Well, I mean, I can’t only talk about Gen Con games. Or, I could, and I could argue that this is a game that had a Gen Con launch, therefore it’s technically a Gen Con game despite being on Kickstarter previously. Yeah, I could swing that. Or I could just shrug it off and say that I reviewed Planetarium last week ahead of their expansion’s Kickstarter, and so I am doing the same, this time around.
In Everdell, you have sloughed off the winter and are looking towards the dawn of a new year as you seek to build a village under the shelter of the Ever Tree, a literally massive tree that sits near your town. Recruit new friends, catch the eye of royalty; honestly, kinda whatever works, at this point, but you’re gonna need to do a lot to build the greatest village of all. Will you be able to branch out and create a village greater than any other? Or will your opponents’ cunning plans and devious strategies leave you feeling, well, uprooted?
Setup is surprisingly not that involved. So, easiest way to do this is to first set up the game board:
Naturally, you’re gonna want to assemble the Ever Tree:
That might take a hot minute, but I believe in you. Next, have each player take two workers in their chosen color:
Place the other four of that color on the top of the Ever Tree; one in Spring, one in Summer, and two in Autumn.
Now, you’ll notice four blank spaces on the board — these are Forest Spaces, and they’ll get Forest Cards:
Use 3 for a 2-player game, and 4 for a 3-/4-player game.
Next up are Events. There are two types: Basic and Special. Special Events go on the middle level of the tree, and you’ll take four of them:
More on how those work, later. The other events are Basic; you can put them near the text describing them on the board:
Now the fun part: the cards! There are so many cards; shuffle them all up and place 8 face-up in the Meadow, sliding the deck into the open space at the base of the Ever Tree:
Each player should also draw cards:
- Player 1: Draw 5 cards.
- Player 2: Draw 6 cards.
- Player 3: Draw 7 cards.
- Player 4: Draw 8 cards.
You can set aside the Point Tokens:
Unless you got the Collector’s Edition, these will be cardboard and much easier to photograph. You can also set aside the Occupied Tokens; you won’t need them for a bit.
These are also usually cardboard. Finally, set each set of resources within reach:
Yes, the berries are rubberized; they WILL bounce. It’s very delightful. You should be all ready to start!
So the game of Everdell is played from the very end of the Winter until the very start of the next; animals hibernate, after all, so there’s not always a ton to do.
On your turn, you’ll follow general worker placement game rules, with a bit of tableau building. You do this to try and earn resources to buy cards, which in turn will give you points. You can also score Events, which will earn you even more points. Ultimately, at the start of the Winter, the player with the most points wins! Let’s dive in a bit more to piece out how all that works.
You have three actions you can take on every turn: Place a Worker, Play a Card, and Prepare for the Next Season. Let’s talk about each in order.
Place a Worker
When you place a worker, take one of the workers you have, currently, and place it on a space on the board. If the space has a pawprint and a full circle around it, only one worker can go there. If the circle isn’t fully enclosing the spot, any number of workers can go there. You then claim the benefit, which may be points, resources, or cards. There are a few basic locations, the Forest locations, and some other spots around the board, so try them out and use them to the best of your abilities. One space (Journey) is blocked until the Autumn, and it will give you points equal to its number, provided you discard the same number of cards from your hand. You weren’t using them anyways, you figure.
As the game progresses, you may also place a worker on an Event to claim it. When you do, bring the Event (and the worker) into your play area, so that other players don’t try to claim it on later turns. Each event has requirements, from specific Critters and Construction that needs to be in your town (most Special Events) to the number of cards of a certain type that need to be in your town (Basic Events) in order to be able to purchase them.
You’ll also eventually be able to place your workers on cards in your town, as well, and activate their effects (for certain cards; see the next section) and your opponent may be able to place their workers on some of your cards, too (if the card has an “Open” sign). If this happens, you gain a point token.
Once you place a worker, however, that’s where it goes. It will stay there until the next season.
Play a Card
So, you’ve got some cards in your hand (note that you cannot have more than 8 cards in hand), and now you want to play them. Well, instead of using a worker, on your turn, you can play a card and add it to your village. There are a few rules around this:
- There are limits to what you can play. For one, you may only have 15 cards (typically, easiest to make a 3×5 rectangle) in your town. There are no easy ways to discard cards, so be very careful about who you invite into town. Furthermore, some Creatures and Constructions are Unique, not Common. As you might imagine, you may only have one of each Unique Critter and Construction in town (having two Kings … wouldn’t make much sense).
- You may play a card from your hand or from the Meadow. I particularly like this one, since it means that the cards in your hand are private and the cards in the Meadow are public, which makes for some interesting interactions.
- You must pay the resource cost of the Critter or Construction to play it (generally). Some cards modify those costs, which is nice, but there are circumstances in which those costs can be totally negated, as well, which is incredible.
- Certain buildings reduce the cost of another card to zero. Generally speaking, each Construction has a Critter that it goes with, like the General Store and the Shopkeeper. If you’ve already built the Construction, you can hire the Critter to come to town for free, once. Remember those Occupied tokens? Place one on the bottom-right of this building to indicate that you’ve used its benefit.
- Each card has a type. These types are relevant to the Basic Events, as you can get a Basic Event once you have enough of a certain type:
- Tan (Traveler): These cards activate exactly once, when you play them, and then never again. If only there were a way to get rid of them…
- Green (Production): These cards activate when you play them, and then again at the beginning of Spring and Fall. Sometimes they even combo with each other!
- Red (Destination): These cards add a new space for you to add your workers, but be careful! If they have the “OPEN” sign on them, your opponents can use them, too! That said, if they do, you gain a point, so it’s not all bad. But will you have enough workers to make these worthwhile?
- Blue (Governance): These cards help in other ways; they make some cards cheaper, or they give you stuff for playing other cards! That’s pretty useful, really.
- Purple (Prosperity): These cards are all about bonus points. You’ll get bonuses if you fulfill their criteria, and most of these cards are already worth something. What luck.
On the subject of cards, some cards / other effects will have you draw cards. When you do, always draw from the deck unless otherwise stated.
Prepare for the Next Season
So, when you’ve got nothing else to do (or if you truly want a head start on the next Season), you may take the Prepare for Season action to remove all your workers from the board and start the next season. For some reason, this doesn’t force other players to move into the next season, even though you might be in Autumn while they’re still in Spring or something. Who knows! (Editor’s Note: after doing some light reading, the designer has suggested that this is due to a wide variety of climates affecting the perception of seasons. For instance, if you’re building your city in the mountains, you may experience slightly different seasons than someone building near the beachy part of Everdell. As someone who lives in a place without real seasons, I’m inclined to accept this explanation at face value.)
When you change seasons, you do get a variety of benefits:
- Spring: Activate all of your Green (Production) cards again, and gain one worker.
- Summer: Draw 2 cards from the Meadow (replace them after you’ve taken both) and gain one worker.
- Autumn: Activate all of your Green (Production) cards again, and gain two workers. That’s quite a strong finish.
When you cannot (or don’t want to, I suppose) perform any more actions, you may pass. Passing is essentially Preparing for Winter, and it means you are no longer in the game. Other players may not give you any resources; you are essentially out until scoring.
Once all players have passed, tally scores! Count the points on each player’s card, then their point tokens, then the bonuses from Prosperity cards, then any points gained from Journey spaces and Events. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Honestly, I’m not a huge fan of player interaction, and given that you have the most spaces available at two, I’m kind of a fan of that. At three or four, you will see more of the cards in play, so you’ll have some increased options available from Destination cards … probably. That’s more speculation than I’d normally like, but it’s hard to account for other players’ strategies. I’m not a huge fan of this at four because it just takes … so long to play. It’s a similar length to Above and Below / Near and Far, but without the narrative aspects, which … actually would be pretty rad, here. Give it a sorta Redwall-sorta narrative. Anyways.
Yeah, mostly due to the length, I’d probably recommend this at 2 – 3 players. If you like longer games, though, go for it. I think you’ll find more contention for spaces at four, though, since you don’t add new Forest spaces past three, but think of it as an excuse to get more creative.
- Don’t fill your town too quickly. One of the worst things you can do is abuse cards like the Postal Pigeon, which will give you relatively cheap cards to fill your town with, but, it’s useless afterwards and you might not get cards that synergize well. Ideally you’d build up a few of each card type to try and link your benefits, but without spreading yourself too thin, but that’s a difficult balance to strike properly, as you might guess.
- Have an escape hatch. Certain cards (University and Dungeon) allow you to do a bit of deconstruction to avoid the inevitable creep of useless clutter in town. Does it feel bad to lock your Postal Pigeons in jail and throw away the key? Probably. But can it pull you tantalizingly close to constructing the Ever Tree? Absolutely. And you’re going to have to weigh those trade-offs.
- Keep an eye on your Special Events. Some of the cards they look for are fairly rare, and you don’t know what your opponent(s) have in their hands. If you can get a card for an event that will truly help you, try to capitalize on it. Or at least take cards your opponents need to try and prevent them from taking the Special Events. They’re valuable!
- Innkeeper and Crane are your friends. These both allow you to pay a resource for a discount later (and they get discarded). That’s not bad. I generally will take Innkeeper or Crane if they’re in the Meadow at the start of the game, if I can. It’s an easy way to get Production cards up and moving before we hit the Spring, especially because the Crane’s Construction benefit can sometimes allow you to build a Green Production Critter along with the building you just finished, which can give you an edge in the resource production side of the game. I will almost always take that first.
- Similarly, Historian and Shopkeeper are your friends. These give you benefits whenever you play a card, generally, which can be pretty useful over the course of the game.
- You’ll want to do a fair bit of chain-building. Especially building expensive buildings like the Ever Tree / Castle / Palace and using those to bring in expensive Critters; that’s where the real money comes from in this game.
- Ideally, you’ll have at least one or two Production cards before you enter the Spring. This helps jump-start your economy, and since you’ve been playing cards, usually this also means that you’ve blocked your opponent from taking the Forest spaces you’ve had since the beginning of the game, you jerk. If you’re lucky, that might force them to take worse spaces, leaving those spots available for you to take again when you finally transition between seasons. Their misfortune is your gain!
- Sometimes it’s best to keep certain cards in your hand. A few of the cards in the Extra! Extra! mini-expansion benefit from performing certain actions which can be blocked by other players (doing Events or playing multiples of the same card). If you play these too early, you may overplay your hand and allow your opponents to preempt you. If you keep these concealed, you can play them and then it may be too late for your opponents to pivot to block you. Your mileage may vary on this, though, but up to you.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I mean, the first thing you notice is the art. It’s breathtaking. Andrew Bosley knocked it out of the park with this one. Humorously, he’s been enjoying success on both fronts, since Planecrafters, his latest game design, also ran a pretty successful Kickstarter recently… In all seriousness, though, this is one of the most beautiful games I’ve played in some time, and it’s just a hell of a production to witness. The cards are vibrant, the board is striking, and, well, I mean…
- The second thing you notice, obviously, is the huge tree. The Ever Tree is really the centerpiece of the whole game. Like, it would be a great worker placement on its own, but the production of the tree makes it the kind of game that people will walk by and demand to know more about. Naturally, I’ve been trying to pay attention to table presence a lot more, lately (especially out of interest in games being demoed at conventions) and this has that in spades. It’s almost unfair to other games.
- The production value in general is top-notch. I am, as always, so glad I sprung for the metal tokens, but the pebbles have a pebbly touch to them and the berries are rubbery and squishy! It’s incredibly endearing to have in your possession, even if that does make the pieces a tiny bit bouncy (try not to drop the berries if you love them).
- Pretty straightforward. I think it’ll appeal to a lot of people who are looking for things at around Above and Below’s weight, but it’s definitely got fewer thing to process. I’d say it’s reminiscent of Evolution: Climate: it’s clever, and you should spend some time figuring out how to play, but I wouldn’t call it particularly difficult to learn. It may just take some time to do the actual process of playing the game.
- So much variability. You’ve got variable cards, you’ve got variable spaces, you’ve got variable Events; there’s no way you’re going to play the exact same game twice. There’s a (totally reasonable) debate between variability and replayability, but at the very least I’ll happily assert that there are a lot of different ways to play. The key thing, for me, is that it does something else, though…
- It seems to have a lot of viable strategies for success. Variability is important, but actually going the extra mile and making sure that you can win in a bunch of different ways is what keeps people engaged, and I think Everdell does that pretty well.
- I’m not sure if I’d say it brings anything particularly novel to the table beyond its setting and components. There’s nothing terribly wrong with that, though; if anything, that makes this a really solid gateway+ game (sort of like 7 Wonders is, for drafting, compared to Sushi Go Party!). I could see myself getting this for a friend who’s just getting into board games, since it’s relatively low complexity but the card interactions and combo potential makes me feel like there’s a lot of depth to the game.
- Placing the Special Events on the tree usually makes it difficult for at least one player to see them all, which can be unfortunate. Out of sight, out of mind, as they say, and if a player can’t see that Special Event you’re angling for, they might feel a bit cross when you get it and swing the game in your favor. It’s a decent visibility problem. You also can’t really play the game from the other side of the tree, since you can’t see the game board if the tree is between you and it. I usually keep it at the end of the table and just stick players in front of it, to avoid that particular issue.
- There’s a nontrivial benefit to knowing all the cards. I’ve gotten some flak before for suggesting that 7 Wonders is difficult to teach, but this has a few of the same issues. One thing worth knowing is which cards let you remove other cards from your city (and there are a few), since that’s the primary way you can avoid the 15-card limit. Or you can do what I did in the picture below and build extra friends who don’t take up space in your city.
- The take-that from the Fool is kind of … unnecessary? It’s a pleasant game otherwise with the right amount of blocking and picking off what other players want, but the take-that is really kind of obnoxious. I’d prefer just to not have it. Hopefully the expansion eliminates some of that (or at least makes it optional; I’m fine with optional). I may just remove the Fool + Fairgrounds from the game, for subsequent plays. I really don’t enjoy take-that.
Overall: 8.5 / 10
Overall, Everdell is quite something! I think it would easily make its way on my Big List of Games To Start With or whatever I’d call my list of games for people who want to get into modern board games; it’s the kind of game where you come for the art and the table presence, and you stay because the game is so fun. That’s a great combo to have, as I can’t say every game has a perfect track record in that department. It’s also got a rich bit of worldbuilding around it (as evidenced by the rulebook), so I’m kind of hoping that this isn’t the only game set in this universe (or really I’m hoping they continue to pay Andrew money to make more art for this game). Either way, I’m super glad I picked it up when it was on Kickstarter, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the expansion changes the game. If you enjoy a worker placement game with striking art and phenomenal table presence, or you just really like … woodland animals, I’d definitely recommend checking out Everdell!