Beasts of Balance Review
We first spotted Sensible Object Ltd at the UK Games Expo 2018, where they showed us their game, Beasts of Balance. Even with a quick demo on the show floor we could tell it was not only a great game, but a great combination of technology and a physical tabletop game.
Since then we’ve managed to get our hands on a full copy of the game, along with a couple of the expansion components.
Beasts of Balance – What is it?
Beasts of Balance is a family game that can be best described as a combination of Jenga and Skylanders. The idea is to stack beasts and other objects on top of each other, keeping it all balanced. It’s kind of in the name!
But the neat part of this is that Beast of Balance is an app connected game. All the objects have a RFID chip in them. The base of the game has a sensor on it, as well as bluetooth for connecting to the app running on your tablet or smartphone. When you bring an object against the base, the app recognises what you are going to place in to the game world. Then the base is able to communicate to the app when the object is successfully placed on. Presumably by measuring the weight difference.
The base also recognises when things go wrong! If your tower of Beasts collapses you only get so long to rebuild it. But, because only the weight matters you can rebuild it in whichever way is quickest and most stable. Sometimes a collapse and rebuild can actually extend your game as you make a stronger foundation for further pieces… but it’s risky business.
What’s in the box?
As mentioned above, the main components of Beast of Balance are the game base, and the Beasts. The base game comes with six beasts; Toucan, Warthog, Octopus, Eagle, Bear and Shark. The pieces are made of plastic that seems really high quality, and it needs to be! When your tower falls, these pieces are going to scatter and clatter all over the place! They’re also designed in a really nice geometric way. Not only does this look great, but means there are many ways to balance and stack them on the tower.
Along with the beasts, there are some elemental pieces, three each of the cross pieces and arrow pieces, and two special effect pieces. These final pieces are very awkwardly shaped for stacking on the tower.
The connected app
While all the pieces in the box are the main game components, the app is where Beasts of Balance comes to life. Connecting your game base to the free app running on a tablet or smartphone enables you to play the game in one of two modes; Co-op or Battles.
The keen sensed among you will have noticed that the base game mentioned above comes with two underwater animals, two that live on land, and two that fly. In co-operative mode the app shows you these three regions and when you scan an animal to bring it in to the game it will appear in the one it belongs to, once balanced on the base.
The animals all have life points associated with them. As you add animals to the game, their life points are the score you get. But, when one animal is better than all the others, the others begin to feel ashamed and will start to lose points every turn. When they go down to one life point, the app will warn you they are becoming endangered. If you can’t save them in the next turn then they will become extinct.
Now the “balance” part of Beast of Balance starts to take on a second meaning. Remember those elemental pieces in the box? They come in a variety of land, sea, air or a combination of two. Add them to the tower to give a little point boost to all those animals in the region.
Another way to help save a species, and to gain a high score, is to use the migrate and cross breed options. These pieces will move an animal to different region, evolving it in the process, or cross breed two species respectively. There are a whole host of different species for you to unlock in the app, each with a neat animation and a pretty cool name.
Playing the game in Battle Mode is a bit more of a challenge, and ideal for grown ups or older children. In this mode, each player plays as one of the regions; air, sea, land. Adding beasts on your turn adds them to your region. Thus you can instantly make a more powerful beast by using an animal meant for a different region.
The migrate piece becomes very powerful, and the source of many arguments, in Battle mode. Using it allows you to steal an opponents beast. There is a risk reward element to that though, as you may want to wait until someone has a powerful beast worth stealing. But you also need to make sure no-one uses all the migrate pieces before you get a chance to.
Elemental pieces also play a slightly different role. If you play one with your colour, it will give you a boost. Playing an opponents colour will attack their beasts, making them weaker.
When the inevitable tower tumble happens in battle mode, the players with the lower score are tasked with fixing the tower. There isn’t a fixed time, like in Co-op mode, but instead for every second it takes to rebuild, the creatures in your region take damage. If you let all your creatures die though, the game ends and the winner declared.
There’s definitely a lot of fun to be had with the Battle mode, but not with younger children. The take that nature of this mode caused more than one temper tantrum resulting in the tower of beasts being sent scattering all over the room in my house!
The final thing to mention about the app is a feature that Sensible Object added after we had seen the game at UK Games Expo. An Augmented Reality mode. Using an AR Kit or AR Core compatible device, you can enter AR Mode after scanning a beast to the tower. By scanning the icon on the base with your device camera, the digital side of the game comes to life in your physical environment.
While this is a neat feature, and another part where sensible object are bringing the physical and digital sides of their game together, it doesn’t really serve much purpose to the game itself. You can only enter this mode while adding a beast to the tower, and need to go back to the main screen to continue the game afterwards. And because it takes a little bit of set up, it’s not something you will use every turn.
As an expansion to the game there are also a set of Battle Cards. These cards also work with the RFID chip in the base to communicate with the app, so it always knows what cards each player has, and what ones they try to play. The cards mostly just increase, or counter, the take that element of Battle mode.
The card design is very aesthetically pleasing, and the way the app tracks who has what, and what actions can be taken at any time is really smart. They’re also not essential to playing Battle mode, so if you are playing with younger kids we’d definitely recommend leaving them to the side.
Along with the Battle cards expansion, there are several Beast expansions for Beasts of Balance. We took a look at the Fancy Prance.
The Fancy Prance is what can only be described as an overpowered Unicorn. What’s more, if you level him up slightly in the game then you will start unlocking all sorts of legendary creatures. Keeping anything else alive while the Fancy Prance is around in Co-op mode will be difficult.
Fancy Prance does come with his own card for Battle Mode also. Fortunately it has certain requirements that need to be met before anyone can use him. Otherwise, everyone would just be fighting over him. We did get him in one battle mode and found it quite funny that when he lost power, he turns back into a regular horse!
So how does it all Balance out?
Beasts of Balance is an excellent game. Particularly for young families. The only real issue that we can have with it is the price. The game RRPs at £69.99. Now many board game enthusiasts will have paid this much for other games in their libraries, but there aren’t many family games out there that fall into this price bracket. Yet, with the quality of the components, and the technology involved in Beasts of Balance, the price tag is also understandable.
The game can only be bought on Amazon, due to some funding and an agreement that Sensible Object have with the company. (Their other game, “When In Rome” is an Alexa powered game). This does mean that it’s susceptible to the odd flash sale. At the time of writing the game is down to £29.99! At this price it’s an absolute no-brainer. But even at £69.99 I still have no issues in recommending Beasts of Balance. And if you pick it up cheap, then take a look at getting some of the extra Beasts expansions. Your kids (or inner child) will thank you!