Full disclosure: A review copy of Fruitale was provided by Big Cat Games.
Alright, we’re two of three on doujin games now, in the latest sprint. That said, I should hopefully be finding my way into more of these after PAX, so, the wheel never fully stops turning. There’s something peaceful about that, I imagine, or there might be if I weren’t always turning. Who knows! Anyways, CMYK! last week, Fruitale this week, and Cinecitta next week. And then who knows what we’ll start playing next? The sky’s the limit.
In Fruitale, you play as competing farmers planting the latest crops to try and build up profitable agrarian enterprises. Bit risky, given this economy, but you think you can combine the three Fundamental Forces of Farming to make your money: Honey, Jam, and Fruit. Naturally, market demand is fickle, so make sure you’re planting the right crops if you want to win in the end. Will you be able to turn your crops into points? Or will you end up barren?
Not much to do to set up. Give each player a sheet:
Shuffle the Fruit Cards:
And set out the two Action Cards:
Once you’ve done that, you’re ready to go!
This one’s a pretty simple game to play, but it’s got a lot going on, which I appreciate. You make money as a farmer through three main avenues: your honey sales, your jam sales, and your fruit sales. Try to maximize all three over the course of 12 months and you’ll have a successful year!
The first phase is Cultivation! Here you’ll grow plants and collect honey.
Start the round by revealing two fruit cards. Now, each player decides: do they want to Collect Honey or Plant Fruit? On the count of three, each player puts their hand in front of them: a closed fist collects honey; an open palm plants fruit.
To collect honey, count the number of players who chose the Plant Fruit action and write that in the leftmost box in the honey area. If there are 6 or fewer players, double the number before writing it down. Just be careful — if everyone chooses to Collect Honey, you’ll score 0! You must Collect Honey four times. This means that once your farm fills up, you must Collect Honey every round after that.
For the Plant Fruit action, draw both fruits (and add their numbers) in any two open spots on your board. You can put them wherever you want, but you might want to place them strategically:
- If two adjacent squares have the same fruit, color in one of the circles between them.
- If two adjacent squares have the same number, color in one of the circles between them.
- If two adjacent squares have the same fruit and the same number, color in both of the circles between them.
More circles is good.
Once all 12 rounds have been played, we move on to the Harvest Phase! Total your Honey points (add up the four boxes) and total your Jam points (add up the filled-in circles). Set aside the cards that weren’t drawn; they won’t be used anymore, this game. Take the 24 cards that were drawn and shuffle them up, forming a face-down deck. After doing that, you’re ready to begin the Harvest Phase.
During the Harvest Phase, players respond to market demand by filling their trucks up with fruit and driving it to town. How this works in-game is that you flip the top card of the deck and players may either choose to write its number in one of the 8 Truck Spaces or pass. If you choose to write the number down, also cross out that space on your board. It’s not a huge deal, but it prevents a player double-dipping if a duplicate number is drawn. If you don’t write the number down, you cannot write it down later; you are choosing to ignore it.
After 14 cards are drawn, remove the remainder of the deck from the game. The game’s over! Total your Truck points and then add the three points together (Honey + Jam + Truck). The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
The big one is that if you’re playing with 6 or fewer players, you need to double the Honey points. Don’t forget to do that. Beyond that, it doesn’t seem like much changes game to game based on your player count. It’ll be a bit more variable (players will generally not always choose the same thing, so you’ll have a wider variety of possible conditions), so you may want to keep an eye on when to go for Honey versus Planting. Unlike a lot of games in the flip-and-fill space, this one doesn’t seem to have anything in the way of a major race component, so, I wouldn’t say that it necessarily plays that much differently at higher player counts. I certainly don’t have a strong preference, though I’ll note that it’s harder to get 10 people to sit down for a game, so I usually won’t play it at 10. Nothing wrong with the game at 10; I just barely have enough friends for that to even be viable.
- Pretty much always take high numbers. I mean, they’re lower-frequency and you’re much less likely to get matches on them, but they’re incredible if you can pull them during the Harvest Phase. You’d be much better off not missing out on those. Though, as a counterpoint, it might be worth taking Honey during those rounds so that you can get the maximum number of points from your opponents? I haven’t typically found that to be the wisest course of action, but you should certainly feel free to do so if you want to.
- Also pretty much always take duplicates. This one goes without saying. It’s a very easy way to get 2 points for free, at minimum, every time it happens. You should make sure that the 2s and 3s of the right fruits are open enough that you can go after one of them if the other appears. Actually, that makes it probably worth mentioning…
- Pay attention to the structure of your farm. I usually put high-value cards in the corners (since they’re unlikely to get matches anyways) and cards with more duplicates towards the center. That way, they have the highest likelihood of matching with similar numbers and fruits and I can maximize my jam output at the end of the phase. I’d say it’s good to get at least 16 points in your Jam Jar at the end of the Cultivation Phase.
- It’s worth being a bit thoughtful about when you take Honey. This is probably the hardest decision in the game, since you basically have to be keeping an eye on what other people have taken and when. You’re essentially gambling on how much other people want the cards you’re passing up. The problem is, if everyone else wants those cards, why don’t you want them?
- It’s actually not the worst to have to take Honey towards the end of the Cultivation Phase. If you’re lucky, every other player is spooked enough of that outcome that they’ve already filled their Honey stores. If that happens, then you’re guaranteed maximum points during this phase, since they can’t take Honey again. Just make sure you’re the only person who does this; if more than one person does it, then you’re just hurting each other. Alas, that’s the difficulty of honey gathering, I suppose.
- I generally try to take every other card during the Harvest Phase. Out of the 24 played during the Cultivation Phase, you’ll see 14. Out of those 14, you can take at most 8. This is not that many, but you’ll be lucky if you fill all 8 boxes. It’s a press-your-luck game; don’t get too greedy.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Of the flip-and-fills, definitely one of the most interactive ones. I think the decisions about when to take and when to hold (Gather Honey) are really interesting, because it relies on understanding what everyone else is doing. I haven’t seen something like that in a flip-and-fill; usually their “interaction” is including something like a racing mechanic, other than Cartographers, which I appreciated.
- Lots of stuff I’ve never seen in a flip-and-fill game, honestly. The press-your-luck elements are also really interesting? Like, it’s a bit of a hodgepodge, mechanically, but I think potential flip-and-fill designers should try this one out if for nothing else than the potential variety.
- Very portable. It’s smaller than Silver & Gold, even. It’s not quite a wallet game, but it also comes with its own pencils and all 10 of them fit in the box. It’s a very impressive little construction.
- Pretty easy to learn. You either take the fruits or don’t, and there’s points for matching. At the end, you get bonus points for taking certain fruits, randomly determined. It’s a pretty straightforward game; it’s the strategy that’s tough to understand, I think.
- I do love the drawing aspect. I really appreciate also that they show you in the rulebook a variety of ways to represent each fruit. I think a lot of these games get more fun if you draw (Cartographers, Sunflower Valley, Harvest Dice, etc), and I’m glad that’s part of this game.
- A nontrivial number of tiny cards. I still hate tiny cards, and that’s this game’s whole thing. Oh well.
- Game’s gonna power through sheets pretty quickly at 10-player games. Make some copies of these bad boys. Or laminate them. I haven’t done that in a while, since ClipCut Parks kind of ruined the idea of laminating game sheets. Might be worth it, here.
- 4 – 10 is a very specific mood for player count. I can understand why, as this one kind of relies on other players being present to mess your allocations up, but you should be aware of the limits before you buy the game. I definitely thought it had a two-player mode and I was a bit surprised. It’s hard for me to play games at these high player counts, generally speaking. And not everyone loves that many people at once.
- The final press-your-luck phase can be pretty swingy, which may not be particularly satisfying to some players. It’s totally possible that your high-value fruits aren’t even going to come up! You have little to no control over this beyond hoping that, if that happens, it hurts everyone else as much as it hurts you. Add in the choice to press your luck and it feels like about a third of the game relies on a fairly random swing, which is likely going to frustrate some folks. That said, it’s an interesting spin on games in this space; I haven’t seen many like this and while I don’t love this bit, watching it work is neat.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, Fruitale is pretty solidly fun! Personally, I find it just to be a very interesting experience. I was getting a bit tired of roll-and-write games (and their adjacents) lately, because I was getting sick of games with a racing mechanic slapped on so that they could call it interactive (something a lot of roll-and-writes [even my favorites] are guilty of). This one eschews that entirely, making the interaction essentially gambling that other players don’t want the same thing that you want. It’s risky, but the whole game is risky. It’s kind of wonderful in its aggressive intensity. It also means that you can do everything right and still get clowned, if the right (or wrong, I suppose) cards come up. Unfortunately, I don’t think the game is quite short enough for that to not annoy some players, so keep an eye on that when you play this one. I do respect the game a lot for trying new stuff in a space that’s getting popular to nearly the point of saturation (and that’s coming from me; I love almost everything). Plus, it’s got some nice art, which I’m always here for. If you want to see something fairly novel in the roll-and-write / flip-and-fill space, I’d definitely recommend checking out Fruitale! Especially if you have tons of friends.