As far back as I can remember I have never done well with plants. From my days in middle school when I killed a cactus (I know, cactuses aren’t supposed to die), to my garden last year when my pug ate all of the tomatoes off the vine, I have never had good luck with any type of plant ownership or gardening. Well, thanks to Steve Finn, Eduardo Baraf, and Beth Sobel’s new game Herbaceous Sprouts I can finally experience the joys of having a green thumb. Hoorah!!!
Herbaceous Sprouts is a game for 1 to 4 players allows you to compete against fellow gardeners to earn the most points while helping to fulfill what I can only imagine is an eccentric billionaire’s dream garden. The game lasts anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes and can be played by players from the ages of 8 up.
Game Mechanics and Components
The game’s winner is determined by victory points. Incorporated into the game are several types of mechanics to earn these VPs such as set collection, press your luck and drafting. The rules are quick to learn and setup only takes a few minutes. Gameplay can be lightning fast, with the right group, and downtime is at a minimum.
Like most games everyone at the table takes turns being first player which is determined by clockwise order. The first player has the responsibility of placing in front of all players the Tool Cards then rolling and placing the appropriate number of Seed Dice indicated on top of each Tool Card. Then the first player drafts one tool card and claims the seed dice that were rolled on top of the card. Then the same player can either use the dice and/or tools he drafted to place tokens on different areas of the game board. Then the automated ghost player takes its turn and places one of its tokens on an area of the board. Once all of the Tool Cards have been drafted the game ends and victory points are tallied up.
Each area where you can place a token represents a different combination of either herbs or a single flower that you have planted in the garden, and once a token has been placed on the board that area cannot be used again for the duration of the game. The areas claimed on the board reward the player with varying amounts of victory points once the game ends.
The heart of this game is set collection, and the Seed Dice are the primary component used for collection. The Seed Dice come in four colors. Every color has either a specific tool or a flower seed on its sixth side (depending on the color of the die) and one of the five available herb seeds on each of the other five sides.
The other major component of the game are the Tool Cards which you draft in conjunction with the Seed Dice. The Tool Cards can have one, two, or no tools printed on them as well as open slots for one, two, three or zero Seed Dice to fit on them for drafting purposes. The tools are what make add strategy to the game. Do you want to plant one of your flower seeds that’s taking up space in your inventory, then you had better draft a trowel. Do you want to reroll a certain number of your dice and see if you get some new seeds that will help you claim a more valuable area of the board, then you had better draft a few pairs of gloves. There are six different types of tools in all and I won’t cover all six types of tools because their explanations are available in other places but I will say that each one breaks the game in a different way and can change how you play your turn in a huge way.
The game board is divided into 4 sections. Each section has spaces for a different type of set mechanic to be used on spaces in that section. There is a section for planting seeds of the same type, a section for planting pairs of seeds, and section for planting seeds of different types and a section for planting your rare flower seeds. Each section has placement spots for varying sizes of collections (1 pair, 2 pair, etc…) and each placement spot rewards players with increasingly higher numbers of victory points depending upon the difficulty of placing in that spot. The iconography used on each section is well done and allows for easy understanding of what each section and placement spot is used for.
The player mats have additional well done iconography on them to help you remember what each tool does, but its primary function is to give help you keep track of your inventory with seven printed boxes over which you can place your dice. This adds strategic tension as you cannot place more dice on your mat then you have room. Many times during gameplay you will be forced to choose to either use a suboptimal set of dice to place a token or to throw away a number of dice after drafting because you have breached your limit of seven.
There are multiple variants included in the box which add a lot to the versatility and replayability of the game. There is a solo variant which adds a very minimal set of additional rules and pits you against the ghost player in an attempt to be master gardener. Other variants will allow you to add difficulty to a 4 player game and such.
Even though I only had a short time to review this game I was still able to play the single player variant as well as several two player games and a three player game. I can say that the game scales very nicely for all games that I was able to play and it never felt clunky or like one player count was any better than another. The game setup changes slightly to compliment any number of players for a tight game experience. Even though I didn’t get to play with 4 players I don’t see that tight gameplay changing in any way.
With all the talk of strategy and tension above the game never felt stressful. Even though there were always choices to be made those choices were always elegantly streamlined to the point where I only felt like I had a few options at any point. Doing this allowed the turns to be fast.
All games are more fun to play with different types of groups and situations. I feel like Herbaceous Sprouts is best as a lightweight filler or gateway game. It’s a great game to play with families, children, and people new to the hobby.
That’s not to say that hardened board gamers won’t enjoy it as well. I can see myself bringing it to the table as an opener game to get game night started before I bring out the heavy euro. Alternatively you could use it as a game to play after your friends get a few beers in them and you know that it’s time to play something fun and easy on the brain.
Things I Disliked
The fact that I had to find something as nit-picky as what I am about to mention as a dislike is a testament to how great of a job the designers did. Do you remember in the introduction to this review when I said that you were building a garden for an eccentric billionaire? Well my only complaint is a thematic complaint. What kind of OCD riddled land owner would have such a strange garden? I understand having separate sections for the herbs and the flowers, but why would a garden be separated into pairs of herbs, similar herbs, and then different herbs? I think that the theme was well chosen to represent a relaxing board game, but there could have possibly have been other themes that wouldn’t have run into this strange problem.
Like I said above, the fact that I had to dig into such a silly complaint is a testament of how great a job the designers did.
Things I Liked
Herbaceous Sprouts does many things very well. My favorite part was how smooth and fast the game felt. There was very little downtime between turns. Even in the time between your turns I stayed plugged into the game as I had an invested interest in each player’s possible picks.
No turn ever felt wasted. At the start of each turn I always had my favorite draft pick picked out, and if I was the starting player that turn then great, but if I wasn’t and another player took my first draft pick I also felt any of the left over options could also add value to my collection. In this way no turn ever felt like it was wasted. Not even at the end of the game when I couldn’t complete a set on the board did I feel like I had any terrible choices as the herb and flower seeds left on your player mat could be added up for VPs.
I really enjoyed how they married the press your luck mechanic with the set collection. I was constantly questioning whether I should go ahead and turn in a smaller, less valuable set or wait another turn to see if I’d get the opportunity to turn in a more valuable set. And there was always the question of whether your opponents were going to steal the placement bonus that you were building towards.
The ghost player mechanic really helped keep the gameplay tense. There was constantly the fear that the ghost player would fill up the board before you and your human opponent could. Many times my real life opponent and I would make our drafting choices in order to deny the ghost player the ability to place any tokens on the board.
Thank you very much for reading this review, and I hope that you enjoyed it and that it helped you make up your mind about whether or not Herbaceous Sprouts is a game for you. I think that the designers did a great job and I look forward to see what they produce in the future.