Bearly Working: Preview

TIGR has got a growing archive of bear-themed games. And that’s fantastic. Today, Fairway previews a current Kickstarter game: Bearly Working. Find out whether he’s the greatest job creator in all of Bear history or if he’s just bearly bearable. 

Bearly Working is a two- to four-player auction game in which players are rival mayors attempting to acquire (purchase?) the most valuable bear work force for their bear town. Preview note: I reviewed a pre-production, prototype so some things are likely to change going into production.

Initial Impressions

  1. The rules weren’t a pinnacle of clarity and organized in an awkward way that made jumping in harder than it should have. I hope this gets updated.
  2. The bear art is fun. There’s not a lot of unique pieces, but it’s well illustrated.
  3. The game is almost entirely auction-based with just a hint of take that and press your luck.
  4. Plays quickly and pretty easily once the game gets going.

Game play

In Bearly Working, players are mayors of competing bear towns trying to attract bear workers to their towns by luring them with the most money.  The game takes place over a series of five working days during which players will bid on bears, earn money from bears in their towns, and then earn more income or take (and play) action cards.

The game consists of a deck of “bear auction” cards, a deck of action cards, some achievement cards, and a bunch of money tokens.  Each player starts with a small amount of money that will be used to place bids during the auction phases.  The bear auction cards are divided into a few categories of cards that either generate points (“collect-a-bears” and “points bears”) or generate money (“income bears”).    The action cards have special abilities that players can use to attack other players or defend against attacks.

To start, the bear auction cards are shuffled — the rules don’t say this, but we dealt five face down stacks each representing one of the days: one day with ten cards and four days with five cards.  This helped keep track of the auctions and signaled to players when the auctions were about to run out.

During the auction phase, the top card of the current day’s bear auction cards is turned face up.  Players then use the coins they have on-hand to bid on the face up bear.  The auction works by players verbally announcing their bid. The first bid on any bear goes to the first one to act.  Every subsequent bid on a bear must increase the previous bid.  Once a highest bid is determined, that player collects the bear.  If it happened to be the first bear of the day, the winning player also takes the first player token which determines the order for actions later.

The auction is repeated until all of the bears for the day have been auctioned off.  Players who run out of money before the end of the auctions are out for the remainder of the day.  Any money left over is carried over to the next day.  Once the auctions are complete, the game moves to the “payday” phase and players collect income from any “income bears.”

Finally, the end of the day is the action phase.  Starting with the first player and going clockwise in player order three times, players can do one of two things: take five gold or draw an action card.  The rules say that all action cards must be played on your turn, except for the few where it says otherwise.

After the action phase, a new day starts. The game play repeats until the final day is over.

On the green

Art and Theme.  There’s not a lot of unique pieces in the game, but the art that is there is bright and cheery with well-done illustrations. There’s quite a it of character in those bears.

Light and quick.  This game goes by pretty fast.  It’s also adaptable in that you could play a much shorter version just by shrinking the number of days in the work week.  Three day work week anyone?

Simple enough to play with younger players. There game is very approachable for young players who don’t mind auction style games.  It has the nice feature of being out in the open: there’s no hidden information, there’s no deception or lying required, etc. The bids are also simple and determining the winner is also pretty easy. I could see it being a good introduction into bidding and auction games.

Where it comes up short

Shout it out.  I am not a fan of yelling out bids as the way the game progresses. There’s too much room for dispute, especially with younger players.  It also almost always resulted in someone just yelling two or three the moment a card was flipped. This was clearly not what was intended, but sort of the logical result. It didn’t really matter the player count, always bidding two or three for almost any card was worth it.

Then after the first bid, it’s just an ongoing shouting match. This isn’t a game in which a player is an auctioneer controlling access or players take turns, round-robin style bidding.  I think that inevitably, players may tire of this forced vocalization and opt for a poker-like bidding and raising. The requirement to live bid also interferes with other player interaction including deal making.

The rules also weren’t clear how long someone had to bid before the auction closed.  This wasn’t a huge deal, but that last bid, with an indecisive bidder, might get a bit annoying.

Variation.  The thing about how you bid on bears made us simultaneously wish there were more options and fewer.  Because of the real-time nature of the bidding, adding too much bear variation was hard.  Players who new the benefits of the cards had a huge advantage.  Anyone being introduced to the game for the first time would likely be priced out of bidding before they knew what they were bidding on.

That said, we also wanted more variation. There’s one bear (pair bear) that scores you points by having a pair of them. We wanted more set collection opportunities, sort of like in Go Nuts for Donuts.

Last game day.  There’s a real quirk in the final day: no one wanted income bears. The income didn’t help you on day five unless the difference in coins was small since didn’t really factor in very much. It only mattered if you happen to have the most coins you get +3 points. And by day five, one extra income bear isn’t likely to change your outcomes, especially if you’re spending more for the income bear than its worth.  Players wanted to reserve their coins for stars and collect-a-bears.

Take That.  The action cards are a good idea in principle, but I’m not sure that they were executed the way I would have expected. As it is now, they’re mostly relegated to what is essentially the clean up phase of the game.  And whether an action card is worth it or not is largely luck of the draw.  That itself is a bit of a shame since you’re also giving up 5 gold worth of bidding to try your luck for a useful card.

We wondered whether it would have made more sense to let players “buy” cards from a draft or something. Then you’d know what people were getting, you could value the options versus the five coins, and so on.

In the hole

Bearly Working is a quick auction game with mechanics that make it a great introduction to the genre for new and seasoned gamers alike. With bright and cheery art, the game is true to its cutesy theme: putting bears to work. If you’re a fan of auction games and looking for something light and no-nonsense, you should definitely take a look at this Kickstarter.

Bearly Working is in the hole for a par.

Fairway was provided a preview copy of the game in order to write a fair review and wasn’t otherwise compensated.

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