In a world before I discovered board games I was once a tropical fish hobbyist. I knew my Corydoras from my Rasboras and was as much a fish geek as I am now a board game geek. I often think aquariums would make a good board game theme, however, its not a theme that has become over-saturated or popular.
When I heard about Betta, I was keen to give it a whirl. You see, I was never able to keep this breed in my tank. Despite their reputation, I didn’t find them particularly hardy and their long fins were always too tempting for other fish to nibble. You can’t keep two Betta splendens (to use their full Latin name) in the same tank else you find out why they are nicknamed Samurai Fighting Fish! So in this card laying, pattern-matching game you are housing these beautiful fish in their own tank displays in Betty’s pet store. Do you want to find out more? Of course, you do, that’s why you’re here after all!
Place empty displays according to the player count. Also place two objective cards of each value face up so that all players can see them.
Unfold the score board and after allocating each player a colour, place their fish token light side up, beside the board. Give each player a set of cards in their matching colour and get them to discard two cards to the box without looking. Each player then places one card on an empty display. They will then draw three cards for their starting hand. Betta is now setup nice and quickly!
Betta is a flat out race for points. Each turn you will place one of your five cards into a display. Players will be aiming to create one of the patterns on the scoring cards in the display. At least one of the fish has to contribute to the pattern. Completing a pattern will score you three, five or seven points, depending on the difficulty. If you place on an empty display you also get two points. Players will then draw back up to three cards in their hand. Once a display has no spaces it can no longer have any more cards placed on it.
When all players only have two cards in their hand and cannot refill the game ends. End game scoring consists of working out how many of your colour fish remain on each display. You will then use the scoring chart in the rulebook to tally points and the overall final scores. Player with the most points wins.
There is an additional set of cards included in the box which mixes up play a little.
What it’s like
This should be a really quick playing card game, yet exploring all the options slows the pace quite dramatically. Each card is able to be rotated before placing. This throws up numerous options for players to consider on their go. While you can plan what you would like to do each turn, these plans can be scuppered swiftly by other player’s card-laying
A game of Betta usually starts off slow as you build up the displays, it then quickens up and then all of a sudden you realise you only have two turns left! Obviously thinking time increases and forward planning reduces when more players are added. It still plays in about 15-30 minutes even with added thinking time. For me, the sweet spot is two or three players.
The puzzle is entertaining. Recording points as you go creates an ongoing tug-of-war throughout the game. This keeps the tension and forces players to maximise their turn.
It’s quite easy to learn and relatively simple to play but still offers something to think about. In that regard it works well as a quick after dinner game, or a game to end the night on.
There is a solo mode in Betta, but unsurprisingly I haven’t tried it yet. Although I can see the solo mode working well!
The age range is tricky, while an eight year old can play it, be prepared for them to not be as competitive. The options of rotating the tiles to pattern match optimally isn’t easy. Alternatively you could play open handed and offer assistance, or wait until they are ten and can play as an equal!
I like the theme, but I realise I am probably a bit bias towards this. I also really like the artwork throughout. The scoreboard is nice and clear and easy to count in fives on.
The wooden fish scoring tokens are double sided: they start out on the light side and then if scoring over 50, the power of the Force goes to their head, and they flip to the dark side! They are really sweet components.
The cards with their cut-outs for overlapping are obviously not the most beautiful to look at, but I like the way they build up on the displays. They feel a little flimsy and they can get caught on one another. This will make some players a bit twitchy, especially if playing with children. That said, none of mine have creased, torn or show any sign of wear yet.
The rules are fine. There isn’t a lot to explain, but they do a good job of getting you up and playing as quickly as possible.
The whole game is packaged up in an irregular shaped tin. I’m not a big fan of tins, but that is very much a personal thing. I find they can get dinged and dented and all of a sudden the lid never stays on. Again, no signs of this happening with my copy of Betta yet!
What the kids thought
George (12): Something’s fishy about this game! Actually, it’s a good game. The fish are pretty but the cards can get a bit tangled up.
Harrison (14): I agree with George that the cards get a bit tangled up. Its good how there is a variety of patterns you can compete for and I enjoy matching the shapes. I do like the fish tank theme too.
Final thoughts on Betta
Betta is a fun card game that is portable and takes up a relatively small space on the table, so could easily be classed in the travel game category. It’s a bit quirky and different and I like the pattern matching race for points a lot. For its type it’s a good game.
It is unlikely to ever become someone’s favourite game, but it is a good, moderately thinky game. I will play this a lot I reckon, particularly with my older two boys. In that regard it’s a nice weight to puzzle ratio with a quick play time. I’m pleased it will reside on my board game shelves.
Number of players: 1 to 5
Board Game Review Recommended Age: 10+
Publisher’s Recommended Age: 8+
Playing Time: 20 minutes
Setting Up and Take Down Time: 2 minutes
Designers: Ikhwan Kwon
Publisher: Synapses Games
Betta offers a simple but thinky puzzle. It is a good game that feels different with the cut-out cards and the overlaying gameplay. It’s a game I can see many people liking and enjoying. I certainly like and enjoy it.
Artwork and Components
Value for Money
- Fish theme
- Simple puzzle matching
- Easy to learn
- Quick overall play time
- Thinking time slows down game
- Cards can get a bit tangled
- Eight year old age rating might be misleading
Need more games?
If you already own Betta and enjoy it, or are looking for other inspiration, you might also like these similar games:
- Shifting Stones
- My Shelfie
For clarity: we don’t get paid for our reviews. However, we were kindly gifted this game by Coiledspring Games. We have tried not to let this affect our review in any way.