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Apiary Board Game Review

WBG Score: 9/10

Player Count: 1-5

Published by: Stonemaier Games

Designed by: Connie Vogelmann

This is a review copy. See our review policy here

Apiary is the new game from Stonemaier games, something that is always an event for me. To me, there is something special about a new game coming out from this publisher. This time round, Stonemaier are working with a new designer, not just to them, but to the board game world. Connie Vogelmann is entering the market with a bang. The buzz (if you will excuse the pun) around this game is massive. The queue to buy it at Essen was massive, and pre-orders seem to be flying off the shelves. But is it any good? Let's get it to the table to find out.

Apiary Board Game Review

How To Set Up Apiary

Lay out the board based on your player count; one side suits one to three, the other is for four or five players. Give each player one of the five available hive mats. Each is very different and will offer a unique experience. You will need a bit of space around your mat as you may build off it.

Next, take the planet tiles, shuffle them up, and place them in a face-down stack just off the board on the top left by the Explore area. Then on each of the explore spaces on the main board, add one face-up explore token at random. Place any unused tokens back into the box. Then in the bottom right space here, add the Queenship mini. It comes unpainted, so if you have time, stop the setup, go paint it, ask for my address, wait, check your post, paint mine as well, send it back, then move on to the next step.

Now, into the top right of the main board, add the farm, recruit, and development tiles. Place them in three separate stacks face down on their marked locations, then flip three face up into each row. You may want two separate piles for these, especially the Farm tiles; there are quite a lot, and a large stack may have the tendency to fall! Add the yellow Carve tiles into the Carve spaces to fill each spot, then place any leftover tiles back into the box. They will not replenish during the game.

Next, place one dance tile onto each blank spot on the Convert section in the bottom right of the board. Add the dance tokens here in a stack. No worries to shuffle these tokens; this is open information. Then place the extra frames, and all the resources into separate stacks by the main board. Finally for the main board, add the seed cards onto the space for these on the research section on the bottom left of the board

Apiary Board Game Review

Now, give each player a set of Worker bees: three cubes in their chosen color, one docking mat in their color, and the seven hibernation tokens in their color. Each player then takes at random one faction tile from the 20 available. For your first game, it is recommended to take one of the starting factions, but after that, try a different one each time. They offer a different end game scoring condition which can be fun to experiment with. Each will list a different amount and value of starting workers too. Add the appropriate amount and value of workers to your active worker space on your docking mat, placing any spare set to level one by the Research area on the main board. Note some faction tiles will give you all four workers from the off. Your faction will also give you a starting allocation of resources shown in the spaces marked with a green circle. Take these from the main pool and add to the spaces on your faction tile.

Apiary Board Game Review

Finally, add one of your player tokens onto the score track on the main board at zero for the first player, and one up for each subsequent player. Place the next cube onto the starting space on the Queen's favor track on the bottom of the main board, and place the third cube on their docking mat. If you prefer, you can deal out all the hive mats and faction tiles, one per player, and let players draft one of each in a snake draft, in turn order. You are now ready to play.

How to Play Apiary

On a player's turn, they have one of two options: Either place a worker out onto one of the six spaces on the board or bring back all previously placed workers. That's it. Players will continue like this until the Hibernation spaces on the main board are full, or one player has used all seven of their Hibernation tokens. All players will have one final turn, then final scoring takes place. More on that later.

Apiary Board Game Review

You will be able to carry out the number of actions in the area where you place the worker, equal to the number shown on the worker. If you place a worker with a strength of four, you will also be able to carry out that area's bonus action. The six areas you can place a worker on work as follows:

Explore - This is where you can control the Queen's Ship, explore uncharted territory, and gain supplies. You can move the strength of all shown workers in the area orthogonally. If there is an explore token, take this and gain the shown benefit, and move it to the space for these on your docking mat. Then place the top planet tile onto this location. The planet tile will show a number of empty spaces which you can fill with any of the basic resources. You will then gain these resources as well. If you move to a planet that has already been explored, simply gain the resources shown there. When you place a strength four worker here, you will be able to carry out the extra action shown on the bottom of some of the planet tiles. This is different for each tile, but all are very powerful and useful to your goals. Some, however, do not have this.

Apiary Board Game Review

Advance - This is where you can add new farms, recruits, or developments to your hive mat to gain in-game points, extra resource storage, and resources, increase your in-game powers, and plan for your end-game points opportunities. Simply place a worker here and then buy the tile you want. The strength of the worker placed dictates which row you can buy from, and a strength four worker will allow you to also gain three victory points. Each tile has a cost shown on the bottom, a mix of basic resources for the farms, pollen for the recruits, and wax for the developments. When you take a tile, shift the remaining tiles to the left and then fill in the blank space on the right, adding the newly acquired tile to your hive mat.

Apiary Board Game Review

Grow - This area allows you to gain new workers, upgrade your faction mat, and acquire new frames for your hive. It will cost one strength to gain one worker, which is always set to strength one here and then placed onto your active pool, costing one pollen. Acquiring a new frame costs two strength, and you can add this anywhere you like to your hive mat as long as it doesn't overlap another space and touches at least one other hex. This costs two basic resources. A strength four worker added here allows you to flip your faction tile, upgrading your end-game scoring condition, generally increasing your end-game point potential.

Research - This area allows you to gain new seed cards. You can only ever take one at a time, but a higher strength worker allows you to draw more cards to pick from. A strength four worker here will allow you to plant one of the seed cards into the two available spaces on your hive mat. There are two additional spaces to add a third and fourth card, which are activated when you add additional frames to your hive board. Any seed cards you do not plant can be played at any time on your turn to gain the benefit shown on the top of the card.

Convert - This area allows you to convert resources in your position to any other based on the shown ratios. If you place a strength four worker here, you can also create a dance. You can only ever do this once per game, so a second strength four worker simply allows you four conversions. The dances are randomly added at the start of the game and start blank. You can add dance tiles to the blank spaces to create the conversions that suit you. This is a novel and new way to add variation to the classic resources conversation seen in many euro games.

Apiary Board Game Review

Carve - This area lets you gain powerful Carve tiles to add to your hive mat. These will give you new end game scoring conditions that can be huge swings if you get it right. They will cost two or three honey, a resource that is rare and hard to get, and can only be accessed by a strength four worker. The Carve tile is not replaced, so the ones shown at the start of the game are the only options for all players that game. This reminds me a little of the race to the Factory in Scythe.

When players place a worker, they will always do so into the available space above each area. If another worker is there, this is bumped to the next space, if available. Or off the board if not. When this happens, if the worker was currently at strength one, two, or three, the worker can move up one strength and be placed onto the owners active pool. Or, the player can choose to keep the workers strength at the current level and place it onto the landing area. This last option may be chosen to avoid the worker becoming exhausted too quickly and being forced to hibernate before the player wants it too. Or because the player wants an extra worker to gain income in an upcoming retrieve action. More on that later.

When a worker is bumped from the board on strength four it must hibernate. This means it goes back to strength one and is placed back by the Research area on the main board. The player who owns this worker then must place a hibernation token onto one of the hibernation spaces on the bottom of the main board. This will gain that player a resource as shown on that space, and potentially refresh one of the rows of tiles in the Advance area if the X symbol is also shown.

Apiary Board Game Review

When this area is full or one player has used their seventh hibernation token the game comes to an end. Each player has one final turn and then final scoring will commence. Players will score points for any seed cards they placed under their hive mat during the game, any tiles placed onto their hive mat that show end game points, any fulfilled conditions on the Carve tiles they bought, eight points for filling the hive mat and any additional frames added, your fractions end game ability, your position on the Queens favour track, and any points gained from the area control mini game on the hibernation track. The player with the most points wins.

Is It Fun? Apiary Board Game Review

Apiary is such a simple game to teach and play but it is full of engaging and rewarding decisions. If you can find a way to make your actions connect in a meaningful way, you will quickly fall in love with this game. That said, I have lost all bar one of the games I have played so far, and I still love it! Finding the right strategy to maximise your efficiencies, get the combo turns you crave, and push up your score can be difficult. There is a lot to piece together in your mind. But the path n learning to do so is an enjoyable one. It feels like a disjointed story or puzzle that you need to find the right order for. But each paragraph or chapter opens enlightening new characters or plot twists, that even if you form into the wrong order, will still bring a smile to your face.

Apiary Board Game Review

The game plays very quickly. Perhaps too fast in your first few games as you need to find the balance between advancing your workers strength and gaining the hibernation bonus and area control points, to having simply enough turns in the game to do all you need to do. This is a very interesting puzzle and creates a very interesting learning curve for your early games. It took me a good few games to understand how to make it work for me. You don't want to fall behind the other players in the hibernation area control points and resource rewards, but you also cannot focus on this too much if one player is going for a quick game, upgrading their workers and hibernating as fast as they can. But you also cannot ignore it, you may be caught short desperately wanting a few more turns to complete your plans.

It never feels like there is a bad option in this game, just lot's of good or very good ones. And as you cannot block other workers, unlike in other worker placement games, you won't ever be in a situation where you cannot do what you want, unless you run out of time. That said, other players may take certain tiles you want, or claim spaces on the hibernation spots you wanted, but the main worker placement spaces will always be open to you, even when other players have workers there. If anything, their presence their will help you with additional strength. And herein lies the genius of the game. The way the workers are bumped, and their strength either being increased and placed into active area or hibernation or remaining as is and put into the landing area; this choice is where you will win or lose many games. This is where you will dictate the length and pace of the game. This is where you will control the number of actions you take, and how powerful they will all be.

I adore the theme and art, and the component quality, as is always the case with Stonemaier game is top notch. The box and insert is fantastic making set up and tear down very simple. Everything just fits, and it's clear where everything should go. A simple but important point with a euro game like this with lots of moving parts.

Apiary Board Game Review

I would recommend this game to anyone who typically enjoy Stonemaier games, or euro games with clever resource management, or anyone who is looking for a mid-weight game to play with their group that offers meaningful choices and a satisfying process to experience, but in a quick and simple gameplay. This game can be played easily in 30 minutes per player, even from game one. Initially because you may be bumping and hibernating too much, thus ending the game too fast. And latterly as you become more au fait with the strategy and choices.

One word of warning. This will not fit you and your group if you do not enjoy asymmetry and variation in games. The different hive mats and faction powers offer greatly different experiences, and it may be you get the perfect tiles for your chosen set-up. Or, of course, it could feel like the game is against you. If this sort of thing would wind you up, you may find this game irritating. However, if you enjoy the challenge of rolling with these variations, and trying to work out each asymmetric set-up and the right way to play with your chosen powers, you may well fall is love with this game.

I enjoy this game in solo, like all Stonemaier games, it has a fantastic and rewarding 'automa' to play against. Two and three player is the sweet spot for this game for me, but four works if you are willing for a slower pace. You will have more downtime of course, but a lot more bumping and interaction. I have not played five yet, but presume it will be the same. A slower and longer game, but more interaction.

I predict this game is certainly going to end in my top ten for the year, perhaps top five. I have played every day for the last week and have it set up to play again later tonight. It is the sort of game that gets into your head, and makes you want to play over and over to get better at the strategy. Win or lose, it is fun to play. I have been competing more with my previous scores than my opponent in the game, to see if I can get better. I enjoy figuring out the strategy for each asymmetric set-up I get. This is the sort of game I want to play with all my different friends to show them what can be done, and show off the games clever mechanics and rules. I think this could go down as a new Stonemaier modern classic.

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