When I was in elementary school, I drove past a bed and breakfast every morning. I lived in a tourist town, so its presence wasn’t exactly surprising, but since no one I knew had ever stayed there, it had an air of mystery. Regardless of the question of who would want to visit my hometown, anyway, there was the larger question of what it would be like to stay there, or even—perhaps?—to run it.
Now I and everyone else who’s ever dreamed of running away and opening a bakery or spent too much time designing an apartment in The Sims can answer this question for ourselves. Bear and Breakfast is a hotel management sim developed by Gummy Cat and published by Armor Games Studios, where you play as a bear on an errand from his mom who stumbles across a property development scheme run by a robotic shark. You can make money by developing hotels across the forest you live in and renting them out to humans—messy, absentminded creatures who want to spend two days, max, in the scenic area you call home.
After a short tutorial, you’re ready to build your first B&B. This process involves dividing your property into rooms, then populating those rooms with the furniture they require: bedrooms need beds, bathrooms need a sink and shower, etc. By decorating each room, you raise its comfort and decoration scores, two criteria by which your guests will judge and rate your establishment. These guests also generate trash during their stay, which you can give to a discerning raccoon in exchange for decorative items. The loop of getting cash (and garbage) payments from guests that can be funneled back into improving their stay is gripping, and I had a few late nights where I was determined to finish just one more building request that ended up taking me down a whole new path.
This clinical description of the decoration process fails to capture one thing about it: it’s really, really fun. The micromanagement of mapping out a room that hits guest requirements while also making it aesthetically pleasing scratched a crafting game itch that I didn’t know I had. The small details of the game are beautifully designed and look great together, and there’s enough variety that I felt like as much of a home designer on my 50th room as I did on my first.
After spending about 20 hours with it, the word I associate with Bear and Breakfast is abundance. It’s an ethos that comes through in every part of the game, from its crafting process to its quests, and even to the amount of content it contains. For the first half of the game, I found enough materials just by wandering around to craft almost anything I needed. When characters sent me on quests, I often had the item they needed sitting in my inventory. Playing Bear and Breakfast is a soothing experience. Frequently, it’s easy. But even when you’re completing a more challenging task, there’s little stopping you from taking a break and going to cook some french onion soup, or wandering down to the swamp to deliver flowers to an alligator witch.
It’s inevitable that Bear and Breakfast will encourage comparisons with Stardew Valley, given its twee vibes and rural setting. But it reminds me more of Two Point Hospital, the 2018 management and design sim from British Two Point Studios. Like Two Point, Bear and Breakfast emphasizes rating systems for rooms and whole buildings, meaning that you have to consider how a room’s content affects its score. Additionally, there are specialized rooms in each hotel that guests request, like bars and kitchens, that you can design for additional benefits. You are also managing multiple buildings at once, a juggling act that can get complicated fast if you, for example, forget that one of your properties exists. This contributes to a more active experience that occasionally becomes stressful: there’s always something you can be doing, which also means there will always be something you’ve overlooked.
There are also some issues with the balance between property quests, materials, and money. You have to constantly upgrade rooms with both crafted and traded items to keep up with guest demands. However, though materials are plentiful at the beginning and usually easy to find, you have to return to old areas consistently to keep your stock updated. I ran into a few bugs where necessary materials didn’t appear where they should have, and sometimes the scarcity of one type of item meant there was a lull between finishing one task and starting another. Additionally, taking on hotel improvement tasks can quickly put you underwater, and I found myself in several situations when my guests wanted a level of luxury I didn’t have the blueprints to provide. There is always something to be working on, but it’s not always something you can actually accomplish.
But balance issues and some repetitive design choices can’t stand in the way of the fact that designing your motels is extremely entertaining. In its latter half, it also ditches some of its more wholesome vibes to tell a story about the development of the forest you live in and how its construction was riddled with conflict. This isn’t a thesis on labor and exploitation; this is a chill management sim, after all. But it’s also a story about animals developing a series of businesses to cater to messy, picky humans. The nod to the relationship of your business with human society, while not very substantial, was still appreciated.
Bear and Breakfast is the most fun I’ve had with a management sim in a long time. As I write this, I can’t wait to finish up the checklist of tasks on my last hotel and round out my recipe list. It’s a crafting experience with a lot of depth that never becomes too repetitive, and even when it gives you too much to do, it also encourages you to step back and take a breath.
Bear and Breakfast was developed by Gummy Cat Studio and published by Armor Games Studios. Our review is based on the PC version. A Switch version is expected later in 2022.
Emily Price is an intern at Paste and a columnist at Unwinnable Magazine. She is also a PhD Candidate in literature at the CUNY Graduate Center. She can be found on Twitter @the_emilyap.