Nice Buns is the brand new Bao Bun themed board game from publisher Big Potato Games. Designed by Liesbeth Bos and Anja Dreier-Brückner, featuring artwork by Beks Barnett, the game sees 2 – 6 players splitting, swapping and collecting Bao Buns, whilst avoiding smelly fish head buns. Playing in around 20 minutes this is a very light strategy game, aimed at a family audience. However, is it a brilliant bun buffet or one not to visit? Let’s find out!
With the aim of collecting bao buns, players start with nothing on their plate, two buns in front of their plate and 6 random bao buns on the central serving plate. If any grey fish head buns are pulled out of the bag during this setup they are returned to the bag, with new buns pulled out in their place. The bag is then put into the middle of the table, with the three dice given to a random player – who will start the game.
On a player’s turn they roll the three dice. Splitting them into two groups, the active player must first offer the groups to the player on their left. That player chooses one of the groups leaving the active player with the other group. The dice then activate in order of size. The smallest dice features numbers 1 – 3, and indicates how many buns the player with the small die gets to blindly draw from the bag. Drawn buns are placed in front of the player’s plate. If they end up with a set of 3 buns of the same colour these are moved onto the player’s plate, and they are one step closer to winning.
If any grey fish head buns are pulled out things get smelly. Players cannot move groups of bao buns onto their plate whilst a fish head bun sits in front of them. Making matters worse, they attach themselves to the player’s biggest group. If a player ever has more than three of a single coloured bao bun (including the attached fish head buns) they are deemed greedy. Being greedy sees all of that set of buns, still including fish heads, discard back into the bag.
Next, the middle die allows the player to either put a bun of any type back into the back or take an indicated coloured bao bun from the central serving plate. Most sides of the die have at least one bun colour for the player to pick from, with them placed in front of the player’s plate – potentially getting them a set of three matching coloured buns. The large dice is the last to activate and sees the player either passing a bao to another player, steal a bun from another player or swap a bun with another player. Passing or swapping are great ways at getting rid of those pesky fish head buns, passing the problem off to an opponent!
Once all the dice have been activated then the dice are passed to the player to the left, who then rolls them, splits them into groups and offers them first to the player on their left and so on. An important caveat is that each player can only ever have one set of a colour of buns on their plate. So, for example, once they have collected a yellow set of three bao buns, they’ll only be interested in green, blue or red bun sets for the rest of the game. The game ends when one player manages to get their third set of buns onto their plate, at which point they have won the game.
The core of Nice Buns is the I Split, You Choose mechanism. Firstly, it adds in the player choice for the active player to split the dice up. Then, the other player gets the choice not just for what to take but what to not let you have. Therefore, if it’s your turn and you end up with a bad group of dice it’s your own fault, you grouped the dice. This means the groupings made of the three dice are often fairly balanced, unless an opportunity arises to exploit a player into choosing a normally lesser option.
For example, if a player has a fish head bun they will happily take the large dice if it lets them pass it on, or the medium die if it allows them to put it back into the bag. This means the other dice could be excellent and grouped together but won’t be as useful, so a player can successfully exploit this situation to get two good dice from it.
The actions are all short and sweet, drawing from the bag, perhaps taking from the tray or stealing a bao bun from someone else. Each is easily explained and the iconography on the dice clearly shows what action they are offering. As a result it doesn’t take too long for play to get around the table, with turns not taking much time at all – until someone moans and groans about pulling a fish head from the bag. Being so light on rules and actions lets the game be perfect for families with younger children, whilst leaving full on gamers perhaps wanting a bit more meat to the bao buns.
The theming of Nice Buns is pleasant though doesn’t shine through in the experience. Past the punny title, the buns are more tokens to gain sets of than ever thought of as bao buns. Moving the buns from a central serving platter eventually onto your plate makes some sense thanks to the theme but it does feel rather pasted on. Production wise Nice Buns is solid from start to finish though. The serving plate and the player’s colourful plates are all thick cardboard, the bao buns themselves are shaped acrylic pieces (featuring cute little smiles) and they then get drawn from the included drawstring bag. The dice being different sizes even makes it easy to remember what activates first. It makes for a game that is great to physically get your hands on, and it’s hard not to sit there fiddling around with the buns.
Nice Buns is a pleasant family weight I Split You Choose game. It doesn’t have much depth for full on gamers to get their teeth into, still turns are quick and the game doesn’t outstay its welcome. The colourful components are sure to grab players’ attention, as is the name. Within 20 minutes players will have rolled dice, collected buns and someone will have won, regardless though players will feel like they have managed to make some progress – even if it’s getting a single set onto their plate. For families, Nice Buns is certainly worth a try and could be a quick way to introduce new players to the brilliance of I Split You Choose titles!
(Editor’s Note: Nice Buns was sent to us by Big Potato Games for the review.)