This week we’re doing something we don’t do that often here at the Dragon, and that’s a dual review! You get two perspectives for the price of one. Jennifer and FarmerLenny are both chiming in on Queenz. Did they like it? Hate it? Split the vote? Read on.
How It Plays
Queenz is a set collection and tile-laying game in which players are attempting to become great bee keepers. If you want to be a great bee keeper, you must succeed on three fronts: Filling fields with matching orchids to attract bees, strategically placing bee hives within those fields, and producing quality honey faster than the other players. The player who earns the most points from his/her bee keeping efforts is the winner.
Queenz is played over a series of turns, until a player fills their fifth field. The main action takes place on the garden board, where flower tokens are placed randomly at the beginning of the game. There are also five polyomino tiles available at the beginning of the game that players can use to construct fields. (Note that the flower board and field pile are not replenished after every turn. They refill only at specific points in the game.) On your turn you can do one of two things: Take new orchid tokens, or fill one field using orchid tokens from your supply.
If you choose to take new orchid tokens, you can only choose from the row/column where the gardener token is located. You can take 1, 2, or 3 tokens, subject to specific rules. If you take one token, you can choose any token from the row/column, even those with bees. If you take two tokens, none of them may have bees and they may be of the same or different colors. If you take three tokens, none may have bees and they must all be of a different color.
If you take a token with a single bee on it, that is a Queen and you gain a special ability. You can now choose to immediately swap out the bee token with any orchid token in your completed fields. The tile you replace is returned to your supply. You do not earn any immediate points for doing this, however, a strategic rearrangement may help you score more points on future turns. You do not have to use this ability, but if you do not use it when you take the queen bee token, you cannot use it later.
Your chosen tokens are then placed in your supply and you move the gardener forward in a clockwise direction around the board. He cannot go backward. He takes as many steps as the number of orchid tokens you took. So, if you took two tokens, the gardener takes two steps forward. This will now mark the column/row from which the next player may choose tokens.
If you choose to fill a field, take one field from those available and use orchid tokens and hives from your supply to fill every available space on the field. You cannot partially fill a field. You must have enough tokens and/or hives to fill it up. If it’s your first field, just place it in front of you. Any future fields must be placed adjacent to an existing field. There are no other placement rules, so you can put the new field in any position you want, and leave any gaps you want, as long as one part of it is orthogonally touching an already placed field.
When two or more orchids of the same color touch orthogonally, you produce honey and earn points. For example, if you create an area where three blue orchids touch, you earn three points and produce “blue” honey. If this is the first time you have produced honey in that color, take the matching honey pot from your supply and place it on your honey tracker. You don’t earn points for this step until you fill the last spot on your honey track.
Once you’ve produced a honey in every color, take the top honey production token from the pile. There are four tokens in this pile, arranged in descending value. The first player to complete five honey colors earns ten points, the second earns six, the third earns five, and the fourth player earns four points.
As for when you refill the supplies, here’s when that happens: If the gardener stops in front of an empty row/column, the player that moved the gardener earns one point and the row/column is refilled with tokens from the supply. If a player takes the last available field, five new fields are placed on the table. Finally, if the gardener crosses the red arrow at the corner of the garden board, the player that moved the gardener scores one point and all empty spaces on the orchid board are refilled from the supply. Also, new fields are drawn to refill the supply up to five.
The game ends when a player blooms their fifth field. At this point, everyone else takes one last turn. On your last turn, you can take new orchid tokens or fill a field as usual. However, you may make an exception to the normal rules and leave empty spaces in your field if you are short of tokens or hives. Points are scored normally for these activities.
Players then score extra points for their hives. You earn one point for each bee on the eight spaces surrounding the hive. Bees can score multiple times if they surround multiple hives. Count each hive separately and total all the points, then add them to the points you earned during the game for bloomed fields. If you have a honey production token, add these points to your final score. The player with the most points wins. In case of a tie, the player with the most bees wins.
Sweet as Honey, or a Stinging Welt?
When I saw Queenz on Twitter, I was immediately interested. It looked like it would hit most of my sweet spots: Easy to learn, quick to play, tile-laying, several ways to score points, and solid (if not overly deep) strategic and tactical considerations. So… Were my first impressions correct, or did this bee fail to buzz? Let’s unpack it.
Overall, I really enjoyed Queenz. My favorite part turned out to be the tile laying. (Shocker, I know.) But I was a bit surprised at why. Most polyomino games have you putting the tiles onto a board, and you must adhere to certain placement rules. No going out of the grid, no leaving open holes, etc. Queenz, though, doesn’t have a tile board. You simply place your tiles in front of you, arranging them how you wish. The only rule is that newly placed tiles must connect orthogonally to tiles you’ve already placed. There’s no grid, and no rules about holes. It’s as close to total freedom as you’re likely to get in a polyomino game. That’s both good and bad, strategically speaking. (Particularly when you’re new to the game and fail to realize just how quickly it can end and how important every placement can be. Voice of experience speaking.)
The game generally rewards you for a tight fitting tile construction. That’s because you score when like colors are grouped together, and when bees are grouped around a hive. Plus, your score builds as the game goes on and you add to an existing color plot. Two points can become four, and then eight if you play your tiles right. A long line of tiles with gaping holes isn’t likely to help you much so it’s tempting to play it safe and hug your tiles together. (Even if you end up kicking yourself later because you blocked off a scoring opportunity.)
However, total placement freedom can lead you to take some risks that might not pay off. It’s tempting sometimes to build an odd shape early in the game and hope that you can get the shape and tiles to fill it in later in the game. If you can pull it off, you can score big. But if things don’t break your way, you’re sunk. Such a strategy is more viable in a two player game because the tile and flower supplies don’t change as much turn to turn. You can strategize your acquisitions a bit more. But with more players, everything changes so quickly that you’ll be relying more on hope than strategy.
Whatever strategy you choose, you must keep in mind that you only have five tiles to fill. (Possibly less if someone finishes five before you.) You don’t have a lot of time for big plans to pan out, especially since a tile is filled when it’s taken. It’s not like someone takes a tile and then fills it over three turns. The game moves pretty quickly and you have to be able to adjust on the fly to stay competitive. Some people might be bothered by the speed, but I find that the quickness of the game and the fact that it can end quickly means that every decision matters more than it would in a longer game. You have to make your moves count, whether that’s to move yourself forward, or hinder your opponents. About that…
In addition to whatever building strategy you choose to deploy, you’ll find yourself having to think tactically, as well. Since the active player is the one to move the gardener forward, he or she can look at what their opponent is doing and try to leave the gardener in an unfavorable position. (This reminds me a bit of Cat Lady.) As the game goes on, the flower field starts to empty out. It’s possible to dump the gardener on a row with just one flower… A flower that won’t help your opponent at all. This means that, at times, it may be to your advantage to take flowers you don’t need in order to stick it to an opponent. It’s not always worth it, but it’s fun to weigh the option.
It’s also fun to score points. The game gives you a variety of ways to score. You can build groups of flowers, or surround hives with bees. Completing all the honey types can earn you points, depending on how quickly you do it. Even incidental things like moving the gardener into an empty row, or getting him past the arrow space on the board, can score small amounts of points. You can try to specialize in one area and rack up big points by doing so, or deploy a broader strategy and try to rake in lots of smaller points. (There are risks to either plan, though.) I really enjoy games like this because I like feeling that I’m never without an option. There’s usually something to do that can boost my point total, even if only a little bit. This kind of game bugs some people, but for a light family game I find that it feels fun, and it makes things feel fairer.
Games like this also tend to have good replayability for me because I know that next time there’s going to be a new thing to try. Maybe I’ll try a new strategy, or the flowers and tiles will come out in ways that force me to rethink what worked the last time. It’s not the kind of game that will take you months to discover, but it is the kind of game that offers a slightly different puzzle each time.
Queenz is super easy to learn and play, which is important to me these days. I have limited gaming time and find myself drifting more and more toward games that have low rules overhead and time requirements, but which still require players to make decent decisions. This describes Queenz to a T.
The artwork is lovely and the colors are bright. It’s an attractive game that will draw players in like, well, bees to flowers. But… The components themselves are hit and miss. Hits: The flower tiles are nice and thick, and the honey pots and hives are chunky wooden bits. Misses: The cardboard used for the polyominoes and the boards is really thin and needs careful handling. Also, the scoring tokens are tiny, hard to handle, and are a bit too big for the scoring spaces they cover. This isn’t a tragedy, more of an annoyance. You just may need to keep a sharp eye on your point total.
Besides the up and down component quality, what else might bug you about the game? Well, there’s not much as long as you’re up for a light, quick, family game that involves tile laying and set collection with an interesting drafting mechanism on top. However, for people who are looking for the next big thing in gaming, you won’t find it here.
Queenz is a blend of mechanisms most gamers have seen before. Multiple scoring options? Check. Polyominoes? Check. Draft mechanism where the active player sets up the next player? Check. It’s all familiar and comfortable. I like games that take the familiar and mix it up in a way that’s still fun, if not the freshest thing on the block. Others prefer that everything feel novel and innovative. If that’s you, Queenz probably isn’t going to make you happy.
Overall, I found Queenz to be an enjoyable experience. It’s not the kind of game that requires deep thought or twenty plays to uncover all of the nuances. It’s a quick, light, puzzly experience for those who don’t have a ton of time, or a desire to fry their brains. It feels warm and fuzzy to play (kind of like a bee’s bottom), and the bright artwork is nice on a long winter’s night. These are bees I’ll be friendly with for quite a while.
Unlike Jennifer, I didn’t expect much from Queenz. While I like some beautiful abstracts (Azul, Kilt Castle), others (like Santorini) leave me wishing for something else. And we’re living in the age of beautiful abstracts! How does Queenz stack up?
Queenz reminds me a lot of Azul–and it doesn’t suffer by the comparison.
Queenz feels like Azul for people who enjoy more puzzly gameplay with less meanness. It’s entirely possible in Azul to stick a competitor with lots of negative points. In Queenz, there’s definitely interaction–you can position the gardener so it’s less advantageous for your opponents, or you can take the field tile they wanted, or you can snag the honey pots bonus before them–but it doesn’t feel as punitive. There are no negative points, and aside from the gardener positioning, most moves that will hurt the other players will also greatly help yourself.
Perhaps the thing that surprised me most about Queenz is how much your decisions matter, and how many opportunities you have to change the game state. As Jennifer said, you are trying to build the best garden for scoring. At first, the polyomino flower fields seemed like another mechanism to throw in the stew–adding a little flavor, perhaps, but not much substance–and I thought they’d get lost in the rest of the game. But the flower fields are very important. You’re trying to align flowers to score multiple times and get honey pots, you’re trying to put your flowers with bees near hives, and you’re trying to squeeze every point you can get out of your holdings. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “The difference between the almost-right field and the right field is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” The flower fields are subtly different shapes, but they can really affect what you do.
Which makes timing very important in Queenz. On your turn, you must either take flowers or plant a field, and you have to fill up every space on a field to take one. If you really need a specific field, is it worth taking flowers that are less valuable to you just to fill it before your opponents? Or if you don’t see the right field you need, can you afford to take fewer flowers to wait until the fields refill so you have better options? A game of Queenz goes fast–30 minutes is probably the upper limit–so you can’t punt every turn.
I like the different ways to score points, and the drafting mechanism–allowing you to take one, two, or three flowers, depending on bees and colors–makes for some excruciating choices. A flower with three bees? That’s an opportunity you don’t want to miss! But are you missing out on better stuff by taking it, or are you setting your opponent up for a good turn that will work with their strategy? You can certainly play Queenz breezily–the rules are a cinch–but I was surprised how the subtlety of the rules opens up into good choices and interaction with experience.
The draft is what feels most like Azul, because what you choose affects the choices of what’s available to the next players down the line. Again, this portion of the game isn’t as mean as Azul can be, but it still involves some good considerations. Is it worth taking something slightly less good to put the next player in an even worse position? You can also send the gardener to an empty row or column to score points, but at the cost of opening up options for the next player. Queenz is full of trade-offs, which means it’s okay in my book. Of course, I also like puzzly spatial games, and Queenz’ balance of polyomino fields, bees and beehives, and continuous scoring for colored fields means it’s one I’m always willing to play.
As Jennifer said, the components are mostly nice, but the polyomino fields were some of the hardest tiles I’ve ever had to remove for frames for a board game. They’re thin and don’t feel very nice (which is a sharp contrast to the rest of the game). Still, once they’re punched, they work fine, they just do feel a little cheap compared to the rest of the game. At least the flowers themselves are thick and bright.
Queenz scratches a lot of similar itches to Azul, but it scratches them in a different way. I think it will be the ideal game for someone who likes the idea of Azul but not the meanness, or for players who like the drafting of Azul but want a more interesting puzzle to work on once they draft their tiles. I like both games, but for me Azul has the slight edge. That being said, I enjoy both and intend to keep both in my collection.