Evergreen

Base price: $50.
1 Р4 players.
Play time: ~45 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 17

Full disclosure: A review copy of Evergreen was provided by Flat River Games.

I took a couple weeks off there without writing a ton of new content, so I’m eager to get back on the horse. Unfortunately, Daylight Savings Time has completely messed with me, so now I’m just tired all the time and everything takes longer to do, as it will for a week. Hate that for me, but barring government intervention, that’s just how this week in March goes forever. We will see. In the meantime, there’s always more games to check out, so let’s try the next one: Evergreen!

In Evergreen, you have one goal: trees! Plant them, raise them, grow them, support them, and make sure they get plenty of light as you try to build an ecosystem across multiple biomes. There’s a lot to do, granted, but you’re up for it. That said, your opponents also want fancy ecosystems, so you’ll have to draft cards to get what you want! Just really do your best to make sure that the trees you plant don’t block your other trees’ light! Will your plans for a beautiful ecosystem ultimately bear fruit?

Contents

Setup

First thing’s first: give each player a player board:

There are a ton of various tokens:

Each player gets six cynlinders; they’re placed on the left end of each of the six tracks on top of their individual boards. Then, take three more! Place one at the start of the Score Track (the track around your planet), another one at the “0” of the track on the right side of the board, and one more at the top of the Season Track on the bottom-left of the board. Players can agree on the placement of the next token, but all players should place the Sun Token on the same space on the top, left, right, or bottom of their board.

Then, one player gets the big leaf; that’s the First Player token. Players then gain points! The player going first / second / third / fourth gains 0 / 1 / 2 / 3 points. Now, a bit more setup. Shuffle the Biome Cards:

Draw and reveal the top card of the deck until, in total, there are five Fertility Icons (flowers) present among the cards. The cards with Fertility Icons get placed in the Fertility Zone (near the center area). Keep them organized by biome and keep the icons visible. Cards without Fertility Icons get shuffled back into the deck. Now, you should be ready to start!

Gameplay

The goal of Evergreen is to build up valuable trees over four seasons, targeting zones that are particularly fertile and using actions and powers to bolster up your plants. Just make sure they stay in the light! There are progressively fewer rounds each season; five in the first, four in the second, three in the third, and two in the last. Let’s go through the three phases of each round.

Drafting Phase

First off, you need to create a Drafting Pool. Just draw X cards (where X is the number of players, plus one) and place them face-up in the center.

Then, starting with the first player and going clockwise, each player chooses one card. The first player, upon choosing a card, places the First Player Token on the leftmost remaining card. If another player takes that card, they take the First Player Token as well. If nobody does, then the First Player Token is returned to the first player.

After this, exactly one card should be remaining. That card will have Fertility Icons, Aridity Icons, or no icon. If there’s no icon, discard it. If there’s one or more Fertility Icons, either start a new pile for that Biome or set it on top of the pile for the existing Biome. Aridity works a bit differently; if there is a card of that Biome’s type in the Fertility Zone, flip it face-down and place the Aridity card on top of it. No other effect.

Actions and Powers Phase

Now, each player performs the Action and Power that their card allows them to do! Generally, you can perform one standard action in the Biome that your card matches (or any number of biomes, if you picked a Wild card). The available actions are as follows:

  • Place three Sprouts. You may place three Sprout tokens in any three spots in your given Biome.
  • Take two Generic Growth actions. You may upgrade any Sprout to a Small Tree or any Small Tree to a Big Tree. Generally speaking, you cannot take any action on the same space twice.
  • Place one Sprout and take one Generic Growth action. You cannot upgrade the Sprout that you placed this turn. Would be nice though, eh?
  • Place one Sprout or take one Generic Growth action in any biome. Not optimal, but it works in a pinch.

Each Biome Card also has a special Power! During this phase, you advance one space on the track matching the power on the bottom-right corner of the card. Then, you can apply the power effect a number of times equal to the value below the cylinder after you advance it! The six effects are pretty similar to the standard actions:

  • Plant Sprout: Place a Sprout in any space on the board.
  • Grow Small Trees: Upgrade a Sprout to a Small Tree.
  • Grow Big Trees: Upgrade a Small Tree to a Big Tree.
  • Plant Bush: Place a Bush token in any empty space. They mostly come up at the end of the Season. They’re like trees, but they don’t collect or need any Light.
  • Place Lake: Place a Lake token in any empty space. You may then take one Generic Growth action in two of the four spaces orthogonally adjacent to the newly-placed lake.
  • Bud: Gain points equal to the number below the cylinder on the track.

If you have the ability to place more than one token, you don’t have to place them in the same Biome.

End of Round

At the end of the round, each player places their previously-taken Biome cards in front of their board (just to keep track). After a number of rounds equal to the current number on the Season Track, the Season ends!

End of Season

Three steps this time! The first one is calculating Light, then the Biggest Forest, and then changing to the next season!

So first up, you need to check the light coming from the Sun. Each tree casts a shadow in the direction that the Sun points. Small Trees cast a shadow over the next space in that direction; Big Trees cast a shadow over the next two spaces in that direction. Each tree that’s not in shadow is hit by Light and scores! Small Trees in Light score 1 point; Big Trees in light score 2 points. Note that Small Trees don’t cast a shadow over Big Trees; they’re taller. Lakes, Sprouts, and Bushes don’t cast shadows.

Then, find your largest group of orthogonally-adjacent Big Trees, Small Trees, and Bushes; score 1 point for each Big Tree, Small Tree, and Bush in that group.

Finally, have all players advance the Season Track cylinder on their boards, discard their previously-taken Biome Cards, and advance the Sun Token clockwise.

End of Game

After the fourth season, the game is over! There’s one final scoring thing to do. Now, each Big Tree in each Biome scores equal to the total number of Fertility icons in the Fertility Zone for that Biome. Add those points to your existing score, and the player with the most points wins!

Player Count Differences

Most of the difference here comes down to the drafting elements of the game. At higher player counts, there are more cards available, but the player who goes first in the draft can shift dynamically (since the leftmost card lets the player who takes it become the next first player). Theoretically, you can go an entire game without being first player and still mostly be fine, but you’ll probably want to go first every so often, if you can, so that you can snag cards that lend themselves to your play style. Early on there’s not typically a lot of drafting contention since players kind of do their own things in their own places. As you progress through the game, however, suddenly things become slightly more tense, as certain cards (cards that let you place Big Trees) become more valuable and others (cards that let you place Small Trees / Sprouts) become a bit less valuable. Then the tension increases. That said, having an extra card available per person does a pretty good job of spreading things out, though it can be a bit annoying if the “good” card also lets the player who picked it go first next round. Theoretically, that will cause first player to gradually move around the table, so it mostly averages out. I don’t have a strong player count opinion on Evergreen in particular, though I will say I’ve quite enjoyed it with two players.

Strategy

  • Placing a bush early in the game can be pretty lucrative. Not only does it connect your forest, making it larger, but placing it in the first season is worth 4 points by the end of the game (assuming it stays in your largest forest for the whole game). Plus, it spaces out your trees a bit, so they’re not necessarily blocking your light.
  • In general, you want to build up your ability to place additional small and large trees. Early in the game, having lots of small trees can be helpful, as they catch the light and earn progressively more points. Later in the game, large trees block your small trees, yes, but they also score points for specific biomes at the end of the game. You’ll want to make sure you’re grabbing cards that give you the ability to place more small and large trees, especially because the card power itself is location-agnostic. You have to use the biome card within its biome (or else take a lesser ability), but you can apply the additional power to other spaces. Make sure you’re making space to capitalize on that.
  • Keep an eye on which cards are in the Fertility Zone! That should point you to the large trees you’ll need to win. This will change a fair amount over the course of the game, but towards the last round, you’ll definitely see some biomes are more valuable than others. Focus on those spots as where you’ll make your last stand with your large trees; you can rack up some serious points there!
  • Similarly, you can try and dump Aridity cards into the Fertility Zone to make other players’ trees less valuable. It’s hard to do this well, given that you’re balancing Aridity against both the biomes and the powers on the cards themselves, but you can occasionally find yourself in a place to dump an Aridity card on a high-value Fertility Zone and drive down the value of your opponents’ large trees. Good luck pulling it off, though; it’s about as tricky as it sounds.
  • Getting an early start on a connected forest can be pretty lucrative, points-wise. Similar to bushes, every tree you place in your forest is worth increasing points the earlier in the game you place it, provided you keep adding to your largest forest. There are sometimes perfectly valid reasons not to do that, but you should at least consider the trade-offs.
  • Also, try to keep in mind which trees will block the sun for other trees. There’s strength in diagonals, but not much in the way of connectivity. Diagonally, trees won’t block the sun for other trees in any direction. That’s cool, but you might need / want to use some bushes to achieve the connectivity to make a big forest. Naturally, you can’t play all of your trees diagonally (usually), so you’ll also have to make some trade-offs, especially as the game progresses.
  • Player ordering matters! Sometimes you don’t necessarily want to let other players choose first. The first player, tautologically, gets to choose first. They’ll get the best selection of the cards, and sometimes it’s more worth it to you to get those yourself. This may mean that sometimes you want to take a slightly suboptimal card so that you can maybe get an even better card next round! This is especially worth considering later in the game where you get progressively fewer turns and need to make them count a bit more.

Pros, Mehs, and Cons

Pros

  • The art style is super fun! I really like the cards, even though each individual biome card is the same. I like the diversity of colors and locales used; it’s a really fun art style, and appears to be Wenyi Geng‘s first game! So that’s all pretty rad. Plus, I like games that use a fair amount of green in their box art (though green boxes are even more fun); it’s just something I don’t see as much of.
  • I also really like the tokens. They’re fun shapes! They’ve got lakes and bushes and all kinds of trees. A bit more variety, again, would be lovely, but they’re great as-is. It gives the game a nice bit of table presence as you progress.
  • After playing this and Photosynthesis, I really appreciate that this feels a bit less in-your-face mean than Photosynthesis did. Photosynthesis, if you haven’t played, has one big shared board, so there’s a lot of blocking other players’ trees with your trees to deny them light, which ends up feeling fairly cutthroat. Here, without the pressure of the shared board, you’re just getting in your own way. I appreciate that this has a bit more drafting and a bit less cutthroat aggressive play.
  • It also just looks fun once you’re done! There’s a bunch of trees everywhere. Like I said, it’s got a great table presence! Seeing the whole state of the game afterwards is pretty impressive; you place a lot of tokens during the game.
  • The progressively shorter rounds are interesting! It means you have to set things up early on. You better be careful! It also adds a bit of danger to it all. You have fewer turns to set up combos and growth, but ideally, you’re able to make progress on things you’ve placed in previous seasons.
  • I also like how first player is passed around. There’s a bit of random chance to it, just because the leftmost card gets the first player token. This might mean that the card you want also lets you become first player, or it might be a genuinely terrible card for you! That said, it usually does get passed around pretty fairly.
  • It’s fun how the powers get better the more you use them! It adds a nice element of engine-building. The more lakes you place, the more lakes you can place in the future! With a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 2, at least. But there’s a gradual improvement in the number of sprouts, small trees, and other tokens you can place as you use those abilities, so you can afford to specialize a bit.

Mehs

  • The physical scoring makes me miss the version of this game on Board Game Arena, where it calculates the shadows and lit trees for you. You just gotta make sure you do it by rows or by columns so that you don’t miscalculate or get the numbers mixed up or something. It’s not the hardest thing but it’s vaguely and mildly annoying to do every round. We abide, but I do miss the ease of Board Game Arena and how that all turned out.

Cons

  • As you might guess from a game like this, if you get far enough behind there’s really no chance to recover. You’re doing a bit of engine-building via the powers and also gradually gaining more and more points via your largest forest. If you fall behind on the forest part, you might end up in a spot where you won’t be able to recover (since the points for your largest forest compound over four rounds). It’s not the worst thing; it’s just something worth preparing new players for, as I’ve encountered it in several games I’ve played with new folks.

Overall: 8.75 / 10

Overall, I think Evergreen is a ton of fun! It’s got a nice mix between a few different types of gameplay, and it adds in the bonus that you’re just playing on your own little board without other players to bother you or mess with the trees you’ve placed. Granted, that means that when it comes to trees blocking other trees’ light, you’re your own worst enemy, but there’s still some strategy to it all. Much of the game comes down to a mixture of abstract strategy (how and where you place your trees and which you choose to grow) and drafting (taking the cards that will allow you to grow certain trees in certain spots). The tension between those elements is what makes it fun, even if calculating which trees are in sunlight and which are shaded each round can be a touch annoying. That’s scoring for you, sometimes. There’s also the engine-building of scoring more points each round for your trees and forests (ideally), which means if you’re off to a rough start, you may struggle to overcome and get back into the game. I’ve been on that side of things, but fortunately, I like playing Evergreen enough that even losing badly isn’t really that bad at all. On the positive side, the game is enhanced a lot with some particularly nice art! Each biome is vibrant, fun to look at, and looks great; the pieces are a lot of fun too. The flow of the game is satisfying, as well; you move from sprouts to small trees to big trees, and as you do, you can add bushes to expand your forest and lakes to grow your trees faster. I like the escalation of it even as the game gets tenser (you get progressively fewer turns each round), and I think that Evergreen lands in a nice strategic place that’s approachable for new and experienced gamers alike. If you want to test out your green thumb, you enjoy some abstract strategy, or you just want to draft some cards and see what happens, I’d definitely recommend checking out Evergreen! I’ve had a great time with it.


If you enjoyed this review and would like to support What’s Eric Playing? in the future, please check out my Patreon. Thanks for reading!

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