Honey Wars: Review

By many accounts, world bee populations are in decline.  Times are tough for honey bees.  Today, Fairway picks up a recent Kickstarter delivery that takes on the hard life of bees and the threats to them: Honey Wars by Gold Seal Games. Find out if the game is sweet or whether he just gets stung. 

Honey Wars is a two- to four-player mostly card game (with little transparent tokens and a eight-sided die) in which players control a colony of bees attempting to expand their hives and produce enough honey to win the game. I backed this Kickstarter Project, and I had the opportunity to play a pre-production version of it.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. The game is chock full of nice components: nicely textured cards that shuffle well and great transparent cubes (similar to the ones I used for Starving Artists).
  2. Yet another game that uses Alisha Volkman’s art and does so in a thoughtful way.  Some of the creatures in the card are absurdly cute.
  3. There is a lot, I mean a lot, of take that in the game. It’s basically the primary mechanic.
  4. Most of the take that are the bee threats which form the educational underpinnings of the game.

Game play ^

In Honey Wars, players control a colony of bees. Each colony starts with a single hive, a hand of cards, and a small amount of honey, the in game currency. The game is played over a series of turns until one player has completed three hives and collected twelve honey.

On your turn, you essentially do three things: attempt to overcome any threats to your hives, collect honey, and then play cards from your hand. Skipping the first step for a moment, you’ll collect an amount of honey each turn equal the round plus one plus any honey bonuses from your colony’s hives. During the first round, for example, that usually means you get three honey cubes. Honey is represented by pretty little yellow cubes.

Then, using your collected honey, you can spend it to play cards from your hand.  Most of the cards have two values in different colored hexagons: yellow and red.  The yellow hexagon is the cost in honey.  To play the card, you must discard that much honey. Some cards, like bee keeper buddies and hives, are played face up in front of you.  You play most cards, however, onto another player’s hive. Then on that player’s turn, they must overcome the attack.

So, returning to the first part of a turn, if there is an attack on your hives, you get an opportunity to over come them.  To do so, you roll the eight-sided die  hoping for a value equal to or greater than the number in the red hexagon.  If you do overcome it, the threat is discarded.  If you don’t you must perform the penalty described at the bottom of the card.

Most of the cards are one time use.  If you can’t overcome it, the penalty is paid and the card is discarded. Some cards, however, will remain in effect until overcome.

The game continues until someone constructs three hives and collects twelve honey.  Each passing time through the deck of cards, players collect one additional honey per turn.

On the green ^

Art & Graphic Design. The illustrations and bee- and honey-themed design were all very popular. The illustrations of some pretty pernicious threats were well done and definitely family appropriate.

Play time and easily teachable.  Since the game builds on very common game play mechanics, even less experienced gamers were able to pick it up quickly. There weren’t any really complicated rules to teach and most of the threats were pretty self-explanatory.

Getting to three hives some times can take awhile, especially if the hive cards don’t turn up at the right time.  This one aspect makes determining a play time relatively hard. We’ve had games go quickly and others continue longer than they probably should have.  In either case, everyone had fun.

Educational content.  The game does a good job of integrating the educational content as part of the mechanics of the game without making it the focus. In my house, Varroa Mites is now a known thing.

Rolling Dice.  Giving players a die to roll broadens the appeal, especially for kids. There’s something fun about cheering over a die roll when overcoming a threat that makes even the person who played the threat smile.

Sense of accomplishment.  One of the interesting things about Honey Wars is that you do feel a sense of accomplishment when you’re able to expand to your second and third hive. Other than the fact that whether you get a hive in your hand is based solely on luck of the draw, this mechanic is very nicely implemented.

Nice components.  I really like the honey cubes. They’re worth a mention in their own right.

Where it comes up short ^

Honey Wars is almost entirely take that. This fact fits the theme, of course: a game about threats to bees and their hives. The only “positive” game play things are building new hives and collecting honey. The game does a decent job of limiting the impact on one player since you can only have one threat per hive, but the game does have the tendency to put a player under constant threat. Being under constant threat and your fate being determined by a die roll will certainly frustrate some players. Frankly, with so much take that and so much game play focused at doing really terrible things to other people’s hives, it’s bound to put off a few players.

Hives.  I mentioned this above, but I felt like the luck-of-the-draw for whether you can build additional hives is out of place. We’ve had games where players wait a whole bunch of hands to get a hive. Plus, the game has two different types of hives: large and small. The difference is that large cost slightly more but generate more honey per turn. Large hives almost always worth it if you build it.  But who gets those and when is just luck of the draw.

In the hole ^

Honey Wars is a really well put together take that game. Honey Wars is definitely a good game for families wanting something with more depth and greater educational value than your standard card game fare. This game should be one of your go-to, family card games. With nice art, balanced card play, and a sense of accomplishment, Honey Wars is a delicious addition to your game library.

Honey Wars is in the hole for a Birdie. ^

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