Minecraft, the video game, was truly one of the phenomena of the 2010’s. It’s been about six years since I stopped playing it regularly–just around the time Microsoft acquired it–but I can safely say that for around a year and a half I played it almost every day. My son, who was squarely in the target demographic for it at the time–that is, about ten years old–got me into it but I can honestly admit that there was a while there when I was probably as obsessed about it as he was. I still think it is an amazing achievement, design-wise. Just think of the billions of hours people have put into it constructing recreations of everything from downtown Toronto to a Universal Turing Machine–not to mention lets-play videos.
Perhaps surprisingly then, considering the size and scale of Minecraft’s success, there have been only three Tabletop tie-in games. Two of them, Mattel’s 2015 Minecraft Card Game? (the question mark is not a type) and 2016’s Minecraft UNO (because of course), are what you would expect: basically targeted at grandparents looking to get “something about Minecraft” for their grandkids.
Really, though, on reflection, making a Tabletop game out of Minecraft is harder than it might appear. Creative Mode is an activity, not a game, and there already is a hugely-successful Tabletop version. It’s called LEGO. So you’re left with trying to gamify Survival Mode, which means trying to incorporate exploring the Overworld, mining, crafting, fighting off mobs, and ultimately trying to get to the End to kill the dragon. But like the Civilization game franchise, Minecraft’s appeal lies in its immersion, in the hours spent in that world, and that’s very hard to translate into a boardgame.
So it was a very pleasant surprise that the third Minecraft game, 2019’s Minecraft: Builders and Biomes, published by Ravensburger, managed to thread the needle. Don’t take my word for it: it’s rated 7.1 on BGG. What designer Ulrich Blum (Grand Cru, Divvy Dice) did was abandon the Survival storyline entirely, instead imposing a traditional Euro-style three-scoring-round structure. He then gave players a Minecraft-lite experience where they could explore a scaled-down randomly-generated Overworld consisting of face-down tiles and chests, mine for resources by pecking away at a 4x4x4 supercube, build structures by trading in resources for buildings, and fight mobs using a bag-buildy mechanic. And all within 90 minutes.
Minecraft: B&B is pretty good even if you can’t tell a creeper from a slenderman, and now Blum/Ravensburger have released a Farmer’s Market Expansion that adds farming and trading to the mix.
Players begin the game with a vegetable farm tile (complete with starting vegetable cube(s)) they can immediately place on their home mats, and a few more farms are sprinkled in with the other biomes to grow more. A new action, buy from marketplace, allows you to trade in those precious precious veggies for items from the brand-spanking-new emporium. Four are available to buy (randomly picked from a possible six) at the start of the game, and even the cheapest ones are pretty awesome. How about being able to use any block as a wildcard? Or fight a mob a second time if you lose the first time? And those are starting items.
The next group of four more expensive items become available during Scoring Round A, which is also when your farms replenish. Ditto for Scoring Round B. In the final Scoring Round, you can choose to score farm buildings as your structure of choice. There aren’t a ton of them, though, so you might be better off sticking with one of the base-game sets.
All in all the expansion is a bit of a mixed bag. It definitely makes a farming strategy viable–but competition for those farm buildings will be fierce. If one player monopolizes them and gets some good items they could run away with the game. It also makes turn order very important, because getting first crack at the market at the beginning of the game or after a scoring round is a definite plus.
Plus, as I said above even some of the cheapest items are quite powerful. The second-cheapest second-tier item lets you teleport every time you move–which is pretty ridonkulous if you asked me. This is balanced by the fact that not every item is available every game–but still, it forces you to at least pay attention to, if not not invest in, farm buildings.
Still, for those who have played and enjoyed the base game and are ready for some variety, the Farmer’s Market expansion is welcome. Now for that Underworld expansion…
Thanks to RavensburgerNA for providing a review copy of the Farmer’s Market Expansion for Minecraft: Builders & Biomes.