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BUNNY KINGDOM

Reviewed by Herb Levy

BUNNY KINGDOM (Iello, 2 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, 45 minutes; $49.99)

 

Richard Garfield has carved out an enviable reputation for game design. From Magic, the Gathering to RoboRally, Garfield has explored various aspects of gaming and come up with a whole host of winners. His latest effort involves building fiefs in a new medieval world – but this world is populated by intelligent BUNNIES competing to create the most valuable and prosperous fiefs as they create a Bunny Kingdom.

Players begin with their own army of miniature “bunnies”. (These plastic pieces come in red, yellow, black and pink). Bunny Kingdom is played on a board which is a 10 x 10 grid (with letter/number coordinates to aid placement). Many of these spaces are reserved for one tower castles and these are placed onto the board before play begins. Other types of terrain include forests (which produce wood), seas (which provide fish) and fields (from which carrots grow). Plains and mountains, the final two terrain types, produce no resources, at least not yet. Getting those bunnies onto the board to carve out chunks of territory and create fiefs is crucial because that is one of the ways to score. The key mechanism in doing this is card drafting.

There are 182 cards in the game. All are shuffled into a giant deck with each player dealt a hand of 10 (12 in a three player game). Each player will choose TWO cards to play and then pass the rest to the player on his left (in rounds 1 and 3) or right (for rounds 2 and 4). 

100 of the cards match the 100 spaces on the board. If a player plays one of these, he or she simply places one of his bunnies into the designated space. Once placed, a bunny can NEVER be removed. The remaining cards in the deck are “special” and do a variety of things. Some are “Parchment cards” which give Victory Points as “treasures” or offer rewards for achieving certain goals. These are “banked” to create a stash of cards to be revealed at game’ end for scoring. Others are “Buildings”, When played, they allow you to take a castle (of 1, 2 or 3 towers depending on the card). These buildings are placed on the played card and may be moved onto the board later. (One or two tower castles may be played in any space occupied by one of your bunnies but nothing else, a three towered castle may only be placed in a mountain space). 

As mentioned, there are three basic resources (wood, carrots and fish) in the game. Some of the special cards allow you to produce “luxury” resources and may be placed on the specified type of terrain. But that’s not all. 

Once all cards have been drafted and played, the round is over and fiefs are scored. A fief is considered any space where you have one of your bunnies. Spaces you occupy that are orthogonally connected are considered part of that fief. (Be aware that there is “lava flow” between some mountain spaces that acts as a wall and prevents spaces from connecting directly.) The value of a fief is the number of DIFFERENT resources MULTIPLIED by the number of towers in that fief. (So, for example, a fief producing all three of the basic resources with castles displaying four towers will score 12 points.) But what if you’re just not finding a card that will add a needed resource to your fief or help connect one of your fiefs to another? Well, there are cards for that too!

Camp cards act a little differently than your standard “coordinate” card. A played Camp card allows you to place one of your bunnies on ANY unoccupied space! This can be a great boon to scoring. However, if, at a later time, someone (even you!) plays the correct coordinate card, that bunny is evicted! (This is the only time a bunny can be removed from the board and gets returned to supply.) Sky Tower cards can be handy as they allow you to virtually connect any two of your fiefs no matter how far removed they may be from each other!

After four rounds of drafting and the final scoring of fiefs done, hidden Parchment cards are revealed with VPs generated from them added to players’ score. The player with the highest total is victorious!

Card drafting has become one of the more popular mechanisms in the latest wave of current games and Garfield has utilized it extremely well. Being faced with a handful of cards, all of which have something good to offer (particularly in the early stages of play when the board is wide open) heightens decision making right from the start. Pressure is placed on each player to not only make the best choice for his own goals but also to consider just what is being passed along so that you don’t bolster an opponent’s chances to win (at least, not TOO much). In fact, the necessity to concentrate on choice here can make you almost forget that you are dealing with bunnies! Rules are provided for two players (with some modification in the drafting process) but, in our experience, the game is at its best with the full set of four.

Despite the history of Europe being replete with knights and castles, kingdoms and conquests, banners and pageantry, Bunny Kingdom demonstrates the Euro aversion to warfare as the theme of knights and combat is abandoned in favor of bunnies. This wouldn’t have been my choice. The title suggests a game for children which this is not. The artwork sends a mixed message too as it ranges from cute bunnies to those that look more like rabbits with rabies! The potential for combat is further eroded as, except for Camps,  bunnies placed onto a square cannot be ousted. 

Graphically, the castle pieces are nicely molded and the colorful bunnies are certainly appealing. But as more and more of them populate the land, a bigger board, which could have certainly fit into the box easily, would have been most welcome. Fortunately, the quality of the game play overcomes these “bumps in the road”.

The tendency when you first play is to try to build the biggest fief. This is not necessarily the best approach. Remember: there are only THREE basic goods and unless you have a ton of towers, a large fief may not score as much as several smaller ones. (A large fief with three basic goods and let’s say five towers will score 15 points. Two smaller fiefs, each with the same three goods, and with three towers each will score 9 + 9 for 18 VPs!) But if you manage to add some of those luxury goods to your holdings AND add castles, this can be a viable option. Those Sky Towers can be a vital aid in getting still more castle towers (aka multipliers) into areas where they will do the most good.

Bunny Kingdom is a whimsically themed game of card drafting – with a bit of area control thrown in. The combination, under the skillful guidance of Richard Garfield, works exceedingly well. – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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