Full Disclosure: Matt Shoemaker sent me a prototype copy of Bee Lives so I could write this preview.
The Kickstarter Campaign for Bee Lives can be found here.
What is Bee Lives about?
Bee Lives is a highly thematic worker placement game about surviving and thriving as a wild bee hive. You will need to scout for promising food and water sources, grow your hive, rob other bee hives, and defend your own home from opportunistic neighbors. You'll also have to consider actions like requeening (i.e. killing off your current queen and installing a new one), cleaning your hive because all of that foraging and robbing can expose you to some nasty mites, and swarming. If your bees get overcrowded in their hive, they will swarm—an outcome that grants victory points, but also produces a new enemy for you to fight with.
Your ultimate goal is to survive the winter months with at least one worker bee still alive. You can also earn victory points, but they are essentially meaningless if your hive dies out. So throughout the game's nine rounds (representing the months from March through November), you will need to both advance your hive's immediate interests and keep an eye on the future. As the seasons go by, different areas that you have scouted provide varying amounts of honey and pollen. Additionally, a new event card each month provides additional challenges or benefits that can impact your game. It is also possible to play a multiyear campaign that allows you to nurture your hives for a longer period of time.
The solo version of Bee Lives is still in development. Currently, you just play the game as normal and try to reach a high score. When you swarm, your own offshoot hives (controlled by a simple AI card) will challenge you, so you never truly play unopposed. The event cards can also stymie you and give you problems to work around as you make your hive the best it can be. I also know, however, that solo challenges are currently in development, and I am very excited about those. I am looking for something that will let me push myself harder in this game and force me to develop new and interesting strategies. Solo players will also be receiving scoring brackets that give them goals to work towards when they play the "regular" solo mode.
What I like about Bee Lives
Bee Lives is a ton of fun to play. Although there are many actions to consider taking in the game, they are all very intuitive, because every single thing you do in Bee Lives is related to the actual lives of bees. Matt Shoemaker, the designer, is both a librarian and a beekeeper, and his passion really shows in his game. I found myself learning a LOT about bees, and really loving it! Most delightful for me was realizing just how mean those sweet little honey bees can be—one of the funnest aspects of the game is swarming, and then trying to kill your own wayward children. "Requeening" involves murdering your current queen so that you can replace her with another one. And trying to balance resources to make sure that the conditions in your hive will allow you to produce new worker bees is both fun and a good representation of what happens in nature. There are several interesting strategic choices to make when scouting, choosing which resources to take, and plotting the growth of your hive. You'll have to be good at balancing growth and acquisition with maintaining what you've already built.
Possible Concerns about Bee Lives
As a multiplayer game, Bee Lives is a ton of fun. The solo game is not yet complete, because the challenge cards are still in development. Without challenges and scoring brackets to help you determine how well you did, Bee Lives becomes a beat-your-own-score solo game that is highly entertaining, but that lacks the tension of playing the game with others. I have complete faith, however, that the challenges are going to be awesome.
Should I Back It?
If you like thematic worker placement games, as well as worker placement games that can get just a little bit mean, Bee Lives is a great choice. The combination of building your own hive, finding/blocking resources, and actively fighting with other hives makes Bee Lives more than just another euro-style game. I can't wait to get my own final copy.