It’s time to talk. It’s an important one that every budding aficionado should have so you can have some basic facts with which to arm and protect yourself. It will also help prepare you so that when you’re friends inevitably start talking about it you won’t feel sheltered or ashamed. It’s time to talk about The Bears and the Bees. If you’re a hobby gamer, there’s a good chance you’ve never played this game. That’s okay. I can’t imagine this game would have jumped out at you. If you’re more of a family gamer, then you may very well know this one. Regardless of which end of the spectrum upon which you lie, this game by Grandpa Beck’s Games can—and probably should—be in a semi-regular lineup for your game nights.
The Bears and the Bees by Grandpa Beck’s Games
Designer: Jeff Beck
Artist(s): Apryl Stott
Publisher: Grandpa Beck’s Games
Prominent Mechanism(s): Hand Management
Theme/Category: Card game
Awards: Winner—Best Family Fun by Tillywig Toy
First, let me start this off by pointing out that I am writing about the version of this game that was released in 2018. Creator Jeff Beck tells me they are revising the rules somewhat as well as tweaking the art on the cards to be more color-blind friendly. The rules are intended to make the Bear card more meaningful and less punitive for the person playing it.
What is The Bears and the Bees?
It’s a card game for 2-5 players ages 8 and up where you all lay tiles (the cards) to build a hive. Each card you play has particular rules around it and, if you make smart choices, can allow you to play several cards per turn. This is important when your goal is to play all of your cards before your opponents. Once a player has played all of their cards, the remaining players total up their points. Play continues for three rounds and the player with the least points at the end of those rounds is declared the supreme overlord of Ursidae Apiaries the world over. Okay, so I added that last bit myself. Regardless, the player with the least points wins.
What’s in the Game?
- 1 rulebook
- 104 hexagon-shaped cards
- 70 Honeycomb cards
- 15 Worker Bee cards
- 10 Drone cards
- 5 Flower cards
- 3 Bear cards
- 1 Queen card
At slightly smaller than the size of a typical paperback novel, the game is compact without being diminutive which makes it an ideal size for traveling. As a board game nerd, I love the cards. Hexagons?! Brilliant. The art by Apryl Stott is elegant. Not too childish; doesn’t take itself too seriously. Furthermore, I like that the Becks are clearly in tune with gaming enthusiasts (despite this game not being geared towards hobbyists) and put a notice right at the beginning of the rules that you can find the rules on YouTube if you don’t feel like reading them.
Deep(ish) Dive into the Game
This is not intended to be a how-to post but it’s hard to explain what I may or may not like about the game if I don’t at least touch on the rules.
Begin the game by placing the Queen in the center of the table and then deal out 9 cards to each player in a 2-3 player game. If playing with 4-5, each player receives only 8 cards. The dealer then flips over the top card places it adjacent to the Queen. The orientation here does not matter as all six edges of the Queen card are honey which are considered wild. If the dealer draws any card but a honeycomb at this step, discard it face up and repeat the process. The dealer continues doing so until he or she draws a honeycomb.
On the first player’s turn, they choose one card from their hand to play onto the hive that matches at least two sides. We’ve already established that honey is considered wild so the first player really only has to match one side’s color to either side of the honeycomb card that was placed by the dealer previously.
Note: Special cards may NEVER touch the queen!
Beginning on the second player’s turn, and every turn thereafter, players may play two cards from their hand so long as their second card is adjacent to the first one they played on that turn. If you cannot play you must either draw a card. Alternatively, you may discard one card and draw two.
Note: if you discard a Bear card here, draw three cards instead of two.
Let’s turn our attention to the special cards which I haven’t really addressed yet.
The Drones each have three honey edges and three colored edges (always the same color). These cards are extremely useful because of their flexibility in where they may be played.
The Worker Bees have one honey edge and five colored edges (all different colors). These are harder to play sometimes but when they are played with two sides matching, that player chooses an opponent to draw a card. If played with three sides matching, they draw two cards. Or you can split them among multiple players. As you may have guessed, if played with four sides matching, then the player(s) draw(s) three cards. And so on.
The Flowers are all single colored and when they are played with two sides matching then ALL other players draw a card. Three sides matching means each player draws two, etc.
The Bear is a bit different. You must play it with two sides touching (not matching) but at least one side must touch the honey side of a Drone or Worker Bee card. Additionally, it is the only card you can play on your turn. No one can play cards adjacent to the Bear for the rest of the round.
I’ve mentioned playing cards with more than two sides matching already and while some cards grant bonuses for matching three or more sides by forcing opponents to draw more cards, doing so will always result in a bonus to the person who played the card. If you match three sides then you get to play one additional card. Match five sides then you can play THREE additional cards (this means a total of for that turn). And if you do the unlikely and somehow match six sides then you discard your hand and win that round instantly.
Note: there is no penalty if you are unable to play all the additional cards during a bonus play.
Once the round is over players with cards still in their total up their point values and record those sums. Honeycombs are worth 5 points. Drones, Flowers, and Worker Bees are worth 10 points. Bears are worth 15. As you can see, it’s imperative that you offload these special cards as soon as you’re able. The game is always three rounds.
Engagement is reasonable in The Bears and the Bees. There is a “buzz rule” that players can implement for slower games. If someone is taking too long (agonizing over what their optimal strategy should be or simply not paying attention) the rest of the players may start buzzing, like a bee. If all the players join the buzzing then the turn is over and if the player has not played a card they must draw one instead.
Note: the table must give each player a reasonable amount of time.
Interaction is good in this game. Given that you can choose which opponents draw cards when you play a Worker Bee or a Flower it is imperative to stay mindful of the player with the fewest number of cards and to give serious consideration to whom you force to draw penalty cards. And they will likely pay you back at their first opportunity.
This game plays quickly. The rules say 30 minutes. I’ve had some go longer (if you suffer from analysis paralysis you’re going to get buzzed a lot) but I’ve also seen most of them go quicker. Therefore, this game is a good filler or a good one to play while you’re waiting for the pizza to be delivered. As such, the replayability is pretty good.
Just cards. No components or even score pads to assess. That being said, the cards are a great stock and have a nice finish. Even though they’re tricky to shuffle because of their hexagonal shape they’re durable and photogenic!
This is not a hard game to understand. But, Grandpa Beck’s suggestion of this being for 8+ years of age is one I’d recommend you heed. Sure, a younger player could match colors easily enough but developing a strategy to create bonus plays or understanding who to select to draw additional cards would be challenging for little ones. If they don’t care about winning, by all means, knock yourself out. Otherwise, I wouldn’t push the age recommendation.
If you play with family or you looking for a good filler, definitely add The Bears and the Bees to your collection. I think you’ll like it. I think it shines best at four players. Two is okay but not my first recommendation for a couple of players. Three is good and I didn’t play it with five.
- Easy to Teach
- Fast Playing
- Can cause mild anxiety for those who agonize over optimal play
- Hard to distinguish between red and purple edges, especially when they’re on the same card
A review copy of The Bears and the Bees was provided by the publisher.