Simple, beautiful, and mean. These are the words that best describe Arboretum, a 2-4 player card game designed by Dan Cassar and published by Renegade Game Studios. Start with a hand of seven cards. On your turn you draw two cards and play one to your arboretum, then discard one card from your hand so you always have seven in hand at the end of your turn. The only rule for placement is that a card must be next to another card (orthogonal) in your arboretum. Simple.
The artwork on the cards depicts ten different species of trees (numbered 1-8 in each) and the paintings are lovely. The cards are eye-catching and the colors on most of the trees really stand out. Simple and beautiful. So what about mean? Well….
The goal of the game is to score the highest “path” in each of the tree species if you can. A path consists of cards in ascending numerical order that begin and end with the particular species. The cards in between can be from different species, but as long as they are in ascending numerical order they can be scored. You get bonuses if you have a path that begins with a 1 or ends with an 8. You also get a bonus if all the trees in the path (at least four) are of the same species. But there is a catch. Once the game is over, each player will still have seven cards in hand. Each of the species in the game is called out one by one and players reveal any cards in their hand of that species. Only the player whose card numbers total most gets to score that species. So, you can have a five card path of a species in your arboretum, but if you don’t have the most points of that species in hand at game’s end you score nothing. NOTHING. Pretty mean.
To further add to the deviousness (and strategic genius) of Arboretum, when you draw your two cards each turn you may draw off the top of the deck or take the top card from any player’s discard pile. This creates some very tough decisions both when drawing and when discarding. As you look to the left and see your opponent’s arboretum with a sweet path in a particular species in the making, you surely don’t want to leave the 8 of that species sitting at the top of another player’s discard pile. So, do you hate draw even though you don’t need it for your arboretum? Because if you have it in your hand at the end of the game, that opponent on the left may not even be able to score the path at all! With only a couple of cards to choose, play, keep, or discard each turn, there are TONS of constant, meaningful decisions to be made. See, sometimes beauty belies danger. And pain.
And that is why I really love Arboretum. This beautiful game that comes in a small, pretty box contains strategic depth that should keep any true table top gamer coming back for more. I know it has done that for me. You should really check it out. Thanks for reading and keep nerding on.
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