The publisher gifted me a prototype copy of this game; however, I always strive to provide fair, honest opinions. The components shown and gameplay discussed are part of a prototype and are subject to change.
Game at a Glance
- Goat Rock Games
- Players: 1-4
- Ages: 12+
- Length: 60
- Mechanics: Tile Placement, Drafting, Set Collection
- Coming to Kickstarter November 2021
Man-made and natural forces have decimated Earth’s oldest rainforest. In Biome: Borneo players must work to restore balance to the forest by competing for space and resources to increase biodiversity in Borneo. In this tile-laying game, players will build up the plant life in three layers of the forest which will allow them to create a thriving ecosystem of animals.
The game comes with seven rainforest platforms (representing Emergent, Canopy, and Understory layers), a main deck of cards (including Objective, Disaster and Ability Cards), 45 plant tiles featuring eleven unique Bornean plants, and eight unique Global Bonus Cards.
The rainforest platforms are arranged however the players prefer and the plant tiles are scattered around the perimeter of the platforms, face-down. Players draw 5 cards from the deck and tiles are drawn from the board perimeter. Three cards from the deck are displayed face-up to create a card gallery, and 2 random Global Bonus Cards are revealed face-up. The game then begins.
Players then take turns choosing up to 2 actions: they may place tile(s) to earn objective cards, turn in tiles to draw new ones, or exchange cards from the draw pile or gallery. The primary goal is to play animal and plant objective cards. Each has icon requirements that must be met in order to be added to the players’ ecosystems. Animals consist of primary consumers, secondary consumers, and apex predators and can be played together to form food chains.
In order to play a card to your tableau, you must first play one or more tiles to the rainforest platforms, following the placement rules (e.g. the tile color must be matched to the rainforest layer). If the tiles played match any plants on previously-played tiles, the player has access to all the plant resources on those tiles as well for the purposes of playing one specific card. Any future card plays will require more tile placements to gather resources in the same way.
Objective cards always have a plant resource requirement, and some will have a food requirement. In general, primary consumers will only require plants and secondary consumers and apex predators will also require a food source established in the environment. Plant objective cards are also included and can be used for scoring, but they are not included in food chains.
Play continues until the last tile is drawn. After this each player gets one more turn, ending with the player who plucked the last tile. Scores are tallied from played objective cards and any global bonus points scored and the winner is declared. But really, everybody is a winner in this game because you all worked together to restore plants and wildlife to Borneo!
Biome: Borneo is a game with a message of conservation. The creators at Goat Rock games have chosen Borneo as the focus of their first game in order to bring attention to one of the places on Earth that needs it the most. It was developed in partnership with Project Borneo in an attempt to introduce this beautiful and endangered region to a world of players. The developers are passionate about the preservation of species and the future of the world’s oldest rainforest. While learning this game I also learned that Borneo is the world’s third largest island on Earth and also has the greatest deforestation risk.
When I was approached about this game I immediately was impressed with the mission of conservation. It was explained to me that the goal was to inspire curiosity about a natural wonder that many in the western world may not be familiar with while at the same time working with a NGO to support conservation. During the Kickstarter campaign, a portion of every game sold will be donated to Project Borneo, who have been working tirelessly to rehabilitate the Bornean wildlife and increase habitat conservation and community engagement.
The creators also wanted to make the game in a sustainable way. They are working to have it manufactured as locally as possible and sourced from environmentally-sustainable and repurposed sources, such as recycled abandoned fishing net from the Behring Sea.
Mission aside, the game is bound to attract fans of tile placement and nature themed games. Its rules are simple and easy to pick up. We did run into a bit of confusion about exactly how the tile placement mechanic works on a few edge cases so I would suggest adding a few more illustrated examples in the rulebook. Other than that, this game is easy to learn and teach.
Biome: Borneo has a very unique style and table-presence. The artwork is simple with a retro-style that is refreshing. The modular, honeycomb-shaped jungle platforms have a 3-dimensional quality that echoes the distinct rainforest layer habitats. I wouldn’t mind seeing an even more pronounced height-discrepancy in the final product to add an even more dramatic look. The cards are illustrated with clean vector-style plants and animals that include clear symbology and educational flavor text. Overall I am very pleased with the visuals of this game. Please note: this is a prototype copy and components are subject to change.
Biome: Borneo is highly replayable. There are eight different Global Objectives, two of which are used per game. These nudge players towards slightly different play styles in an attempt to achieve extra end-game victory points. Players going for the “Bug Collector” achievement will likely focus heavily on playing many inexpensive primary consumer cards however in a game with the “Longest Chain” card players will spend their tiles working towards creating a giant food chain if possible. These don’t affect the game fundamentals but do give players just enough incentive to make small adjustments to their strategy. In addition to the Global Objectives, the board is modular and can be rearranged in a variety of ways to add slightly different challenges.
I had mixed-opinions on the tile drafting mechanic. I like the idea of having a few tiles visible in a draft pool, similar to that of the card gallery. My husband disagrees and believes the challenge is in finding a strategy that works with the tiles you have. We both agree that towards the end of the game playing more expensive animal cards such as apex predators can be difficult due to space limitations. Tiles must be in a certain orientation to gain resources and towards the end there are fewer opportunities to collect. There are a few Ability Cards in the game that add flexibility here. Our favorite card has been “Blight” which allows players to remove a tile from the board and add it to their pool. Those cards are crucial towards the end of the game when the board is full and it is difficult to get needed resources to complete a food chain. I would like to see even more cards in the game that function similarly to this.
The feelings were not mixed on the subject of the Disaster Cards. We found them to be too disruptive for our personal play style. It’s understandable that poaching and fires can be devastating to these delicate areas, and I appreciate that teaching moment; however, for a relatively relaxing puzzle experience it felt jarring and out of place. The designers have indicated that these cards will likely be an optional add-in for the final design and I think that might be the right choice. When we took them out of the game it was more enjoyable for us. Players who prefer more chaos can choose to play with them.
Other than the distinct art style on the tiles, one of my favorite parts of the game are the Objective Cards. I really enjoy the process of building up the food chains. It’s a mechanic I really enjoy in the game Meadow and although this game doesn’t operate quite the same, it gives a similar feeling. I enjoy looking at the artwork on the cards, reading the flavor text, and anticipating what cards I will want to play next and trying to figure out how to make it happen with the tiles I have access to and the state of the game board.
This light- to medium-weight puzzle game should appeal to fans of nature-themes and tile-placement. There’s a strong message for conservation which I also think is incredibly appealing. I think this game will be a good fit for families with older children and gamers who enjoy abstract puzzles.
Biome: Borneo is a beautiful tile laying puzzle with a wonderful mission and message. The creators appear to be putting a lot of effort into making sure this passion project not only brings attention to a crisis on our planet, but also to “walking the walk” by doing everything they can to have this game manufactured in a thoughtful and sustainable way. Some of the proceeds from the Kickstarter campaign are going directly to Project Borneo as well. I for one am rooting for Biome: Borneo to have a successful Kickstarter campaign and am very excited to watch this project unfold.