Bear and Breakfast
I don't usually anticipate games, I'm boring like that. I feel like I don't have the emotional capacity for this burning anticipation, for the sweet feeling of "I can't wait". The upside is that I don't get upset when the game I'm interested in is pushed back months or even years. It's out when it's out, and no amount of anticipation I might personally feel can influence this fact. If I come across something that I know I'll be interested in playing, I'll take notes, and whenever the game is out I'll try my best to find some time to play it. I rarely play games on day one - for many reasons but also because I don't usually feel this incredible urge that pushes me to sink my teeth into the fresh title.
Of course, every now and then there are exceptions, currently it's the new Zelda game and something else that I've been waiting for for the last... I don't know how many years. But generally no, I don't anticipate games.
... However, this summer it was proven to me that I still have at least some emotional bandwidth to really, really care about a game's release. I waited impatiently for it to come out and I was sure that when it does, I'm going to jump right in.
And it's Bear and Breakfast.
I played the demo of Bear and Breakfast during one of the Steam Festivals quite a long time ago and I was struck in my very heart by this game. You know, I've always wanted to play a management game, but I wanted to play a very specific management game that won't stress the heck out of me - and I couldn't find one. I adore Don't Starve but the survival element is just too hardcore for me. I make it till winter - and the one-eyed moose comes to destroy my camp, I suffer through the winter till summer - the lightning strikes and my camp burns to the ground. I just couldn't do it. I love everything about Don't Starve, I remember when it came out but I swear, I just can't play it. Other management sims also missed the mark for me personally: we all know how great Stardew Valley is, it's an incredible game but it always becomes too much for me at a certain point and I just get stressed out. And yet, I really, really wanted to find a management sim that would have the depth but not as much stress. That would have a crafting system, decent management elements, a world to explore - a storyline would also be awesome - but it wouldn't punish me for managing things sub-optimally, or at least wouldn't punish me very much. I also wouldn't really be upset if I didn't have to survive and could just, you know, live life.
From the demo it seemed that Bear and Breakfast hit all the marks and I just couldn't wait for it to finally come out. There were two parts of me, one was very optimistic: what if the whole game is like the demo, and it's the perfect management sim I've been waiting for? And the other was very pessimistic: no, it can't be, the demo was great but the game itself would be management hell that will stress me out like every other game.
Bear and Breakfast came out in July, and I played it day one. Consequently, I completed the game shortly after it launched and got the first couple of patches so keep in mind that whatever criticism I might have stems from the fact that I played it on launch and things might be different now.
In Bear in Breakfast you play as Hank the Bear who lives in the Valley with his mom and two adopted siblings. He finds himself restoring the Valley, previously a popular tourist destination, and managing its many resorts while trying to uncover a mystery in the depths of the forest.
What I like the most about Bear and Breakfast is its more or less gentle learning curve and the fact that you don't need to retroactively upgrade already running resorts. For example, when you restore your very first resort in Timber Crossing, there is just one small cabin and you need to build a handful of bedrooms in it before it is functional. There is a diner on the territory that you restore but do not manage, and there are bathroom facilities outside that you also need to restore but don't need to manage. In your next resort, A24, the guests also have a diner available but no outdoor facilities so your resort has to have a couple of functional bathrooms. However, this does not mean that now, as the bathroom type room became available to you, you need to rush back to Timber Crossing, demolish a bedroom and build in your newly acquired bathroom. And this is true for the rest of the progression: with each new resort you get a new type of room that needs to be present from this resort onward, but not backward.
However, you still need to go back and upgrade the rooms in your already running resorts because the more guests you accommodate, the more reviews they give you, the more popular your resort gets, and, consequently, guests demand more from it. When you assign bedrooms to newly arriving guests, each person has a bunch of requirements that need to be met in order for them to leave you a 5-star review. Two main parameters are comfort: how luxurious the bed it, if there is a foot rest, a wardrobe, a vanity table, and decorations or how much pretty stuff you managed to squeeze into the room: pictures, rugs, cuckoo clocks, wooden bear statues and so on. Later on in the game there will be more requirements: a certain temperature in the resort, or a certain level of food available in the dining room. As your resorts get popular, guests grow more demanding and you often need to go back, throw away all the old beds and install new fancy ones to raise the comfort level. Sometimes the fancy beds are much bigger than your previous ones and you need to demolish the bedrooms and make three instead of four but more luxurious. Or you might feel like your resort it not beautiful enough for the picky tourists and you need to buy a bunch of rugs and plants from a dumpster racoon who only accepts payment in trash.
It is as stress free as it can be
Bear and Breakfast really turned out to be stress-free. I anticipated punishment for my every failure but when I realized that the game doesn't seek to put more hurdles in my way just because I mismanaged something, I was able to enjoy it in full. I could skip one or two days and not accommodate anyone on a resort if I didn't have time or simply forgot to assign bedrooms to new tourists. I could take a break from renovating and furnishing if it wasn't something I felt like doing, and the game wouldn't punish me for it. The resources and money were not so tight that skipping a couple of days would seriously damage the progression so I felt like I really could manage the resorts with the pace I found comfortable.
Another thing that I really deeply appreciated was the absence of material crafting. All the resources you need you either forage and collect in the world, or buy from vendors. You don't need to craft crafting materials from other crafting materials, this mechanic usually drives me insane. The game is rather generous with resources, they respawn fairly quickly and if I lacked something I always knew where to find or buy more.
In Bear and Breakfast you can focus on the things that you like and delegate everything else. The game has a lot of lovely NPCs that help you out on your quest of restoring the Valley, and sometimes they do it in a literal sense: you can hire them to help you and they will take on certain responsibilities in exchange for a part of your income. This is actually a great mechanic because the more resorts you fix, the more people you need to accommodate, and inevitably there comes a time when you spend your whole in-game morning running around the valley assigning bedrooms to people, collecting trash - which is your precious currency for buying decorations from the dumpster shop - and then you need to rush to Highlake and cook 20 mashed potatoes because that's all you have and people are starving there. You barely finish with that and discover a bunch of negative reviews from Winterberry because their heaters went out and the temperature inside is the same as outside. It's A LOT for one bear to handle so it's great that you are allowed to hire some help because there ain't enough hours in a day to do all of this on your own. If you find assigning bedrooms to people tedious - leave it to Gus, he'll do it for you. If you enjoy cooking for the resort, you can spend your days doing that, if not - Julia will take over. If you just like walking around the forest picking berries and mint - feel free. I feel like there is a comfortable routine to be found for every type of player.
Things I didn't like
However, as always, there were things that I didn't enjoy as much in Bear and Breakfast, and one of them was NPC questlines.
Some NPCs have personal quests but I felt like most of their questlines were abandoned halfway through. I think I did everything that was available to me and yet I felt deeply unsatisfied with how most of the NPCs just stayed where they were and nothing really changed for them. They have clear conflicts that need to be resolved but they either don't get explored and the NPCs just stay where they are - sometimes breaking my heart by that - or I do something for them but it ultimately won't lead to much. I was really surprised that Hank's siblings don't really do anything, they just hang out at home and at some point give you a couple of fetch quests, and that's the extent of their involvement in the game.
If I have one major complaint about Bear and Breakfast, it's pacing. Sometimes it's kinda ridiculous :D The game either moves incredibly fast, so fast that you get new upgrade recipes every day and need to overhaul every single resort, or it slows down to a crawl and you have nothing to do except wait for the nightfall and go to sleep hoping that the next day some quest will get completed and things will somehow move along. You either need to do a hundred things at once - or you have nothing to do. You have barely adjusted yourself to a new managerial procedure - and then you instantly receive a shortcut. In Highlake I was introduced to cooking and managing a kitchen and a dining room and then almost instantly I was given an option to hire Julia that would manage everything for me. In Winterberry I was introduced to heating and temperature management - and then almost instantly another NPC offered to help. Of course, I could refuse and manage everything myself, it was just weird to me how quickly it all moved along. The same with recipes: furniture becomes obsolete incredibly quickly and when I was playing, there was no option to sell the old one or at least destroy it and get a part of resources back. So I furnish a bunch of resorts, then get Bathroom lvl2 upgrade, go back, yank out all the sinks and toilets that have zero value now, I can't do anything with them but throw them away, and install all the new stuff. In two days a quest gets completed and I suddenly receive Bathroom lvl 3 blueprints, and I go back and yank out everything I just installed - it's useless now - to replace it with the new stuff, and who knows how long that'll last. Of course, I can just leave the rooms as they are but the guest requirements increase as the resort grows in popularity so to raise the stats I need to keep upgrading it.
Because of how rapidly the game dishes out blueprints, I felt like there wasn't enough value attached to them. I was so excited that I could upgrade bedrooms and install new beds, and new wardrobes and whatnot, but just a couple of days later I received lvl3 blueprints, and it left me quite perplexed. At the start the game moves too fast.
Until it starts moving too slowly. I feel like there are bottlenecks in the course of Bear and Breakfast's progression and the game just rushes forward until it hits one and then it takes forever to squeeze through. It might be the lack of resources: many people who played on launch faced the infamous Nail Crisis - it later got patched - or you need a set of blueprints to move along a questline but you don't have active quests and all of them are just a waiting game: receive 50 positive reviews or accommodate 25 more people. And then you get the blueprints and a bunch of stuff gets unlocked and you're in a rush again.
Pacing problems plague not only the management part of the game but also its mysterious overarching plot. When you have a lead, you might not have the time to pursue it because there is so much stuff you need to do in the resorts. When you finally have time, you have ALL of your time. I wish that the game and the plot were more tightly interlaced so it didn't feel like two different games: now you play a management sim, and now you have a section that is just the visual novel and nothing else. There isn't much of the plot to begin with - although I did enjoy however much the game offered me - so the story gets unraveled very quickly, and it feels quicker still because at the time you don't have anything else to do. If the game could keep the pace of a little bit of management, a little bit of story, or integrate the plot somehow to break up the daily management routine - I'd appreciate it very much, and the proportion of the story to the game itself would look more substantial, if it makes sense.
Despite everything that I just said about things that I didn't like in Bear and Breakfast, it was exactly the game that I wanted to play, the game that I'd been so desperate for - a stress-free management sim, beautifully drawn, wonky in places but endlessly charming. Yes, it's not flawless but I wish the guys from Gummy Cat nothing but further success and I will be looking forward to their next projects. If you're into tight complicated management sims where you need to plan your moves and carefully manage resources, you'll probably be unsatisfied with Bear and Breakfast because it is a game about a bear running resorts in his own bear way.
If you have any recommendations for stress-free casual management sims, drop them in the comments below.
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Thank you for your time.