In a far-distant future, bees have soared into the cosmos! These hyper-intelligent, giant bees construct impressive space hives, exploring planets abundant in resources to prosper.
Introducing Connie Vogelmann, making a stellar debut as the designer of Apiary, the latest game from Stonemaier Games. A buzz-worthy game to launch a game design career!
Apiary Game Theme and Artwork
Bees in Space. Can you bee-lieve it? The designer, Connie Vogelmann, who knows her beekeeping, designed a bee theme game where bees achieve feats beyond contemporary bees. The setting? A distant future where bees have evolved with hyper-intelligence and size and have taken to space to expand.
Game tiles bear titles meticulously chosen to reflect bee society intricacies. Recruit an Agronomist, Botanist or Cartographer. Develop an Arboretum, Royal Jelly or Cross-Pollination facility. Deck out your space hive with these useful features. Instruct your worker bees in dances to scout out rare resources.
The artistic touch of Kwanchai Moriya, recognized by solo gamers for his artwork in Under Falling Skies, has done an impressive job. The game board gives off a futuristic vibe, set against a mesmerizing space nebula backdrop. It hits that sweet spot by being colorful and lively yet not distracting, with an intuitive design. The heart of the board showcases golden-yellow hexagonal beehive tiles in which to carve out sections for your hive. Each tile is adorned with its unique artwork.
The insert designed for the Apiary game is pretty much perfect. It accommodates sleeved cards – I opted for Gamegenic Matte Standard size for the Seed cards and Mayday sleeves for the Automa cards (which you will shuffle quite a bit). The sleeved cards do stick out a bit when in the insert, but once the game board is placed on top, they settle down nicely into their space. The removable token tray for resources is a thoughtful touch – it saves time during setup and teardown.
Click the images in the gallery above to see more detail.
The Apiary game board is double-sided; as solo players, we will use the 1-3 player side. The player bee workers are fun to manipulate. They look like bee rocket dice, but they’re used as counters – from 1 to 4. It quickly becomes second nature to increase/decrease their strength. They come with a wash to make the numbers easier to see, but I painted mine with a white Posca pen, and I love how much easier it is to see the numbers now.
The large Queen Bee ship miniature travels and explores various planets for resources and other lucrative bonuses. She literally floats in space above the planets. I plan to paint her.
The resources are wooden-shaped tokens of yellow pollen, green fiber and blue water, as well as shiny gold wax and honey, with the honey resource being the most valuable. All tiles are nice and sturdy.
Each of the 5 Hive Mat sheets features a different shape and tile bonuses.
The Seed cards are multi-use cards. You can use them immediately by discarding them for one resource (Water/Pollen/Fiber). You can use it immediately for the unique ability in the top white box. I find myself using cards for these amazing features. Or you can plant them in your space hive for endgame points by tucking them under the board, as you see above.
They all have the same artwork.
Gameplay and Mechanics
Apiary is primarily a Worker Placement game. There are six areas in which to place your workers:
- Explore – Move the Queen Bee ship to be the first to snatch Explore tokens and discover new Planets with new resources and abilities.
- Advance – Purchase tiles for your hive. Green Farm tiles produce future income, Blue Recruit tiles provide ongoing abilities, and Orange Development tiles give sweet one-time bonuses.
- Grow – Gain new workers, add new hive sections and upgrade your faction tile.
- Research – Draw seed cards, keep 1. For Strength-4 bees, you can also plant a card for endgame points in your hive.
- Convert – Exchange resources for what you need. For Strength-4 bees only – Teach a dance!
- Carve – For Strength-4 bees only – Yellow Carving tiles offer endgame scoring opportunities.
You’ll mostly want to Advance to build up your Space Hive with Tile Placement. But you’ll need resources to buy the tiles, so you’ll also want to Explore planets. Now and then, you’ll need to Grow to gain new workers or new space in your hive. Every game is different, so you’ll likely want to visit a different combination of worker spots!
The Automa will take up spaces as well, but no worries! You can always move one of your workers there to “bump” them off. Be careful, though. The bees age and grow more powerful, and soon they will hibernate, which brings the end game closer.
As you retire your hard-working Strength-4 bees, you’ll hibernate a bee tile in the Hibernation Comb. There are two sections for Solo Play. (A Third section is for 3+ players on this side of the board.) For the larger 5-spot section, if you have majority tiles, you’ll score 7 points and the Automa none. If the Automa wins the majority and you get at least one hibernation in that section, you’ll still score 2 points. The smaller space will give the winner 3 points.
Each spot you hibernate will reward you. I love being the first to hibernate to get the rare resource of Honey!
Apiary Game Objective
Your objective in the solo game is to gain more victory points than the Automa. The Automa will gain specific points for each objective based on the difficulty level.
- Farm/Recruit/Development Tiles in your space hive
- Carving Tiles in the hive
- Seeds you plant
- Sector Majority in Hibernation Comb
- Queen’s Favor points
- Farm Tiles (1-2)
- Recruit Tiles (2-3)
- Development Tiles (3-4)
- Carving Tiles (7)
- Explore Tokens (3-4)
- Sector Majority in Hibernation Comb
In the Apiary game, you’ll play against the Automa. The Automa will consist of 3 gray worker bees and 2 yellow worker bees, set at the levels for the Difficulty level you’ve chosen. The Automa will take the first turn and has its own 14-card Automa deck, determining where it places its workers every turn.
The Automa gains no resources, Research cards or Queen’s Favor points and cannot learn a dance. It will gain tiles with the Advance action, explore tokens with the Explore action, and the other 4 spots will gain points immediately. You’ll both be competing in the Hibernation Comb as strength-4 workers hibernate.
On its turn, you flip over a card and place it on the right side of the Automa deck. Using the color of the left back side of the deck, you’ll take the highest worker in that color (which below would be a Strength-2 bee) and take the first action on the Automa card that it is possible to do. The great design of these multi-use Automa cards tells you what color for the Automa to focus on that turn but which action to take, what resource to enhance planets and even which direction they will buzz.
The Automa will likely rack up points faster than you during the game. But if you play well, you’ll score big with the end-game points based on your hive.
Comparison to Multi-player
With standard worker placement games, other players can foil your plans by snatching up the spots you need. But in Apiary, you can always land in whatever spot you want. If a worker bee is there already, it is simply “bumped” off and returns to the player. Unless it is a Level 4 bee, then that player gets to hibernate.
The Apiary Game Automa scores its points differently, so you’ll find it will round that first points corner before you gain traction. Toward the mid-to-end game, its Strength 4 workers will snatch up those Honey tiles quickly. For some of my games, it takes almost all of them, and I am lucky to get one. In some games, I work hard to gain Carving/Honey Tiles, and in other games, I try to snatch up the Explore tokens. These are both strategies you can do to prevent the Automa from scoring points. Make sure you teach a dance! You’ll get 4 Queens Favor right away (as the Automa will never use your dance), and if there’s a tie, you’ll win if you taught a dance.
The Apiary board game has a Large Footprint. This game, even for solo play, takes a surprising amount of space. The board itself has a depth of two feet. For length, you’ll need to accommodate your space hive (with extra space around it), the game board, and your player boards for over four feet in width.
Time to Play
This was my experience playing the game over a dozen times. I used the removable tray for resources, which can save some time. Due to the board setup with tiles to be set and cards to be shuffled, it takes a bit of time, but it is worth it.
- Initial Game Setup: 8 minutes
- Solo Game length: 40-60 minutes
- Repeat Game Setup: 6-8 minutes
- Tear-down time: 6-7 minutes
I’ve gotten more than a dozen plays out of this game. The Automa offers varying difficulty levels that can grow with you – 4 normal mode difficulties and 2 expert mode difficulties. The game suggests you start the game out with Level 2. I’ve settled on the sweet spot of the Level 5 Expert level. It makes the Automa challenging, but it won’t constantly be hibernating its bees, so the game lasts longer.
There are so many starting Faction tiles to choose from. Multiply that with your hive sheet, and every game is different. The way you build your hive also mixes up the game.
Apiary Game – Pros and Cons
- Automa’s turn is fast and easy to figure out.
- Nice quality components, fun to handle the little worker bees.
- Tiles offer so many nice rewards. Even when the Automa wipes a tile you’ve been eyeing, new tiles are sure to be just as good!
- Exploring planets is very rewarding. You know your immediate prize, and you’ll also get another resource for sure (if not more).
- The game will grow as you improve with the 6 Difficulty levels, so you’ll always have a challenge.
- Worker bees’ Strength numbers can be hard to see. You may want to paint your numbers.
- Apiary needs more space hive sheets!
- The Automa can hog the high-scoring Carve tiles, especially if you play a Difficulty level with a Gained Worker Strength of 3. (So I max at Difficulty Level 5, where the Gained Worker is only 2, but it’s still challenging.
- Some worker placement spots I rarely use because I can gain their benefits in other ways.
- Setup time and repeat setup time can take about 8 minutes, but the game is worth it.
Apiary Board Game – Final Thoughts
The Apiary game experience is fun and positive! Normal board game bummers like blocking resources do not exist. Getting bumped off a resource space can strengthen your bee. Retiring bees through hibernation offers rewards. Gaining new bees gains rewards. Exploring and unveiling new planets is exciting! Building your hive with various tiles is very rewarding. The ability to ramp up the Automa difficulty ensures that Apiary remains a challenge for solo gamers, making each gameplay a new buzz-filled adventure.
In short, every action you take releases a sweet drop of honey-infused dopamine!
I’m proud to support a female designer and am thoroughly impressed that her debut game is immensely enjoyable. I can easily envision future expansions for the Apiary game, introducing more hive sheets, Dance tiles, Planets, cards, and tiles. I eagerly anticipate more to come!