Dale Yu: Review of Arboretum



  • Designer: Dan Cassar
  • Publisher: Z-Man Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 8+
  • Time: 30 min
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Z-Man


Arboretum is a game that has players competing to build the most “sumptuous” arboretum – and by sumptuous, I mean the one which scores the most victory points!  The game is played with an 80 card deck, 10 colored suits numbered 1-8.  Each player is dealt 7 cards into their hand and then another card is placed face up in front of them to serve as the start of their discard pile.  The remainder of the deck is left in a singular draw pile.

On you turn, you must do three things (always in the same order)

1) Draw two cards – these cards can come from the top of the face down deck or from the top of any player’s face up discard pile.  You can choose from any available sources when you draw. You can look at what you get first to decide what to draw second.

examples of some of the cards

examples of some of the cards

The other six suits

The other six suits

2) Play a card to your arboretum – during the course of the game, you will be building your arboretum, which is really a rectangular array of cards.  After your first card, each successive card must be vertically or horizontally adjacent to a previously played card.  Once you have placed a card, it remains in that spot for the rest of the game.

3) Discard a card – discard a card from your hand to your discard pile. You should always end your turn with 7 cards in your hand

The game continues until a player draws the final facedown card in the deck. Whenever this occurs, that person finishes his regular turn and then scoring occurs.

Scoring is a somewhat complicated thing to grasp at first.  What happens is that players will possibly score for each of the 10 colors in the game.  What they will score is a orthogonal path of cards in their arboretum which begins and ends with the target color.  However, in order to score a path, you have to earn the right to do so!

Whoever is nominated to be the scorer of the game – and therefore, the one who will hold the scoresheet – will read off the first tree on the scoring matrix.  Each player reveals cards from their hand that match that tree.  Only the player or tied players with the highest sum of those cards left in the hand will be able to score a path of that treein their arboretum.  Of course, it could turn out that the player with the highest sum in their hand does not have a viable path in their arboretum – and if so,  no one scores for that color.  One other twist to this rule is that if one player holds the 8 of a color in their hand while another player holds the 1 of that same color, the value of the 8 is reduced to ZERO when summing points.

Once you figure out who is able to score for a color, then you look for a viable path in your arboretum.  A valid path must begin and end with the same color.  The color of the cards in the middle of the path can be of any color.  The path is traced orthogonally through the cards, and the values of the cards must be continually higher on the path.

My example arboretum

My example arboretum

Once a path is found – and this could be as short as two adjacent cards, both of the target color – it is scored:

  • 1 point per card in the path
  • 1 point per card in the path IF the path is at least 4 cards long and all are of the same color
  • 1 point bonus if the path starts with a 1
  • 2 point bonus if the path ends with an 8

Each of the ten colors is evaluated in this same manner, and points are scored accordingly.  In cases where no one has cards of a color in their hand, all players get to score a path of that color (as they are all tied for the lead with zero points).

At the end of the game, the player with the most points wins.

Ties go to the player with the most colors of trees in their arboretum.

My thoughts on the game

I have found Arboretum to be a challenging game in a very small package.  For me, the big challenge is two fold.  First, you have to be crafty to draw/draft the correct cards so that you can build meaningful paths through your arboretum.  This is harder than it appears at first glance.  I have found that most people like to start building with low numbers first in order to start their paths and then gradually move into the larger numbers.  However, this means that early on in the game, there is a lot of competition for those low numbers. Trying to zig when the others zag is helpful in getting cards that fit together well.  You can either try to build from the other end – using mostly high numbers – or you can try to build a nice core of middle numbers to start from which you can branch off with the extreme low or high numbers.


However, while you’re trying to build up your arboretum, you also need to be keeping a close count on the cards played by everyone else because you need to have the most of a color in your hand at the end of the game in order to score for your paths.  This might mean that you end up holding back some of your cards during the game in order to ensure that your endgame total in hand is high enough to score for the cards on the board.


The game moves along quickly with most turns taking just seconds.  This lack of downtime keeps you constantly moving and thinking about what you want to do next.  I have found that I am spending a fairly good deal of time between my turns examining what my opponents have played (and hopefully remembering what they have drawn) so that I can try to mentally figure out which colors they are shooting for and what sort of total they have left in their hand.  I’m also always trying to figure out which suits still have the “1” card in play because that could end up changing the totals at the scoring – as any left over “1”s will cause the “8”s to be worthless.


The art is clean and crisp, though from far away some of the colors of the suits look alike to me.  This is not a problem, however, as you can also use the distinctive shapes of the trees to distinguish between the suits.  The only place that I would have wished for something different in the graphic design is the score sheet.  It would have been nice for the sheet to list both the tree name as well as the color text used on the card to ensure that there are no mistakes in the scoring.


The monochromatic score sheet

The monochromatic score sheet

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. W. Eric Martin, Dale Y
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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1 Response to Dale Yu: Review of Arboretum

  1. Thanks for the write-up! Really looking forward to trying this.

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