|Interaction||Components & Design|
When birds start telling you to do things and it’s not your pet parrot demanding crackers, that’s an indicator you might want to meet with your friendly neighborhood mental health specialist soon. Have your health insurance ready, then, because you’re about to take a whole bunch of orders from avian high command.
The Bird Told Me To Do It is a card laying game by Carl Chudyk (Glory to Rome, Innovation,…) that works on a somewhat smaller scale than his other games. You’re not going to build an empire, you won’t control a civilization from the stone age until they discover nuclear power. All you want to do is to have your birds be the most numerous on the tree. It sounds so simple, right?
Tell the birds what to do – the rules
In theory, it is simple. You have cards in your hand, showing a tree branch running from one edge to another, or in some cases splitting into two branches along the way. All cards also show one to four birds in one of six colors. On the table lies the tree trunk card, with the beginning of a branch pointing left and right. The rules to place cards on the table are quickly explained as well. The branch on your card has to connect to another branch already on the table, cards may not overlap and you may not create loops. Also, you can only go to one side from the trunk, and the card you place cannot have more birds than the card it connects to.
On your turn, you may place two cards this way. Alternatively, you may place one card and then draw a new card from the draw pile. You don’t get a free draw each round, so you should to that sometimes. Or you don’t play any cards and draw two, that’s considered a pass.
Finally, you may choose to place one card and take one unclaimed plumage card. There are six of them, corresponding to the six colors of birds on the branches, and they are a big deal when the current branch is completed. That happens either when the branch has no free ends where anyone could place a card, or when all players passed, indicating that none of them can play another card. Then you count the birds of each color in the tree. The most numerous ones go to the score pile of the player holding the matching plumage card.
But we’re not there yet. If you placed at least one card in the tree then your turn has another step, and that’s where things get really interesting. Besides the branch and the birds, every card has a text box where, you may have guessed it, the birds tell you to do something. You now go from the trunk through all the cards until you reach your new card and do what the birds tell you to do on each one. And those downy dictators are pretty creative with their orders.
They may simply tell you to draw a number of cards. Or to place some more cards from your hand on the tree – if those new cards connect to the ones you played as your regular move, you even get to follow those new birds orders as well. You might cover cards in the tree with different cards, put cards from somewhere into your score pile, or do other things for your feathered friends. Mostly you can use their orders to your benefit, but sometimes you’re forced to do things against your own interest. Remove cards that you wanted to use because they’re the only ones you can remove, for instance. It’s a bit of a mixed bag, but you have to take all the actions on your path.
Adding to the chaos are the boost numbers. Every card has in its instruction text a number in a red circle. That number is increased by one for each card with birds of the same color you already went through. And suddenly, instead of drawing one card to place it in the tree, you take four. And then you take five cards from the tree to your scoring pile. Great in theory, but unless you can remove the cards giving you these abilities your opponents get to do the same. Some games end very quickly this way.
You keep doing this until the branch is scored as described above, then you start over. That you repeat until either one player has scored thirty points, or until you’ve gone through the draw pile twice. The player with the most points wins.
Should you obey birds’ orders? The Verdict
The Bird Told Me To Do It is an odd game, especially when you think about luck versus strategy, because you can really play it either way. Playing strategically usually means drawing many cards, playing few, and keeping the branch under control. The worst thing you can do is leave a branch with strong actions for your opponent. If you want to use your big scoring cards, better have a way to remove them again on the same turn. Personally, I prefer to play the other way: put strong cards in the tree and damn the consequences, at least you made an impressive turn. It’s neat that you can do it both ways.
But even playing strategically, things tend to change a lot between two turns. With three players, you might already not recognize the tree at the start of your new turn. If you play in four or five, which is possible with two games, your ability to plan anything goes right out the window. It’s still a lot of fun, but it’s utter chaos.
Now matter how you play it, the game mechanics work very well. Chaining some cards together into a combination that works together as a whole is very rewarding. Like taking a plumage card and then adding a card that makes its color the majority and completes the branch all at once. It’s so good.
There is one problem with the cards, though, and that is the text on some of the cards in the English edition. Fortunately, all cards are explained in detail in the rulebook, but especially on the first few games you consult it too often. Despite the guidelines when you may do something and when you must do it, we ended up checking that a lot. It’s far from game-breaking, but it is annoying because the problem clearly wasn’t space in the text box. Then you get cards that tell you to draw and reveal a card, and others were the card only says to draw a card, but the rulebook explanation says that you should also reveal it. Again, it’s not a big deal, but it’s an issue that would have been so easy to avoid.
That doesn’t limit the fun of the game, though. Compared to Carl Chudyk’s other games, The Bird Told Me To Do It is more chaotic, but it does have the feel of a Chudyk game. I can’t really explain it, it just seems like one, and that’s great in my book. Probably this one won’t have the staying power of an Innovation, for instance, but there are still enough reasons to play The Bird Told Me To Do It, and unlike Innovation it doesn’t make my brain sweat. Now the bird is telling me to play again. I really can’t argue with that.