Bethel Woods was a Kickstarter co-operative board game back from September 2016. According to the box, it is a game for 2-4 players, 12+ and takes about 40 minutes. I received mine sometime in the March/February 2017 timeframe.
Bethel Woods is a cooperative game where the players have to build a machine:
the DreamCatcher to win. Each player plays one of 8 characters (see below)
with a different power.
The game takes place in, shockingly, the Bethel Woods. (see below).
On a player’s turn, they move around some workers who can “fix” certain parts of the machine. At the end of every players turn, a new malfunction shows up. The malfunctions are colored and numbered and come from a bag.
Three (possibly four) malfunctions come out every turn and atrophy one of the six machines on the board.
When the malfunctions run out, the players lose. If too many machines are malfunctioning (four), the players lose. Finally, if too many spies come out the players lose. A spy come out when a machine malfunctions.
The spies are like malfunctions, but harder to get rid of.
Overall, I like this game. It’s a very puzzly game. The components and art are apropos, and I think the board (in particular) really pops. If you are looking for a medium-weight co-op game of about 40 minutes, this is fun. It’s not too complex, but still presents a good challange.
There are some issues you should be aware of.
The rulebook is fine. Not great, not bad. I was able to learn the game in about 30 minutes by reading the rules and setting it up. I maybe got one or two rules wrong the first time, but I was up quickly and playing. My only real complaint is that the rules are very dark. The black background was a little hard to read. Arguably, it’s very thematic. But I had a
little trouble with it.
Each player plays one of eight characters, where each character has a special power.
I didn’t realize it until I played the second time, but eveyone (except Fenn) looks really depressed! I remember being bummed after my first play through, and I wonder if just looking at all those gloomy faces really set me back. I don’t know about you, but seeing a *kid* depressed makes me extra sad.
I know these are orphans in a alien-infested world fighting for the world, but man, they really bummed me out. I tend to play with Fenn, just because he’s doesn’t look all depresssed!
Don’t get me wrong, here. I like the art. It fits the game—it reminds me of illustrations in a kid’s book (which is very thematic for the orphanage kids).
The characters special power are minor, but they are useful. The powers are important enough that they will probably make a difference between winning and losing. (The text at the bottom was kind of hard to read because they are dark).
The board really pops.
It’s easy to see where things go. My one complaint is that I wasn’t sure what the things in the middle of the board represent.
I thought, for quite a while, that I needed to discard those knowledge cards to enter the orphanage. Nope! They are just repeating information on the edge of the board (the starting conditions). This was probably the most confusing thing in the rules. Honestly, I think they could have gotten rid of those markers in the middle and it would have made the game better. The are distracting and don’t do anything but repeat information.
On your turn, you grab a bunch of worker at one machine and move them around the board (clockwise or counter-clockwise, your choice) dropping off one worker as you go to fix malfunctions. A red worker can only fix a red malfunction, a blue worker can only fix a blue malfunction, and so on. They have different names, (engineer, technician, electrician, mechanic), but I never used those names once I left the rulebook.
I like the idea that the when a worker fixes a malfunction, you gain the malfunction as a knowledge token. That’s pretty cool! “You learn from fixing the machines!”
The workers are fine and easy to grab:
They are all different looking, but I guess I never really concentrated on that. I am very glad they are different colors! The color (not the name) is what’s important. It was very easy to know what worker fixed what malfunction: just match the color. It was easy to see across the board and work it out without having to pick up and investigate tokens. I appreciated that! That made turns easy and quick (from that perspective at least).
Single Player Rules
Sigh. When will designers learn Saunders’ Law? There are NO solo player rules in the rulebook at all. Luckily, it’s really easy to play solo: the solo player plays two characters. Done. It’s really obvious that this is the way to play solo, but a single sentence in the rulebook would have gone a long way … something like …
“Bethel Woods plays 2-4 players, where each player chooses and plays one character. The solo player can play Bethel Woods by simply playing two characters and alternating between them.”
The game plays fine solo (two characters) and this is how I learned it so I could teach my friends. I think they could easily say 1-4 players on the box and not be lying.
Gameplay is fairly straight-forward.
A player figures which workers to pick up, which direction to move, which malfunctions to fix (by dropping which a single color worker on each spot). The last worker is special: that worker can go and try to build the next stage of the DreamCatcher rather than go to next spot.
You can only win if you build the DreamCatcher: you have to keep discarding more and more knowledge to build the next stage. There are 6 stages and it costs X knowledge to build stage X. By stage 6, you have to collect 6 knowledge and discard it at the orphanage.
But you can only enter the Orphanage at six points: one an entrance has been used, that entrance cannot be used again. It’s even worse than that, you lose a worker when he enters the orphanage! And the knowledge all has to be the same color and the same color as the worker.
What makes this game hard is that you lose workers as you build the machine, which makes it harder to keep the machines from malfunctioning (as there are fewer workers to move around).
Is there paralysis analysis in the game? It wasn’t too bad. There’s not too much to do on our turn, so you don’t have to look too much into the future to figure a good move. It really depends on how much you want to look ahead. BUT since you have no idea what malfunctions will come out at the end of your turn, you can’t plan more than a few moves in advance.
There’s two sides of this. Since you can’t do that much on your turn, it seems like there’s usually an obvious move. “Hey! That group of 4 workers can fix 4 different malfunctions if you move them!” So, unless you are setting someone else to fix the DreamCatcher, usually, your move is fairly obvious.
But, in the end game, there is a lot more thought, and you will find yourself planning moves out to set-up the last worker to go in and fix the last piece of the DreamCatcher.
Overall, this works pretty well. The beginning game is quick, and people get into the game, even if the proper move is obvious. Once people are invested, the game gets harder and much more thinky as you have to plan the last few moves.
So expect some analysis paralysis in the end game, but otherwise turns will be brisk and fun.
In the end, this reminds me a little of Pandemic. Keep the malfunctions (infections) under control so players can decide when build the DreamCatcher (cure disease). That’s not a bad comparison because I love Pandemic. I like the theme a little better in Bethel Woods, although the world still ends if you lose in both games.
My main problem with the game is that it gets a little samey. You do the same things over and over: move workers. Luckily, it’s a short game so that mechanic doesn’t wear out. But, I feel there’s “something” missing! It would have been great if maybe …
- A one-time use power for each character?
- Choose how many workers to place when you move?
- A way to reseed the bag with malfunctions?
- Knock over a worker to “prevent” malfunctions on machine during
the malfunction placing?
I’m not sure, I just wanted “one more little choice” I could make on my turn. That would have made it just a little more fun.
Again, I need to say that I like this game. It’s a simpler Pandemic in many ways. I can teach Bethel Woods much more quickly than Pandemic, and it has fewer moving parts. I think younger players will like this better than Pandemic: both the theme and gameplay are a little more appealing.
I like Bethel Woods and will keep it in my collection. It’s a simpler Pandemic and I think it will be a good gateway game for younger gamers. I also like it as a solo game for when I just want a medium-weight puzzle game without too much set-up and without too much maintenance per turn.
I think in the long-run, an expansion could make a deeper game that might be more appealing to heavier gamers. Some things I’d love to see:
- Bethel Woods: Golem expansion. Adds a golem the players control who can fix more malfunctions autonomously, but can take malfunctions himself.
- Bethel Woods: Dark Forest Expansion. Adds one-time powers to each player, but also adds a drone which moves and can kill workers. Also adds rules for placing multiple players as well as keeping workers at one spot and working.
… but this is just me blue-skying.