blocks that are able to be claimed from your position. For new or younger players just be up for letting them know what they can get from the side they cannot see, if they are forgetting to rotate it and take a look.
The replayability of Minecraft Builders & Biomes is slightly reduced by the set in stone ABC scoring objectives. Rather than varying from one game to the next, forest is always worth less than snowy tundra and stone buildings always score more than sandstone ones. The tiles aren’t split evenly, so the points earnt make sense – with forest tiles for example being the most abundant tile and the player boards feature more forest spaces initially. Having the ability to vary the objectives, even if it was just the order of the ABC phases, could make each game have a different feel to it, allowing the game to stay fresh for longer.
Minecraft Builders & Biomes attempts to capture the look and feel of Minecraft, at least on a simplified level. The mining is captured perfectly, with the large resource cube that gives the game a true table presence. Fighting mobs and constructing buildings are both there, though the creative side of building things is missing. For a veteran gamer there are some aspects that could have been improved for replayability purposes. Though these choices would have resulted in a slightly more complex game, and Minecraft Builders & Biomes is designed with families in mind. Regardless, there is plenty of fun to be had, which will cause any Minecraft fan to want to play the game, so why not try taking out some Creepers and get mining!
(Editor’s Note: Minecraft Builders & Biomes was provided to us by Ravensburger for the review.)