Full disclosure: A review copy of Rainforest City was provided by Origame.
Another game from Origame! I’ve played a few titles, now, and while I haven’t reviewed them all, I can tell you with some certainty that I think Daryl Chow is underrated, design-wise. His designs are solid, plentiful, and I’m excited to play more of them. I’m writing this a bit after I’ve written the bulk of the review, so, mild spoiler: I liked this one, but, you know what, I sometimes write this before the review, so I’m just kind of letting the adventure happen. I’m looking forward to checking out more of these games, but I need to find the right group to bust them out for, so we will see. In the meantime, let’s check out Rainforest City!
In Rainforest City, your goal is to recreate an ecosystem in Singapore. You have oceans, mangroves, and rainforests at your disposal, and your ideal outcome reintroduces some of the native flora and fauna, as well! Unfortunately, your creation of a beautiful, idyllic landscape has also attracted folks who want to live surrounded by wildlife and unburdened by ecology, so you may have some home construction to reckon with as you make your landscapes. Will you be able to rebuild and restore a functioning rainforest?
Not a ton. Each player gets a pair of Starting Terrain Cards and places them so that the long edges of the cards are touching:
Give each player a Reference Card and a Player Token in the same color; if using the Advanced Variant, give the player all the Player Tokens in their color:
Shuffle the standard Terrain Cards:
Shuffle the Flora / Fauna Cards:
Now, for the interesting thing to try and describe with only text. Take the Fruit Dial, and place it in the center of the play area:
Next, reveal cards from the top of the deck. Above the Fruit Dial should be two Terrain Cards, below the Fruit Dial should be two Flora / Fauna Cards, and to the left and right of the Fruit Dial should be one of each card type. Set aside the decks, for now, and place the tokens near the playing area, as well:
If you’re playing with the Advanced Variant, shuffle the three Objective Types (Terrain / Flora / Fauna) and place one of each face-up, visible to all players:
If playing with two players, use three Globe Markers (going up to 6); at three or four, use two (going up to 4 for three players and flipping it over to go up to 3 for four players).
You should be ready to start!
If you’re playing the cooperative variant, deal each player one of each Objective type. If you’re playing the solo variant, create two starting Landscapes, rather than just one, and deal one of each Objective type to each Landscape.
A game of Rainforest City takes place over 12 turns, as players try to build Terrain that can support a variety of Flora and Fauna. Let’s dig into a turn and see how it works.
Rotate Fruit Dial
This one’s pretty easy. Just take the Fruit Dial and point your player token towards any pair of cards. Once you do, you get to take both of those cards! All other players get to take one of the cards in the pair their Fruit Dial points towards. The other card is left behind for a later turn.
Now, everyone places the cards! Terrain Cards are placed adjacent to other Terrain Cards in your landscape. At least one square on the new card must touch a square on the old card. That said, you can rotate them however you want. If any of the spaces on the card show a token of some kind, you get to take that token and place it on the card. If they show a House, you must remove a token of the pictured type from your landscape, if one is present anywhere. Return it to the box; don’t put it in your Compost Heap.
For Flora / Fauna Cards, the rules are a bit different. Rather than placing the card, you can rotate the card and then place tokens on spaces in the indicated orientation. The card can be rotated however you’d like, but not mirrored. Each Flora / Fauna token has a preferred Terrain (except for Otters, who are cool with anything), and can only be placed on that Terrain type. If you would place a token on the wrong Terrain or off the board, place the token in your Compost Heap instead. If you would place a token on top of another, previously-placed token, put the old token in your Compost Heap and place the new token on the now-vacated space. You cannot place tokens on houses, unless you’re playing the Basic Variant, in which case any token may be placed on a house.
If you’re playing with the Advanced Variant, after every player has placed their card, check to see if anyone scored an Objective. If they did, place their Fruit Marker next to the highest available space on the Objective Card. If multiple players scored the same Objective on the same turn, they both place on the same space. Note that scoring an Objective means you get the points for the game, even if the condition you scored for stops being true later (like having two of two types of Herbivores; even if one is removed, once you score the Objective, it’s yours).
This one’s not too hard; just refill the display to what was previously there. There should be one slot of two Terrain cards, the slot on the opposite side should have two Flora / Fauna Cards, and the other two slots should have one of each card. Then, move the Globe Marker to the next player. If it gets back around to the starting player, the start player either flips it to its lower-numbered side or removes it. Once the 1 is removed, the game ends.
End of Game
After 12 turns, the game is over! Tally up your scores:
- Flora: Every Flora on the correct Terrain scores 1 point.
- Fauna: Each Herbivore in a Habitat (a set of connected Terrain squares of the same type) with a Flora scores 2 points and is considered Supported. Each Carnivore in a Habitat with a Supported Herbivore scores 3 points. Note that each Flora can only support 1 Herbivore, and each Herbivore can only support 1 Carnivore. This means that in order to score three Carnivores, you need three Flora and three Herbivores in one Habitat along with three Carnivores. It’s not easy!
- Houses: Each House scores 3 points, but loses 1 point for each Flora / Fauna token adjacent to it. Yes, it’s possible for a House to score negative points.
- Compost Heap: Each token in the Compost Heap is worth -1 point.
- Objectives: If you’re playing with Objectives, each player scores the number next to their Fruit Marker on Objective Cards.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
The major difference at higher player counts is a function of control. You don’t get more turns; you just have the same number distributed over more players. I assume this is why 12 is a board game designer’s favorite number. Easily divisible by 2 / 3 / 4. But I digress. The big change is that with two players, you’re in control of the Fruit Dial 50 – 100% more often than you are at three and four players, respectively. This means you’re consistently choosing things that you want, rather than choosing from whatever sections of the play area your opponents leave you with. For your first game, playing at a lower player count gives you a bit more control, so you can learn about how to get the cards you need into the right spots and get a sense of how the game plays. After that, though, go wild. You’ll end up with a bunch more tokens in your Compost Heap, because you get assigned cards you neither want nor can use, but the hectic and frantic nature of having to pick cards in categories you’re not interested in is delightful. You still get an element of choice (choose one of two), but you don’t get to choose the arrangement of the Fruit Dial. So it’s just an interesting alternate playstyle. I don’t really have a strong player count preference, as a result. I’ve enjoyed the game with all player counts.
- The interesting thing about these ecosystems is that you need to balance giving yourself room to grow with proximity to other ecosystems so that you can cover any Fauna Cards you get. You probably don’t want to make a giant habitat of one Terrain type because, inevitably, you’ll have trouble filling it all. The Flora / Fauna Cards aren’t that large, and they usually have a variety on them, so you can’t always rely on placing the exact same Flora / Fauna on one big area. So now, you need to weigh the placement against the expansion of your Terrain. It’s interesting and challenging, which I appreciate.
- It’s probably helpful to keep an eye on what you’re giving your opponents, but honestly, it doesn’t necessarily make sense to deny yourself a good pair of cards because you might give your opponent one good card. Especially in higher player count games, there’s really no benefit to cutting off your proverbial nose to spite your opponent’s face; take the cards you need and give them the choice of whatever they get. I think it’s generally inadvisable to spend one of your limited number of choices during the game denying yourself something you want or need just because an opponent might also benefit; instead, try to grab something that gives you a disproportionate benefit, relative to your opponent.
- Putting your opponent in a situation where they have to take a House can be fun, especially late-game when you can mess up their ecosystem. If you ever see two houses on Terrain cards, you can always pick some orientation such that they get stuck with taking one of the cards. It’s mean, and might really mess them up, points-wise, but it’s at least an interesting move. I still wouldn’t explicitly recommend it as a strategy, but I’d respect someone taking it. Late-game, they’ll likely be able to place the House such that it doesn’t end up adjacent to anything, but the Flora / Fauna that they’ll have to lose might actually disconnect one of their food chains, which would be fantastic. Their habitats are likely going to be robust enough that this won’t happen, but it could, I suppose, and if it could, then capitalize on that opportunity.
- You can also try to give your opponents early-game Flora / Fauna cards so that they take negative points for the tokens that they can’t place. This is largely a mean thing to do, but also depends on your seat orientation. Sometimes you just want the cards that are in the spot where taking them leaves your opponent forced to choose between two Flora / Fauna cards. They usually can place most of the Flora / Fauna cards, but it’s decently likely at least one token will end up in their Compost Heap.
- That said, don’t always think about things as explicitly “losing points”; sometimes taking a specific card does cost you points, sure, but it gives you the opportunity to gain a lot more points. Sometimes you have to spend a few points to gain a few points, as the saying goes. Don’t think of it as a loss; think of it as an investment. Just be smart about what you choose you invest in, points-wise. You can spread yourself thin if you’re not careful, and you do need to earn some points in order to continually progress. But giving up a single token to complete a food chain that will earn you six points? That’s a wise move.
- Keep an eye on opponents’ progress with objectives, as well as making progress on your own. You, ideally, would be the first person to complete every objective, but that’s rarely feasible. Choosing one to focus on might work, and then you can gradually push towards it. Just make sure it’s not the same thing your opponent picks, otherwise you’ll be at odds over it and then it’ll be a bit of a race. That said, the objectives are tough to complete! Good luck finishing all three in one game (it’s possible; just hard).
- Make sure your food chains are actually supported, and watch out for shenanigans. Shenanigans being houses that delete elements of your food chain or tokens that seem to be part of one habitat but actually aren’t. The tokens are large! Make sure you’re paying attention to where they end up. The last thing you want is to have built up a food chain only to realize you have a missing stair in the middle of it. That’s a bummer.
- Houses aren’t bad to take, but keep them away from flora and fauna. They’re worth negative points for basically any tokens adjacent to them, but three points if you keep them away from everything. There’s a place for them; it’s just far away from anything else. The key thing about Houses is that they’re also better to take early, since you possibly won’t have the Flora / Fauna that they remove, so you can get a house with no immediate penalty. Just make sure if you do that, that you’re not placing a House in a critical location where it’ll bite you later.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The card distribution method is really fun and interesting. I like it a lot! It’s very reminiscent of Lanterns: The Harvest Festival, where placing a tile doled out cards to each player based on what side of the tile faced them. Here, you’re choosing which side of the card distribution that you want, and every player gets one of the other sides. I love it, frankly; it keeps players engaged when it’s not their turn, it provides some interesting points of tension, and it lets you play a bit aggressively, if you want to. It also makes where you sit relative to other players pretty interesting, since the game changes what cards you get if you sit across from a player or to their left or right. Plus, I just like that everyone gets something every turn.
- The objectives are pretty challenging, which is nice. They don’t mess around with the Advanced Game, and 10 points is nothing to shake a stick at. The objectives largely task you with things like making specific layouts of habitats or having certain numbers and combinations of flora and fauna. They’re tough! It’s a nice extra layer on the game.
- I love the theme! Adding in the trouble of development for players is also pretty interesting. I really like games about ecological preservation and the importance of being environmentally thoughtful, and I think Rainforest City does a nice job there. Forcing players to think about the negative impact housing can have on an area’s ecology is interesting, too. I think it helps folks playing games become more conscious participants in other areas of their lives, which is a nice benefit to playing something.
- Adding in the food chain as a workable scoring angle is a lot of fun. I really like the food chain aspects of the game, where carnivores need herbivores need plants and you can’t score a carnivore without an entire chain. It forces players to think about protecting their ecosystem’s balance, especially if they would take cards that would otherwise give them points but force them to remove one of the required components in their food chain. It’s not always the wrong move, but it’s certainly an interesting choice to give to player, strategically.
- Pretty portable, always helpful. It’s not the biggest game, so I can usually take it places. I ended up bringing it to GAMA and getting a lot of good plays of it, there, so its portability was definitely a factor in that.
- The art is very pleasant, too. It’s clean, bright, and colorful, and the various habitats are very distinct from each other. Combine that with the fun flora and fauna tokens and you’ve got a game that looks great on the table even with a smallish footprint.
- The various spatial elements of the game come together to make a really fun puzzle. I really, really like how Flora and Fauna Cards are placed. You get a 3×2 card that you can rotate and essentially project onto your Terrain Cards, making you try to place them such that the pictured tokens end up in the correct habitats to not only score, but to also create food chains that allow higher-tier carnivores and herbivores to score, too. It’s essentially a multi-layered spatial puzzle that I haven’t seen in a while, and I’m really enjoying it.
- Having simple and advanced variants are nice, and the solo and cooperative variants seem fun, as well. I don’t always love variants adding their complexity to my reviews, but I appreciate that there are a few different tiers of variants, here. The simple variant just treats houses as animal habitats; wild spaces that allow any animal type on them (instead of blocking animals and costing you points for adjacent animal placement). The advanced variant adds the objectives that I really enjoy. The solo and cooperative variants force players to work together to complete assigned objectives, making you think more creatively about the cards you’re doling out on your turn. They’re all cool variations on the core of the game, and I think they all sound pretty solid.
- The tokens would be easier to place if they were a bit smaller, so that they didn’t just perfectly fit on the spaces. Having a bit more room between them would be ideal. Just a tiny bit smaller so they’re easier to have fully on a space instead of being large enough that they bump into other tokens if they’re not nearly-perfectly on the space correctly would be wonderful. I could see a deluxe version of this that had tiny wood tokens for everything, but, I mean, that’s just a far-off dream.
- The sheer number of tokens when you first open the box is intimidating; thankfully, the game is easier to learn than it first appears. It actually reminded me a bit of Remember Our Trip, in that I found the total number of pieces in the box stressful, but after learning it was pleasantly surprised by how everything fit together. It would be nice if the insert organized the tokens by type, so it was easier to find what you wanted instead of just dumping all the tokens into the lid and constantly sifting around, but, that makes the game more expensive, so gotta compromise somewhere.
- The implication of the Compost Heap isn’t great, but I’m just not thinking about it. If flora or fauna can’t fit in the correct ecosystem, they go into the Compost Heap. That’s just the mechanics of the game. I’m not digging into it. I’m not thinking about it. Everything is fine. There may have been a way to count those tokens as destroyed habitats or something that didn’t make me feel weird in the same way that transferring Pokemon in Pokemon GO and getting candy back makes me feel weird, but there’s also the genuine chance I’m overthinking it.
- Scoring can be a bit finicky to calculate, since there are so many pieces all over the place and a food chain you have to keep track of. It’s not always super clear which tokens are scoring, and keeping track of that and adjacency to houses can make things a bit confusing. A House token would make the game a bit easier to track, since you’d then have tokens checking against other tokens, but that just adds more tokens to an already busy game. I think the game wisely recommends doing a first pass for tokens that don’t score, scoring Houses, removing non-scoring tokens, and then doing a second pass to score the remaining tokens, but that’s a process with some complexity to it.
Overall: 9.25 / 10
Overall, I thought Rainforest City was a blast, even if I keep accidentally calling it Rainforest Café. That place was haunted. It sticks with you. Thankfully, Rainforest City sticks with you, as well. I actually really like the card drafting technique. It’s a nifty one, reminiscent of two games I quite enjoyed mixed together, which appeals to me greatly. The game’s also very appealing, both thematically and artistically. It’s a good-looking game and I really like games that teach the importance of conservation and ecology. It’s a good look. There are also a surprising number of variants for the game, which I appreciate, even if it means more things I need to consider in my review. I think the token placement makes this game a bit reminiscent of Remember Our Trip, another of Daryl’s designs, mostly because it has similar complex token placement mechanics. Here, however, instead of creating large groups of the same token, you’re creating functional groups of different tokens to build out food chains. I like that a lot. It’s challenging, but with a smaller footprint than Remember Our Trip, both in terms of teaching and just general spatial complexity. I think both games are dynamite, though, so, can’t go wrong. I’m a sucker for a spatial reasoning game, especially one with cool cards and challenging spatial puzzles, so this was always going to throw me for a loop, though. If you’re looking for a sharp game from a fantastic designer, I’d definitely recommend checking Rainforest City out! I really liked it.
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