This review was originally posted with shiny pictures at lifeingames.com.
In Body Builders, by Brian Henk and Clayton Skancke, players are lonely taxidermist seeking to be the first to create a special friend to keep them company. In pursuit of this goal they must recruit “armies” of scavengers: vultures, crocodiles, and hyenas to aid them in acquiring scraps and stealing parts from competing taxidermists! The first taxidermist that manages to stitch together sufficient pieces from random animals to complete a friend will be the victor.
At the start of the game each player takes a play mat, 3 black rings, and three random animal parts from the deck. The number of players determines how many animal types are used for each game. Next, starting player is determined. This may be done by the suggested method in the rules, whoever has most recently clipped their toenails, or by whatever random method suits your play group. After play order is determined players recruit their starting armies of scavengers. During the pregame recruiting phase each player in counter-clockwise order will select one of the dice to be either a crocodile, vulture, or hyena and roll the other two. After rolling the player then moves his markers along the scavenger tracks to correspond with the results of the die rolls. For example, if the player selected a crocodile face and rolled one vulture and one hyena he would gain one of each scavenger type. However, if a player rolls are three dice with the same result the player gains five of that scavenger type rather than three. Once all players have recruited their starting armies two scraps cards are turned face-up in the middle of the play area and the game begins with the starting player taking his turn.
Each turn of Body Builders follows the following steps:
1. Recruit Scavengers: Starting with the player whose turn it is all players recruit scavengers.
A: Roll to Recruit: This is done in the same manner as the pregame recruitment, but starts with the active player and proceeds in a clockwise order. The main changes is that scrap cards are available and after the first turn the poacher will be in play.
B: Claim Scraps: If the results of the die roll matches the scavengers shown on any of the scraps cards the player may claim them.
C: Exchange Scraps: As soon as any player has two or more scrap cards he must immediately trade two of them in for the top card of the parts deck. In the event that there are no cards in the parts deck he must immediately steal any parts card he wishes from any player that he wants.
2. Invade: If it is your turn you must invade another player after recruiting is completed.
A: Choose an Opponent to Invade: As the title suggests, the active player picks any other player and attacks with the hope of stealing one of his parts cards or at least weakening the forces of a stronger player.
B: Draw/Resolve A Natural Forces Card: After a target for the invasion is chosen the active player draws a Natural Forces Card which cause some sort of random effect that will likely affect the outcome of the invasion. The card is completely resolved before moving forward with the invasion resolution.
C: Resolve the Invasion: Compare the totals of each player different scavenger types. Each line of scavengers are destroyed on a one for one basis. For example, if I have five vultures and you have two the result will be that I have three vultures remaining and you will have zero. The natural forces card will say who wins ties for the invasion and the player who was victorious in the best two out of three rows is the victor.
D: Take a Parts Card: The player who was the winner of the invasion may select any parts card belonging to his defeated foe and take it for his own.
3. Move Markers: The final step of a player’s turn is to move the markers indicating whose turn it is and who is the poacher.
A. Move the Poacher: At the conclusion of every player’s turn the player who currently possesses the fewest animal parts becomes the Poacher. While the Poacher a player recruits for twice the number of scavengers and may also kill the normal recruit amount of scavengers as he sees fit amongst his opponents. Once a player becomes the Poacher it only changes hands when a new player is in sole possession of the fewest number of parts. If an invasion results in a tie the Poacher does not change..
B. Move the Its My Turn Marker: The Its My Turn Marker is Moved to the player to the left and a new turn begins.
If at any point, even on another player’s turn, a player successfully acquires all six parts need to assemble their friend (2 arms, 2 legs, head, and a torso) the game ends immediately with that player being declared the winner.
Body Builders is a well designed light board game that the entire family can enjoy playing together . Yes there are random event cards. Yes there are numerous dice rolls, Yes there are serious ramifications from the results of those dice rolls. Yes Body Builders still manages to be an entertaining family game despite all of the randomness involved and here are the reasons why:
It is easy to learn and quick to play! I am not a fan of large amounts of luck in my games, but the shorter the game the more I am willing to accept it. If I am playing a 6 hour game of Axis and Allies and the dice abandon me during the crucial battle for my enemy’s capital I will not be inclined to take it well. If the dice go wonky for me in a 30 minute game of Body Builders with the wife and kids I can laugh about it because we are all having a good time.
It is goofy. Lonely taxidermists competing to build a piecemeal dead animal friend. Win or lose, if you are playing with the family there will be a smile on your face when someone (Jarrett aka The Boy) completes his Turtle-Monkey masterpiece!
Despite all of the randomness involved this is a very well designed game. The mechanics are very clear, straight forward, and all work perfectly. The use of the Poacher mechanic as both a catch-up mechanism and a certain degree of protection from one player being dog-piled is both needed and effective. The addition of the scrap cards and how it affects the decisions players make during recruitment is also and interesting mechanic that serves multiple purposes. For one, It allows for players to get over the hump and actually win. Many games do not have a similar mechanism and in a game such as this that benefits from being short, one is needed to help control the game length. However, the scraps mechanic also impact another element of the decision-making process during recruitment. A player must balance the needs of his three scavenger armies while also trying to generate the opportunity to have the most beneficial dice roll possible. No, this is not a super highbrow eurogame or perfectly honed abstract, but all of the mechanics serve the greater vision for the game which was to create a quick to play, easy to learn, family game and at this goal Body Builders is very successful!
The wife and step kids both enjoyed this game a great deal. They are nearly fourteen and fifteen, and although the box suggests a 14+ age to play, I have no doubt that a bright six-year-old could grasp the game just fine. All in all, a nice game for kids and families alike!
Now, all of the above is true, and if your gaming situation fits the one that I have laid out Body Builders will be a hit at your kitchen table. However, for those of you in search of serious gaming competition for your entertainment I suggest that you look elsewhere. This is not a knock against Body Builders per se, but rather an acknowledgement that very few things are for everybody and this is not one of them. There are some strategic and tactical decisions to be made during Body Builders, but it is most assuredly a game filled with tons of randomness. As such, I strongly encourage those looking for a light-hearted goofy family game to enjoy with the kids to pick up a copy, but it is with equal intensity that I would discourage “hardcore” gamers from searching this one out as it is not made for you.
I liked Body Builders quite a bit and although I am more of a cutthroat gamer, I do enjoy playing the light stuff with the wife and kids from time to time. This is particularly true if it is a silly themed, easy to learn, quick to play, and mechanically sound little game, which Body Builders most certainly is. I would strongly recommend Body Builders to any family with kids or grand kids around the age of ten, give or take a few years in either direction, that enjoy games. Besides, if the game goes well you might even end up making a new friend!