Any game that centres around an enormous 3D tree gets my vote
A few years ago Jess got a £50 voucher for Christmas and as we were just getting into board gaming we decided to spend it on a game. Jess asked what we should get and I just said “oh I don’t know, just go on Instagram and pick a game that looks good”. So she scrolls down on #boardgames and we stumble across this game that has a 3D tree at one end of the board, and tonnes of adorable little critter meeples and cards. It took us about 10 seconds after that to order it, and since then it has become Jess’s all-time favourite game (and it’s in my top 10 for sure!).
Set in the fictional valley of Everdell, players take on the role of forest critters, each attempting to build the most prosperous city, recruiting animals and constructing buildings over the course of the four seasons from winter through to autumn. It’s a delightful journey, so how does it work?
How the game works
The aim of the game is to score the most points, which are primarily scored through the construction of buildings and hiring of critters into your city, but there are also public objectives and bonuses to be achieved. Each player starts with two adorable little critters as their workers (gaining four more over the course of the game), and can place them across various forest locations to gain resources and draw new cards. You can collect sticks, pebbles, resin and berries which on later turns you can use to buy a card from your hand or the meadow (a shared pool of cards) into your city in front of you.
Each card is either a construction or a critter, and most provide either an instant or ongoing effect, others giving extra end-game bonuses and some even provide extra locations to send your workers. The green production cards are vital early on as they provide extra resources when you change between seasons, whilst later on you might want to get some purple prosperity cards as they tend to be worth lots of points and provide good bonuses.
Once you construct a building, you are then allowed to hire the matching critter for free, which can be a massive help and save you valuable resources, so keep your eye open for the matching critter turning up so you can snap it up for a bargain! For example once you have built the University you can buy the Doctor for free (which usually costs 4 berries).
As the game goes on, the cards in your city should help you do more with your turns beyond just buying critters for free. Some will allow you to get discounts on new buildings, or rewards for doing certain actions, so it’s essential you try and get some good combinations together. You can only build cards from your hand (you begin the game with a lot but you will need to draw lots more during the game) or the meadow (which can be accessed by anyone so the card you have your eye on can easily be pinched), so having a good selection in your hand can be the difference between winning and losing.
Once you have used your workers and have run out of things to build (either you’re skint or you’ve run out of space in your city – 15 cards maximum), you can move onto the next season (everyone moves through the seasons at their own speed so end the game at different points), in which you gather your workers back, gain any new workers for that season, and depending on the season you’re moving into you either activate all your green production cards or draw two meadow cards. At the end of the fourth season you’ve finished and must wait for everyone else to do the same.
During the last round try and pick up some of the special and basic “events” to gain a few extra points, and visit the “Journey” space to turn any remaining cards into points. In most cases you don’t get any points for leftover resources either (unless you have an Architect in your city), so try and use them all up!
Everdell is so much fun to play, with one of the most breathtaking boards and decks of cards I’ve ever seen. The Ever Tree which you construct before playing each game is sturdy enough and although yes is probably superfluous to the game, who cares! You put the special event cards on one level and the additional workers on the top level, with the deck of cards resting neatly in between the two “branches”, so yes you could play the game quite happily without but don’t be so boring! It’s a tree! In a game!
My favourite element of the artwork is on the cards. As you can see from the examples I’ve already shown, the attention to detail is phenomenal and every detail is there for a reason. I love looking through the cards and how the individual critters relate to their buildings, and with 128 cards in the deck (there are duplicates) and even more in the various expansions, there’s plenty of replayability here. The sets of critters are all different as well (personal favourite is the foxes from one of the expansions), and the resource components are unbelievably satisfying (especially the ever so slightly squidgy berries). The only slight disappointment on that front is that the wooden sticks roll too easily but I believe this has been rectified since.
It was a long time ago that we learnt Everdell (and we were relatively new to gaming then), but it really isn’t a difficult game to get to grips with. Sure, there are a lot of cards and combinations to make the most of in order to be efficient, and it is easy to forget a card effect (e.g. “oh I forgot I was supposed to draw a card on my last turn because of my Historian), but the rulebook is very detailed and has a full glossary of each construction and critter card for reference. It even has a delightful background story about how the fictional valley of Everdell came to be, and solo rules (which I am yet to play).
It’s very fun to try and maximise your resources and workers to try and build the best city, and there’s a small enough pool of worker spots to make it quite a tight competition to for the best ones. The four forest locations change each game and tend to be the most lucrative, so it might be worth nabbing one of those before playing the card you had planned to play, but then what if someone takes the Clock Tower card from the meadow before you get the chance to build that next turn?! Decisions, decisions.
There are a couple of small criticisms I can think of for Everdell. One, there’s a fair amount of luck involved, based on cards each player draws. For example a player drawing four or five cheap, decent production cards early on is likely to give them an advantage over someone drawing expensive prosperity cards. Sometimes you might pick up all the critters that match the buildings already in your city and get to play them for free while your opponents flounder, bemoaning their inability to complete their Husband/Wife combo due to not picking any up. But there are lots of ways of picking up lots of cards throughout the game (if you can bag yourself a Historian early then you won’t ever have a problem with cards), so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem unless someone has freakishly bad luck throughout.
Another point which could be seen as a negative (you may disagree!), is that because experienced players will know which combinations of cards go well together, new players are unlikely to beat experienced players as there are simply too many cards to calculate which will go well together. For example I like the University – Bard – Doctor combo, where after buying a University and the Bard (which can give you up to 5 point tokens but has a base value of 0), you then use the University to get rid of the Bard (getting the resources back and freeing up a space in your city), get the Doctor for free then pay the 3 berries you got back from getting rid of the Bard to get another 3 points! For me if a friend is teaching me a meaty game for the first time I want to think I’ve got a chance of beating them, rather than using the first game as a learning game and needing to play again.
There could be a little bit of downtime playing with four players, as players may take a few minutes to decide their turn, but generally the more experienced players won’t take long to make their move and may even have the next two or three turns planned out!
Minor criticisms aside though I would really recommend this game to you, its gorgeous, fun, not too complicated and above all else it is really charming. Keep an eye out for my upcoming reviews of two of the Everdell expansions, Spirecrest and Pearlbrook (we don’t own Bellfaire yet but we are backing the upcoming Kickstarter!)!
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