Arboretum: A Devilishly Good Game of Happy Little Trees
One game aspect that I continually fall in and out of love with are games that seem so deceptively simple. You know, games where everything on the surface seems normal, straightforward, and almost casual in nature. You see your moves three turns ahead and, before you know it, you’re trouncing your opponents and basking in the warm glow of another crushing victory…only to overlook a crucial rule that turns that warm glow into a last-place stew in which you, well, stew. These games, to me, can be earth-shatteringly mean (and why I haven’t willingly played a game of Carcassonne in about a year & have no intention to break that record).
Arboretum fits squarely within that category. The game seems quite simple at first: each card has one of 10 species of tree and is numbered 1 to 8. Place a tree on your turn to create a chain that must start and end with the same tree species. Get more points by having multiple trees of the same type in a chain or by starting or ending with a 1 or 8. When the deck runs out, the game ends. Win with the most number of points.
BUT: only score points if you hold the highest sum of trees in your hand at the end of the game!
This last fact did not, in fact, dawn on me during our first play-through. In fact, we misplayed our first game and it led to a surprisingly high (illegal) score from all of us. The next few games, however, taught me and C.D. to hold our own (literally) against our friend. We learned soon enough that another effective strategy is to sit on high cards of our opponent’s tree types as well, as only one player can score for each type of tree. After a few iterations, the three of us were well-versed in leafing our high cards in our hands after finding the root of our early losses.
Puns aside, Arboretum was pretty quick to pick up and play. The simple-seeming card game also has really high replayability, which is helped by the shorter time it takes to play. The mechanics seem balanced and don’t feel too onerous. And heck, I learned what an actual Dogwood tree looks like too. I’d say that’s a win in my book.
Game Mechanics: 8.5/10
Final Score: 8.25/10