HomeBoard Games4 the Birds: A Review

4 the Birds: A Review

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Credit: Breaking Games – Used with permission

Remember that classic game Connect Four and how much fun you had when you were able to get four of  your pieces in a row?  During my childhood, I spent a lot of time playing this game with my family and friends.  The fun of Connect Four is updated and modernized with more strategy and decision making in 4 The Birds. 

Components / Set-up

4 the Birds comes with thirty six player bird pawns, and thirty six tactic cards.  There are six each of the red cardinals, blue jays, yellow finches, orange orioles, purple martins and green budgies.  There are also six black crows and three hawks.  Depending on the number of players, you will use one set of the four custom dice.  The two d8s are for two to three player games and the two d10s are for four player and up games.  On the black die there is one face with a crow symbol and on the brown die, one face has a hawk symbol.

Depending the number of players, not all the numbers on the board will be used.  In a two or three player game, use the 7×7 grid, and for four to six players use the 9×9 grid.  Have each player choose a bird species and take the six birds and six action cards associated with that species.  Roll the two dice and place three crows on the board according to the placement rules explained later.  If the hawk symbol is rolled, place a hawk instead of a crow.

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Rules

The object of the game is to place four birds in either a square of four adjacent spaces or a straight line of four connected spots.

A player starts their turn by rolling the two dice.  The two numbers rolled equal two coordinates on the tree.  For example, if the player rolls a three or a six, the matching coordinates would be either thirty-six, or sixty-three.  If the player were to roll doubles, for example two threes, the only matching spot would be thirty-three.  A player also gets a bonus when they roll doubles; they can take back a played action card.  A bird must be placed on one of the two matching spaces.  If the player has already placed all six of their birds, they can move one already on the board.  If the rolled spots are not available, the player re-rolls the dice.

When one of the bird symbols is rolled, place the non-player bird matching the symbol.  A crow can be placed on any of the two available spots.  A hawk may be put on any of the red dot spots.  When both a hawk and a crow are rolled at the same time, the player may choose which bird to place.

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If, after rolling, the player may play a card instead of placing a bird.  They will choose a card from their active hand, follow the instructions and discard it on-top of a pile in front of the player.  Remember, when you roll doubles, you may pick up the top card of this pile.  Cards allow players to do certain special things.  For example, “shoo” lets a player remove a hawk in the tree, and “mock” lets the player move a crow to any space on the tree.

Because only one bird may occupy a spot at a time, a player may be blocked from placing a bird.  If a player has pecking order over the occupying bird, they may displace it.  Players have pecking order over the player to their left. In a two-player game, both players can displace each other.  A displaced bird must move to an adjacent connected spot.  If that spot is occupied, the process continues.  If a displaced bird has no available spaces to move to, it comes off the board.

Crows have pecking order over all other birds, essentially blocking spots to all players.  When all six crows are on the board, and a crow is rolled on the black die, choose one of the crows on the board to move.  When a hawk is rolled, they may be placed on any of the red dots on the board.  A hawk displaces all surrounding birds to the nearest available spot.  Displaced birds are moved in turn order.

 

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There are also some asterisk tokens included in the game.  These can be used when a player has played all their cards in their hand.  This player can either place a bird or put a token on any unoccupied space.  That covered spot is then out of play for the rest of the game.

Game End

The game ends as soon has a player has four of their birds either in a square of four adjacent spaces or a straight line of four spots connected by unbroken branch lines.  This player wins the game.

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My Thoughts

Simple rules that allow for a lot of strategy and thoughtful choices are a hallmark of many great abstract games.  This is true with 4 the Birds.  The complexity of the game isn’t in the rules.  It may take a few minutes to learn the rules for placement, pecking order, and how the crows and hawks work, but the complexity is in the decision making and strategy of the game.

Components 

The quality of the components of 4 the Birds is outstanding.  The birds are beautiful to look at, colorful and very eye-catching.  These birds drew me to the game, and made me want to learn more about it.  Still, for all their beauty and cuteness, we did have some problems with the birds.  We found that some color combinations work better than others.  At a glance, it is hard to tell the purple martins apart from the crows.  We also had to be careful on how we placed the birds on the board.  It is easy to tell the color and shape of the bird from the sides and the front, but difficult from the back.  We solved this problem by having players place the birds so they faced the same direction and didn’t have a player sit so they would only see the back of the birds.  Apart from these issues the birds are great, I love the tactical 3-D nature of the game, and it wouldn’t be as fun without them.  Because the hawks are so much bigger, and they go on the red dots, we didn’t feel the need to be as picky about their placement on the board.

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I also liked that there are three different designs to the birds.  These shapes allow a color blind player to still play in a game, with a small player count.  They may not be able to play a four or more player game but they could place in a two or three player game.

Having two sets of dice depending on the player count is necessary, so I’m glad they were included.  The dice are good quality, and the numbers and symbols are clear.  It is easy to tell the hawk from the crow, and the two different colors make it harder to misread them.

The cards are small, but they work for the game. The graphic design of the cards is clear and easy to read.  It is also easy to understand what to do with the card and, after a few plays, you will be familiar with the cards and know more about the strategy of when to use the them.

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Rules

It is a bit difficult to discuss the rules for this review because the Kickstarter and early versions of the game come with a one-page rule set without pictures.  While I admire the idea of trying to distill the rules down to one page, this is very difficult to pull off.  These rules are missing many of the things I look for in a rules booklet and leave some questions when playing the game.  Breaking Games and the designer Steve Ewoldt promise a more comprehensive rule set in future editions of the game.  This will probably address many of my rules issues.  Until that happens, the designer has been very helpful in answering my questions on Board Game Geek.

I look for certain things when I evaluate rules: a component list, a picture of set-up, examples, clear and easy to understand language, and if needed a summary on the back or a player aide.  4 the Birds is missing a few of these in the current rule set.  There is a component list on the back of the box, so it doesn’t technically need one in the rules.  As I said there were no pictures in the rules, but they will be added.  And after playing the game and reading the rules, a picture of set-up isn’t necessary for the game because the only thing that goes on the board are three non-player birds, which will be in different spots each game.  The rules do have a few examples, but could use more to explain some confusing points.  The rules as presented are easy to understand and read, but leave a few questions.  There is no player aide on the back of the rules nor  on a card.  There are notes on the board that explain the cards and tell you what to do on your turn.  It should be noted at this time that on the board “Shoo” says move or remove a cat and there isn’t a cat in the game.  Instead it should read move or remove a hawk.

The mechanisms and rules in the game are simple and straight forward: roll dice, place bird, get four in a row, win the game.  But the pecking order, action cards and randomness of the dice make this more than a simple connect four game.  The hawks and crows also add another layer of strategy, but not in an over complicated way.  4 the Birds is a solid family game because of the light rules, and the strategy will appeal and satisfy someone looking for a more complex game as well.

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Photo Credit: Breaking Games – Used with permission

Game Play

I admire games that take a familiar concept and modernize and update it with new strategies.  These familiar mechanics help new players to be more comfortable with the game, making it a family friendly game.  Of course, the graphics and birds help as well.  Quick gameplay and little downtime are also pluses.  Players feel engaged with the game even on other players turns.  You want to pay attention, as you might be displaced by pecking order, crows, or hawks.  This also means that there are a lot of ways to stop others from winning.  I admit, it is satisfying to move opponents birds with pecking order.  It isn’t as fun when your birds are moved.  Your opponents are going to try to mess up your strategy and move your birds around.  Because this is expected and part of the game, it isn’t devastating when it happens.  Besides, you can mess up their strategy as well.

The rules are simple, but there is a lot meaningful decisions and thoughtful planning needed to win the game.  Using your cards and the non-player birds to your advantage will help you win.  The cards cover all the basic ways to manipulate your own and other player’s birds, giving you plenty of options.  The cards let you move your birds, other players, and even the hawks and crows.  We found that smart use of the cards could help ensure a victory.  The game could be played without these cards to make it even more family friendly, but a lot of the strategy would be lost.  The cards add to the tactical puzzle.

Another aspect of strategy is how the spaces on the board are connected.  Some straight lines of four in a row are not connected by an unbroken line.  You need to be aware of this when deciding where to place your birds.  Displaced birds may be forced off if there is not a connecting line.  I also like that the board contracts with a lower player count.  It keeps the game tighter and doesn’t compromise the aesthetics or gameplay.  The outer grid is simply a different shade to make it easy to distinguish.

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The dice add a bit of randomness and luck, keeping the game family friendly.  I don’t usually enjoy straight abstract strategy games, so I like when dice or another type of randomizer is added.  Unexpectedly this game even had a “stand up” die roll to win the game.  Our friend needed to roll 73 to place his last bird and on his first roll he rolled a 7 and a 5.  He played the re-roll card, kept the 7 and then rolled the needed 3.  It was a great moment!

The hawks and crows add strategy and a bit of chaos to the game.  Placing crows to block other players or hawks to scare away a larger group is a lot of fun.  It can also start an interesting chain reactions.  A hawk may move four birds, who move more birds and so on, it can be a bit chaotic.  This also means that the board can quickly change, and that group you were working on could be gone very quickly.  Some may be turned off by this but, because the game plays so fast, it isn’t an issue.

Because of the card play and needing to look at the big picture of the game, adults and those who have played the game will have a slight advantage of children and new players.

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Overall

4 the Birds is a fast playing game that is entertaining and easy to understand.  The rules and strategy offer enough of a puzzle to keep you engaged, but at the same time are not too complex.  Simple mechanics and meaningful choices keep the game family friendly, but are also entertaining for more experienced players.  The player interaction keeps players engaged even when it is not their turn.

Good Points

  • Quick to play
  • Pecking Order mechanism
  • Beautiful artwork / components
  • Player Interaction
  • Dice add a bit of luck
  • Family game
  • Complexity is in the game play not the rules

Negatives

  • One page rules in first edition may be confusing
  • Adults may have an advantage over children

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Quick Stats

Designers: Steve Ewoldt
Artist: Ben Crenshaw
Publishers: Breaking Games
Players: 2-6
Game Length: 20-30 minutes
Ages: 8 and up

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