Game Review: Arboretum

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In the world of board games you’d think a game about growing trees would not be interesting. But you’d be wrong. Arboretum by Renegade Game Studios is a deceptively simple game with complex decisions that provides a great experience every time you play.

Designer: Dan Cassar
Artist:
Philippe Guérin, Chris Quilliams, Beth Sobel, Waldo Ramirez
Publisher: 
Renegade Game Studios
Genre: Set Collection, Tile Placement
Players: 2-4 Players
Play Time: 30 Minutes
Number of Logged Plays: 5 (3x 2 Players, 2x 3 Players)

Skip ahead to find out:
Game Overview
What He Said
What She Said
Our Pros and Cons
The Verdict

Game Overview

willow treeIn Arboretum, players select trees for their arboretum and lay them out for visitors to see. Each player will have to make some tough decisions with a seven card hand. First, players must determine how best to arrange the trees once planted. Next, players must determine what cards to hold onto to score and prevent other players from scoring their tree species.

On each turn, players will gather new trees, plant one, and discard a tree from their hand. This allows other players to have a chance to get cards from your hand or draw from the main deck. The game ends once the deck completely runs out.

Once the game ends, players will have an arboretum of trees for display and a hand of seven cards that will determine whether they get to score specific species of trees in their arboretum. The player with the highest total score across all tree species is the winner.

IMG_1907_editedHe Said

When I first saw Arboretum from Renegade Game Studios, I thought it would be a light easy-going game about making a beautiful arboretum. The rules were a breeze to learn and we were planting trees within minutes of opening the game. About two turns into the first game, I quickly realized I was wrong. It was not an easy-going game as I  agonized over whether I wanted to keep that Seven Cherry Blossom card to block Mandee from scoring that species or try to expand out the selection of trees I wanted to score myself. It’s these decisions that you have to make every round that keeps the game engaging and makes me want to play it more.

IMG_1899_editedCatch-22

Decisions in this game can be quite excruciating. There are two things to consider when playing and discarding cards from your hand. You want to try to place as many species of the same tree in a row to get the bonus, but you also need to keep enough cards in your hand to score them. If you get carried away and place out all of your Maple Trees except for the two, there’s a good chance those trees will only serve as eye candy with no bonus points to show for them.

As if that decision alone isn’t hard enough, you’ll also have your opponents actions to consider. You’ll want to watch your opponents and figure out if you want to take up valuable space in your hand to try to block them from scoring their trees. There were a lot of times where I’d discard a card that I knew would benefit another player, but I had no choice because I had grand plans for my own arboretum.

One thing that alleviates the stress a little bit is knowing that each species only has eight cards (numbered from 1-8). This allows you to make some educated guesses on exactly how far you can push a certain species out onto your board and which cards you should be keeping to have the best chance at scoring them.

It’s a pretty cool balancing game to have to play that I haven’t seen in any other game I’ve played. It is a bit stressful at times though, so I don’t think I’d bust this game out after a long day of work to relax. It would probably be a good way to open a game night though.

IMG_1757_editedA Ruthless Game of Trees

Player interaction in Arboretum comes from the cards you keep in your hands and which card you choose to discard every round. If you just ignore what other players are doing, you could be allowing them to get a ton of points for the trees they’re going after. On the other hand, if you focus too much on trying to stop them, you could be hindering yourself. I felt like you usually couldn’t prevent someone from winning one species of tree, but you could usually give them issues with the second or third species of trees they’re going to go after. All it usually takes is about two cards of a species in your hand to have a good chance at possibly preventing them from scoring a species.

IMG_1583_editedSo I guess the point I’m really working towards is that this game can be pretty mean. There’s no worse feeling than having a sweet chain of four or five cherry blossoms be turned into zero points because you didn’t keep high enough cards in your hand. But you have to balance out the meanness with your own goals for your arboretum, which just leads to a lot more decisions than you’d expect when playing a game about trees. I really wasn’t expecting this out of Arboretum when I picked it up because the thing that really drew me in was the artwork. Beneath that beautiful artwork lies a ruthless Game of Trees.

Final Thoughts

I had a good time with Arboretum every time I played it, whether it was with just Mandee or with three players. I do think I enjoyed it just a little more with two players. It’s easy to learn and there’s a lot of decisions to make. Plenty of the decisions are difficult because you have to balance so many things at the same time. The only issue I could see being a problem is how ruthless the game can be with it’s scoring. If you’re not a fan of that kind of player interaction, I don’t think you’d like this game that much. If that’s something you’re fine with I’d recommend you give this game a try.

IMG_1901_editedShe Said

Looking for a simple game that’s really easy to pick up and play? Well, look no further than Arboretum from Renegade Game Studios. The game is beautiful to look at and delivers on a unique theme. On top of that, it is incredibly easy to understand, but is also involves some incredibly complex and thought-provoking decisions.

IMG_1895_editedArt of the Game

In the world of board games, beautiful artwork has become more prevalent than ever. When I play a game, I enjoy well-balanced games that deliver on aesthetic appeal and theme as well. And Arboretum definitely lives up to this expectation.

I haven’t played many, if any, board games related to growing different species of trees, so the theme of the Arboretum is unique. It’s also a very interesting theme to play out. The artwork on the cards are incredibly beautiful, which makes it really cool to try to build out your own arboretum in front of you with all the trees that appeal to you. If the artwork wasn’t as beautiful as it is, I don’t know that it’d be as enjoyable. It really does add to the overall experience.

IMG_1753_editedTree of Life

One of the things I like most about Arboretum is how deceptively simple it truly is. The game logistically is just draw two cards, play a card, and discard a card. But it’s so much more than that.

The entire point of the game is create viable paths that produce the most victory points. A viable path means one that begins and ends with the same species. You do get extra points if the entire path is made up of one species, but that may not always be the best strategy. Creating viable paths in your arboretum is one level of the game, but the next level is maintaining a hand that allows you to score those paths.

IMG_1904_editedIf you don’t have the highest sum of a tree species in your hand, you won’t be able to score your paths. And that’s what makes this game so interesting. It’s a combination of building up your arboretum to score the most points while also maintaining cards in your hand to score all your hard work.

This game is a brain burner in a deceptively simple box. There are so many interesting decisions and strategies that there’s very little downtime. And all these interesting decisions really add to the replayability of the game.

Probably my biggest takeaway from this game is that it may look like a fairly solitary game, but it’s not. You really have to take into account what your opponent(s) is doing or else you could unintentionally do something that benefits them. Because of the number of things to think about in one game, there can be some analysis paralysis, especially with players who have a tough time making decisions.

IMG_1893_editedGrow a Pair

In my eyes, the only downside to this game, is that it can be too aggressive at times. When you notice that another player is going after a species of tree, it is in your best interest to not discard cards from that species. But that gets challenging when you have other cards you need to keep in your hand.

For example, there was one game we played where Calvin and I were both going after the same species of tree unintentionally. Once we realized it, we both started to hoard the cards we had. In the end, Calvin had the 8 and I had the 1 card, which zeroed out his 8 and only one of us got to score it.

IMG_1892_editedIt can feel a bit vindictive when you know someone is just keeping a card in their hand because they don’t want you to have it. Although, it also does add some interesting elements to the game. So I don’t think this is a huge downside to the game. In fact, it’s probably less of a downside and more of a mild annoyance. Because there’s really nothing more annoying than knowing someone is hoarding the number 8 card of a species just so you can’t have it.

IMG_1581_editedFinal Thoughts

Overall, I really enjoyed this game. I don’t typically go for mean games, but the positives of this game far outweigh the few negatives. With the sheer number of interesting decisions taking place at one time, Arboretum keeps you engaged and interested the entire game. There were many times where I’d struggle with which tree to discard because I didn’t want to give Calvin a card I knew he wanted. Or, worst of all, accidentally discarding the one card you needed to score your own trees (that happened once and I was not happy….). I would definitely recommend this game to anyone looking for an easy-to-learn card game. We played this with people of all different levels of board gaming experience and it was fun no matter what.

Pros and Cons

Pros:
– Beautiful artwork and design
– Interesting decisions and strategies
– Lots of replayability
– Fair amount of player interaction
– Simple and easy to understand the rules
– Unique theme

Cons:
– Can be a bit too aggressive at times
– Sometimes too many decisions can cause analysis paralysis

The Verdict

He gives this game out of 9 Cherry Blossoms out of 10.

She gives this game 8 Dogwoods out of 10.

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