Minecraft is arguably one of the most popular video games of all time. While I wouldn’t consider myself to be one of the biggest fans of the game, I still find the game to be quite enjoyable. How could you not enjoy a game that allows you to explore and create almost anything you want? With how popular the franchise has been, it has lead to a lot of merchandise over the years. I have to admit that I was kind of surprised that there haven’t been as many board games created for the series as I was expecting. It somewhat makes sense as it would honestly be pretty hard to adapt the video game mechanics into an enjoyable board game. Around five years ago there was a card game made, and last year Minecraft Builders & Biomes was released. While I am a fan of Minecraft I was a little skeptical about Minecraft Builders & Biomes as I was worried that like most games based on licenses it would just be another game that was created to make a quick buck. Minecraft Builders & Biomes is not perfect, but it does a surprisingly good job adapting Minecraft for the world of board games.
How to Play Minecraft Builders & Biomes
- Shuffle the building and mob tiles together. Place the tiles face down on the table into a 4 x 4 grid with four tiles in each stack. Leave enough space between the tiles so the players can place their pieces between the tiles.
- Shuffle the colorless weapon tokens and place one face down along the edges by each tile (don’t place any on the corners).
- Place the block base next to the grid so everyone can easily reach it. Assemble the support structure and place it on top of the block base. Place the wooden blocks into the support structure gently shaking the base so they form a giant cube. Once the giant cube is formed remove the support structure.
- Each player chooses a color and takes the corresponding player board. Each player will also take the corresponding game piece base, experience counter, and five colored weapon tokens.
- The experience counter is placed on the zero space of each player’s player board.
- Each player will shuffle their five weapon tokens and place them in a face down pile next to their player board.
- Choose a game piece and slide it into your base. All of the game pieces are then placed in the center of the grid.
- Place the two sets of overview cards in front of the players so everyone can easily see one of the groups of cards.
- The player who most recently found a diamond in Minecraft will start the game. Otherwise the youngest player will start the game.
Playing the Game
Minecraft Builders & Biomes is divided into three scoring rounds. In each round players will take turns performing different actions on their turn. During each player’s turn they will get to take two actions. They can choose which actions they would like to perform, but they can’t perform the same action twice on their turn. The actions that players can choose from are as follows:
- Collect Blocks
- Explore the Overworld
- Fight a Mob
- Collect a Weapon
After a player has taken their two actions play will pass to the next player clockwise.
If you choose this action you will get to take two blocks from the large cube. Players can choose blocks of any color from any layer of the cube. There are two rules that must be followed when taking blocks though.
- Your chosen block’s top side must be visible. Basically the block can’t have another block on top of it.
- The block must have at least two other sides that are visible.
When you have chosen a block you will take it from the cube and add it to your own supply.
Explore the Overworld
When you choose this action you have the ability to move your character zero, one, or two spaces. Each space where two or more tiles meet in the grid is considered a space. Multiple players can be in the same position at a time. Even if all of the tiles from a stack have been removed from the grid, that space still exists for movement.
After you have finished moving you will reveal the tiles that are next to your current position (this includes both the building/mob tiles and the weapon tokens). If some of these were already revealed you will leave them revealed.
When you choose this action you will be able to build one of the buildings that are on an adjacent space to your current location. To build the building you need to have the blocks shown in the bottom right corner of the tile that you want to build in your own supply. All green blocks are considered wilds so they can be used as any other color when building. You will discard these blocks from your supply to the box, and will take your chosen tile.
You will then be able to place the tile on any space on your player board. You can place the tile on any space even if it features a different biome/environment than the tile you are placing. You may also place a tile on top of another tile that you placed on a previous turn. The covered up tile will no longer count for the rest of the game.
If the tile you chose has the icon shown below in the top right corner, you will gain the following number of experience points. You will move your experience counter the corresponding number of spaces along the outside of your player board.
Fight a Mob
When you are on a space and there is a mob/monster on one of the adjacent tiles you can choose to fight it. You may look at your weapon tokens before choosing to fight a mob to make sure you can potentially defeat it.
If you choose to take this action you will shuffle your weapons tokens and reveal three of them. You will count up the number of hearts on the tokens that you revealed. If the tokens have as many or more hearts than the mob that you are fighting, you will defeat it. You will remove it from the grid and place it face down near your player board. The number in the top right corner is the amount of experience that you will immediately earn from defeating the mob.
If your revealed tokens have less hearts than the mob, the mob remains where it is and nothing else happens.
In either case you will keep all of the weapon tokens that you revealed. They will be shuffled back in with your other tokens.
There are two different kind of mobs which grant you special abilities during the game after you defeat them.
If you defeat a mob with the symbol in the top left corner that is shown below, you can trade it in on a future turn to take a third action on your turn. When you choose to use this mob you will begin by taking your first two actions like normal. You will then return the mob card to the box in order to take your third action. For this action you can choose to take one of the actions that you chose for one of your first two actions.
Mob cards that feature the symbol shown in the top left corner below will gain you more experience at the end of the game. You will gain experience equal to the number for each tile on your player board that features the other symbol.
Collect A Weapon
When a player is next to a weapon they can use one of their actions to acquire it. They will add the chosen weapon to the rest of their weapon tokens.
Some of the weapon tokens in the game have special abilities which are activated when they are revealed during a fight. These special token are as follows:
Bow: When a player reveals a bow they will get to draw an additional weapon token during the fight. Each additional bow you draw adds another weapon token that you will draw. For example the first bow you draw will allow you to draw four tokens total. You second bow will allow five tokens and so on.
Golden Hoe: When a golden hoe is revealed during a fight you will immediately receive two experience points.
Stone Pickaxe: If a stone pickaxe is revealed during a fight you will get to immediately take one block from the big cube. When choosing your block though you will have to follow all of the other rules regarding taking a block from the big cube.
TNT: The TNT is the only weapon token in the game that is a one time use weapon. When you draw the TNT you can choose whether you want to use it. If you choose not to use it, it will count as zero hearts. If you choose to use it though it will deal five hearts of damage. After using the TNT it will be discarded to the box.
During Minecraft Builders & Biomes there will be three scoring rounds. Each scoring round is conducted when the corresponding layer of blocks is removed from the big cube. Scoring is not conducted until the current player has completed their full turn.
- First Scoring Round: First Layer
- Second Scoring Round: Second Layer
- Third Scoring Round: Third Layer
Multiple scoring rounds could be triggered at the same time. In this case you will score the first triggered round and then move onto the next scoring round.
After the third scoring round the game will end with some additional end game scoring.
To score a round you will begin with the player who triggered the scoring round. Each scoring round gives players four different characteristics that they can score from. Each player will choose one of the four characteristics to score. Multiple players can choose the same characteristic. The scoring characteristics for each scoring round are as follows:
- First Round: Biomes – forest (3 exp), desert (4 exp), mountains (5 exp), snowy tundra (6 exp)
- Second Round: Materials (second symbol along left side of tiles) – wood (3 exp), sand (4 exp), stone (5 exp), obsidian (6 exp)
- Third Round: Type (third symbol along left side of tiles) – decoration (3 exp), dwelling (4 exp), animal house (5 exp), bridge (6 exp)
Once a player has chosen their characteristic they will look for their largest group of connected spaces on their gameboard that feature that characteristic. For the first round this includes the tiles printed on your player board. For the second and third rounds only tiles you place on your board will feature the characteristic. Diagonal spaces do not count as a connected space. You will multiply the number of connected spaces by the value of the characteristic you chose. You will earn the corresponding amount of experience points. For each experience point earned you will move your marker one space along the experience point track.
Once everyone has scored for the current round the game returns to normal gameplay (unless two scoring rounds were triggered). Play will resume with the player after the player that triggered the scoring round.
End of Game
The game ends after the third scoring round.
Before comparing the player’s experience points players will score points for the mobs they defeated during the game that have the special scoring symbols. For each visible tile on your player board with the corresponding symbol you will score experience points equal to the number. These spaces do not need to be next to one another in order to score points.
All of the players will then compare their scores. The player with the most experience points wins the game. If there is a tie, the tied player with the most unused blocks in their supply will win. If there is still a tie, the tied players share the victory.
Beginner Game Variant
If you would like to play an easier game you can alter the scoring. Instead of only scoring tiles with the characteristic that are next to one another, you will score points for each space that has the chosen characteristic.
My Thoughts on Minecraft Builders & Biomes
The main reason that I didn’t have high expectations for Minecraft Builders & Biomes is that I didn’t think it was really going to be possible to translate the video game into a board game. Minecraft is a complex game featuring lots of different mechanics that I didn’t think could be replicated in a board game. In addition to the obvious mining; there is also crafting/building, exploration and combat. While I thought a game could maybe be created around one or two of these mechanics, I didn’t really expect a game to incorporate all of these elements. Minecraft Builders & Biomes incorporates some of the elements better than others, but I was genuinely surprised by this aspect of the game. Instead of a quick cash grab, you can tell real effort was put into trying to make Minecraft Builders & Biomes a genuinely good Minecraft game.
Lets begin with the exploration mechanics. A key to Minecraft is exploring the world and going on adventures as you look for new things to do. This element of the game is basically implemented in the movement mechanic of the board game. For one of your actions you can move around the grid revealing the tiles on your neighboring spaces. While it sucks to waste an action moving, it is key to the game as you can’t just stay on the same space all game. You need to move around the board in order to acquire buildings for your player board as well as fight mobs. This mechanic is nothing special, but it is a necessary mechanic that helps bring the other mechanics together. I will say that I am not a fan of revealing the neighboring tiles and then having another player move in and take the tile you want before you have an opportunity to acquire it though.
While on the topic of exploring lets move onto combat. The combat in Minecraft Builders & Biomes is kind of basic. Throughout the game you can acquire various weapons to help you out. These can either allow you to deal more damage or give you other benefits. To fight a mob/creature you basically draw three tokens hoping to deal more damage than the creature’s health. If you acquire more weapons you increase your odds of defeating the creature, but there is still an element of luck as you will always have three tokens that deal zero damage. This mechanic is simple and quick. I just wish there was a little more depth to it as in some ways it kind of feels like an afterthought.
With the exploration and combat out of the way, lets move onto the mining mechanic which really intrigued me. I honestly was curious how the game would handle this mechanic where it felt like the video game while still being enjoyable. This is the area of the game where I think Ulrich Blum (the designer) deserves the most credit. The mining mechanic does a surprisingly good job recreating the video game while also being a fun and unique board game mechanic. Basically the game has you create a small chunk of a world by randomly forming a large cube with individual blocks. When you choose to mine you will then take blocks from the cube slowly disassembling the cube. This genuinely feels similar to mining in the video game as you take out one block at a time to get to the resources that you truly want.
What I really liked about this mechanic in Minecraft Builders & Biomes is that I can’t recall ever playing another board game that has utilized a similar mechanic before. The mining mechanic is basically used to acquire blocks which are then used to create buildings. On your turn you can choose two blocks. The only rules for which blocks you can take are that it can’t have any blocks on top of it and at least two other faces have to be visible. Outside of the first couple of blocks, this leaves a lot of options open to the players. At times it will be obvious what blocks you should take. Other times you really need to analyze your options though as you might need to take one block to open up another that you want. You also don’t want to leave valuable blocks for the other players to take on their turn. In theory this mechanic isn’t that difficult, and yet there can be quite a bit of strategy at times.
Acquiring blocks are key because they are used to acquire buildings which ultimately score you most of your experience in the game. Basically each building in the game has three elements. Each tile has a biome, material, and type. Each of these characteristics will be scored during the game. The key to doing well in the game is deciding which characteristics you are going to emphasize and then acquire tiles that have those on them. You will then try to connect these tiles together on your player board in order to score more points.
In general I liked the scoring in Minecraft Builders & Biomes. I think it does a good job balancing between simplicity and yet having enough strategy and planning where it feels like you have an actual impact on what happens in the game. Basically most of the game’s strategy is built around choosing the characteristics that you are going to emphasize in each scoring round, and then planning ahead to acquire tiles to create a large connected group. The game gives you four different options for each scoring round. Some of the options score less points, but are much easier to acquire so you can build a larger group. Others are harder to acquire, but are worth more points. Because of this players have to choose between quantity or quality. Unlike a lot of games it is actually quite a bit easier to score more points from the first round than later rounds, so it is best to have a strategy ready to go from early on in the game.
I was impressed by how well Minecraft Builders & Biomes utilized the Minecraft theme. Beyond that though it is a genuinely good game. Fans of the franchise will obviously get more out of the game than someone who knows nothing about Minecraft. I think those who could care less about the theme can still enjoy the game though. I say this because the game does a good job finding a group of mechanics that work well together to craft an enjoyable game. The mechanics feed into one another well where you need to plan ahead in order to implement your strategy. There is a sense of accomplishment when your plan comes together, and you are able to score a lot of points in one of the scoring rounds.
One of the reasons that I thought Minecraft Builders & Biomes works so well is that it does a good job finding the right balance between simplicity and strategy. I will admit that the game may take a little while to teach to new players as it has a number of mechanics that won’t be familiar to people that don’t play a lot of board games. You have a number of different actions that you can take which entails a number of different mechanics to learn. It may take a couple turns to fully grasp what you are trying to do, but then the game is really easy to play. The various mechanics are quite straightforward and on most turns you likely will figure out pretty quickly what you want to do. This is a good thing for the game as it allows the game to be played by children as well as adults.
For the most part I thought the game was around the right length. Early in the game it seems like the game is going to end really quickly. Players will likely take a lot of blocks early in order to start adding buildings to their player boards. As you progress in the game though the cube begins to shrink and it becomes quite a bit harder to get blocks that you need for specific buildings. The cube usually has a few straggler blocks in each layer that no players seem to want which extends the game. Maybe it could just be due to how the cube was constructed for our group, but it took until at least halfway through the game for the first scoring round to be conducted. The scoring rounds can then move really quickly as you could have two or more scoring rounds within just a couple turns. For this reason you have to always keep track of how close a scoring round is so you can maximize your score beforehand.
Minecraft Builders & Biomes is a good board game and much better than anything I would have expected from the Minecraft license. The game does have a couple issues though that prevent it from being as good as it could have been.
Probably the biggest issue that I had with the game is that it is not the deepest experience. As I mentioned earlier a few of the mechanics are kind of basic. The exploration and fighting mechanics in particular aren’t particularly deep. The game relies on some strategy, but usually the best decision to make on your turn is pretty obvious. This ultimately makes the game rely on a little more luck than I would have liked. You could have a good strategy, but if the right tiles don’t get revealed you will have to adjust your strategy on the fly. This doesn’t mean that Minecraft Builders & Biomes is a bad game. It just isn’t going to be for people that are looking for a really deep experience as some of the mechanics probably could have been fleshed out a little more.
I also kind of question how much player interaction there is in Minecraft Builders & Biomes. In a way the game kind of feels like each player is trying to complete their own little puzzle in order to score the most points. Pretty much all of the player interaction in the game comes from players messing with one another. Between the other players taking the blocks or tiles that you need, to fighting mobs that you were planning on fighting; they can have a decent impact on your fate in the game. Outside of this though it kind of feels like each player is playing their own game and then comparing scores at the end of the game.
As for Minecraft Builders & Biomes’ components there were things that I liked and others that I thought could have been better. The thing that I liked the most were the wooden blocks which are used to create the large cube. The blocks were considerably larger than I was expecting and it was surprisingly easy to form the cube. I thought the game also did a good job utilizing the Minecraft theme with the artwork. Any fan of Minecraft will likely really appreciate the components. The biggest complaint that I have with them is just that the game relies on quite a bit of cardboard where the components feel a little cheap at times.
Should You Buy Minecraft Builders & Biomes?
Based on how most licensed games turn out, I can’t say that I had high expectations for Minecraft Builders & Biomes. I was genuinely surprised by the game though as it is much more than a simple money grab. I never thought Minecraft could be translated to a board game very well and yet it works. Minecraft Builders & Biomes builds mechanics around all of the major elements of Minecraft and they do a good job translating the game into a board game. The exploration and fighting mechanics are kind of basic, but still enjoyable. The mining mechanics are the most interesting part of the game as they do a good job replicating the video game while also giving players some interesting strategic decisions. These work well with the building mechanics as you try to create large groups of tiles that share the same characteristics. The mechanics do a good job working together to create an enjoyable experience that the whole family can enjoy. The biggest issue with the game is that parts of it seem kind of basic where there is a reliance on luck and not a lot of player interaction.
My recommendation depends on a couple factors. If you are a fan of Minecraft you likely will really enjoy Minecraft Builders & Biomes, and should consider picking it up as you are unlikely to find a better board game based on the franchise. Even if you don’t really care for the video game though, you can still enjoy the board game if the mechanics sound fin. If you want a more complex game though or don’t think it sounds all that interesting, it may not be for you.