Card drafting as a mechanic never seems to wear out its welcome in the Gumbo. From 7 Wonders to Paper Tales to Sushi Geaux and to Terraforming Mars, the pick-and-pass mechanic of looking at a hand of cards and deciding which to keep and which to give to your neighbor seems as fresh as the first time I tried it.
Maybe it is because it harkens back to trick taking games of my youth, where you had to pass a card or two to the person on your left, or maybe because the more you play the particular game, the more you get into the meta of what the other players like to keep versus what you want to play. In any case, it is a mechanic that does not seem to tire me.
Flourish is a new game in the pick-and-pass world, designed by the team of James Wilson and Clarissa Wilson, who brought us Everdell. Flourish was successful on Kickstarter, and we should start seeing copies in the wild. We were fortunate enough to be provided an advance copy of the Signature Edition from Starling Games.
Flourish plays from one to seven players in about twenty-five minutes for the base game, a little longer (probably closer to 45-50 minutes) if you throw in all the additional content. From set up to teach, this is definitely one that fits in the One Hour Wonder or Half Hour Wonder category. It is set for retail release from Starling Games in 2021.
Flourish is also unique from the perspective that the game itself encourages both cooperative and competitive play. I cannot think of many games that come like that in the base box, where players can play against each other for points, or play a variant which allows them to work together to make the best garden. For purposes of this review, we played only the competitive version, because that’s just how we garden: battle arena style.
The Signature Edition is very easy on the eyes. It has beautiful art on the cover, and even has an embossed signature line for both of the auteurs. The box itself contains the base game, consisting of a deck of beautifully illustrated flowers, trees, lawns and stonework, as well as player guides and enough scoring markers for all of the players.
A note on those scoring markers — at least in the Signature Edition, they are huge, probably the biggest markers I have ever seen. They each consist of big heavy piece of cardboard counters, each with three separate dials, that allows you to easily track points into the hundreds. They take up a big chunk of space in the box, and I’m frankly curious as to why they were made so big other than to provide plenty of real estate for more amazing art from the quadruple of artists listed on the project page.
But the fun does not stop with just those overproduced counters. The signature edition also comes with two modules of play (not sure if these will be in the base game). First up, the players will have a huge assortment of “blue ribbon medals” to try to earn through the garden competition. The medals are basically cardboard tokens with crisp artwork on them. But the bigger surprise in the box, and probably the one that generated the most comments when we pulled them out, are the 3D cardboard elements for the Friends and Follies expansion. There are a number of different “follies”, which are basically fancy names for garden structures, and each is represented by a different cardboard structure. (Thanks to our Unboxing with Bradly series, I didn’t have to put any of them together! Thanks Bradly!)
Add in a four page rule book and a bonus rule book for the Friends and Follies expansion, and you have a beautiful, well put together production that seems way overproduced. But is it?
You come for the treats, but you stay for the meats, right? So, let’s dive in to the game play. Flourish may come from the design team from Everdell, and it may involve drafting and playing cards, but that’s where the similarities ends.
At its heart, Flourish is all about scoring combos of cards in a 3×3 grid (with one extra layer in the fourth round, as we will explain.) Players will start with a hand of six cards, pick one to play face down, then give one to each of their neighbors for their hand. Once all players reveal, the cards are then placed into the “garden” (an eventual 4×3 yard of cards when you finish), and then draw one card from the big garden deck.
Cards have four important areas of symbols on them: in the upper left, some cards will score you points for each row (basically a round of cards played). In the bottom right, some cards will score you points at the end of the game. In the bottom left, some cards will have stone elements that will be used for scoring other cards. And on the left side, some cards will have flower symbols which can also be used for scoring cards.
As you can see, the game is all about collecting the right flowers and stones to geaux with the round scoring and end game scoring cards that you need to play. Knowing what to keep, what to play, and what you can afford to give your neighbor is the key, especially because some of the cards play off of the symbols that the neighbors have, not what you have in your garden.
After each set of three cards are played, players will look to the round scoring cards that they played that round, and score up all of them on the handy dandy scoring tracker. Players will do that in three rounds, and in the fourth round, instead of “picking and passing”, they will just play three cards in their garden and discard the rest. Score up the round one more time, then score up the end-of-game scoring cards, and declare a winner.
A word about the scoring — there is so much more than just set collection in the game play. The designers have thrown in all kinds of ways to score points. Maybe you need one of all five different flowers in your tableau, or maybe you are looking to have more of a certain flower than your neighbors. Maybe you need your neighbors to collect certain stone works together, or maybe you need just one of them to geaux big into one of the flower categories. There are dozens of ways to score the cards, but the iconography is very easy to learn.
BUT IS IT ANY FUN?
We talk about pick-and-pass games a lot on Gumbo Live! Over the years, we’ve elicited lots of friendly opinions about games like 7 Wonders and Sushi Geaux, and that mechanic has built up a lot of good will with us. I bet if I asked the Gumbo krewe, they would probably say it is their favorite mechanic in gaming (although mine would easily be worker placement.)
Due to COVID-19, my plays have only been with the family except for a five player game at the FLGS small game night. So, I do not have experience with the full count, or with playing with the Krewe. But, I’ve played it enough at play counts from one to five that I have enough experience to talk about the game.
If you are interested in Flourish, and you’ve played any other card drafting games, I would probably tell you to get your hands on the signature edition if you can. I hate saying that, because I am not sure how much it will be available, but frankly, playing the base game was pretty pedestrian. The entire time I was playing, I just kept thinking to myself that I would much rather play Paper Tales or 7 Wonders instead, especially with Armada thrown in. Those games have extra elements that keep me engaged beyond just grabbing cards and making combos.
But, then we started throwing in the extra content, and my perspective changed. The modules add some fun game play that I think is absolutely necessary to recommending the game. We especially liked the Friends & Follies expansion. In the Friends part, players will get two cards representing “friends” that want to come visit the garden, if you meet certain goals. For instance, in one of the games, my two cards were looking for sets of five of the same flowers, and in another game, they were looking for stoneworks. Make that goal at the end of the game, and for each time you do, you will get a ton of points.
In the Follies expansion, which to me is the better expansion, players will get to use those 3D sculptures I talked about in the production part. Each player gets one of each type of flower, and at the end of each round, can place the sculptures that match to cards that they played this round. Having the sculpture on a card means you get points for every symbol of that flower of that card as well as all cards that are orthogonally adjacent, but if you don’t play a sculpture, it costs points at the end of the game.
That adds up to some super delicious decisions, as you weigh the benefit of playing the sculpture in that round with the hope that more cards come your way in the second round. You might even want to hold onto a card or two to place in the right row. It is helpful that the designers included a friendly rule that allows you to arrange the cards in the row at the end of each round, which adds a lot of fun to the decision.
And I really like the fourth round, where players get to hang cards off of the side of the garden to try to score even more points (although you are not allowed to add sculptures at that point.
As you can see, there is a lot of luck in this game, between the card draws and the friends cards and what your friends give you during the game (although is it really luck if your friends starve you from the cards you need, or just good play?) If you do not like that kind of randomness, then you probably didn’t like Everdell and you probably won’t like Flourish either. But if you love surveying a hand of cards, and trying to plot out a strategy over the next three to six hands as to what cards to place and what cards to give away, then you should check this one out.
I cannot geaux this deep into the review without addressing the elephant in the room, and that’s the sheer overproduction of the game. This is essentially a deck of cards that you play, with these crazily built cardboard fences whose sole purpose is to demarcate the area between your playing area and your neighbors, or those magnificently overproduced garden sculptures for the follies expansion. None of these things are really needed, as tokens and common sense will do much of the work there. This could have easily been a small box, portable size game, right?
But on the other hand, seeing the sculptures on the cards, while playing cards to the fences and using the Shaq sized scoring counters all kind of adds to the ridiculousness of the game. We can play mass market games in small boxes any day of the week, but sometimes it is nice to revel in the juicy bits that come out of Kickstarter. I am assuming that how you feel about all of the overproduced bits says a lot about who you really are as a gamer, but I’m not sophisticated enough to know why. I’ll just break open the box, start setting up the cards and follies, and enjoy seeing the looks on my family’s face at Thanksgiving when they realize this is yet another one of Uncle BJ’s crazy cardboard games.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
— BJ @boardgamegumbo