WBG Score: 6
Player Count: 1-4
Published by: Synapses Games
Designed by: Ikhwan Kwon
By Steve Godfrey
I’ve kept fish a few times in my life and probably more surprising is that I’ve managed to keep them alive! However if I had to work in a pet shop and was tasked with rearranging the fish into different tanks like a marine flower arrangement, (which is the goal of the game here), I could see myself needing to seek new employment before lunchtime. Lucky for me then I'm dealing with cards and not real fish.
How to arrange Betta
Lay out the score board, a number of display boards based on player count and randomly place out two of each difficulty of the pattern cards. Everyone takes their Betta cards and discards two back to the tin unseen then draws three cards to make their opening hand.
On your turn you’ll place one of your cards onto one of the displays. If you place it on an empty display you score two points. If, when you place a card down, one of the fish on that card creates one of the patterns on the cards then you score that number of points. The fish have to be the same colour and they don’t even have to be your colour. Even if the pattern was already there from another player, as long as a fish on the card you play fits onto that pattern you can still score it. Once a display has no empty squares you can no longer place a card on that display. The game will end when either all displays are full or all players only have two cards left in hand and can’t refill. You will then score points for each Betta of your colour on each display using the chart in the rule book. Most points wins.
Betta is one of those fun spatial puzzle games that lulls you in with its seemingly harmless theme. It’s sorting out fish in a pet shop, that’s gotta be nice and chilled right? However, what you end up getting from Betta is a game that will have you scratching your head way more than you expected from the initial outset. Early turns are fairly simple, with no cards really in play all you can do is set some small seeds with the intention of making certain patterns on future turns. As the game goes on you’ll find yourself studying each card in your hand and constantly rotating them over each display trying to make one fit to your advantage by either completing a pattern or at the very least setting one up for the next turn.
All of the above makes for a decent puzzle but it’s having other players in the mix that will, invariably add that little bit of tension. Setting up a pattern for your next turn or even a few turns down the line is a must if you want to do well. Whilst your cards are made up of the majority of your colours, they also have a mix of other players colours on them meaning that someone else stealing your well set up scoring opportunity is a possibility. That’s not to say you still couldn’t score it, but no one wants to give their opponents points if they can avoid it. This gives the game just enough tension between rounds and enough interaction to keep it interesting.
Making those patterns isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. First you need to have a card that has the right colour in the right place. But that card usually comes with another betta that is also going to block another square of the pattern you're making. It makes planning where you can really important. It’s also the reason that you have to swoop in and nab a pattern that an opponent has been building when the opportunity arises. It seems that all's fair in fish and war.
Off the hook.
The big letdown for me is the cards. They are quite flimsy. They do have a coating on them to stop them wearing but it also seems to make them slippery, which I suppose is pretty thematic when you're dealing with a game about fish. The main issue is that they keep catching together when you go to draw them, separate them at tear down or put them in a pile to go back in the bag. This doesn’t really affect gameplay but it’s more of an annoyance in the practical sense. Whilst my cards aren’t really showing any wear on them I do worry that it won’t take much for them to catch on each other and get bent.
The rules tell you that you don’t need to shuffle them before play, which is fair enough as I doubt it’s going to make a huge difference but it’s also a bit of a relief.
Where this will become more irritating though is in the solo mode where you will need to shuffle the four decks together and draw fifteen to create your deck for solo play. The solo game is fine but the fiddliness of shuffling those decks together and having to constantly unhook cards from each other and subsequently separating them after your game, meant that I felt the work put into setting up a solo game wasn’t really worth the effort which is a shame, especially if solo is your go to game mode.
Despite how much you’ll be analysing how best to play your cards, games of Betta will still be fairly quick and it’ll give you enough of a puzzle to keep you engaged every game. If the theme or the promise of a quick fun puzzle sounds good then this one may be worth checking out.