Ah, bunnies. They’re cute, they’re cuddly, and if you turn your back for too long, two bunnies become thirty. So it goes in Bunny Kingdom. You’re busy building your little bunny villages and generating resources for the residents but if you don’t pay attention, you’ll look up to see that there are now about a hundred of your opponents’ bunnies on the map. I exaggerate the numbers, but if you’re not careful to keep everyone else in check, their bunnies will quickly multiply across the land, leaving you wondering how that happened so fast.
How It Plays
Bunny Kingdom is a combination of card drafting and area control with a few secret objectives thrown in. You’re taking the role of a rabbit clan that is trying to impress the Bunny King by developing new lands. You’ll build fiefs and then enlarge them and build cities to hold more bunnies. Bigger fiefs are stronger fiefs! You’ll also want to add farms to increase your resources and wealth. Your goal, being a rabbit who wants to impress, is to score the most carrots by building strong and wealthy fiefs. (Carrots are really points, but earning carrots sounds better from the rabbit perspective.)
The game is played over four rounds and each round has three phases. Phase one is the card draft. Each player is dealt a hand of cards (dependent on the number of players in the game). You will choose two cards from your hand to play and place them face down in front of you, then pass your hand to your neighbor. (In the two player variant, you have a reserve deck of cards. Before choosing cards to play, you’ll draw one card from your reserve into your hand. Then you’ll choose one card to play and one card to discard from your hand. You’ll only play one card in the phase, but the rest of the rules are the same.)
So what kinds of cards are you drafting and playing? Parchment cards show either treasures (which are worth straight carrots), special abilities that let you break some rules, or missions that you can complete for extra points. (Missions are things like “Get x-number of carrots if you produce a certain amount of fish,” or “Get x-number of carrots if you control a certain number of cities.”) These are placed face down in front of you and only revealed at the end of the game. Nobody else knows what missions you might be working on or what treasures you’ve amassed.
You may also play a territory card. These show coordinates which correspond to spaces on the board. If you play one of these cards, place one of your bunnies on the space. You now control that territory. You want to place bunnies on adjacent, connected territories in order to build larger fiefs. (Not all territories that are adjacent are connected. Pesky lava flows can get in your way.)
There are also building cards. These allow you to build cities, farms, camps, and sky towers. (Cities increase the strength of your fief, farms let you produce resources which increase your wealth, camps allow you to “squat” on a territory even if you don’t have the corresponding territory card, and sky towers let you connect two disconnected fiefs, making them into one larger one for scoring purposes.) If you play a building card during the draft phase, place the card in front of you and place the appropriate city or building token on the card. You’ll move these items from the card to the board in the next phase.
Players will play their chosen cards simultaneously. You’ll keep drafting and playing cards until the cards run out. At that point you move on to phase two, the construction phase. All those buildings you just picked up in the draft? Now you’ll build them on the board.
You can build your buildings on any area which you control, subject to a few rules. Some buildings have certain requirements. They can only be built on certain terrains, for example. Buildings cannot be moved once placed and there can never be more than one type of building on a space. If you place a building on a space which already generates a resource, it will continue to generate that resource in addition to the effect of the building. Are you seeing the possibilities for generating extra resources, here? Buildings and resources are important because once you get to phase three, you’re going to need them to score well.
Phase three is the harvest phase. This is where you turn all of your “stuff” into points. Every fief gives you points equal to the Strength times the Wealth of that fief. How to figure this out? First of all, for the purposes of scoring, a fief is a group of connected, adjacent spaces all controlled by one player.
Strength is the sum of all of the towers in the cities of that fief. Wealth is equal to the number of unique resources produced by a fief. Multiply the two numbers together and move your bunny the required number on the scoring track. You’ll run this equation for every fief you have on the board.
Once all three phases have been completed, deal new cards to each player and begin again with the draft. The game ends after the fourth round and the final harvest phase points have been tallied for the fiefs. Players now reveal their parchment cards and gain the points shown for any treasures or completed missions. The player with the most points wins and now wears the title of, “Big Ears.” (At least until the next game.)
Bring Your Lucky Rabbit’s Foot
Card drafting is not my favorite mechanism in the gaming kingdom. I’ve never been able to put my finger on exactly why, but I think it’s somehow related to my need for control. I don’t like having to give away things I want and need, knowing that my opponent will likely take them. Still, I do manage to have fun with it, it’s just always felt unnatural to me somehow.
Fortunately, Bunny Kingdom is not all card drafting. Yes, that’s the major mechanism here and it dictates what you’ll be able to do on your turn. But this is also a game of area control and completing some secret objectives. These are things I do really enjoy, so the entire game comes together in a nice mix for me.
I was especially glad to see that the area control aspect is more forgiving than some games. (And it plays very well with two players, something many area control games have trouble with. The board isn’t as crowded as with more, but the way the cards come out makes it almost impossible not to get in each other’s way, unless you play sub-optimally.) Once you control an area, there is no way to get booted off of it. (Except for camps. If you’re only camping, you can get the boot if another player gets the territory card for your space.) If you manage to put together a large fief, no one can stick their bunnies in there and break it up, or deploy a bunny militia to blast you off your space. I guess bunnies aren’t really into backstabbing each other, which is nice if you prefer a less warlike area control game.
Not that this is a friendly game. The drafting can be cutthroat. When you see a card that you know your opponent needs to join up two fiefs, or which would mean an easily completable mission for them, you’re smart to take it and play it yourself. (Or, in the two player game, dump it in the discard pile.)
The decisions aren’t meaty, but they are agonizing. You’ll want to do everything, but the limitations are painful because you know that once you pass that desirable card on in the draft, your chances of seeing it again aren’t that great.
Worse, there will likely be several cards you want or play or keep away from your opponents. But you’re only allowed to play two cards each time cards are passed to you. So what do you do? Is it more important to play a card and establish a position on the board, or do you need to prevent your opponent from achieving something big? How much do you hope that something you want might come back around? And don’t forget the parchment cards which give you either straight victory points or a mission to complete for extra points. It’s tempting to grab a bunch of missions, but be careful. You may end up with too many and you’ll never complete them all. Incomplete missions are worth nothing. Those turns might have been better utilized building fiefs. You want to strike a balance between building/expanding fiefs and gathering up those extra points if you can.
The two-player variant adds a neat little twist. You draw two cards from your reserve and add them to your hand before choosing which card to play. Unlike the regular game, you’ll play one card and discard another before passing the cards to your opponent, instead of simply playing two cards. You have to ask yourself what is best to remove from the game altogether versus what you want to pass on. Sometimes, you’ll end up discarding something that you later kick yourself for. How were you to know you’d need that space on the board! This provides an interesting way to tighten up the draft and increase the unpredictability of what you’ll get back. It also adds another decision layer. Many card drafting games don’t work well with two, but this twist makes Bunny Kingdom work.
The thing that bugs me about the draft here, which surprisingly I liked overall, is that there is no sense of progression or a raising of the stakes. All of the cards are in the deck from the beginning and in a random order. There are no “ages” or “phases” that you will progress through where the cards get better or the stakes get higher. Every round is pretty much the same as the one before it.
Yes, ideally you are enlarging and enriching your fief each round, but I sort of wish there had been some sort of delineation between the rounds, or something to make me think, “Okay, round three is coming. Maybe now I can really build something awesome or work through a specific strategy.” There’s none of that here. You may get to round four and get nothing that allows you to enlarge your fief or generate more resources. There’s really no long term planning here, or an overall “strategy” that you’re working toward. Usually you’re simply trying to get the best thing you can.
This brings up another point: If you’re going to like Bunny Kingdom, you have to be comfortable with luck. You don’t know which cards are going to end up in your hand at the beginning of a round, or what other players have. You may find yourself with an embarrassment of riches in every hand. Or the opposite may be true and nothing you need is ever there. This can mean some turns where you simply have to make the best of what you can get.
Usually it’s somewhere in the middle, but be aware that there are those times when the draw works in one person’s favor all the time, or against another person all the time. Sometimes you’ll get a runaway leader and if the draw is bad for the other players, there’s nothing to stop them. This doesn’t feel too awful for a game that’s about 45 minutes and is slightly above gateway weight, but if you’re looking for a luck-free experience, this isn’t it.
However, the fact that the luck meshes nicely with the weight and strategy makes Bunny Kingdom a good next step game. It’s probably a little more than a gaming novice would want to play (although the rules aren’t difficult, it can look a little intimidating and the scoring isn’t intuitive), but people who’ve progressed from the basics will likely enjoy it. The theme makes it an easy draw, particularly for kids who are used to board games. It can be a great family game for gaming families.
Other than a good bit of luck, are there things you might dislike about the game? Well, for starters there’s the board. The board that came with early editions of the game (which is the one I have) was pretty small for the amount of stuff that has to fit on it. While everything does fit, it’s not easy to see all the bunnies, fiefs, and territories to make sure all points are counted. And the more crowded the board gets, the more AP sets in as people try to see their options. It’s also a bit fiddly. One corner bump and you’re scrambling to get everything back in place.
However, that shouldn’t dissuade you from buying the game any longer. First of all, newer editions of the game have a larger board already included. iello’s website has information on the product codes to look for if you want to assure yourself a new board. (It’s on the link referenced below.) Second, if you already have the game and want the bigger board, iello is giving away them for “free” and all you have to pay is whatever shipping is to your location.
So, the board issue has been addressed. Any other negatives? The only other thing that bugged me was the scoring. It’s not mathematically difficult to figure out the value of each fief; it’s only simple multiplication. But it is time consuming, particularly in later rounds as the fiefs get bigger and more spread out. It’s also tough to make sure you get everything tallied, particularly on the smaller board as things can be hard to see. With just two players it’s bearable because there’s less stuff to work through. But with four, the scoring can be a real pain in the bunny tail. The designers did try to take some of the load off by including a player aid that acts as a scoring cheat sheet, but it can only do so much.
If you can stand the amount of luck and some fiddly scoring, Bunny Kingdom is a solid, enjoyable game for gamers, gamer families, and casual gamers who want something a little meatier. It looks great on the table and the theme is accessible, but don’t let the cute looks fool you. This isn’t some little children’s game. There’s more meat here than first appears and you’ll be making some agonizing decisions as you fight to become “Big Ears.”