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Apiary: Buzzing with Excitement

Apiary Board Game by Stonemaier Games

Apiary, a recent board game published by Stonemaier Games, tells the story of the Mellifera, a highly advanced species of honeybee that grew in sentience and technology to fill the void left by humans on Earth (and beyond). They require your careful and thoughtful guidance to thrive before their yearly hibernation.

Designed by Connie Vogelmann, the Apiary board game features 20 asymmetrical factions to spice up your gaming experience, bumping bees around the board taking the various actions. You’ll need to keep acute tabs on your worker-bees as you help them shape and build their hive and travel through space.

So let’s see what all the buzz is about, and dive into Apiary!

Apiary Gameplay

The core gameplay loop of Apiary is relatively simple: on your turn you’re either going to place a worker or retrieve your workers. Placing a worker lets you take the corresponding action of that space, while retrieving workers will not give you any immediate action, but will instead increase the strength of your workers so that they’re better going forwards.

One of the unique things about the Apiary board game is that the worker bees (beeples) actually have four different sides that reflect their strength, from 1-4. Strength gets applied in increasingly beneficial ways when taking actions, where a strength of 4 is going to get you a really nice return on your investment.

Strength-4 bees also end up hibernating, relegating a token to the Hibernation Comb. This is a place where you can earn valuable end-game bonuses, which offers further incentive to get your bees to a higher strength level. The game will also end when the Comb is filled, so it serves as a nice game timer as well.

The actions that you can take on your turn are summarized as follows:

  • Explore – discover planets and earn resources
  • Advance – Collect tiles to add to your hive
  • Grow – Gain more worker bees and expand your hive
  • Research – Draw seed cards to add endgame bonuses
  • Convert – Exchange resources and teach/learn bee dances
  • Carve – Earn a coveted Carve tile to add to your hive

Additionally, there is a Queen’s Favor track that allows you to get back some benefits when you discard resources because you have too many. There is also an endgame score that you earn depending on your placement on the track.

The end of the game, once the Comb is filled, features a point salad of scoring to go on top of what you’ve already earned. I’m glad that the rulebook separates out what you earn during the game and what you earn afterwards, because there are 15 different ways to score points in the game. Whew!

Staking Our C.L.A.I.M. on Apiary!

Apiary board gameComponents

Overall, the production quality of the Apiary board game is exactly the top-notch bar that you expect from Stonemaier Games. My favorite component is probably the beeple, which is really a clever sculpt in terms of functionality and aesthetics. There’s actually been a dark wash applied over the top which really helps the number standout better than if it had just been plain. I’m not sure how well they would paint, but I’m not sure that I’d want to do that either.

The extra frame that you can add to your hive is relatively flimsy, although you want it to be thin so that there isn’t a huge difference in depth on your player mat. But the resource tokens?! Wow! You have the wax tokens that are like perfect little Rolos, and the other tokens are just in fun shapes that makes them instantly identifiable.

And then, of course, there’s the huge QueenShip miniature, with ‘huge’ being a relative term compared to the other beeples. It even comes with a clear stand so that it actually appears to be flying as you carry out Explore actions. 10/10.

Apiary board game

Apiary board gameLuck

Apiary has the ‘problem’ that points to a good game for me, which is that my choices are always endless. I want to do everything on every turn, and it because a game of strategizing which actions are the best actions to take to get you to victory. You want to expand your hive so that you can store more resources, but you may need to explore first in order to do that. Or, you might want to advance your hive with more tiles, but you need honey from a conversion action first. There’s always a laundry list of things that you want to do.

The key strategy in Apiary comes with the worker bumping mechanic. Unlike most worker placement games, all of the actions spaces are available to your workers. However, when the area would be filled, the longest-tenured worker there gets sent back to its owner with an added +1 Strength. This means that you might want to prioritize another action space that everyone is using to get a better worker when it gets bumped, over placing that beeple on an empty location.

It’s a really fun push-and-pull dichotomy that forces you to make decisions on whether or not you want your opponents to have a benefit. Is the action worth it?

Apiary board gameAesthetics

I’ll be really straightforward here: Artist Kwanchai Moriya did an incredible job on Apiary. Everything from the whimsical design of the bees to the bright color palette draws you further into the enjoyment of the game. The areas on the board are sequestered off well, and the iconography is excellent. There will be a few times you’ll need to consult the aide on the back of the main rulebook, but that’s to be expected with a game like this.

I also appreciate that the hive mats are mostly blank, empty space. Through your actions over the game, you’ll be placing tiles there that will really make your hive pop off the page, so you don’t feel bad because you won’t be covering up any gorgeous art in doing so.

Apiary board game

Apiary board game Interest

There’s a couple groups of people that will find a lot to enjoy with Apiary. I would put this in the top half of Stonemaier’s game catalog, and ahead of one of their other notable worker placement games, Euphoria, in my opinion, and I’d place it above Pendulum as well. So, if you already like either of those games, then this one would be a wonderful next step for you.

People who like to focus on building their own little slice of the world will appreciate the hive-building aspect of the game, but this is not a game where everybody is just playing their own games of solitaire. The player interaction comes from bumping those beeples, and it never feels like a ‘take that’ kind of game because you actually benefit in a few ways when those workers come off the board.

Lastly, if you like games based on fun themes and good looks, then this has that in droves. I tend to agree that the complexity is around a 3/5, and the games can take longer depending on how much analysis your group tends to do. You can really get into a pigeon-hole if you want to really optimize your turns.

Apiary board game

Apiary board gameMood

It feels like the bee theme of Apiary really helps foster fun. What I mean by that statement is that it’s fun to upgrade the strength of your workers, and place tiles, and bump beeples. It’s fun to explore and uncover planets to get their resources. It’s fun to imagine those bee dances (and come up with some of your own)! It’s just a really enjoyable experience overall, and everything that a game should be.

It can feel overwhelming with all of the many ways that you can score points. You’re working towards your seed cards and managing bonuses from picking up tiles or placing tiles; it can get to be a bit much. All of the game systems are interconnected, so you’re always making progress at least, but I can see how it can feel like juggling bowling pins. There’s something to be said about the factions prodding you in a direction of focus, which helps tone down that feeling.

Apiary: Bump those Beeples!

Nerds on Earth logo with 'Deal with It' sunglasses. Text inside the seal reads "Nerds on Earth Seal of Awesomeness".

I’m the kind of person that judges books based on their covers. It’s just who I am. Marketers LOVE me. And so when I first saw the box and gameplay for Apiary, I knew that there was a good chance that I would like the game, and I happened to be right!

It should be no surprise that I’m handing out one of the few remaining Nerds of Earth Seal of Awesomeness awards of the year to Apiary! I love how the simple act of turning a bee to a higher number sends those endorphins straight to my brain. There’s plenty of crunch to strategize with, and it’s all wrapped up in a gorgeous package.

You can pick up a copy of Apiary from your FLGS, or you can pick up a copy from Stonemaier Games directly.

[Disclaimer: Nerds on Earth was provided a copy of Apiary from Stonemaier Games in exchange for an honest review.]

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