Unexpected Pleasures: ‘Minecraft: Builders and Biomes’

Family Featured Games

My kids have been into Minecraft for a long time, their obsession dating almost back to the stone age, ahem. We have playsets and LEGO kits, we have stuffies and action figures. We have interactive toys, and wall art. When Ravensburger came out with Minecraft: Builders and Biomes in 2019, I knew it would be a hit. I also knew that my then eight year old would not be ready for it, and that it would disappoint him too much not to be able to play properly. I also, was not ready to take it on. It looked great, but it also looked intimidating.

All Images: Sarah Pinault

This month my son turned ten, and it seemed like the time had come to bring on the Biomes. I know that for my kids to really enjoy a game either one or both parents have to know the rules thoroughly. All debate must be banished. Since dad was out of town, that task fell to me. After watching several seasons of Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop, I know of myself that I take to complex rules and new games more easily when I can learn visually. A quick Google search led us to the highly addictive YouTube channel “Watch it Played” and their episode on Minecraft: Builders and Biomes. It runs at just over fifteen minutes but packs a lot into a short amount of time. The rules are presented simply, but with excitement, and we all found ourselves eager, and absolutely ready to play the game.

Once we got going, the game was a lot easier to play than I thought it was going to be. Looking at the pieces and the artwork alone, I had intimidated myself into thinking that this might not be such a good family game but I was very happily proved wrong. The game is incredibly fun, and much like my beloved Carcassonne I find that I could happily play this with my family every day. I myself am not much of a Minecraft fan, but that did not matter at all. The theme doesn’t really require you to have any foreknowledge of the world it is set in, though from watching my boys play, I can tell that their knowledge increased the enjoyment of the game. 

GeekDad Rob wrote a great run down of the game play when the game was released, so I won’t attempt to give you the lowdown of the rules here, except to say that there were a few mechanics that I found myself really enjoying in this new game.

Firstly the system of scoring. The game has three stages of scoring, and in each stage the way in which you gain points is slightly different. So you can adapt your strategy as you go, focus on one thing and then another, or you can go all in and try and manage your game-board so that you achieve multiple goals simultaneously. Whichever way you choose, it is fun having something different to aim for periodically, and keeps the game play fresh throughout.

This brings me to the second thing I enjoyed immensely, and that is the construction of the game itself. Though I at times lamented the exclusion of some kind of game board for setup, I did enjoy the versatility of the card placement. The different types of cards, the artwork of the game  the quality of the tiles, all heighten your enjoyment of the game. However it was the method of moving from one stage to the next that won me over. At the beginning of the game you erect a cube of wooden blocks, each representing a type of resource in the game. On your turn you may choose to take two of these blocks to help you achieve your goals. Then when the first level of blocks is gone, you score the first stage. When you get to the second level of blocks, well you can see where this is going. It kind of adds a Jenga-like quality to the game, and I really enjoyed to the tactile aspect of this otherwise card-based game.

Finally, the movement of character and turning of cards. I enjoyed the way your character piece moves through the labyrinth of cards and turns over cards and weapons; I liked watching the piles diminish. This is probably appealing to the part of me that enjoys Carcassonne as much as I do. And yes, I thoroughly enjoyed popping the cards out of their card sheets when we first cracked open the game too!

Though we generally play games with our kids well ahead of their age range, I’m glad we waited for my middle son to actually turn ten before we played this one. That combined with my fore-knowledge of the game (provided by “Watch it Played” ) ensured that we all had fun. And though my eldest son lapped both of us the first time we played it, losing so badly didn’t make either the 10 year old or the 40 year old enjoy the game any less. 

This is definitely going into the regular rotation at our house, and I actually can’t wait to teach it to the grandparents.

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