Designer: George Buckenham, Alex Fleetwood
Art: T. Burrell-Saward, L. McCarthy, C. Shaw
Publisher: Sensible Object
1-5 players 15-30 min. ages 7+ MSRP $99
Beasts of Balance allows players to build and destroy a new world each time you play. Using wonderful and whimsical three dimensional animals, you populate your world by stacking each one on a platform called a plinth, hoping to create new hybrids, score points and keep each creature from going extinct.
Beasts of Balance is a playful hybrid. It combines the simple almost primal act of stacking with technological elements that enhance and expand gameplay in fun and unexpected ways.
The game comes with a lovely assortment of chunky three dimensional pieces representing animals, forces of nature and artifacts.
The animals include : a bear, a shark, an octopus, a warthog, a toucan, and an eagle. These are the literal building blocks of life for your new world.
The forces of nature are : fire, water, earth and air. Each has a specific shape and color and each element combines with the others to form ten different shapes/pieces.
The artifacts are four different shapes, some simple, some complex, and each will have its own effect on the game.
All these pieces will be balanced upon the plinth, a circular platform with a special symbol printed on one side.
Now all these things come in the box, but in order to play, there’s one additional thing not included in the box you’ll need… an app ! It’s free to download and it’s not a gimmick. It’s essential to gameplay and is available on all major mobile and tablet platforms.
One one level, Beasts of burden can be described in a single, simple sentence : Stack pieces on the plinth to score points until the stack falls down.
At its heart, this is the entire game. You select a piece, any piece, and place it on the plinth, hoping not to bring the whole thing crashing down. On this level, this is a game you’ve probably played a hundred times before.
With the addition of technology, Beasts of Balance delivers a richly thematic experience that is packed with fun discoveries and meaningful decisions.
It’s these technological enhancments that we should explore because they make Beasts of Balance both innovative and unique. The these tech twists come in several flavors.
Since Beasts of Balance uses an app to guide you through the game, it will come as no surprise that learning and playing the game feels like playing a video game. Rather than read rules, launch the app and simply follow the instructions. It will guide you through a typical turn which goes like this:
Select a piece, identify the piece to the plinth, and then place the piece on the plinth.
Each piece has a special symbol printed on it. Find this side of the piece and place it against the matching symbol on the plinth and watch what happens. Voilà ! Like magic, the app now displays a picture of the piece you have selected. The app and the plinth can keep track of what pieces are part of the world you create as long as you identify each piece to the plinth. The app will even remind you if you forget!
The bear will appear on land. The shark in the sea and so on. Elemental pieces will grant bonuses to creatures aligned with that element.
But here’s the thing… I’m not going to tell you what all the pieces do! Because the game itself leaves these wonderful discoveries to the players AS YOU PLAY! You might select a piece the first few times you play just so you can learn what effect it has on the game. Each one interacts with the app in ways that will leave you smiling and provide even greater challenges and decisions once you understand how they interact.
Without giving away some of the small mysteries you get to experience in the game, I will say that animals can evolve into wild and wonderful creatures as your world gets bigger and each animal is constantly at risk of extinction. As you play and learn, each piece you play will begin to suggest possible courses of action and each will have consequences on your world.
Since it knows what pieces should be part of your world, if collectively everyone can place all the fallen pieces back onto the plinth before the volcano blows, the game will continue. If not, kerblooey! Game over. Check out your score if you want. Reset the app and you’re ready to go again.
Here’s the beauty behind Beasts of Balance. Score really doesn’t matter. You play this game for the joy and the fun of seeing how each world will turn on both on the screen and on the plinth. The games you remember will most likely not be because you score a bunch of points, but because somehow you managed to balance the massive eagle on top of 11 other precariously perched pieces. Or the crazy hybrid animal you created, the majestic and saved to your menagerie even though your world crumbled after just a few turns. Or the game where everyone scrambled to get 8 pieces back onto the plinth just before the volcano exploded!
The Game evokes moments of joy and fun that would be impossible without the harmony the game creates between the physical and digital worlds. It is interactive in the truest sense. You interact with the pieces, the tech and each other as you play. Winning and losing is secondary to the process of play. And each time you play, you’re likely to learn some new wrinkle or new path yet to be explored.
Given the quality of the components and the app (and the development that went into both), I don’t think Beasts of Balance is overpriced, but at $100, the price will certainly be a barrier to entry for some, if not many. I think Sensible Object, the publisher, made the right choice by not skimping on any aspect of the game. It does limit the market for the game, of course, but the result is a game that feels truly innovative and feels like it has stayed very true to the original creative vision behind the game. If you have the extra income, you’ll be happy with your investment. If the game is beyond your budget, seek it out at a game store or convention so you can get a chance to give it a go.