From the moment you open up Everdell’s collector’s version one thing is apparent – this game is beautiful, from the anamorphic meeples to berries with the texture of rubber. Everdell has one of the best table presences from a board game that I’ve ever seen. Does Everdell, and the new expansion, Pearlbrook, have the game play to match the beauty within the boxes?
Let’s find out.
(Note: Starling Games was kind enough to send Board Game Gumbo a review copy of Everdell and its brand new expansion, Everdell: Pearlbrook.)
Everdell is a worker placement, card tableau building game in a woodland critter setting. Published by Starling Games in 2018 after a successful Kickstarter, the game is designed by James A. Wilson, with art by Andrew Bosley and Dann May.
EVERDELL: THE BASE GAME
Everdell has a unique twist to the worker placement genre that we should discuss right off the bat. There are no rounds or other artificial end-game conditions. Instead, the game is broken down into three seasons: spring, summer, and autumn. The end of each season brings new workers and special activations, and of course, brings you closer to the end game because eventually players will run out of actions to take.
We can sum up the entire game play of Everdell and its expansion in one short paragraph: Each turn, you have one of three actions you can perform. You can either A) Place a worker; B) Play a card from your hand; or C) Retrieve all your workers and move to the next season. Play continues until all players have passed. Then you add up points earned from cards in your tableau, victory point tokens, special events and basic events, and whichever player has the most points is the king of Everdell.
Let’s give a little more detail as to how you perform these actions. The first is placing a worker, and players have eight basic action spaces to choose: four forest locations (3 in a 2-3 player game), and four each of the basic and special event actions. The basic action spaces and forest locations generally give you resources and/or cards. (Sure, there are a couple of other locations, but the majority of your game time will be spent on the above.)
The basic and special events are based on set collection for the cards in your town. The basic events give you victory points. The special events earn you more victory points but are harder to achieve. To me, the worker placement part of the game is pretty standard – if you’ve played any other worker placement games before you should be able to grasp this with ease. The real meat of the game (and my favorite part) comes in the second action.
Next is playing a card. You can play a card one of two ways, either pay the resources on the top left of the card, or if you have a critter that matches a construct then you can play that critter for free as a one time benefit. Both critters and constructs have unique and common cards. You can only have one type of a unique card in your tableau, but as many of the same common cards as you can play. But remember, your town can only hold 15 cards, so plan accordingly.
There are five types of cards in Everdell: Tan traveler – gives you a one time bonus; Green production – gives you a bonus when you play them and a bonus in spring and autumn; Red destination – extra worker placement spots (sometimes your opponents can use); Blue Governance – have an ongoing effect that usually generates resources when their conditions are met; and Purple Prosperity – gives additional victory points at the end of the game (ex. One point for every common critter in your town).
The last action you can take on your turn is called Prepare for Season. There are three seasons in the game after everyone begins the game in winter. When ready, players will move to spring, summer and autumn, in that order. Every time you prepare for season, you retrieve all your workers from the board, and then you get a special bonus depending on the season. Springtime brings an additional worker and all green production cards in your tableau activate. Summer bestows an additional worker PLUS two cards from the Meadow. (Normally, drawing cards in this game is a blind draw off the top of the deck, but The Meadow is the spot on the board that lets you draft from eight face up cards.) Finally, autumn allows you to get two final workers, and then all of your green production cards activate.
One thing to note about the Prepare for Season action, you do not have to wait for other players to take that action. It feels weird to continue playing but that is one of the many things about this game that I enjoy. Unlike games like Viticulture, players do not all go into the next season together. Once you move to the next season, you just continue on as normal in that season, while other players may be in the season behind you or the season ahead of you. This subtle change from normal worker placement games helps Everdell flow smoothly. It also speeds up the gameplay, which I appreciate.
The production value of this game is EXTREMELY high. The artwork is fanciful, the board is colorful, and there are a ton of cardboard bits, chits, and 3D realizations of the forest that make the game play come alive.
Even the production of the resources ups the joy factor in the game. The resources in this game are berries, twigs, resin and pebbles, and they are plastic / rubber representations of the real thing. I also find it entertaining that the resources do exactly what you think they would do in a game about forest critters. The twigs, resin and pebbles are used to construct buildings in your town and the berries are used to lure critters into your town.
OVERALL THOUGHTS ON THE BASE GAME
We really liked our plays of Everdell. But, I would be remiss if I did not point out a few negatives.
Sure, the big beautiful tree which acts to mark the seasons, hold your extra workers, and hold some scoring cards adds a lot to the look of the game. But truth be told, is it more of a hindrance than anything else? It blocks the view of the board for some players. Good news? The tree is not a necessity. If you want, play without the tree or move it to the side.
Personally, I do not like having the special events on the tree, either — I wish there was an area on the board to place the special events. It almost makes the special events forgettable and they’re already hard enough to attain.
Another negative is the typeface of the text on the cards. One of our players complained bitterly at how small the text is. In my case, I found that it was not that big of a deal once you play the game a couple of times, but it is still bothersome for newer players.
Let’s talk about what I did like about Everdell’s base game. Overall I can recommend Everdell if you enjoy mechanics from games like Viticulture, 7 Wonders and Race for the Galaxy. Everdell meshes worker placement and card play into a beautiful package. In my opinion this game is best suited at 2- 3 players. The game flows smoothly and plays relatively quickly at that player count (although the pace is dependent on your group’s analysis paralysis, of course, like many other games of its kind.)
The card play is what I enjoy the most. While the worker placement part of the game is pretty basic fare, I still liked it for the most part. If you like worker placement games that add a little more than just worker placement then give Everdell a try. I know I’ll be playing Everdell repeatedly.
The expansion, Everdell: Pearlbrook, adds a host of new features: new resource in pearls, new cards including starting cards called Adornments, replaces the basic events with Wonders, a new worker as an Ambassador frog and a sideboard that only the frog can use.
The pearls in Pearlbrook are gorgeous little white pearls that have a flat bottom so that they stay put on the game table. The added board fits nicely on the left side of the river spots on the main board, and adds an extra 10-20% more room on the board.
Essentially, the Pearlbrook expansion creates a small additional economy — one that is very tight in our opinion — to give you the ability to increase your resources when needed and/or to sling your way to a ton of end game scoring points.
OVERALL THOUGHTS ON EVERDELL: PEARLBROOK
As far as Pearlbrook goes, there are some good notes and some misgivings.
On the one hand, I like the challenge of trying to get pearls that are harder to attain but are needed for playing Adornments and getting Wonders. On the other hand, I think the additions in the expansion can take away from one of the things I enjoy most about Everdell — the expansion makes the game feel like it bogs down a bit.
But that is my only gripe about the expansion. Other than the slow down, I really enjoyed some parts of the expansion. I especially liked the replacement of the basic events to wonders that have a bigger pay off but are harder to achieve. I feel that you actually have to earn wonders rather than get them by happenstance. And they look pretty cool on the table, to boot!
I talked to some of the Gumbo krewe after playing Everdell: Pearlbrook, and most enjoyed the additional competitive element that the Pearlbrook spaces and extra point opportunities added, as it created a sense of tension each round — when will my opponent use their frog? Should I go for the pearl this turn, or can I wait one more turn?
While I did enjoy exploring the Everdell: Pearlbrook expansion, the base game really shines in its quick pace of play and fun twist on the worker placement genre. The combination of workers, card play, and the ability to control the pace of your own end game is unique in my opinion. The entire package sure looks good on the table, but if you are like me, you will probably find yourself playing the base game more than the combination of the two.