Review: Dr. Beaker
Designers: Roberto Fraga, Delphine Lemonnier
Artist: Stéphane Escapa
Publisher: Blue Orange Games
Category: Dexterity, Logic, Kids, Family
Player Count: 2-4
Dr. Eureka is a hit family game released in 2015 from Roberto Fraga, a designer who brilliantly sees the interplay between board games and toys. The game has players racing to solve a logic puzzle by balancing marbles in test tubes. The game was so successful that a re-themed version was released for younger children (Go Go Gelato!), as well as two sequels with the same STEM education theme. Dr. Microbe was even better than Dr. Eureka; how does Dr. Beaker compare to those?
I have only the same positive things to say about this game that I said about Dr. Microbe in terms of positive or negative influences. The game teaches logic and deduction—important math skills—while its theme promotes STEM education. Most importantly, it is one of the few board games out there prominently featuring women and people of color on the front. THANK YOU, Blue Orange Games!
While Dr. Microbe went in a different direction than Dr. Eureka, adding deduction and interaction while reducing the dexterity elements, Dr. Beaker goes the opposite direction. Dr. Beaker is very much in the same vein as Dr. Eureka. Players are trying to organize six marbles—two of each color—before anyone else does it, just as in Dr. Eureka. However, instead of sorting the marbles into test tubes, all six marbles are inside a plastic toy beaker and players must stir the components around with a plastic stirrer. Yes, really.
The components of this game look awesome. The plastic beakers and stirrers are extremely thick and durable, and they look super fun to play with as toys if not as game pieces. The cards are vibrantly colored and clear, although I wish they were “normal” square cards instead of circles. Oh, and the price is amazing. Given the unique structure of the beakers (which have specific grooves for the marbles in the bottom), I expected this game to be priced differently than its predecessors, but it’s $19.99 MSRP like the rest.
As Dr. Eureka is an excellent game, Dr. Beaker by its very nature has to be pretty good, and it is. The logic puzzles feel very different than Eureka’s, even though both are basically trying to figure out how to “program” a sequence of moves of the marbles as efficiently as possible and then executing it physically as quickly as possible. However, two small things knock it a notch lower than Dr. Eureka. The first and smaller issue is that it’s missing that tiny bit of extra spice for the logic movement. In Eureka, that’s provided by the rule that you can flip the tubes upside down. Here, there’s no clever trick to pull with the programming. In fact, the one trick you can do is forbidden by the rulebook, leading to my next point.
The bigger issue with Dr. Beaker is the ability to which the players can actually physically manipulate the marbles. It’s really hard to do! Rounds take considerably longer than they did with Dr. Eureka because it’s so dang hard to stir the suckers around. Occasionally, marbles will pop out on top of everything else but it’s specifically forbidden in the rulebook to use that technique to move them around (you are supposed to use the grooves and central area as temporary storage). That means instead of being clever with popping the marbles around, you actually have to somehow fix the scenario if it happens on accident, wasting precious time—we eventually ditched that rule. The publisher is surely aware that this game is more difficult since of the three titles, this is the only one where points are awarded to second and/or third place players. I do think the programming is very enjoyable—it’s a totally different way to think about the marbles. However, I can’t tell if the difficulty level of the programming is more or less because it’s obfuscated by the physical difficulty of stirring the marbles in the beakers.
It sounds like I’m being hard on Dr. Beaker, but it really is a fun game. The challenge is completely different from Dr. Eureka or Dr. Microbe, yet it feels familiar enough that you could almost start playing without even reading the rulebook if you’ve played Dr. Eureka. It also has the side benefit that it’s much more contained than Dr. Eureka since the marbles rarely, if ever, fall out of the beakers. I have several friends and students who have played Dr. Eureka to death and have basically mastered it—if they’re ready for a brand new, tougher challenge, Dr. Beaker does a great job providing it.
Thank you to Blue Orange Games for providing a review copy of Dr. Beaker.
The Bottom Line
Dr. Beaker is a great choice for players who have exhausted Dr. Eureka and are looking for a similar but tougher challenge.