Full disclosure: A preview copy of Verdant was provided by Flatout Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
It’s always exciting to get to check out the latest from Flatout Games. Cascadia was (and still kinda is; I haven’t played my copy yet) one of my most-enjoyed titles from last year, so I’m very excited to get the full game out and played, this time. It’ll happen eventually. In the meantime, the review ship continues to lurch ever forward, so let’s see what’s going on with their newest game, Verdant!
In Verdant, you have a bunch of houseplants. We get it; we all were there for 2020 and 2021. But you aren’t satisfied. You need more. Again, no judgement; we all got new hobbies. Only the best for these plants, though. You need to make sure that the lighting is just right, the decor is consistent, and you are nurturing them until your house becomes a little greenhome. Naturally, you and your friends make a competition out of it, and here you are. Will you be able to prove that your green thumb is well-deserved?
First up, you’re going to fill the bag with the Item and Nurture Tokens. I frequently refer to the latter as Tool Tokens, but that’s because I see a trowel and don’t immediately think “Nurture”. That’s more of a me problem than a you problem.
Draw four tokens out of the bag and place them in a row near the top of the play area to start forming the Market. Next, you should shuffle the Plant Cards:
Reveal four cards from the deck and place them face-up in a row, above the tokens. Each token should be below one card. Shuffle the Room Cards:
Reveal four cards from that deck and place them face-up in a row, below the tokens. Each token should be above one card. This will make four sets of Plant Card / Token / Room Card triples. Next, set aside the Verdancy Tokens:
The big ones are worth 3. Place the Green Thumb tokens aside, as well:
As with any game about planting, you need to organize your pots:
- 1 player: 4 of each bonus pot and use all terra cotta (0-point) pots.
- 2 players: 3 of each bonus pot and use all terra cotta (0-point) pots.
- 3 players: 4 of each bonus pot and use all terra cotta (0-point) pots.
- 4 players: 5 of each bonus pot and use all terra cotta (0-point) pots.
Give each player a Player Aid and a Storage Card, and then give each player a Plant Card and a Room Card, as well. The player with the highest Verdancy requirement (big green leaf number) is the start player. The player to their right gets 2 Green Thumb tokens, they get 0 Green Thumb Tokens, and all other players get 1 Green Thumb token.If you’d like, deal one of each of the three Goal Card types face-up near the Market to play with those goals, as well.
Either way, you’re ready to start!
Before starting the game, you should organize your Plant and Room card pair. They must be placed adjacent to each other, and once they are, you gain a Verdancy if the symbol on the room adjacent to the plant matches one of the plant’s required symbols (of Full Sun, Semi-Shade, or Shade).
After that, the game takes place over 13 rounds, with each player getting one turn during the round. Let’s walk through a turn.
Draft Card and Token
To start a turn, take any Plant Card or Room Card and the corresponding token above or below it. If the card has any Green Thumb tokens on it, you gain those, as well.
You can spend two Green Thumbs to take any card and any token, rather than taking the corresponding token, if you want. Before taking a card or token, you may also spend two Green Thumbs to discard any number of tokens from the Market and replace them with new ones. You may do this action as often as you’d like and have Green Thumbs to spend.
Place the card you just took into your growing grid by placing it adjacent to a card of the opposite type (plants must be adjacent to rooms and vice-versa). Each card must be placed adjacent to another card, and you cannot place a card such that it is outside the bounds of a 3-row, 5-column grid. Cards can also not be rotated.
Check for Lighting
If the card you placed is a plant whose lighting requirements are met by the now-adjacent room(s) or is a room that meets lighting conditions for the now-adjacent plant(s), you may place 1 Verdancy on each plant that now has a lighting condition matched. Placing a new room may allow you to place more than 1 Verdancy at a time, and placing a plant may allow you to place multiple Verdancy on the plant, if more than one adjacent room matches.
You may also spend two Green Thumbs to add 1 Verdancy to any plant in your grid, as many times as you have Green Thumbs to spend.
Place and / or Use Items
You may place or use item tokens you’ve taken after placing the plant or room. If you have furniture or pets, you may place them inside of a room. Matching the color of the pet or furniture to the room allows you to gain bonus points at the end of the game.
Nurture items (fertilizer / trowels / watering cans) will allow you to gain additional Verdancy:
- Fertilizer: Add 3 Verdancy to one plant of your choice.
- Trowel: Add 1 Verdancy to up to three plants of your choice.
- Watering Can: Choose a room. Add 1 Verdancy to all plants adjacent to that room.
Once a plant has a number of Verdancy tokens equal to the number on the top-right, it is completed! Discard all Verdancy on the card and take the highest-valued pot remaining and place it on the card to indicate that it is complete. If no Bonus Point pots remain, take a terra cotta pot instead.
Completed plants cannot have additional Verdancy added to them.
End of Turn
To end a turn, you may store an unused item or tool on your Storage card and save it for a later turn. If you need to store more than one, you must return one to the box, instead.
After checking for that, discard down to 5 Green Thumb tokens. Ideally, you would spend them, but you may not have anything worth spending them on.
Then, refill the market by adding a Green Thumb to the card in the same column as the card you took and placing a new card in the spot that you took from. If you take a plant, you replace it with a plant and place a Green Thumb on the room below, for instance.
End of Game
The game ends as soon as all players have completed their 3×5 grid. Then, you score for the following:
- Completed plants: Score the point value for each complete plant in your home.
- Incomplete plants: Score the total Verdancy still on incomplete plants divided by two (rounded down).
- Plant pots: Score the total bonus points of all plant pot tokens on plants. The terra cotta pots are worth 0 bonus points.
- Room Bonuses: Typically, each room scores 1 point for each adjacent plant of the matching color. If that room has a color-matching item in it, that bonus is doubled (to 2 points for each adjacent plant of the matching color).
- Furniture and Pets: Platers score 1 / 3 / 6 / 9 / 12 / 16 / 20 / 25 points for 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 different items in their home. Any duplicate items do not score (and you do not start another set).
- Plant Collector Bonus: Score 3 points if you have one of each color plant in your home.
- Decorator Bonus: Score 3 points if you have one of each room type in your home.
Add in any points from Goal Cards, if you’re using those, and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
Possibly surprisingly for a drafting game, I prefer Verdant at the higher end of the player count! As is the case for a number of Flatout titles, at this point, I find that it’s possible for the market to get a bit stale (or, at least, the cards and colors I want don’t necessarily appear). With more players, there are more people drawing from the market between my turns, so there’s a bit more turnover. There’s also an unfortunately increasing chance of collisions where I want the same thing(s) as another player, but that’s not something you can really plan for. Verdant also sees a slight increase in Green Thumbs as player count increases, as there are more players placing them between your turns. So either the market churns a bit more, or the unwanted cards become potentially even more valuable. I found it easier to complete higher-value cards at three than at two, since there was just a bit more movement in the cards (though having more experience with the game might have helped, too). I’d be interested in seeing how this plays solo, as well, but in the meantime I’d probably be most likely to play this with three or four players.
- Be mindful of your plant and room placements. Naturally, there’s the obvious “make sure you play plants that match their adjacent rooms”, but also keep in mind that, for instance, your placements can define the bounds of your grid pretty quickly, so when you place new rooms and new plants, you should be mindful of how that affects the grid. You don’t necessarily have to always place plants perfectly, though; it might be worth having the extra green thumbs on certain plants instead.
- You want at least one room completely surrounded by plants of its preferred color. Bonus points if you get the item in there to double that bonus to 8 total extra points. If you can do a few of those, that’s a bunch of points just off of rooms. Mixing it up isn’t a bad idea, but you can often get more points if you match the rooms! Just keep an eye out for what your opponents are taking; you may not be able to get as many rooms in the color you want if you’re competing with another player.
- You also want to try and get color-matched items as often as you can. It’s generally recommended. Having them increases the value of adjacent plants of the same color from 1 point each to 2 points each. So gathering a bunch of items that match the color of your rooms can help you quickly boost the value of your whole play area.
- Getting one big plant is a good idea; getting two might mean that you’re spreading yourself too thin trying to get Fertilizer instead of items to score additional points. At the very least, it’s not necessarily worth rushing to complete it; you’re likely not going to be able to complete the plants that quickly, and this gives you more time to focus on getting the tools you need to make sure you can complete them. On the plus side, the big plants are usually worth a ton of points, which can be super useful if you can chain them together.
- Keep in mind that extra Verdancy is only worth half a point each at the end of the game. A mistake that I made was not completing a few plants because I thought Verdancy was still worth a full point, which, whoops. Don’t forget to complete your plants before the end of the game, especially plants that are worth more points when they’re complete!
- Is it worth going for the three extra points for having one of each room and one of each plant? Depends on the Goal Cards. It may be far more valuable to eschew that if your Goal Cards give you points for focusing on specific room types or plant types. Three points isn’t nothing, but it’s certainly not the most you can get if you’re placing items well or you’re completing plants.
- If you’re not totally sure what you should be doing, try to get a wide variety of items placed in rooms. You can get a bunch of points by just collecting a variety of items, even if they don’t match the room colors. Getting matching items is always preferred, but you can really get a huge bonus if you fill your house with a wide range of stuff. Just keep an eye on the Room Goals, as well, if you can swing it.
- Saving a tool for a turn in which it can be more useful is generally a good idea. Just remember that you can only hold on to one tool at a time. Hoarding tools will just lead you to wasting them, so try to either keep one handy and place your items, or just take fewer tools.
- Completing plants is good, but if you need to complete a lot of plants, it may be worth waiting for a Trowel or Watering Can rather than spending the two Green Thumbs to complete only one of them. It’s useful to spend the Green Thumbs if you’re going to otherwise lose out on them, but otherwise, hold on to them! You can spend them later to get the items or tools that you need or you can spend them on the extra Verdancy you would have otherwise bought. Especially if you’re already late in the game, there’s not necessarily a huge benefit from going quickly; it’s not like you can get additional points from the pots or anything.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Incredible art, as always. I think Beth has outdone herself with this one. The cover is absolutely impeccable, and the unbelievable number of distinct plants in the game is also just striking. I particularly like the way that the drafting row’s top and bottom cards have half-circles on them that evoke the other card in the pair? There’s a lot to be particularly pleased with, here, and I think that Beth is still doing some of the best work in the business. Plus, I just like games with green boxes; they’re a bit less common than other colors.
- Honestly, as someone who got mildly into plant care during the pandemic, this game very much appeals to me. I’m not as good at it as Verdant would suggest (thankfully, my housemate keeps the herbs watered, for the most part; I’m on the hook for our tree), but it’s a pleasant and relaxing hobby and a great one to theme a game around. Odds are that I’ll get this for my plant-focused friend for her birthday next year, assuming it’s out by then. If not, it might be an IOU.
- I have already done the “yeah, Verdant, that Flatout title with the quilt and the calico on it” bit to someone and yes, it’s very funny. I assume this was partially in response to player frustration that the cat on the box of Calico is not a calico, but, hey, calico is a quilt thing too, I think. So now they’ve got their wish! There’s a new Flatout game with a calico on it. It’s just … not Calico. I’m amused by it.
- I don’t find this nearly as brain-burny as Calico, which is nice. I think that the decision space is more constrained than Calico, which helps. In Calico, since the color and pattern can vary, that means that there’s some combinatorics involved when I place a tile, which is bad for my tired brain. Here, you’re just matching color and desired sunlight pattern, and every placement has only a few valid edges, at best. There’s still strategy to your grid and how you construct it, but I haven’t found player analysis paralysis to be nearly as high as it was in Calico. Then again, I tend to play with pretty fast people.
- I appreciate that the spatial puzzle is tightly constrained. You only get 13 turns, which isn’t all that many, so you need to make the most of them. Plus, once you’ve laid a few cards, you generally have a pretty good idea of where your grid can be. Finalizing it is a very satisfying process, and I like how that puzzle unfolds over the course of the game.
- I also really like that you can have 7 or 8 plants or rooms, depending on how your 3 x 5 is constructed. It’s a nice bit of variance between plays. Some games I want more rooms; other games I want more plants. It depends on my Goal Cards and what plants and rooms I have available at the time, and I like that it’s not always clear-cut one way or the other.
- I really like the half-draft mechanic that they’ve got going on here, especially since you can use Green Thumbs to fix it up.
- I also like that there’s a range of Green Thumb tokens. That’s just nice from a representation standpoint. Subtle touch, but a welcome one.
- The pets and furniture are extremely endearing. I see at least a cat, dog, bird, and fish, and there’s some very nice furniture in there, as well, including a 2×2 KALLAX with some board games inside. I can’t quite make out which board games they’re supposed to be, but, I’m assuming someone wouldn’t store books like that so I’m just guessing they’re board games.
- Allowing players to store an item indefinitely (but just one) is a great way to mitigate some analysis paralysis for players, as well, and I think it’s very smart design. I think it’s great. It decreases the agonizing of “what do I do with this and where’s the best place for it and oh no I can’t get the perfect placement for it right now” and just lets you defer, a bit. Usually, by the next turn, either your options have improved on rooms, plants, or items and you only rarely get stuck with two items that you don’t really want to use or place at the same time.
- I also really like that all the little pots fit perfectly on the plant cards. It’s a subtle touch, but it’s appreciated. It makes the plant cards look classy, even if you don’t get extra bonus points for being quick on the pot draw.
- Having three different Goal Card types can allow for a lot of different scoring types for games. I like the way that the different Goal Cards interact with each other; it makes me want to try a few new strategies the next time I play. Unfortunately, I have to send the game along after I finish writing it up, so odds are that the next time I play will be quite a ways off.
- The Plant Collector and Decorator Bonuses are the exact kind of thing you forget about when you’re playing if nobody reminds you. Not really a huge issue, just something worth mentioning specifically when you teach. It helps if you keep the score sheet nearby during the game so that every player can see it, I think? Otherwise, the bonus tends to slip my mind.
- Big tableau-building card games always stress me out a little bit because there’s always that game where I accidentally smack the tableau by mistake and mess everything up. It’s also annoying if you need to move the tableau since there’s no real binding agent for the cards; they just kind of sit next to each other and you hope you never need to move them or mess them up in any way. My natural sense of order means they’re placed nicely, but it’s a tenuous peace, at best.
- Without the Goal Cards, I’m not entirely convinced that a “rush all the small plants” strategy isn’t, at least, a pretty good idea. Rushing a bunch of low-value small plants is a quick way to get a bunch of high-value pots, which will balance your average card value up a bit (to 5 or 6, which isn’t bad). The problem with this strategy is that it is a little uninteresting and it doesn’t necessarily account for getting room bonuses or Goal Cards, so this may only work in the basic, non-Goal Card mode.
- At lower player counts, there aren’t quite as many Green Thumb tokens in play, so it may be harder to get extra Verdancy for plants or to get tokens that you might otherwise need. This isn’t quite what it sounds like, but essentially, it’s harder for cards to accumulate Green Thumb tokens at lower player counts because either you’re playing them or your opponent is. If neither of you need the card, it’ll eventually accumulate a bunch, but it might take a significant chunk of the game. At higher player counts, if a card is unwanted, it may see a bit more rapid accumulation because there are more players available to not pick that card. It’s part of why I prefer the game at higher player counts, along with more market churn.
- I think someone at Flatout just hears my never-ending complaints about random markets and adds some slight mitigation just to spite me. I would really like to be able to discard cards from this market if none of the cards are the cards that I want, but alas, I cannot. Instead, I can only adjust the tokens. I have to assume after a similar complaint about Calico this is just company policy. Oh well.
- Having clarifications for the Goal Cards in the rulebook is almost always a good idea. There were a few that I had questions about (I’m assuming that an item can only be part of a pair once, but, worth clarifying). I’m assuming they’ll have more Goal Card clarifications in the final rulebook, but this is a problem I ran into while I was playing, so, noting it here.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I’m quite pleased with Verdant! If I were putting it up against Flatout’s Big Three, I think I prefer it to Calico (and prefer Cascadia to both, all things being equal). What knocks it down slightly, for me, is that I prefer Verdant at slightly higher player counts, which has been challenging to get in this, the ongoing pandemic. I generally have a softest spot for games that I can play at two (with some notable exceptions, like The Crew [though its two-player variant is pretty good]). That’s not to say there’s not a lot to like about Verdant, though. It’s a clever spatial puzzle, tasking players with aligning plants with their best lighting across a wide variety of rooms. That alone would have made for a fine game, but adding in the tools and items as part of the draft is smart. It adds a fresh additional layer of play without increasing the complexity drastically, and frankly it reinforces that Flatout is still gunning to try and be one of the strongest studios making games in the US right now. The game hits the “challenging without being complex” point surprisingly well, and this seems like a game that I can introduce to my less game-inclined friends and associates without bringing them to a world of stress and terror (as I have done in the past, sorry). I think the theme helps a lot with that, though. Plant-raising during the pandemic has become a fairly popular pastime, and having games that are reflective of our situations (in positive ways) is always a nice way to let people talk about the plants they’ve been growing over the last 18 months or so. I know I saw a few plants in here that I recognize, which is fun. I think plant fans will like this game for much the same reason that bird fans enjoy Wingspan: the sheer volume of identifiable options will delight them, and it makes for good conversation while you play. You might even learn a thing or two about a plant. Can you imagine? Learning. In a board game. Perish the thought. Either way, I digress, a bit. I think Verdant is a perfectly pleasant experience that’s entertaining without being overbearing, and if you’re a fan of plants, of light strategy, or just the color green, you’ll likely enjoy Verdant as well!
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