Thank you for checking review #123 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
**Note: The publisher provided a copy of the game in exchange for an honest review. All opinions remain my own.
**Second Note: I lost a LOT of photos that have been taken in the past few months. So I have only a few on here, but I will be editing in more soon!
An overview of Everdell
Everdell is a board game designed by James A. Wilson that is published by Starling Games. The box state it plays 1-4 players and has a playtime of 40-80 minutes.
Within the charming valley of Everdell, beneath the boughs of towering trees, among meandering streams and mossy hollows, a civilization of forest critters is thriving and expanding. From Everfrost to Bellsong, many a year have come and gone, but the time has come for new territories to be settled and new cities established. You will be the leader of a group of critters intent on just such a task. There are buildings to construct, lively characters to meet, events to host—you have a busy year ahead of yourself. Will the sun shine brightest on your city before the winter moon rises?
Everdell is a game of dynamic tableau building and worker placement.
On their turn a player can take one of three actions:
a) Place a Worker: Each player has a collection of Worker pieces. These are placed on the board locations, events, and on Destination cards. Workers perform various actions to further the development of a player’s tableau: gathering resources, drawing cards, and taking other special actions.
b) Play a Card: Each player is building and populating a city; a tableau of up to 15 Construction and Critter cards. There are five types of cards: Travelers, Production, Destination, Governance, and Prosperity. Cards generate resources (twigs, resin, pebbles, and berries), grant abilities, and ultimately score points. The interactions of the cards reveal numerous strategies and a near infinite variety of working cities.
c) Prepare for the next Season: Workers are returned to the players supply and new workers are added. The game is played from Winter through to the onset of the following winter, at which point the player with the city with the most points wins.
I enjoy a good worker placement game. This one is pretty solid overall in design, with the ramp up in workers gradually across all seasons of the game. I like that there are spaces that are closed, supporting only one worker at a time, and ones that are open which can hold any number of workers. Depending on the cards, there are spaces that randomly come into play to add either 3 or 4 more action spaces (and at 4 players, each has 2 spots to place on). And certain cards, when placed into a player’s tableau, have action spaces. You go from hoping to get to do more than 2 things in the first season to having a ton of options and extra “actions” via cards later in the game and it provides a very satisfying progression.
The other half of this game mechanics come from tableau building via cards, and here is where the real spotlight shines for me (because I’m that kind of player). You get to hold up to 15 cards which, again, at the very beginning feels impossible to accomplish since you might get 1-2 cards if you are lucky in that first season. Part of this comes from the clever design where getting the appropriate Structure into play can allow you to bring its paired Creature into play for free on a later turn. That makes it fun to seek out pairs, and to hold Structures in your hand to drop down if/when its partnered card appears in your hand or the Meadow. Perhaps more important are the effects of the cards, with a good number having an effect that triggers when played and, after the first and third seasons, will all trigger again automatically thus encouraging an early focus on those types of cards. Yet others will give you benefits any time you build a certain type of card, and some will score extra end-game points based on types of cards. Some cards open new action spaces to use, some of which can be used by your opponents at a cost. And other cards will allow you to build other cards at a discount later in the game. Very few games have a constant feeling of increasing power. Everdell nails it perfectly.
Resources seem abundant and scarce at the same time. There are ample places to get resources, and tons of cards that will help you get more resources into your pool. Yet you will often find yourself needing to spend several actions to get what you need to play a card, or get creative with discarding a load of cards. This is great because it never feels like you can just buy any card you need, yet it also never feels like a card is completely out of reach. Even if the single printed space for pebbles is taken, there is a way around that restriction without needing to wait for them to vacate the space. The push-pull for resources is harsh very early, feels like it opens up mid-game, and then feels difficult to accomplish again in the final season as you are pushing to score as many points as possible while trying to find a way to play this card you just drew that could be worth a lot if you get it out.
The fluid flow of the game is one I wasn’t so sure about going into the game, but I find I really like it. What happens here is that a season doesn’t end at the same time for everyone. It is an action you take on your turn to Prepare for Season, which is when you get more workers, retrieve the ones you already placed, and more. Which means that it is entirely possible to never have it line up to where you have a worker ready to claim a key 1-worker space unless you try to time your seasons around the blocking opponent, adding an extra layer of interesting intrigue into the gameplay. Not only that, it means the game might end for me far sooner than it ends for you. This was what I was concerned with, but since the turns are fast and most players end up finishing in a close timeframe, it has proven to be negligible – especially in a 2-player game. We haven’t had a game yet where it has been more than 5 minutes to wait while the other person finishes out their final plays.
The game has a hard limit of 8 cards in your hand. This seems odd at first, and it really is unusual. The rules don’t allow you to draw that 9th card, even if you are supposed to. You can’t draw it and discard down to 8. You can’t discard ahead of time as part of that preceding action. You must already have enough room in your hand to accept all of the cards you are about to draw, otherwise you stop completely once the 8th is in your hand. While this makes it incredibly difficult to dig through the deck for more cards, there are still ways to make use of those extra cards you don’t want or need. The most obvious choice is to discard them at a 2-cards for 1-resource ratio using one of your workers. It isn’t a bad trade-off, although I never like spending said worker to accomplish this as there is always something else I need done that requires the worker. And in the final Season, there are spaces where you can discard cards for points, with the highest point spaces able to contain only one worker so first-come, first-serve.
The offset the hard limit of cards is the presence of the Meadow. This has 8 face-up cards at all times, and anyone can freely pay to play a card from there on their turn. Also, as your second Prepare for Season action, you’ll get to take 2 of the Meadow cards into your hand (assuming you aren’t maxed out in your hand…). This Meadow of cards is great, except when you buy a card only to see the card you wanted flip up and your opponent immediately plays it (or draws it, if they hit that prepare action) leaving you hoping to draw into a much harder-to-find copy of the card deeper in the deck. No, that hasn’t ever happened to me. Why would you think that?
The game plays fast at 1-3, and is easy to get to the table. I love it at 2, and I hope that comes through here. However, I do want to briefly touch on the solo play of the game. It is HARD. Why? Because the opponent blocks off spaces on the board, spaces on the cards, and blocks increasingly-more cards in the Meadow. That is dynamic enough. But they also gain a card at random from the Meadow (d8 roll) whenever you play a card. Those cards are worth 2-3 points per card, AND when things go wrong it’ll also help them score some of those Basic Events if you haven’t claimed it already when you do a Prepare for Season action. The AI is simple to pilot, the hallmark of a good solo system, and provides a strong challenge. You’ll hear a gripe here shortly about the solo experience, but as a whole I appreciate the game’s deliverance of a challenging opponent in a meaty experience that only takes about 45 minutes to set up and play.
I am not necessarily against extraneous components, but I am also a firm believer that components are merely chrome. Some of them can be more functional with improvements, but I have never been one to seek after deluxified games and pimped-out table presence. Shoot, half the time I can’t even be bothered to use a playmat with a card game or even to sleeve all my beloved cards. So take it with a grain of salt here when I say this game is unnecessarily overproduced. Not to the point where it gets a ridiculous MSRP based on what comes in the box – that I have no issue with at all. I do have the deluxe version of the game, and I don’t deny the feel of metal coins and wooden discs is good. The bits (which are the same in the retail version) are really good in quality. But that forsaken tree. Yes, it is cardboard. But it adds nothing other than a “wow” factor designed to make players ask what the game is. And I get that, kudos for those involved with finding a cost-effective 3D structure to “integrate” into the game. But my biggest issue, apart from the annoyance of everyone oohing and aahing over the tree to interrupt gameplay in public, is that it moves a pretty important piece of the game onto an elevated, flat surface to where it is not as easy to reference. Those Special Events, which you’ll see soon how much I love, become either forgotten or force players to stand to remember what on earth the cards they need to find actually are.
Which brings us to the only real negative I have with the game: the Special Events and the impossibility of accomplishing them. I’ve played a reasonable sample size of the game with 6 plays under my belt, and I have seen exactly one fulfilled. That amounts to 1/24 achieved. The problem? The deck of cards is too thick and the likelihood of seeing the two cards you need, much less obtaining them both, is far slimmer than you would expect. At least it has been the case so far. Combine this with the limitation on drawing that I praised earlier, and you have a formula for disaster in trying to accomplish these Special Events. Also keep in mind you need to place a worker there after getting the cards, too, in order to claim the event. It is an exercise in futility that shouldn’t be a factor. And in a multiplayer game, it is fine. I have no issue in us all failing spectacularly – although if one person accomplishes a Special Event it can be a huge boost for them. The issue shifts when we get to the solo experience, where Rugwort scores all of the ones you didn’t accomplish. They might as well gift-wrap him those precious points.
Everdell had a bad first impression for me. It was a sour taste that I simply couldn’t get out of my mouth: that tree was clearly 100% visual gimmick. Even worse, it made those Special Events difficult to reference during the game because they were on an elevated plane. It was around midnight after a long day at a convention, and I grew tired of everyone stopping as they walked by to comment about the dang tree. It was not the most conducive way to play the game for the first time, and all of us were learning the game. Yet it was enough to make me interested in playing the game again, in spite of reservations about the scarcity of pebbles.
The tree remains a gimmick, and most of the time pebbles are still a commodity that is difficult to obtain in quantities high enough to buy all of the constructions you are wanting. However, my irritation overall faded into the distance as the game itself became the focal point for my attention. You go from feeling like you can do nothing in the first season of the game to having a maxed-out tableau of cards which, hopefully, have at least a few synergistic triggers that maximize your final turns of the game without needing to do as many placements of your workers. Everdell is a hybrid of a game between a classic worker placement, such as Agricola, and a tableau/engine builder, such as Race for the Galaxy. And while it isn’t as good at either of those areas as the big-hitters mentioned, the merger between the two gives Everdell something of a unique, refreshing offering as a game experience.
And that combination makes this game darn-near perfect as a fit for our personal collection, because it takes her absolute favorite mechanism (worker placement) and combines it with one of my favorites (engine/tableau building). This is a really fun game that we’ve thoroughly enjoyed and will continue to explore (I’ve even heard that the Pearlbrook expansion helps…) but it isn’t our primary go-to gaming experience. At least not yet, although I could definitely see it becoming a staple in our rotation as we dive deeper into the game.
The biggest offender comes in the form of those Special Events. You would think they shouldn’t be that difficult to achieve at least one in a game, yet I’ve seen it happen exactly once. Part of that is because of a misprinted card which, had I known at the time, I could have accomplished a Special Event but chose to toss the needed card because I didn’t know it was the needed card. Anyway, the big issue here is that the stack of cards to draw from is so freaking massive. Not even kidding. Yes, most of the cards have 2-3 copies in there that you can draw. Statistically speaking, you should see most of the 8 required cards for the Special Events during the course of gameplay regardless of the player count. But it just doesn’t play out that way, and trying to dig for a specific card isn’t entirely possible because you have a hard cap at 8 cards in your hand. Already have 8 when you need to draw a card? Tough luck, you don’t even get to draw that card. It is a clever twist, sure, but frustrating because you have to first spend an action to discard cards in order to draw cards to search for the item you need.
All in all, Everdell is a delight to play in spite of the frustration of those Special Event cards…unless you are playing the game solo. After all, in a multiplayer game you are all on the same footing if those cards never do come out for someone to lock in the combo, and even if you do get lucky enough to pull it off you have to spend one of your worker placements to claim the space. But in the solo game against Rugwort the Rat, he scores points for every one of them you do not accomplish. I suppose it is probably designed that way to give him that small boost to his score to make things competitive, but that still makes it feel bad when you finish a solo game and not a single pair appeared all game. As impossible as it sounds, my solo play didn’t even see both the Husband and Wife come out, just several Husbands and Farms. You are going through about the same amount of deck, thanks to Rugwort’s gaining a card anytime you do, and he punishes shenanigans like the Crane because he ultimately gains 2 cards while you sacrifice the Crane to gain into the 1 card. That changes the way in which you value certain actions, and creatures like the 0-point Postal Pigeon suddenly becomes a high risk-reward play.
As a while, Everdell is a game we’re going to keep in our collection for a long time. It offers a fast gameplay experience with a moderate amount of setup and teardown time, but is easily one of those games that can be pulled out on a worknight and enjoyed. Its table presence delights my toddler son, and I have a feeling one of our cats is responsible for a missing Red Squirrel meeple that I hope we’ll find in the next few months as we move into a new home (I am about 60% sure it was there when I unpacked everything and set out the colors for my wife to choose when we got around to playing it…) – if not, I guess we still have 4 playable colors and we rarely need even that many player accommodations. The game has beautiful production, exciting gameplay, and really simple rules that allow you to just dig into exploring new strategies and combinations during gameplay. That is the hallmark of a great game, and one I’m extremely glad to have in our collection.