Throwback Thursday Review– 4 The Birds By Blackspot Games

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When I first saw 4 The Birds on Kickstarter, I thought that it would be a good game to add to our collection, and would be something  different from the other, lighter strategy games that we had already. I’m always searching for games that will take a new spin on light strategy. This game seemed to fit that, and I figured it would be something good to play in between games, or something to fill down time at home. It would be easy enough to play, and from the description it seemed to have enough strategy options to keep my friends and I interested.

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Photo Credit: Blackspot Games Facebook page

I liked that it had area control aspects, but that it also included a dice roll feature to bring some luck into the game and tone down the heaviness. The art was also a big draw for me. I absolutely loved the look of the player pawns; they have this very tribal feel to them, which makes them really stand out. The colors for the player pieces and the cards are also really vibrant and they seemed to pop against the colors of the board.

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An earlier version of 4 The Birds. Photo Credit: Blackspot Games Facebook page

I had seen pictures of the game in its earlier stages and the components had come a long way. Originally, the player pieces were made of laser cut wood. Actually, they looked pretty sweet. The tree on the board had a circular shape rather than being a squared grid. I was impressed by the evolution the game had taken thus far, and I knew that they would be tweaking things here and there during the production process. I was really excited to see the final product and to finally get to play the game.

 

The Campaign- May 2015

I backed this project shortly after backing Tesla vs. Edison. If you’d like to see my review for that, feel free to click the link. I actually backed quite a few things around this time. I went a little Kickstarter crazy. Anyway…

This campaign began on May 18, 2015 and ended on June 18, 2015. They had a pretty successful first week, and reached their $10, 950 goal in just 5 days. They closed out the campaign having raised a total of $17,267. This was also a relaunch campaign, so they definitely made some improvements that seemed to work in their favor second time around. They were also able to reach two of their stretch goals. I do feel that the stretch goal for the custom dice seemed a bit unnecessary, considering the game wouldn’t have worked without them and they probably should have just been included in the goal amount to begin with.

They did a great job of keeping backers updated throughout the campaign, and after it was funded. The estimated date for us to receive our games was set for December 2015, but I didn’t get my copy until last week, so they missed the mark a bit. However, I do find that dealing with overseas production companies can get pretty difficult, not to mention hassles with shipping and distribution. I know this particular campaign had run into issues with that, because of the holiday season; a lot of the larger game companies had already claimed all of the available westbound shipping crates. But they kept us updated with any setbacks and were completely transparent about them. They did a good job of keeping us updated every month as well, so backers knew that games would get to them eventually. I finally received my copy early last week. It got here pretty fast after they announced that the games had shipped, and it arrived just in time to bring it to our Thursday game night. I was definitely excited to jump in and take some pictures of the box and all of its components.

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Gameplay/ Overview

The general goal of the game is to get 4 of your birds into a line or the shape of a 2×2 square. On their turn, players will roll two dice (a set of 8sd or 10sd, depending on amount of players), one from each color, and then either place their bird according to the numbers they rolled, or play a card. If they play a bird, players have the option of choosing which number to place their bird on. If, for example, a 1 and a 7 were rolled, The player could place their bird on the number 17 or the number 71, if that play is available. If they choose to play a card, they follow the instructions on the card and then discard it. Players each have a deck of 6 cards, and apart from the back art, all cards are the same.

When rolling dice players could also roll a crow or hawk symbol. Crows get placed on number spots and hawks are placed on the red intersection spaces. Crows and hawks both have the ability to displace birds, by either moving them to an available spot nearby or by making them flee the tree, returning them to their players to be placed again later. Cards and dice rolls give players a chance to control these special birds to their advantage. You can also cause your own birds to interact with them, and displace them closer to where they need to be. Another feature of the game is pecking order. When placing your bird in a tree, or displacing another player’s bird, you must follow pecking order convention: The person on your immediate right has pecking order over you, and you have pecking order over the person on your immediate left. This basically means that you can not displace the person on your right with any of your birds, only crows and hawks. Overall, the game is a pretty simple concept.

Nestling

After receiving the game last week and playing it a few times, I can honestly say it hasn’t really lived up to my expectations. It really pains me to say that. As a playtester, and someone who has worked a lot with indie designers, I know just how much work and love goes into making a game, and I know that this one was no different. So, it really makes me feel kind of icky to say that I don’t really like it that much. There were also some errors that my copy had, which is no fault of the designer, but more with quality control.

My game came prepunched, which I thought was rather odd. As much as I appreciated the gesture, I would have preferred to punch my own pieces. Two of my pieces were slightly damage on the edges. You can see from the pictures how the cardboard is slightly pulled apart. This is not a big issue and is easily fixed by glue, but it probably could have been avoided. I also had an extra purple bottom piece. When my husband and I put together the birds we also missed that one of the blue jays was accidentally paired with an extra green bottom. So really, we had an extra green and purple bottom and were missing one blue. Thankfully, because of how the birds sit, the color difference isn’t all that noticeable. Which brings me to another small issue. When playing with all of the birds, it is sometimes hard to tell colors apart if you aren’t playing in super bright lighting. Again, this is not a deal breaker, just an inconvenience.

As far as playing goes, the game was lacking for me. The rules definitely need some clarification. There is a lot of stuff that is unclear, or is not mentioned at all. Those special chits, the ones pictured in the slideshow, have no mention in the rules whatsoever. At first I thought they might be used to cover the outer spaces on the board when you play a 2-3 player game, but I was wrong. They do cover up spaces, but they become an option for players further into the game. The designer is currently working on an errata for their BGG page, so perhaps all of the rules confusion will be cleared up soon.

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2 player game with my husband

The game itself just isn’t as complete feeling as I would like it. In a two player game I felt like it was too easy to get tunnel vision on your birds. My husband is really good at these kind of games, but even to him it felt like he beat me too quickly. There were too many spaces to have to think about controlling, even with the decrease in board size for a 2 player game. Because crows and hawks are mostly place by dice roll, with the exception of the Mock card, in a 2 player game they make very few impacting appearances on the board.

20160512_204126The 6 player game worked better spatially, but dragged on. At 6 players, the luck aspect really makes it hard to accomplish anything significant, and then people get bored, so it becomes a king-maker/breaker situation. I remember hearing my fellow players say, on more than one occasion, that things were getting painful. For what the game offers, it shouldn’t last more than an hour. These amounts of players might just be the extremes, and the sweet spot is more like 3 or 4 players. Perhaps, once the errata has come out, it will make game play a little smoother and fun. There were just so many unaccounted for circumstances on the rules sheet, and it shouldn’t feel like the game is more house rules than original.

As a positive for the game, I felt that the theme was really cohesive and well executed. The card actions went well with the bird theme, the crows and hawks acted like bullies, and the branching effect of the board really tied the vision all together. I really feel that this game has a lot of potential and that in future printings all of these first game bugs will be worked out. I’m going to try to get a group of 3 or 4 together to play this, just to see if the numbers make any difference. By then, I hope the errata will be out, so we won’t have to keep second guessing rulings. I will add an update once this has happened.

I ended up rating this game a 5.5 on BGG. I don’t think it was so terrible that it couldn’t be played, but it certainly won’t make it into any of my top rated game lists.


Have you played this game? Feel free to share your thoughts in a comment below. Thanks for reading!:)

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