Full disclosure: A review copy of Mystical Seeds was provided by Taiwan Board Game Design.
I’m trying to do a decent job splitting my time / focus between Essen releases and Gen Con releases; it’s going okay. Turns out even at peak efficiency I can only really review about four games a week, and I have enough games in my queue that I’ll need a fair bit of time to get through everything, but there are a lot of exciting games coming down the pipe. One such game is Mystical Seeds, coming from TwoPlus Games out of the Taiwan Board Game Design group. Let’s dig into that, shall we?
In Mystical Seeds, you play as botanists trying to discover the secrets of some new magical seeds and the strange plants they grow. Thankfully, you have helpful garden fairies that are legally distinct from Tinker Bell to help you with this momentous task. Graft, duplicate, and upgrade your seeds to try and create new combinations and new plants to gain prestige and academic acclaim. Will your findings change the way people think about botany?
Setup’s not too bad. You’ll want to build the Garden:
And add the seeds to the relevant locations. Place the three Garden Fairies in the concave areas near the Level 1 Seeds:
Their order can be randomized. Also, lay out the Bookshelf Board:
Each player should get a player board, as well:
Have each player take four fairies in one color:
Three of them go on the bottom spaces of the Bookshelf Board, one per space. The fourth goes in the topmost circle of their player board.
Shuffle the Level 1 Cards and deal three of them face-up (full-art-side down) below the Bookshelf Board:
Leave the deck face-up, as well. Do the same for the Level 2 cards:
Add four Level 1 Knowledge Tiles to the Bookshelf Board in the indicated spots:
Add four Level 2 Knowledge Tiles to the Bookshelf Board in the indicated spots, as well:
Give each player a Potion:
And you can set these tokens aside; you may need them later, but you also might not:
After you’ve done that you’re basically set up! Deal each player 2 Starting Cards:
You’re ready to go! Each player should pick one, resolve it, and return the other to the box.
So, like I said, first thing is to resolve your Starting Resource cards. If you gain any seeds from them, place them counter-clockwise starting from the space behind the space your Fairy is currently on. It’s a bit weird, but it’ll make more sense as you play the game.
Your goal is to amass Prestige by collecting seeds and grafting them / upgrading them to see what grows. The more you grow, the more prestige you gain. Whenever a player has 10 Prestige Points, that round is the final round. Whoever has the most Prestige at the conclusion of that round wins!
But how do you earn Prestige? Well, your turn has three Phases: Inspiration, Action, and Cleanup. Let’s talk through each in sequence.
This is the start of every turn; not a lot happens, but other in-game effects can take place during this phase, so it’s important! Barring other effects, during this phase you can do the following optionally, but as many times as you want.
- Exchange three of the same L1 seed for a different L1 seed. I have literally never seen anyone do this, but you can.
- Use a Potion. A potion lets you immediately take any Fairy Action: Upgrade, Duplicate, or Graft. More on those later.
Once you’ve done both, either, or none of those things as many times as you want, you move on to the Action Phase.
During the Action Phase, you may take one of two actions: Collect Seeds and Conduct an Experiment, or Cultivate a Plant. Once you’ve done either, you move on to the next phase.
When you Collect Seeds and Conduct an Experiment, you first choose what L1 pool you want to collect from. Then, take seeds equal to the number of Garden Fairies in that pool. If there are 0, well, you can’t take from there. If there aren’t enough seeds for you to take, well, take as many as you can. Add them to your player board, one per space, clockwise starting with the space your Fairy is currently on. If you ever place two seeds on the same space (or a seed on a space where a seed already is, I mean), you must return one of those seeds to the Garden.
Now, take a Garden Fairy Action with one of the Fairies in that pool, and move it to one of the other two pools. The Garden Fairy Actions are as follows:
- Duplicate: Choose an L1 or L2 seed on your Player Board. Add another of the same seed to any circle directly connected to the circle containing that original seed. If you now have two seeds in that circle, return one to the Garden.
- Upgrade: Choose an L1 seed on your Player Board. Replace it with an L2 seed, depending on what type of seed it is:
- A yellow seed can become orange or green.
- A blue seed can become green or purple.
- A red seed can become purple or orange.
- Graft: Choose two seeds connected by a line on your Player Board. Note: You cannot use two seeds of the same color or two L2 seeds. “Combine” them into one seed of the next level:
- Blue + Yellow = Green
- Blue + Red = Purple
- Yellow + Red = Orange
- any L1 + any L2 = Brown (L3)
You can instead Cultivate a Plant by taking any of the seeds on your Player Board that match one of the plants and returning them to the Garden. Note that some seeds can be used in lieu of other seeds:
- Brown: counts as any one other seed.
- Orange: counts as red or yellow.
- Green: counts as yellow or blue.
- Purple: counts as blue or red.
Take the corresponding plant and add it, face-down, to your play area. Before you flip it over, though, check the seeds on the card (not the seeds you paid). Move your Fairies on the Bookshelf Board up one space for each color seed present on the card. Note that just like when you pay for the card, L2 or L3 seeds can count as any one of their component colors. If a brown seed is pictured, you may move any one of your Fairies up a space on the Bookshelf Board.
If you pass the 3rd or 6th space on the Bookshelf Board, you may take one of the Knowledge Tiles from either the left or right space. They have a variety of abilities; some count as Flowers that you can only purchase during your Inspiration Phase; others let you gain seeds or Upgrade more than once; and others give you instant bonuses, like taking bonus turns or gaining Potions. They’re worth having, so definitely don’t miss out on them. You can only hold 6, total, though. That said, only one Fairy can enter the 9th space on the Bookshelf Board (worth 2 Prestige Points); if a Fairy is already there, your Fairy cannot enter. Tough, but fair.
Once you’ve done one of these two actions, your turn is essentially over; move on to the Cleanup Phase.
During the Cleanup Phase, you’re basically just resetting for the next player’s turn. You do so by doing the following:
- If your Fairy is currently on a space with a Seed under it, move the Fairy clockwise until you land on a space without a Seed on it. If all spaces are filled, do not move the Fairy.
- Make sure that there are three Level 1 and three Level 2 Plant cards face-up (you only replenish them during this step.
- If any Knowledge Tiles were taken during this turn, you can now refill those spots. If they’re depleted, well, tough luck.
When one player hits 10 Prestige, finish the round so that all players have taken an equal number of turns. The player with the most Prestige wins!
Player Count Differences
There … aren’t a ton, to be honest. It’s not like there’s a lot of surprises from turn to turn, as usually the most you’ll get off a turn are two or three seeds (that’s not zero, but it’s not a ton, as far as purchasing power goes). I think the major difference is just downtime on your turn. If you have players aggressively analyzing future moves, the game can take a while to play. To that end I’m probably most likely to play it at two or three, rather than four.
- I usually try to use a Potion on my first turn to be able to buy something. A Potion lets you use a Fairy action, like Duplicate or Upgrade. If you Upgrade smartly or duplicate skillfully, you can usually buy one of the available Level 1 Cards if you played your Starting Card right. That’s a good opening, in my opinion, even though it does kill the Potion.
- Almost always take the action that gives you more than one seed. Especially if it’s Upgrade or Duplicate, as you can just Upgrade an unwanted seed into a seed that is the color you wanted, or you can Duplicate an L1 / L2 seed to get the seed you want. Either way, having more seeds is good! The only time it’s not is if taking those seeds would force you to get rid of seeds, but even then it prevents your opponents getting more seeds, which is also fine.
- When you buy Plants, you really want to try to clear your board. At least clear a path so you have places to place seeds on subsequent turns; don’t do something weird and buy a Plant with every other seed on your board; you’ll just end up paying for that later, unless you try to Graft some together to fix the problem before it gets too bad.
- Go for the “two extra turns” Knowledge Tile. It’s extremely good, especially if you know in advance that you can get it; this allows you to set up your first turn and second turn so that on your third turn you can take a massive draw of L1 seeds, if you play it right. You can also buy multiple Plants or, quite often, move up several spaces on the Bookshelf Board. All of these things usually lead to a win, in my experience.
- Remember that Grafting is the only way to get L3 seeds. You cannot Upgrade an L2 into an L3, and I think a number of players I’ve played with have forgotten that. It’s kind of crucial.
- I’m not sure I ever really buy L2 Cards. Generally speaking, a L1 card costs 3 – 4 seeds (counting an L2 as 2 seeds). An L2 costs 6 – 7 seeds, and is only worth an extra point. Plus, you don’t move up as far on the Bookshelf Board. Sure, it’s great if you have a bunch of L2 seeds on one of your turns, but I find that it’s often just as helpful to just buy an L1 card as soon as its available. I haven’t found that this lets me down, but I assume an experienced player would benefit from the extra turn I waste every time I want to buy a second L1 card.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is impeccable. I especially like the fully-completed Plant Cards, but everything else is spot-on. It’s got the whole “magical gardening” aesthetic down perfectly. Really great!
- It’s not really like any game I’ve played. My friend and I were trying to think of a game with some similarities. The closest we got was Splendor, but really just because you were buying cards from a market. It’s a pretty unique game, and I really appreciate that.
- Having a separate box for the Garden is a nice touch. It also means that you don’t have to put everything back in the garden between games, which is honestly excellent. It’s one of the more thoughtful box additions I’ve seen in a long time, and I really like it.
- I appreciate the small amount of color theory happening in-game. Combining seeds into new colors or using the L2s as one of their component seeds are both really neat. I haven’t done much color stuff since Underlings of Underwing, which reminds me that at some point I need to print off their new rulebook. It’s been a while.
- The circular inventory management is fun. It reminds me of the Crystal Grid in Mystery of the Temples, though this one is more “it’s difficult to place new things” rather than “it’s hard to buy the things that you want”, so I suppose they’re more opposites than anything else.
- The starting cards are neat. They give you a solid range of opportunities and avenues for approaching the game; some even give you a bonus point to start off, which is nice!
- The Fairy Tokens don’t really stand up. They’re also kind of large, so fitting four on one space is also a challenge at four players. I think they’re cool tokens; it might have just been better if they were a bit smaller.
- It’s a bit weird how hard it is to obtain Potions. You may only get one potion for the entire game, unless you get it replenished via a Knowledge Tile. Not really a “bad” thing, just kind of odd.
- It feels like a pretty precise optimization game without a lot of room for errors / a solid catch-up mechanism. The closest thing you have to a catch-up mechanism is that a player has to spend their seeds and get more; there’s not a whole lot available to players if they make a mistake or are just learning how to play. I’d love to see some extra scaffolding in place for helping new players ramp up or making it more challenging for experienced players.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, Mystical Seeds is a solid game! It’s got a lot of cool things going for it, from the Garden construction to the color combinations and shifts required to buy the cards that you need, which are both things I’m a big fan of. The art is astonishingly good, managing to be a bit realistic and a bit fantastical at the same time, which is great. Plus, it’s a fun theme! We’ve done magical libraries, why not magical gardens, as well? Though now I want to see what other “put magic on it” themes you could have for games and how that would end up. Either way, if you’re looking for a colorful puzzley challenge or you’re interested in a game with a great theme and some solid art that’s not too challenging to pick up, Mystical Seeds is coming out at Essen!