BrilliAnts by Sphere Games was successfully funded on Kickstarter and is now just arriving on doorsteps around the globe. I had first heard of it via social media as an upcoming Kickstarter campaign and it immediately got my attention. I’m a huge fan of Takenoko and this game looked like it took the same basic concepts, but expanded it with layers upon layers of strategy, gameplay, and elements.
The premise of the game is that you’re a colony of ants who are trying to expand and have the biggest and best colony on the map. However, other competing colonies, as well as predators like spiders, worms, and grasshoppers are trying to impede your progress. Only the most brilliant BrilliAnts will succeed.
The thing that immediately stands out is the sheer size of everything and the number of components included in the game box. My UPS shipping label said it weighed 9 pounds to ship, and that’s not hyperbole. The game comes with 90 miniature ants to assemble and a plethora of cardboard bits to punch out. When you receive it, you’ll want to reserve at least an hour to assemble all of the pieces, punch out all of the bits, and organize everything in the enclosed plastic bags.
The game board is pretty large and is double-sided for different number of players. You can play a solo-mode with the enclosed cloth bag from which to draw tiles (think Castle Panic) or up to 6 players with each player getting a different color set of ants, player mat, and cardboard pieces. There are also a variety of different types of gameplay to make sure there’s something for everyone regardless of age and skill level.
For kids, there’s the childerANTs game type, which strips the game down to its core. The next level is apprANTtice, which adds in the predator pieces (worm, spider, grasshopper). The ANTtermediate level adds in bonus cards that each player can play on their turn, which provide a bonus or even extra points. Finally, experiANTced gameplay adds in special card drafting as well as makes the game more cutthroat for serious gamers.
As an example run-through, I’ll cover an apprANTice game. Each player will take their ants, player board, pheromone tiles, dig tiles, predator tile, and score cube (placed at 0 on the score marker on the perimeter of the game board). The last person to serve fruit in real life gets to go first and flips the day/night tile. This will determine the time of day the ants start on. Each player chooses 3 of their ants as their starting ants (digger, farmer, or hunter) in any combination. Then they all draw an objective card that corresponds with the ants they have chosen (e.g. Farmer Ant chosen draws a Farmer Objective Card). The 3 starting ants all are set to match the time of day by turning the cardboard wheel inside of the miniature ants to yellow (day time) or blue (night time).
The starting player spins the weather wheel to see which type of ants gets to move up to 4 spaces instead of the standard 1-3 spaces for that round. During a round, each player takes turns moving all of their eligible ants (i.e. the ants whose day/night indicators match that time of day), moving one enemy, and giving birth to a new ant. These steps can be done in any order and must all be completed before the round is over. Once each player has completed all of the steps, the day/night marker is flipped over and handed to the next player who will begin the next round.
Each ant can move 1-3 spaces on their turn unless they receive the spinner bonus at the beginning of the round or if you have a bonus card that allows otherwise (bonus cards are used in ANTermediate and above). Diggers will move on the player boards to collect different types of earth and can also dig new holes to the surface. Farmer ants will want to go to the surface (move from player board to game board) to collect fruits and mushrooms, and hunter ants will surface to collect bugs. Once an ant collects a resource, a corresponding resource token is taken by that player, a pheromone tile of their color is placed on the game board, and that ant’s day/night indicator is switched to the next color (an ant moved during the day is switched over to night and vice versa).
The resources you’ll want to collect will be determined by the objective cards you draw. Each objective card is worth X points and when they’re completed, you can mark your score on the score track of the game board. You can use an ant’s movement turn to visit the Library on your player board to get more objective cards. For example, if a Farmer ant visits the Library, 2 Farmer Objective Cards are drawn and then 1 is kept by the player and 1 is placed at the bottom of the draw pile.
When a player completes X number of objective cards (determined by level of game play chosen), that signifies the last round. Bonus cards are handed out to players who have completed the most of each objective, and 1 point is awarded to each player for every pheromone tile they have on the game board.
The quality of the components is really nice. I dropped the ants onto a concrete floor a few times while assembling them and none of them broke. Out of 90 ants, only 1 was detached from its based, which was easily remedied by popping it back onto the peg. There are a ton of cardboard bits to punch out and none of them tear the images, they all pop out nicely. Considering the game was $41 USD shipped for its Kickstarter campaign, this is the best value I’ve backed so far.
Overall, I’m very pleased with BrilliAnts. There is a ton of game in the box and the sheer number of components is worth the money. If I had any complaints, it would be that it takes a bit much to setup everything, even for a 1 or 2 player game. However, if you’ve got the time to set everything up, it’s definitely a game that will catch the interest of your gaming group.