Full disclosure: A review copy of Sequoia was provided by Board Game Tables.
Small box games! They’re kind of my bread and butter around here. Easy to learn, quick to play; love the whole thing. Generally, Oink has kind of had the monopoly on small box games, though I think Button Shy has largely been trying to give them a run for their money on the smallest games possible (18 cards ain’t a whole lot of additional game, but Button Shy sure knows how to publish fun stuff). Anyways, Board Game Tables seems to be hitting the small box game scene pretty hard with three titles: Sequoia, GPS, and Mountain Goats. I’ll be trying all three of them, so I’ll let you know what I think!
In Sequoia, you dream of controlling the forests with your tallest trees, only to find out that your opponents have the same ambitions as you. With a limited supply, you’ll have to have a bit of good luck and also some smart planning if you want to beat your opponents to the most valuable forest spaces. While your opponents’ betrayal may be nothing short of tree-sonous, you’ll have to overcome it if you want to win. Will you be able to take root and branch out to control the most valuable forest spaces?
Not a ton! You’ll need to lay out the spaces 2 – 12 in a circle:
Give each player a set of dice:
Give each player a matching set of tree tokens:
Now, shuffle the first place tokens and place one near each space. Do the same for the second place tokens:
You should be ready to start!
Love a simple game. Sequoia is an area control game of dice, trees, and majorities. A game is played over 10 rounds.
To start a round, all players roll their 5 dice secretly. If all five dice show the same value, say “Sequoia!” and then turn the five dice faces to whatever face you want. Players then choose one die to remove for the round and split the remaining four dice into two pairs. Once all players have done so, they reveal. Each pair has a value equal to the sum of its dice. Players place one tree token on the space equal to their pair’s value, for each pair. Once that’s done, you move on to the next round.
Continue playing rounds until all tree tokens have been placed. Once that happens, it’s time to assign winners. A player gets first place if they have the most tree tokens on a space, and they get second place if they have the second-most tree tokens on a space. Give out first and second place tokens to the winning players. If multiple players are tied for first, remove all other tokens from the space. If multiple players are tied for second, award first place and then remove all other tokens from the space except for the player tokens tied for second place. After doing this, move on to the tiebreaker.
The tiebreaker rounds play identically to the standard game, with one twist: only the spaces where ties have occurred are eligible for placement, and you can only place on a space where you already have tokens. Also, the spaces are scored again after each round, so try to break your tie as quickly as possible!
Once all ties have been broken, sum up your first and second place tokens. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Sequoia changes quite a bit as player counts change. At two, you really can’t cover everything, so you have to hope you can ward your opponent off of the high-value spots that you’ve chosen to take. At higher player counts, if you spread yourself thin you’ll get eaten alive, so you need to strike the delicate balance of when to push for first versus taking a few second places or hoping you’ll get lucky on a tie. A sneaky player may attempt to goad players into fighting over the highest-value spot while taking the lower-value spots for themselves, but I am not convinced that will work well enough to fully incorporate that strategy as a like, sure-fire ticket to victory. Generally, since everyone’s rolling their dice in secret, anyways, you may not know you’ve lost a spot until it’s tough for you to do anything about it. You tend to need to play a bit more defensively at higher player counts than you do at lower player counts, so your preference will likely dictate what player count you prefer. I have quite enjoyed this at two, and while I liked it a little less on the higher side, it wasn’t enough of a swing for me to definitively say I prefer it at the lower end of the player count spectrum.
- You should always have a sense of where you’re in first place. I think this is pretty key at lower player counts, sure, but at higher player counts you need to know where you’ve got a defensible position and where you’re vulnerable.
- At lower player counts, going wide is almost always mildly to your advantage. At two, your opponent isn’t necessarily going to be able to cover every spot on the board in any reasonable or useful way. This means that you can take a few spots just by virtue of having any tree tokens on them, I think! At the very least, you can almost always grab a second-place.
- That said, you need to go after those high-value spots. Especially at lower player counts! At higher player counts, you might be able to get away with not grabbing those high-value spots because everyone else will be fighting over them. Tricking your opponents into knife-fighting over something you don’t want is going to be pretty critical in this game.
- Your opponents can potentially block you everywhere, so at higher player counts you may need to stake your claim somewhere. This might just mean that you need to plant your feed and invest your tree tokens in one spot so that your opponents fully understand you’re not worth fighting, there. Will it work? Depends on your opponents, but it might, if you just give yourself enough tokens’ worth of a head start.
- Keep in mind that it’s easier to roll a 6 / 7 / 8 than other numbers, so it’s easier to invade those spots but harder to defend them (just based on expected value of a pair of dice). This bears out in terms of a die’s expected value being 3.5, but given you’re rolling 5 dice randomly there are likely going to be all kinds of options. Keep in mind that certain spots might be more likely for dice, so if you want to keep a hold on those places, you can, but if you want to hold on to those places, you might be in for a fight depending on what your opponent(s) can do with their dice.
- Don’t let yourself be taken in by the sunk cost fallacy. It’s not always worth holding on to a spot just because you invested a lot of tree tokens there. For area control games, this happens a lot to players. They get a bit too stuck with the idea that they have to go after something that they’ve already invested into. Instead, just write it off as you forcing your opponent to invest in a spot that you can now abandon!
- You can always try to goad your opponents into fighting over other spots. If you can get a few people to really go all-in on a specific spot, well, their focus on that one spot and all the fighting around it might give you the smokescreen you need to take the spots they’re not fighting over.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Teaches very quickly, which is always nice. It’s pretty much just roll dice, make pairs, take spots. That’s the game; I’m just wordy. It’s always nice to have these quick games in your arsenal.
- I normally don’t like area majority games, but this one is quick and petty, which works for me. I think I generally hate feeling like I invested in something that ended up being worthless, but, then again, I also got a graduate degree that I don’t use, so hard to say. The speed of this game makes up for my general distaste for area majority / area control games, I think. This is also true of a lot of the two-player tug-of-war area control games, so it does track.
- The art style is very nice. I’m glad they went with the same artist for the entire game series. Anca Gavril did a fantastic job with these three; I was very pleasantly surprised.
- Small box game; easy to travel with. You could probably make it a bit easier to travel with if you just made your own 2 – 12 spaces,
- This is cutthroat at two players, which is very fun. Both players have their eyes on the prize, where the prize is the most valuable spot, and you’re just rolling dice to try and get it (and as many other spots as you can). It makes the game intense, which is a lot. I do enjoy it.
- People generally like rolling a bunch of dice at once. This is just a fact.
- The simplicity of “roll five, keep two pairs” means that you actually end up with surprisingly flexible turns, on average, which is good! The design feels simple but smart, even when you have bad luck. That’s probably the smartest part of the design, I think. Having so many dice to roll means that you can almost always spin up at least one good pair. And if you roll all five of the same value (usually terrible), then you get to choose the faces for all the dice! It’s a good way to mitigate bad luck and force players to otherwise make decisions based on their circumstances. I wouldn’t say you always get the turn you want, but you often get the opportunity to try and make a good turn out of an okay roll.
- I also like that the “best spaces” are moving targets from game to game. The game is a lot more interesting since the most valuable spots are randomly assigned. I understand that it’s still random chance vs. random chance, but having that move around makes playing another game feel more dynamic after finishing the first game. It’s probably just a bit of psychology, but it definitely works.
- I also appreciate that the math is distributed enough that it’s difficult to clearly identify who’s in the lead. You can get a good sense of who is in the lead on high-value locations, but unless you’re really going to spend the time every round to tally the tree tokens on each location to get a sense of who is in the lead and then do the first- and second-place calculations (with, I don’t know, randomized tiebreakers?), you can’t effectively predict who is in the lead with any real accuracy. That’s good! I like when the leader is somewhat obfuscated in games; it gives players one fewer reason to go after another player collectively.
- I sometimes struggle to tell the blue and green tokens apart. I think the green colors tend towards teal in a slightly tough way. The shapes help, but at a quick glance I still grab some greens occasionally.
- It would almost be nice if there were fewer spots in a two-player game; you can be stretched a bit thin and often win spots just because your opponent never ended up there. It’s a minor con, but it would be interesting having some spots that aren’t helpful at all. I kind of like the Negative Forests mini-expansion for this, but that changes the calculus by making some spaces worth negative points; I’d rather just have some spots be worthless so you have to decide if it’s worth going for the big spot knowing that you’re placing your other token somewhere that’s effectively useless.
- I think I’ve become so used to meticulously setting game components in a circle that having to do it to actually play a game throws me off, a bit? This is more of a Meh against me than against the game, but it definitely bothers me when I’m playing and the circle isn’t Properly Aligned; not much I can do about that if I’m not willing to measure it out every time, and that would slow setup by a nontrivial amount. Oh well! The life and times of a board game photographer.
- At higher player counts, it’s very possible to get torn apart on all sides by opponents, which can be a pretty frustrating experience for players. This is probably only going to happen if there’s some agreement between players to dogpile another player, but that can be frustrating and there’s no way to avoid that. This is more of an FYI than a “here’s how to mitigate dogpiling”, since that’s more a function of the players than the game. While the game’s vulnerable to it, just don’t be a jerk when you play.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I quite enjoyed my plays of Sequoia! I think it unfortunately hit at an odd time, since the joys of sitting around a table with a bunch of friends and chucking dice aren’t quite in my near future (as of writing; according to my publishing schedule, I should be fully vaccinated by the time this review drops! have fun, future me!). That said, Sequoia still is a lot of fun at two, even if I would like there to be some more specialized play for two players. I just think having to make tough decisions is fun, and I wish the decisions were, at times, a bit more challenging than “increment my counter in both locations”. But, why overcomplicate a small game? Instead, I’ll appreciate Sequoia for what it is. It’s bright and colorful, which is great for a known fan of table presence like me. Sequoia is also quick to learn and quick to play, which is also nice since, I mean, I reviewed Dominations a while back and playing that took like 4 hours. It’s nice to have a short break from Extremely Long Games sometimes. It’s also variable, which I really appreciate. Similar to 7th Night, probably my favorite kind of game in this genre, there’s no permanent Best Spot, which means you have to be flexible and change your strategy based on what you have in front of you, what you can do on your turn, and what your opponent is looking to do. I find those types of games entertaining, even if I’m not the biggest area control / area majority fan, so if you’re looking to play a quick and simple entry in the genre, I’d recommend trying out Sequoia! I’ve certainly had fun with it.