Thank you for checking review #113 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 prototype preview copy of the game, which is currently running on Kickstarter. All opinions remain my own.
An overview of Orchard: A 9 Card Solitaire Game
Orchard: A 9 Card Solitaire Game is a board game designed by Mark Tuck that is published by Side Room Games. The box state it plays 1 player and has a playtime of 5-10 minutes.
Orchard is a quick solitaire ’tile laying’ game that plays in under 10 minutes. The aim of the game is to harvest fruit (score points) by playing cards so that their fruit trees overlap other trees already in the orchard that bear the same fruit. The more trees you can overlap, the more fruit you’ll pick.
As well as the 9 double sided cards, you’ll need 15 dice (of 3 colours) to keep track of your increasing harvest, and 2 cubes to represent ‘rotten’ fruit. These allow you to lay a card that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to – but come with a points forfeit. So you must decide if and when to play them.
Orchard was the winner of the 2018 9-Card Nanogame Print and Play Design Contest.
This game is so simple. So easy. Which is what makes it such a clever game – you can pick it up and learn it in minutes. Maybe even less than a minute. Yet beneath that simplicity is an elegant game that provides far more challenge than you would expect to find in this box. After all, I mastered laying down tiles back in my Carcassonne days. I mastered laying cards in games like Circle the Wagons, Sprawlopolis, Seasons of Rice, Penny Rails, and many others. But this game is unique because…
The challenge in the game isn’t to make the biggest Orchard. Or to get groups of identical colors (sometimes that makes this game more difficult when that happens!) together. No, the challenge here is to position things to where you can play parts of a card atop other parts of cards with matching colors/fruits underneath. But one good placement isn’t enough – to really reap the fruit you’re sowing, you need to be able to do it 2-3 times to the same fruit. Without screwing up too bad, because you can at most cover with a wrong fruit twice in the game – each time earning you a -3 to your final score and making it so that spot can never be played on again.
There are 18 cards included in the box, meaning this follows the same solo pattern as games like Herbaceous where you use half the cards for the first game and then can immediately reset and play with the other half of the cards (and can compare to see which set you did better with). Since the cards are numbered, it also makes it so you can stack the deck in a particular order to make for interesting sequences – or to potentially reduce the challenge level.
The penalty of the rotten fruit feels a little harsh. -3 points AND that space is forever blocked. That’s cruel and unusual punishment, forcing me to make suboptimal plays. I’ve run into the same thing in games like Agricola/Caverna where you’ll make horrible decisions just to make sure you can feed your people, because if you fail at that you might as well quit now because your score isn’t going to be good. In a game where most of my fruit still score me 1 point, it makes it so I really need to think twice before making a play that causes a rotten fruit. And most of the time, even when I think it is the right play, I end up with a pathetic score anyway. Which is probably a reflection on me.
There is no win condition or loss condition here, just a beat-your-own-high-score. And I’ll certainly play this game in spite of that because it is fast and enjoyable, even if I’m going to “lose” a ton based on my low scores. But I really prefer games that offer at least some chance of losing. Something as simple as “if you need to place a third rotten fruit, you lose” would change nothing mechanically and give you that press-your-luck risk. Not that you’re going to want those rotten fruit anyway because of how punishing they are.
Orchard falls into a funky place for me, the same sort of location that Sprawlopolis by Button Shy Games resides in. Both are games that I enjoy playing, as they are fast, easy to set up and tear down, and provide a lot of good, fun replay value in a small footprint and at a great value. However, I am pretty sure I am one of the world’s worst players at both of the games, as most of the time my scores are relatively laughable. On occasion I will have a successful play, but by and large I resign myself to mediocrity of scoring. The one edge Sprawlopolis has would be the variable scoring conditions that come with a win/loss factor. But Orchard also has some good, interesting decisions to be made along the way which gives it something unique enough to keep them both.
Trying to position yourself to get a few 3’s or 6’s on those dice is the key to this game, and one I still am not even close to mastering. Most of the time I can get some 3’s and 1’s at the cost of a rotten fruit – which almost never proves to be worth that decision. There are a ton of spatial aspects to this game which are delightful, and it is extremely easy to pull this out on a whim and play a few games because of its short playtime and small footprint. It is a delight to look at, and at the price they want for this one – let’s just call it one of the best steals on Kickstarter right now. It is a game I will be happy to add to my collection, even if it only gets pulled off the shelf a few times a year it’ll have more than been worth it. And odds are it’ll get pulled off the shelf a lot more times than that because, even though I fail miserably at the game by the standards in the scoring chart, I’m having fun doing it. The puzzle of how to position myself for this turn, as well as to set up the next turns, is delightful. That feeling when placing a card that perfectly covers 5-6 fruit is incredible.
And all I need to play this against my wife is a second copy? Even at $24 this game is a steal as a couple’s game. One that I’ll really lose horribly at because, of course, it will all probably click for her after a play or two. It won’t be quite as portable as one of my Button Shy Games, but it will still fit perfectly in a pocket or two (or a purse, if she carried one), and it plays in the right amount of time to make it a great dinner date game to pull out while waiting for our food – or as something to play after we eat and we’re sitting there just sipping on our drinks and letting the food settle before leaving. It plays quick enough that it would be a game we could bust out even on the nights when we’re exhausted but insisting on playing a game before turning in ourselves.
In short, there’s not much more to say about this game. Whether you are looking at it for your solo collection, as a couple’s game, or to have it serve both purposes – I definitely recommend this one for just about any gamer out there. You won’t regret it, and you might just find Orchard consistently becomes one of your most-played games every year because of all the strengths it has to offer.