Review: Bunny Kingdom
Peace has come at last to the great Bunny Kingdom! Apparently! At least that's what the outside of the box of Bunny Kingdom proclaims. Designed by Richard Garfield of Magic the Gathering (among some 20+ other titles) fame and published by IELLO, this 2-4 player area control and card drafting game pits players and their rival band of bunnies against each other to forge the greatest Bunny Kingdom, and receive the valiant title of "Big Ears" from the Bunny King himself. Players will vie for territory on the 10x10 board, playing cards drafted each turn to take control of squares and form fiefs to score golden carrots (...points) and take home the crown.
Unboxing the game there is both a lot, and not much, to Bunny Kingdom. Other than the board there are only really 3 components, but there are a whole load of each - with enough bunnies for 4 players to spend most of the early turns lining them up juuust right, enough buildings both in miniature and token form to completely pepper the landscape, and enough cards to build a tower that would scrape even the highest ceiling. The miniature buildings are well made and it's clear which of the types they are just by looking, and the cards are decent quality with fantastic illustrations that really capture the lightheartedness of the theme.
Setting up the game is a cinch, just lay out the board, give each player their bunnies, place a Strength 1 city on every space on the board with a city icon and shuffle the gargantuan stack of 182 exploration cards and that's it, barely 5 minutes down and you're straight into the action, something which I really appreciated for a board game. For first play the rulebook might be a little daunting, it certainly made me think on first flick through that the game was more complicated than it actually is. I thought a cute looking game about bunnies would be simple and something easy to play with the family, then you open the rulebook and there are 12 pages of rules, and diagrams, and maths and oh god what have I purchased! But then you read it and realise it actually IS simple, and while I think there are some issues with the layout of the rulebook it is generally well paced and filled with plenty of examples of play, and all the diagrams are useful at explaining various scenarios that might come up, so overall it's a good rulebook.
The game is a mash-up of card drafting and area control and plays over 4 rounds. Each round a player gets a hand of 10-12 cards, then they select 2 and pass the rest to the next person along, receiving cards from the person to the other side of them. The cards form the main gameplay, and the way players interact with the board. There is 1 card per square on the 100 space 10x10 board and when played you claim that territory and place a bunny there, with the intention to link up territories to create larger fiefs to score points. The other types of cards include buildings, which let you place cities on territories you control or add other resource types to your fiefs, and the final type which are parchments, missions and objectives that you keep secret from the other players until the end of the game, where they are then all scored and will definitely help decide the winner. The drafting process repeats until all the cards have been played, so if you're paying close attention you will be able to remember parchments you have seen that other players took, and can amend your strategy accordingly.
Scoring is done at the end of each round, players will multiply each unique resource in each one of their fiefs - areas of connected territories - by the number of city towers in the same fief. Then at the end of 4 rounds players score again, and then score all of their hidden parchments, with the winner with the most golden carrots being crowned "Big Ears".
With an initial hand of 10 or so cards for each player the start of the game can be quite slow as analysis sets in. The turn times decrease though as you settle on a strategy and have less cards to choose from each turn. The drafting nature of the game also means you cannot go into a game with a set strategy that you want to enforce, with other games you may want to plan before hand and go hard on a certain strategy, but with Bunny Kingdom the players need to adapt to the cards they are dealt, and that their opponents are taking. It's the parchment cards that really enforce this behaviour throughout the game, and getting a couple of these that synergise with each other and then focusing on territories to help complete these goals is often the way to a winning strategy.
The game has more depth than it first let's on as well, and more than the theme gives away. You can certainly play by randomly selecting cards and have a good time, so I think it would do well even with families with young children, but if you want to go deeper into strategy then that is here too. Choosing key times when to select certain territory cards and pass your opponents potentially game winning buildings and parchments is an important lesson to learn. Using the buildings to their fullest is also a very important part of the gameplay, placing them in strategic locations and linking together fiefs with different resource types to really get the most points out of what you have been dealt is a fun puzzle, and one that is enjoyable to see laid out and attempt to crack each game.
While I found the building miniatures to be of good quality and the building tokens and cards alright as well, there is a potential issue with the board and the bunnies, and that is the size. The bunnies themselves are quite small but they do fit cutely on all the buildings, but the board itself is also quite small. It's not a small in size board per se, but as it has 100 squares of relevance that can get clogged up with bunnies and buildings quite quickly it could have done with being a little larger and clearer. And a mild pet peeve of mine is a huge point tracker to one side which takes up a lot of space and doesn't really add much, space which could have been better off used to spread the gameplay parts out a bit more. All that being said the presentation is pretty cool, and when things are in full swing towards the closing rounds it does look like a hectic but impressive sprawl of multicoloured hoppers.
It's also worth noting that the game says it is 2-4 players but using the rules in the box you really need 3 or 4, with the 2 player variant being a bit funky. This is solved however by a great 2 player variant that we found on BGG which made the game much more enjoyable at 2, and even one of the better player counts when using this method. It still uses the same drafting mechanic but each turn you also draw a random card from the deck so there is hidden information as well as what is being passed back and forth. Definitely the way to go if you want to play 2 players.
Overall the game is a good mix of easy to understand mechanics with a layer of strategy there if you want to reach out and grab it. The game boils down to picking cards with some explanation around buildings and scoring, so it's quick to teach, and also very quick to get on the table with the setup time being particularly short for a game like this. Once in the thick of it the game board does look impressive, with lots of buildings and bunnies as far as the eye can see. A good buy then for families as well as game groups that are after a medium game that's not too serious or taxing.