Beasts of Balance is a physical game which is linked to a digital world. Not in the way that Skylanders or Lego Dimensions is – as most of the gameplay takes place in the real world. Let me explain.
The goal is simply to balance the various beasts and objects aboard the plinth. It’s a bit like Jenga in that sense. The twist comes in the digital world – the plinth connects via Bluetooth to an appropriate device (so your phone or tablet) and to recognise that the object is on the plinth, you have to tap the symbol on it with that on the plinth and then place it. This transmits a signal so that the digital world recognises what is going on and a digital form is born.
An example: warthog is used in the tutorial, and you tap him on the bottom of the plinth, place him on and and in your game world appears a warthog. Perhaps the next beast you place is shark, same deal, you tap him and balance him on the same plinth as warthog. Shark appears in the game world.
This is where things start to get tricky, and where the ‘balance’ of Beasts of Balance inherits a secondary meaning. Shark has more star points than warthog. The more star points in your world collectively, the higher your score. However, since shark has more, warthog gets jealous. Each ‘turn’ then, all of the jealous animals will lose one star point.
When they’re out of star points, the beast becomes extinct. You need to balance your ecosystem to keep everything alive and thriving, to earn more points. Fortunately there are some other objects to help you with this. The first are elements. Elements are odd shaped blocks that will boost all air, land or water beasts depending on what element you stack (they are in two parts, so one will be a land and water, one air and land). There is also a fire element, which gives a boost to whichever beast has a firefly near it at that time. Immediately the depth becomes apparent as there’s now a strategic element to building your tower. Not only are you concentrating on stacking, but also the order in what you need to stack is dependant on your ecosystem.
Artefacts add another layer of gameplay. Cross artifacts are white blocks (in the shape of a cross) which evolve two animals based on the path of the firefly in your world. This allows you to create new beasts and complete your Bestiary over time (collecting them all). The migrate artefacts (a straight arrow type block) will boost and transport an animal from its home biome to another – so a warthog might move to the sea and transform into another beast. The combination of evolving, migrating and evolving again means you’re balancing star power and playing for multipliers along with encountering all of the different sorts of beasts in your world.
The final two pieces are miracle artefacts. These add clouds into your game world which collect all of the lost stars for jealous beasts. However, they add a challenge. Firstly, the blocks are very oddly shaped meaning they are challenging to stack. They also add a challenge in the digital game, requiring you to either tap the screen at intervals, hold the screen while placing a block or adding a timer.
The digital world is bright and colourful with some great and fun artwork on all of the digital beasts. The sounds complement this, it’s fun and intuitive to play. The real star is the physical items themselves. You’ll see from the pictures that the blocks are all nicely coloured and they are very carefully crafted in terms of their dimensions. They have a variety of shapes and sizes which makes stacking interesting with seemingly infinite possibilities. The are fairly geometric – lots of flat sides and angles which adds to the capability and potential stacking variations. The finish on them is really good, it feels like a premium product – even the packaging is fantastic.
The artifacts all feel solid but not too weighty – light enough to stack but without destroying your furniture when it all falls down. And it will fall down eventually, with 25 pieces in the box you’re not going to be able to stack them all so choice is really important as to what you stack (balanced against what you need to stack). When your tower falls over, the volcano begins to erupt in your digital world. If you can rebuild it all quickly then you can carry on. If not, it explodes, your world is wiped out, high score is saved and you’ll have to start all over.
I can’t really articulate how much fun this is as it’s the sort of game you really need to play. But the brilliance here is that it combines lots of different types of games and does them all really well. The digital game is fun to play and look at, with different beasts to create and discover. The strategy element is deep, complex but intuitive rewarding experimentation and balances risk and reward. The physical game alone would be great fun, it’s well built, cleverly designed and fun to interact with.
Beasts of Balance caught my eye at Eurogamer 2016 and I’m so glad I stopped by to play it there, but honestly from just looking at some of the videos and pictures online from those who have the set would be enough to justify my curiosity. It brings together a multitude of positive memories, experiences and elements from different eras of my gaming life, I can’t wait to share it with others. And so far, everyone who has seen it has wanted to play. And they’ve loved it.