It’s time for another Kickstarter game review, since that seems to have been the bulk of my game purchases in the past year. I think, in part, I’m more willing to take risks on Kickstarter games (and they tend to be cheaper than “new” games from major publishers, though there’s all kinds of bias inherent in that statement), whereas I usually just pick up expansions to games I already own or get games on recommendations from others. But you didn’t come here to read up on my buying habits. Or maybe you did, in which case, I am going to disappoint you.
In Herbaceous, you play as one (or more) players trying to pot and maintain a vibrant herb garden (which isn’t all that difficult to imagine thanks to incredible work from Beth Sobel, also known for doin’ the art for Lanterns: The Harvest Festival and Between Two Cities, among her many other works). However, you share a Community Garden between all of you, which you might be pulling from for your own personal benefit. Can you produce the best garden?
So, to set up, give each player their four pots and the private garden token matching the card backs of those pots:
Next, take the 72 Herb Cards:
You’ll want to shuffle those and leave X in play, where:
X = 36 + (number of players – 1) * 12.
For those of you who don’t feel like mathing, that’s:
- 36 cards for a solo game,
- 48 cards for two players,
- 60 cards for three players,
- and 72 cards for four players.
Set the out-of-play cards aside, and then place the Herb Biscuit card where everyone can reach it:
Once you’ve done so, you should be ready to start!
Gameplay (with a special exception for the solo game) is straightforward enough. On your turn, you perform up to two actions: Pot, which is optional, and Plant, which is mandatory. Let’s take them in order.
Pot Action (Optional)
Before Planting, you may take cards and add them to any pot you have available. Three caveats to this:
- You may not pot on your first turn. No matter what.
- You may not pot in a pot that’s already got herbs in it. You can only pot once per pot per game. Pot pot pot.
- You may only put special herbs in the Glass Jar. That’s Mint (1), Chives (2), and Thyme (3).
For reference, the special Herb cards look like this:
So, to pot, you take as many cards from your Private Garden and the Community Garden as you want and add them to one of four pots:
- Wooden Planter (purple) – You may not add more than one of a type of herb to this pot (basically, they all must be unique). Remember that you can’t add Special herbs to this.
- Large Pot (blue) – You may only add one type of herb to this pot (all the cards must be the same type).
- Small Pots (yellow) – You may add multiple pairs of different types of herbs to this pot (basically unique pairs, such as two Terragon + two Saffron + two Sage).
- Glass Jar (green) – You may add up to three herb cards of any type to this pot. If you are the first player to add one each of the Mint, Chive, and Thyme cards to this pot, you take the Herb Biscuit card.
Once you’ve done (or chosen not to do) this, you move on to the Plant Action.
In this action, you plant herbs in the Community Garden and your Private Garden (with a slight adjustment for solo mode).
You will draw two cards, one at a time. Once you’ve drawn a card, you must decide before drawing another card whether it will go in the Community Garden or in your Private Garden, and then place it there. The other card must go in the place you haven’t yet played a card. Think that’s tough? In the solo game, you draw three cards, but one of them must be discarded. It’s a bit brutal (but I’ll talk more about the solo game later).
So play continues to your left once you’ve done that, with players Potting and Planting as needed until the deck runs out. Once that happens, each player can continue Potting in turn order until they can no longer Pot. At that point, the game ends. Tally your points for each pot, and then add one additional point for every unpotted card in your Private Garden. Most points wins!
Player Count Differences
So the major differences in 2 – 4 player games is the number of cards you have in the game, and this affects your strategy somewhat. For instance, in a four-player game you know every card is available (9 cards in 7 types, and 3 each of Mint, Chives, and Thyme), so you know what to watch out for. In two-player games, you might have literally 0 Chives, so you should collect Thyme for your Glass Jar instead. There’s a bit more guesswork involved when you can’t see any of the cards. It can also be a bit more frustrating at higher player counts since there are so many more turns between yours, meaning that there are more chances for someone to get lucky and drain the Community Garden.
The solo mode is particularly excellent, for the major reason that as soon as you’re done, you can immediately replay using the 36 cards you didn’t play with last game. I’ve never played an odd number of solo games in a session for this reason — it’s so short to play two. The solo game is an absolute triumph for that reason. But what else is different in solo play?
So, we’ve talked about some things, but here are the main changes:
- During the Plant Step, you draw three cards instead of two. You choose for each card if it should be discarded, put in the Community Garden, or added to your Private Garden.
- If the Community Garden ever hits 5 cards, you discard all of them. If that happens, you’re effectively discarding two cards, since you have to play one to the Community Garden in order to hit that fifth card and still discard one.
- The game ends when you run out of cards. You can, however, take one more turn where you perform only the Pot action.
Other than that, game’s basically identical. I’d highly recommend the solo version, and I don’t have a strong preference on player count.
For a short game, it’s got a nice bit of strategy to it. Here’s what I’d do, at least:
- Always always always take from the Community Garden instead of your Private Garden, if you can. Cards in your Private Garden are worth end-of-game points, so don’t take them if you don’t absolutely need to. Plus, other players can pull from the Community Garden, so you’re depriving them of cards they might need.
- Counting cards isn’t a terrible strategy. Again, there’s 9 each of the 7 types, so you should note if there are, say, 5 Saffron played, that there are only 4 left, so maybe you shouldn’t go for that for your “all the same herb” pot if your opponents each already have 1 of the remaining Saffrons.
- Generally, I check to see if the first card I drew is something I “need” (or something anyone else needs), and if it’s not, into the Community Garden it goes! This somewhat insulates me from a bad flip and, say, dumping a Special Herb (Mint, Chives, Thyme) into the center, which is very frustrating. It can still happen (if I draw two in a row or make a bad call), but this lessens the chance, from my perspective.
- In two-player games, it’s often better to hold out for the best or second-best possible play. It usually pays off since you know when the other player might go for a pot (unless you get an unlucky draw).
- In solo games, you really just want to Pot every time there are four or more cards in the Community Garden. It’s better than discarding them, even if it hurts your score, usually. You also need to pull from the Community Garden when you Pot, otherwise you’ll be in the same dire strait next turn.
- Don’t forget to pot at least three random cards in your Glass Jar, if nothing else, before the end of the game. It’s six points (or three extra points more than leaving them in your Private Garden). Plus, you can use that to take cards your opponent needs, even if you can’t get any Special Herbs.
- Sometimes taking cards your opponent wants is far more useful than taking cards you want. If you can deprive your opponent of a card they’d need for a pair, you’re often costing them a bunch of points, which is good. The Glass Jar, as I mentioned earlier, particularly enables this.
- It’s not a bad idea to save up as many Thymes as you can, either. They’re worth three points if you Glass Jar them (each), so if you do that you’ll have 15 points (6 + 3 * 3), which isn’t quite 17 but isn’t bad if some other player is hoarding all the Mint. If you can get the 1-2-3, go for that Herb Biscuit, but otherwise, just go for Thyme.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is incredible. My personal favorites are Dill and Terragon, but this is another triumph from Beth Sobel, as is to be expected, at this point. The full-bleed cards make the incredible art even better, though.
- The solo game is the perfect length for me. I love playing it whenever I have a few minutes. It’s short, light, and unoffensive, so I’ll always play both sets. Sometimes I’ll play as many as like, six solo games in a row. It’s great when waiting.
- Portable. The box isn’t super transportable, but the game is just cards, so it’ll fit in a Quiver or some other card-carrying device (deck box?).
- Very easy to teach. There are only two actions, so it’s not a real brain burner. Even though it’s simple to learn, it’s still a game with a nice depth (for the kind of game that it is). Plus, you can use it as a precursor to Lotus (and then Cottage Garden) for the gardening game night of your dreams.
- Nice insert. Seems to have room for expansions, which … I mean, I’m down for.
- Feels a bit luck-based. You might just get totally screwed out of the Herb Biscuit because player 2 drew the one Thyme in the game in their Plant Action and Player 3 immediately Potted it. There’s no real fix for that, but in a short game it’s not as frustrating as a long game (in my opinion) because you can just play again.
- New players might have some trouble against experienced players. There’s no complete, consistent “you should always Pot” strategy (except if you can get the Herb Biscuit via the Glass Jar), even less so when you can’t see all the cards (since some are removed before the game starts), so new players are a bit more likely to either jump the gun or hold out for too long, to their detriment. Again, this is a problem mitigated somewhat by the game’s short length.
- Similar to Splendor and Coloretto, your seating position (relative to new players) can make or break the game for you. It can be frustrating to play with new players and see a turn that they should definitely Pot, only for them not to do so and they instead set the next player (who is usually not you) up for a huge turn. There’s not really anything you can do about it other than just watch it happen. If it’s you this happens to, it’s probably fine, though.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Honestly, a significant part of my score here is my love for Herbaceous’s super-fast super-easy solo mode, but it’s a super fun little game overall — I’ve shown it to a number of friends and they’ve all really enjoyed it, and I’ve played it maybe 20 times or so since picking it up (which approaches Santorini levels of “playing it all the time”). Is it going to be Terraforming Mars in the solo game space? No, but it’s also not trying to be. What it’s shooting for seems to be a quick, easy-to-learn game that’s fun for gamers and non-gamers alike, and I think Herbaceous hits the mark. If you’re looking for a game with a quick, replayable solo mode; a fun, engaging multiplayer experience; and incredible, detailed, colorful art, Herbaceous is an excellent choice.