Full disclosure: A review copy of Trellis was provided by Breaking Games.
It’ll be interesting to see what the first game that I’ve purchased this year that I get to review is (probably Tag City, all things considered [actually, it’ll end up being Honshu, but Tag City is super fun!]), but it’s not this one — I received Trellis for review from Breaking Games (publishers of Expancity, another great example of possible variations to the tile-laying game formula). It’s a cute-looking game, so, let’s check it out.
In Trellis, you’re competing to bloom flowers along vines on a trellis (oh, that makes sense) as they expand outwards. The vines will snake and curve and overlap and intersect, so make sure that you’re being mindful of your growth and your potential, lest you get cut off early. Will you be able to bloom more beautifully than your opponents? Or will your vines go the way of, well, Vine?
Not a ton on the setup side, here. Give each player some tokens in the color of their choice:
Set out the starting tile (2nd from left in the bottom full row), and give each player 3 more tiles to be the tiles in their hand:
And you’re all ready to start!
Trellis is a pretty low-key tile-laying game. Basically, as you play tiles you’ll bloom flowers onto the vines on those tiles, and the first player to place all their flower tokens wins the game.
So, on your turn you’ll perform these steps:
- Plant a Tile: Place a tile on the board such that one of the vines connects to a vine of the same color on one of the hex edges (they do not all have to connect properly; just one). When you do, you do what’s called checking for blooms, next. If any player has a flower on a vine that is continued by your tile (via a vine of the same color), they now add another flower onto the vine on your tile (and continue if you … happened to bridge two vines of the same color, which would certainly be A Strategy). Note that if a player uses their last token this way, they win, so if two players could both bloom onto the same vine, the active player decides who gets it.
- Claim a Vine: Now, place one of your flower tokens onto one of the three vines on this tile. It will then bloom onto the other connected vines on the other tiles connected to this one, if applicable, following the same rules as before. Generally this can be pretty good!
- Claim Gifts: If an opponent bloomed on your turn, you may claim a bonus vine on the placed tile right now following the same rules. If you run out of claimable vines on this tile, you may claim any vines on the board, which is a pretty incredible boon, if you can get it to work out.
- Draw Tiles: Draw back up to three tiles.
Play continues until a player wins!
Player Count Differences
Not really that many; there’s more blocking opportunities, but that’s about it. The major thing is that you can essentially gang up on the leader by giving each other gifts if you’re in last place, which you obviously cannot do in a two-player game, but is more feasible at higher player counts. Even then, there aren’t that many turns, so if you’re gonna do it you better hit the ground running. I think I might prefer higher player counts, for that reason.
- Basically never give up gifts. I’ve tried it a number of times and it’s really only a good strategy if you’re gifting to someone else who has even more than you do. If you do and you can place four (or place on a long spot that people thought was inaccessible) then go for it, but I doubt many players will give that kind of a spot up for you (and it requires some pretty lucky tile placement, so, good luck swinging that).
- Try not to build long, empty vines. A player can attach and bloom on to those vines if you create them; make them do the work if they want to place tokens. Don’t do it for them.
- The ideal is to create multiple (differently-colored) paths you can bloom from. This makes you a lot harder to block, and gives you some variety based on the color vines that you have.
- Try to avoid ending a turn with four tokens left. This means you generally will need two more tuns to win, as it’s extremely rare (in the games we played) to place more than three tokens in a turn.
- It may be worth blocking opponents, but only if they’re about to make a HUGE play. Don’t block them from placing 3 unless you need to so that they don’t win the game (and even then it’s hard to block them placing 3 unless you cut off all their active vines); if they’re going to drop 4 or 5 in a turn, though, either claim that for yourself or make absolutely sure that on their next turn they can’t do it, no matter what they draw.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Finally, a decent insert. So many games have poor / no inserts (I get it; it’s expensive, especially for any sort of molded plastic), but Trellis does a pretty solid job with theirs. They even have a space for the start tile so you don’t get it confused with anything else! So handy.
- Pretty easy to learn. It’s a pretty simple tile-laying game. The bloom mechanics are gonna throw people off a bit (and I’m still not 100% sure we got it right) but they’ll get them eventually.
- I just generally like tile-laying games. It also helps that the theme here is really pleasant, and the game looks great once you’re finished with it.
- Great art. It’s colorful but subtle; it would make an excellent shadowbox as a like, gaming gift for fans. Or it could pair with Herbaceous for a nice set of garden-variety games.
- The tiles aren’t really that great, quality-wise. I kind of wish they were thicker? If they were, the game would have a really nice weight and texture to them. As it stands, they’re pretty thin, which is unfortunate. That probably keeps costs down, though, so, what can you do.
- It feels like it has a pretty distinct first-player advantage. The thing about the game is that getting a good move early on is pretty challenging unless a player makes a mistake, and the first person to make a good move generally does pretty well as there aren’t quite enough pieces to allow that game to avoid pivoting around that first move. The fix we’ve found for this is extending the game a bit by adding more pieces, but that’s a small fix. If the game’s a bit unbalanced, that’s fine; it’s short, but if it’s tilted towards the first player I find that leads to vaguely frustrating gameplay (as it makes the games vaguely uninteresting). I’ve been told that the fact that the first player cannot place more than two pieces counters that first-player advantage, but I haven’t seen in my games that this fact ends up mattering all that much. I’ve also found this to be still vaguely true at all player counts, which is also a bit frustrating.
- Game feels a bit too short, as well. Given that it only really takes one or two good moves (you generally should be playing at least two tokens per turn, so that’s 7ish turns max) to tilt the game in your favor, the game often feels like it would be better served by playing with 30 tokens or something to give a bit more room for blocking and flexible play. Either way, I think a longer version of this with a bit more chance that’s not “did you draw the tile you needed” might be a better fit for me and my groups.
Overall: 5.5 / 10
Overall, Trellis is also … fineish. I think I’m cutting it a bit of slack because it’s short and pleasant, whereas if it were longer I’d probably be a lot less enthused about it. I think the issue I have with it is that there aren’t a lot of options for recovering in a game once a player gets ahead, and it would be nice if there were fixes for that. As it stands, it’s a pretty game without a TON to it, structurally, that I’m interested in, and while that’s all well and good it means that I’d only really be breaking it out as a light filler between games, and, well, I already have a lot of those that I like a lot more (it’s tough to beat Catch the Moon, practically). That said, I think there are many ways that the game could turn around and appeal to me personally a bit more — adding board events or strange tiles or something to break it up a bit would be kind of neat, because as it stands the game feels almost determined once one player (usually the first player, in our 10 games) has had a chance to make a solid move. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s the kind of experience you’re looking for, but for me I’m finding that there are other games that do what Trellis tries to do in ways I’m more interested in. That said, there are some things it does well — again, great insert, and wonderful presentation — the table presence of the game is superior, far and away. I think I just wish that the game had more potential on my shelves than it does on my wall in, like, a shadowbox. Oh well. If you’re looking for a light tile-laying game that you can play quickly as some filler, Trellis might be a game worth trying!