This review is based on a retail copy provided by Breaking Games for the Board Game Exposure group I am a reviewer for. You can see opinions of the same game from other members on this facebook group.
Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near? It’s a question that has plagued mankind for millennia, or at least as long as that song has existed. If you listen closely the answer is obvious, as long as you can ignore the tweeting of birds as they fly around a tree trying to form themselves into regimented lines and squares whilst avoiding crows and hawks. Can’t you hear it too?
The first thing that strikes you about 4theBirds is that the playing pieces are extremely cute, coming in 6 different flavours of birds each with a slightly odd cartoony style to it, which I really like.
My first complaint is that there are 6 birds not 4 for each person and also it uses a number in the title not words making it obviously completely unplayable. Being the dutiful reviewer that I am, I will of course soldier on.
The game itself is a relatively straight forward affair involving rolling dice, placing birds and playing cards like some kind of twitcher based connect 4. Each turn you’ll bounce some dice across the table and either put one of your birds on the number you roll, which you can read in other direction i.e. 25 or 52, or play one of the cards out of your hand. Each player has 6 of these and they can shove your birds around, land hawks were they are least expected etc.
Oh yeah, hawks and crows. Sometimes when you roll your dice a hawk or a crow will land on a branch, the board being ostensibly a bunch of trees, or intersection of branches. These block lines, interfere with plans and generally make themselves a nuisance. They can be used to frustrate players and some of your cards can also move them around but to an extent you are never choosing where they go.
We have a fairly basic abstract here wrapped in a colourful wrapper, with a large random element which can rather impact the fun an individual player might experience. You see your rolls dictate your positioning so much that it can be hard to strategise to any great degree. This might actually be a good thing if you are playing it with kids, as rather than overwhelming them with choice, you only have a limited number of places to put each piece.
However, there is another problem that leads to tactical moves being a bit difficult and this one comes down to graphical design choices rather than mechanical ones.
Let’s have a look at these two photos:
On the left are the tokens facing a player with good light on them. On the right are the same tokens facing away from a player under the same light. See the problem? I’m not going to suddenly start writing about accessibility in games, I’ll leave that to the good folks at Meeples Like Us, but this was actually a problem in our games.
It’s possible to orientate your pieces such that one or more players can’t see the colour on a piece, and with 5 players when there is a lot going on on the board, it’s not even deliberate just something that happens. The pieces are really cute, but from a practical point of view it’s a bit of an issue, and I would have really preferred them to just be circles with the bird’s head on it or something similar.
The Bird is the Word
4theBirds is a perfectly straightforward game that might make a good addition to a family collection, and I can see it being a good introduction to light abstract mechanics for kids. I have not played a huge amount of abstract games so I can’t really compare it to the huge number of games out there, but it didn’t really feel like it would have a lot of longevity in a collection, something I am a big advocate for. Much like Samurai Gardener it fell a little flat for me and my group, though I’d have to admit that the theme is a bit stronger.
There you have it, an ok abstract with a cute theme and some nice pieces, even if they are a little hard to see sometimes. Check it out if you are looking for something for the family, but otherwise it is probably not for you.