Designed By James A. Wilson
Published By Starling Games
Hello and welcome to another Solopotamus Review. Something you should probably know about me is that I have a penchant for anything having to do with woodland critters living out quaint lives among brooks and trees. If I could bottle the overwhelming sense of happiness I get from seeing a mouse in an apron and give it to everyone, I can assure you there would be no more war. This was why Everdell was one of my very first purchases at this past year’s Gen Con. Unfortunately, after one play of it at the con, we brought it home, threw it on the shelf and all but forgot about it. That was until I decided to give it a whirl solo. I don’t mean to spoil this review, but I’ll just say right now that nothing could have prepared me for the treat that soloing this game was and is. Let’s take a look at why.
What’s It About?
The animals of the valley of Everdell have lived pretty great lives so far. But – as happens with industrial ages of badgers, mice and blue jays – eventually new territories must be colonized in order to make room for future generations. In Everdell, you’ll lead one of these new territories as you build a home for a cast of adorable critters and woodland structures over the course of a year by way of several seasons. You’ll do this by placing workers, collecting resources and building a tableau in front of you which, when finished, will represent a village that you have put blood, sweat, and mouse tears into. Bathe in those mouse tears, you’ve earned it.
How Does it Play?
In Everdell, you can do one of three things on your turn. You can place a worker, play a card, or prepare for the next season. Placing a worker is much the same as any worker placement game. You’ll do the action on the board or randomly-selected-during-setup card and then collect the resources involved. Actions tend to be relegated to ‘getting’ something. That thing might be resources or cards into your hand or a combination of those two things. You can also place a worker on an event, but these are somewhat like missions and require you to have built a certain number of things in order to collect them.
Playing a card is where the game gets interesting. Playing a card means adding it to your city, or tableau. You are only allowed 15 cards in your town and the resource costs can seem quite daunting at the start of the game. But never fear. As the game progresses, you’ll get new workers but you’ll also start to build an engine that will allow you to bring in the resources you need. Make no mistake, this game is never generous with the resources, but with careful planning, chances are good that you can build your desired cards before the end of the game.
It also helps that certain structure cards, once in your village, can be used to supplement the resource cost for a critter of some kind in your town. For example, you might build a school, making the teacher essentially free to add to your town if you can get the card into your hand at some point. You can only do this once per structure, but it certainly helps to fill up your town even with a diet of limited resources.
Even more interesting is that while you can play cards from your max hand size of eight, you can also play cards from the meadow, which is a collection of eight cards that are available to all players. This means that you’ll constantly be checking all your options to see what card you’ll just barely be able to afford on your next turn.
Finally, you might decide to prepare for the next season, which is essentially passing for the round. You’ll get some new workers, and depending on the season, you’ll get to harvest your green cards once more OR possibly draw two cards into your hand. Something I wasn’t a fan of in the multiplayer game was that this meant you were essentially out of the round and then had to wait around while other players made, often long, decisions about their next move. Fortunately, this is not a concern in the solo game.
The Solo Side of Everdell
In Solo mode, you’ll be facing off against Rugwort, a pesky rat who only wants to watch the world burn, or something like that. First and foremost, I love how simple this solo variant is. Every time you play a card, Rugwort plays a card. To do this, you roll an 8-sided die and take the card from the meadow it indicates. (A ‘2’ would mean taking the second card in the row). You add this to Rugwort’s stack. After you prepare for a season he does as well, which really just means he moves some workers around in order to block you and checks to see if he achieved any events before you. At the end of the game, he scores 1 point for every card, 2 if the card is a blue card (These typically have higher value points on them anyway). He also scores for every event he completed as well as for every event you didn’t complete. And that’s it. Compare your final score to his and see who the winner is.
As simple as this solo variant sounds, it feels truly captivating. Being given all the time in the world to try and combo these cards off of each other feels extremely satisfying and you’ll find yourself pausing the game for long moments to see how you can squeeze out just one more point from an action. The game is tight. Resources are limited and every move you make matters. Never once do I place a worker without a fair amount of concern that I’m making a poor choice. But that’s exciting because even though these decisions are challenging and painful, they have real effects on your town and your final score.
I also appreciate that because Rugwort doesn’t score off the card itself, simply for having it, the game never feels cheap or unfair. I get a card, he gets a card. Every point I gain, potentially gives him at least one more. This means that while there are some free cards worth 0 points, you might not want to take them, because you’ll be giving him a free point. Events, which can be easy to overlook, can become super important to pay attention to because should you fail to nab them, he certainly will, and he’ll even gain points for the one’s you didn’t take. All in all, after several games against Rugwort, I’ve found the system to be wonderfully balanced, while fairly challenging. While I often lose to Rugwort, a win is always only by a couple of points and feels super satisfying.
And for all these tough decisions and moment’s of head scratching, the game plays super fast in solo, usually coming down to about 30 minutes once you’ve got a handle on the game. It’s even easy to reset so that if Rugwort beats you, and he will, you can reset and go into Everdell once more. There are even various difficulty settings in order to up the challenge if you find yourself winning more frequently.
What Could be Better about Everdell?
My complaints about this game are few and far between, but I will mention that the special event cards are easy to overlook. They sit on the top of the tree, somewhat out of eyesight and they require very specific characters and structures in your town. Because of this, I only usually get one of these events or none at all. I also can’t help but mention that for all the fantastic pieces of this game, it is sorely missing containers to hold the resources on the board. I’ve fixed this by adding in my own containers, but without them, the berries and wood roll away at an alarmingly obnoxious rate.
I haven’t even mentioned how stunningly beautiful Everdell is. From the box to the pieces to the cards, this is seriously a contender for prettiest game I own. Or perhaps I should tell you that the board and the erected tree, which is completely unnecessary to the gameplay, manages to look stunning on the table every single time you set it up. Most importantly, Everdell is a wonderfully delightful puzzle in Solo play that encourages that “One more play” feeling as you try to best Rugwort. While I love a good “beat your own score” solo game, Rugwort provides that extra layer of challenge that makes my mind stir with how to beat him, if even by one point. With a mini-expansion in the box of the collector’s edition and a new expansion, Pearlbrook, on the way with the promise of even more solo fun, I cannot recommend this game highly enough. Everdell is a game which deserves a place in any solo gamers shelf.
Thanks for Joining me for me for this solo review! Have a game I should try? Let me know in the comments!