Everdell Breakdown (CE)
Author: Geoffrey Heffernan
What is it?
Designer: James A. Wilson
Publisher: Starling games
Artist: Andrew Bosley
Year of publication: 2018
Number of players: 1-4
Play time: 60 -120 min
Price: $119 AUD (Retail version $80-90)
Worker placement 30%
Engine building 50%
Push your luck 1%
In Everdell players take turns either placing workers or playing cards in order build their own separate city and hopefully score the most victory points. Workers are mostly placed to gain resources but can also be used to claim objectives, score points and trigger a variety of other effects. Resources are used to play cards, either from one’s private hand, or from a communal array of cards known as the Meadow. The cards are the meat of the game, having a wide variety of different effects, gaining bonus resources, drawing more cards, scoring points and even creating new spots for your workers to be placed. In addition to the direct effects, cards also may also combine to give you the ability to complete events and score additional points, however players must be careful to maximise the use of the limited space of 15 cards in their city. Everdell has a unique pacing mechanism with players progressing through seasons only when they choose to spend a turn collecting all their workers, effectively meaning some players may at times be a season, or even two ahead of others.
Everdell is a truly beautiful production that raises the bar to a new level for other publishers. The artwork is so gorgeous that it is emotionally engaging and draws you perfectly into the theme. The unmissable centerpiece of the 3D Evertree improves the table presence which is further enhanced by the clever choice of materials for the resource pieces, which actually look and feel like what they represent. Unfortunately the cardboard tree will inevitably start to fall apart after 10 or so plays, there a wooden alternative that looks even more stunning, but it is pretty expensive. Insert is decent, it is a boring brown color that could have been a bit nicer, sleeved cards just fit back into the box, I would have preferred more breathing space but it does work, might be better to avoid FFG sleeves and go slightly thinner.
The aesthetics do also create some use-ability issues, in order to maximise space for the art, some of the text on the cards is a little small. The tree also blocks players from sitting on one side of the table meaning in a 4 player match two of the players will be a bit far away from the board. These issues are worth mentioning but can easily be addressed by sitting new players closest to the board, as anyone who has played 2-3 games will remember most of the card effects anyway and if the tree really bugs you, it can always be left in the box as its functionally superfluous.. Another practical issue is the berries and twigs may unfortunately roll around a bit if you are not playing on a properly leveled surface which can be annoying at times.
Why play it?
Everdell is a perfect example of a family weight plus game, it will draw in a wide audience with its charm and Aesthetic appeal, yet delivers game play that is deeply satisfying to even the most serious of gamers. The rules are definitely not light, but are easy to follow and the the game is highly approachable for new players..
The core game play draw is the engine building, specifically the ability to use a variety of card effects to create powerful combinations. A true strength of the design is the mix of explicit and implicit combinations, some cards work directly with each other, such as the ability to build a critter for free if you already build their preferred home, however the ability to discard an expensive card with the bard then build it for free with the cemetery next turn is far more subtle. Finding creative ways to combine card effects is very rewarding and will keep the game fresh and interesting for a long time.
In many engine builders you continually accrue more and more resources in an unconstrained fashion until the most efficient engine wins. Whilst these games are certainly fun at times, Everdell takes an interesting departure from this formula, adding the additional tension of a hard limit of 15 cards in your city. This limit means players must balance the amount of space required to build an engine, with the amount of space required to score from said engine.
Everdell also stands out for its ability to create constant competition between players. Players must time their actions correctly to claim resources, meadow cards and complete events before other players. This creates a higher than average amount of player interaction without the need for much direct attacking.
The theme is extremely well integrated with the mechanisms, all the buildings and critters have effects that are both mechanically interesting and thematically relevant. I particularly liked how all the special events are thematically tied to buildings and critters that would naturally be involved with such an event.
Another strength of the design is the way card draw and discard is handled, as players are able to discard for resources or sometimes even victory points. This makes drawing for the combos you want much more viable and brilliantly sidesteps the issue of an unlucky hand ruining your experience.
The way the collectors edition content was designed is worth noting. Rather than just adding more of the same, each module is specifically designed to modify the game to the players taste in a specific area. You have the option of slightly increasing town size with the Legendary Cards, adding extra take that with the Rugworts or some push your luck elements and high risk high reward cards with Extra Extra.
Everdell plays equally well at any player count and has a decent solo mode that will keep you interested for a few plays. At 2 players the meadow does fall a little flat as it does not cycle enough to be relevant, no major negative impact on play though as there are plenty of ways to draw cards from the deck instead. Other than the usability issues mentioned with the components it really is a struggle to find any other negative with this game at all.
Who is it for?
Everdell is the perfect game for a serious player to table with family and casuals because of its stunning beauty, accessible rule-set and charming theme. Fans of classic children's fantasy such as The Wind in the Willows, Winnie the Poo and Disney films will love the theme. It is the perfect way to ease any casual player into the territory of a medium weight euro.
For serious gamers this game punches above its weight, providing a wide range of strategic and tactical options, allowing for creative combinations of cards and massive variety between plays. Refreshingly this is achieved without a suffocating amount of rules to learn and teach, a truly efficient and elegant design.
The game is not suited to small children, but the squishy berries do make a great distraction while mum and dad are playing!
Vision impaired will really struggle with the small print on the cards and a well lit room is essential for this reason too.
Where does it fit?
Everdell is definitely a mixed mechanism game, the worker placement isn't as central to the mechanisms as in a pure worker placement game like Agricola.
The meat of the game is in the card effects and combinations, this definitely reminds me of Terraforming Mars, but Everdell comes in at a much more comfortable weight and duration for casual play.
Fans of Above and Below or Near and far will get a similar thematic charm from this game and it makes a great next step up in complexity from those games.
Classic: A truly unique and innovative title or spectacularly well executed example of a genre.