Substance and Style: An Everdell Review

I think most gamers would agree with me that when I say the the most important thing in a game’s design is the mechanics. Many a game has won over the heart of hobby enthusiasts with nothing more than a sea of beige and a handful of wooden cubes. This isn’t to say that we are opposed to our games having a strong theme, it’s just that most of the time it doesn’t always add much to the overall experience. But every once in a while there comes along a game that has a theme so charming and wonderful that it has the ability to take a mechanically sound game to a whole new level of enjoyment.

Everdell may just be the most adorable game that has ever been released. If I could choose any one game in my collection to leave permanently set up on my table, it would hands down be Everdell. Between the giant cardboard tree, incredibly realistic resources, and amazing animeeples, this game is a real looker. Then when you get a little closer and actually check out the card art…let’s just say it definitely brings the world to life. There’s more to a game than it’s looks, so let me go into a little more detail as to why I think this game is truly special.

In Everdell each player is working to build out their own little town of critters. The cards in the game represent both the critters that will inhabit your town as well as the various buildings and structures available to them. The main board is the means by which players will acquire the necessary resources to both recruit these critters as well as build the buildings. It also contains a communal “hand” of cards available to all players. Not to mention the ever tree. But i suppose I’m getting a little ahead of myself, so why don’t I dial it back for  a second and explain how the game is actually played.

At the beginning of the game the most prominent mechanic is worker placement. Each player will have a couple of animeeples available to them to send out to various locations on the board. While the board has a handful of set locations, a few others will be added each game from a deck of cards to change things up. The primary purpose of these locations is to gather the different resources the game provides. Berries are used for recruiting critter cards, while stone, resin, and sticks are used to build structures. Should a player choose not to place an animeeple, their other option is to play a card to their town by playing it’s cost. These cards may do a number of different things. Some are production cards, giving players an immediate reward and more at the beginning of the various seasons. Some are merely instant bonuses. Other cards create new locations for your workers and sometimes those of your opponents. There are also cards that provide ongoing benefits or discounts. And lastly there are cards that reward players with some sort of endgame scoring bonus.

It’s worth mentioning though that there is a way to avoid paying the cost of some cards. All critters pair with a certain type of construction. Once you’ve built the correct building you may play it’s matching critter for free. While this sounds nice, it can create quite the dilemma. Do you just go ahead and pay to play the critter now, gaining it’s rewards as soon as possible or do you wait, hoping to get it’s matching structure card so that you can save a couple berries.

Eventually though, players will both have no more workers to place as well as no more cards they can afford to play. At this point the player must pass, moving forward into the next season. This allows the player to take back all their workers, opening up previously blocked spaces for other players, and will either trigger production cards or give you additional workers, and possible both depending on the season. This creates an interesting dynamic as players will be transitioning to and from different seasons at different times. Ideally the players who can stretch their seasons the longest will see them themselves accomplishing more, but this may not always be the most efficient strategy.

As the game progresses players will try to play into their town certain types of cards that they can score points for by sending a worker to a specific location on the board. Each game there will also be specific sets of cards that will provide bonus points and abilities once claimed by a player. Players will have to be careful though as each town can only hold a maximum of 15 cards. Each game will see players racing to complete these sets of specified cards while trying to maintain an efficient engine to propel them to the end  of the game.

Mechanically the game is both simple and sound. The game can be set up and taught in less than 10-15 minutes. The first couple turns are so straightforward that even non-gamers will be able to feel comfortable, and will be prepared for the slow influx of rules and actions granted as they begin playing cards one at a time. Not to mention, the game plays fairly quickly making it much more friendly for those who aren’t used to dedicating an entire evening to gaming.

On the other end of the spectrum, there is plenty of game here for the more experience gamers in your life. The sheer number of cards in the game will prevent any one player from seeing, let alone playing, all the cards that they want in any given game. And the various location cards and card set bonuses will help keep the game fresh with multiple plays. Not to mention, the idea of stretching each season out to it’s fullest is a fun optimization puzzle that I wish other games would adopt.

If you can’t tell I highly recommend Everdell. It is a great example of game that straddles the various divides in gaming, and does so without collapsing in on itself. It’s mechanically sound, while also being thematic and charming. It’s easy and accessible, while also robust and deep. What more could a gamer ask for, am I right?

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