What could be more peaceful than bubbles falling from the sky, floating gently down on the winds before delicately popping when they land?
Wipe that serene picture from your mind. While that might be how bubbles behave, bubblees are out for blood. They don’t pop easily, they’re tough to beat, and they hunger for the tears of their enemies. The only way to clear them from your board and sic them on your opponent is to get three or more in a row. Easier said than done.
How It Works
Bubblee Pop is a puzzle/match-3 game for two players. Players try to align rows or columns of three or more matching-color bubblees to score and unlock special abilities. The player with the highest score wins.
To begin, players place black bubblees on their board depending on whether they are playing easy, medium, or difficult. Two of each color bubblee are placed in the “sky” area between the two player areas. The bubblees are shuffled in the included bag.
A player’s turn follows a number of steps. First, the player refills any empty spaces in the sky. Next the player may choose two horizontally or vertically adjacent bubblees to swap. Then the player chooses two horizontally or vertically adjacent bubblees to fall in the designated column(s) on their player board. If the bubblees align in a row or column of three of the same color, those (and any other adjacent bubblees that are the same color) are removed from the board and placed in the player’s score pile. The bubblees fall in any empty areas created by the scored bubblees, and the player may use the power associated with the color of the scored bubblees. This continues until there are no more rows or columns scored. Then it is the next player’s turn.
Bubblee powers include swapping bubblees (on your board or the opponent’s), scoring extra bubblees, or sending bubblees at your opponent.
The game ends when the sky cannot be refilled with bubblees. At that point, the player with the most bubblees in their score pile wins.
Float like a Bubblee, Sting like a Bee
Puzzle games of quickly deciding what to do with falling objects have always been some of my favorites. Whether Tetris or Dr. Mario, I’ve spent countless hours trying to best my friends and my current high score. More recently mobile apps have moved into this space with match-3 games like Candy Crush. Bubblee Pop is designed to recreate specifically the addictive match-3 style of mobile games on the tabletop, and while it succeeds in some areas, it misses the mark in others.
Bubblee Pop certainly retains the puzzly feel of match-3 apps. It’s fun to see what bubbles are in the sky and try to manipulate the sky to your advantage, to set up your board for big combos, to unleash special powers. The board is big enough to provide options but small enough to provide tension. It can be difficult to plan just how best to use the bubblees to your advantage, especially when you have an opponent that’s out to get you.
And your opponent will matter a great deal in Bubblee Pop, because over half of the bubblee powers are oppositional and designed to directly inhibit the other player’s progress. Bubblee Pop isn’t a side-by-side, isolated puzzle to see who lasts longer; it’s a direct confrontation, like playing Tetris with garbage, and the game encourages players to do nasty things to each other on the pathway to maximizing their own score. While Bubblee Pop isn’t really a “take that” game–you have just one opponent, so you don’t really single anyone out for harm–it is a conflict-oriented game in which it’s difficult to make plans.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing: like its video game counterparts, Bubblee Pop requires adaptation, thinking quickly and responding to what your opponent will do. If you don’t get the bubbles you’re hoping for, you have to come up with a new plan on the fly. Bubblee Pop is thus much more tactical than strategic, and if you go in with this expectation, you should be on solid footing.
As a puzzle-game fan, I like Bubblee Pop. Since I’m used to the kind of decisions it offers, I can usually play quick, and that’s how the game is meant to be played. However, as much as I like the game, finding opponents has been difficult.
For one thing, because of the tactical nature of the game, it’s hard to plan your moves very far in advance, and thus the game has a tendency to cause analysis paralysis in some players. Because of the fairly low stakes and high chaos of Bubblee Pop, and because of the fast-paced games it strives to emulate, any slowdown here is excruciating, and it’s not the kind of game that’s fun with overly deliberate players. For another thing, Bubblee Pop involves a very specific kind of puzzle thinking, and while this will interest some players (like me), for others this would never be on their top ten list of two-player games to choose. (And indeed, even for me, it’s hard to recommend this one when there are so many other excellent and more universal two-player options.)
But perhaps the biggest strike against Bubblee Pop is best seen in the solo mode. The solo mode is actually pretty decent–the rulebook tells you how to arrange the bubblees on the board, and you have to “win” the level in order to advance (you have to remove all non-black bubblees from the opponent’s board). So far so good. While I played the puzzle, it was fine, I enjoyed myself, and it seemed a decent way to pass the time. In retrospect, though, I couldn’t escape the feeling that there is another solitaire puzzle, one that involves less upkeep, one that moves a little faster and is more stimulating just a few feet away, on my electronic device…
But sometimes you don’t want a screen: I get that. So for some, this is exactly what the Dr. Mario ordered. For me, while Bubblee Pop is a decent game, it just doesn’t seem to have a lot of utility outside of a small niche.
What you get in the box, though, is high quality. The board is colorful and double-sided. The bubblees are on thick cardboard, and they’re easily mixed in the provided drawstring bag. The cardboard has a linen finish and is printed double-sided, and the bubblees have several different faces, giving them a unique character. I do wish there were a separate player aid, rather than the box bottom, but this isn’t too bad.
Bubblee Pop is a decent two-player game, and if you’re in the market for a match-3 on the tabletop game, there aren’t a ton of options, and Bubblee Pop is fun. If you’re looking for a good two-player puzzle game, Bubblee Pop is also a decent fit, but it lives under the long shadow of Patchwork. If you’re looking much beyond these specific niches, though, to just good two-player games, that’s where the bubble bursts.
iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Quick Simple Fun Games for sending us a copy of Bubblee Pop for review.