Review of Herbaceous

Herbaceous

  • Designer: Steve Finn, Eduardo Baraf, Keith Matejka
  • Publisher: Pencil First Games, Dr. Finn’s Games, Whatz Games
  • Players: 1-4
  • Ages: 8 and up
  • Time: 20 minutes
  • Times Played: 18
  • Game provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Herbaceous

Introduction

Herbaceous is self-described as “a flavorful card game” in which players can “relax while enjoying this elegant game of picking and potting herbs.”  The objective is to score the most points by potting the best collection of herbs.  To do this, players take turns drawing and planting herbs into the Community Garden and their individual Private Gardens, and later picking those herbs to pot into various containers.  Every player has an identical set of Container Cards, but each type of container has different requirements for what it can hold.  Points are scored at the end of the game based on the number of Herb Cards potted in each container.

Herbaceous is the fifth game successfully crowdfunded by Eduardo Baraf and Pencil First Games using Kickstarter.  The campaign ended on September 23, 2016 and was supported by 2,208 backers.  The game shipped to backers in January 2017.

The game includes the following components:

  • 63 Herb Cards (9 cards each of 7 different herbs: Bay, Dill, Lavender, Rosemary, Saffron, Sage, Tarragon)
  • 9 Special Herb Cards (3 cards each of 3 different herbs: Chive, Mint, Thyme)
  • 16 Container Cards (4 player colors of 4 different containers: Glass Jar, Large Pot, Small Pots, Wood Planter)
  • 1 Herb Biscuit Card
  • 4 Quick Reference Cards (gameplay steps on one side and container overview on the other)
  • 4 Garden Markers
  • Rules Booklet
  • Solo Variant Sheet

herbaceous_cover2

Playing the Game

To start the game, each player is given the four different Container Cards for a particular player color as well as the matching Garden Marker.  The Container Cards should be spread in a horizontal row in front of the player with the Garden Marker being used to separate the player’s Private Garden area from the Community Garden area, if necessary.  Shuffle all Herb Cards (including the Special Herb Cards) together and then randomly remove a defined number of cards from the game if playing with fewer than four players. Place the deck along with the Herb Biscuit Card in the middle of the table near the Community Garden.  Setup is now complete and play can begin.  Players take turns clockwise until the game ends.

During the game, players take the following actions on a turn:

  1. Pot Herbs (optional and not possible for the first turn) – At the start of a turn, the player can opt to Pot Herbs once.  To do so, the player collects a set of herb cards from the Community Garden and/or that player’s Private Garden and tucks them under one of their Container Cards.  Each container can only be used once per game and has specific requirements for what herbs can be potted in it.  The four different types of containers are:

    • Large Pot – Holds 1 to 7 regular Herb Cards of a single type; this container cannot hold Special Herb Cards.
    • Wood Planter – Holds 1 to 7 regular Herb Cards of different types; this container cannot hold Special Herb Cards.
    • Small Pots – Holds 1 to 6 pairs of identical regular Herb Cards, but each pair must be different; this container cannot hold Special Herb Cards.
    • Glass Jar – Holds any 1 to 3 Herb Cards, including Special Herb Cards; the first player to pot Special Herb Cards of each value (i.e. 1, 2, and 3) in the Glass Jar receives the Herb Biscuit Card immediately that provides 5 bonus points at the end of the game.


    The four containers will score points at the end of the game based on the number of Herb Cards each contains.

  2. Plant Herbs (mandatory) – Regardless of whether the player performed the Pot Herbs action or if the player has used all of their containers, the player must Plant Herbs if cards remain in the deck.  To do so, the player draws an Herb Card from the deck and then puts it face up into one either the Private Garden in front of that player or the Community Garden in the middle of the table.  The player must then draw a second Herb Card from the deck and place it face up into the other location not picked for the first card (e.g., if the first card was placed into the player’s Private Garden, then the second card must be placed into the Community Garden).

Players continue to take turns until either all players have filled their four containers or until nobody is able to Pot Herbs.  The game then ends.  The player with the highest score summed from the following items is the winner:

  • Each container scores based on the number of Herb Cards that were potted in it. Refer to the scoring reference table on each Container Card.  Each Special Herb Card in the Glass Jar also scores the bonus points shown on the card.  In the event of a tie, the player with the highest-valued Glass Jar is the winner.
  • The Herb Biscuit Card is worth 5 points.
  • Each unpotted Herb Card remaining in the player’s Private Garden is worth 1 point.

Herbaceous

In additional to the regular game play rules outlined above, there are also rules included in the game box for the following:

  • Team Variant – Plays much like the regular game with several changes, including: the game is played by two teams of two players; table talk is allowed between players; on a turn a player must allocates an herb card to each of three locations: Private Garden, Community Garden, or teammate’s Private Garden; a team’s score is the combination of all containers between the two players.
    • Expert Team Play – Played like the Team Variant with the following changes: no table talk is allowed; the score for the team is the lowest score of each team player’s individual total container scores.
  • Solo Variant – Plays much like the regular game with several changes, including: only half of the deck is used; there is a discard pile that provides a third location to which the player must allocate an Herb Card on each turn in addition to the Community Garden and Private Garden locations; the Community Garden and Private Garden start with some Herb Cards already planted; the Community Garden gets cleared if a fifth card is placed in it; and the player may Pot Herbs on the first turn.  The player tries to achieve the best possible score and can refer to the scoring table in the rules to determine the rank achieved.
    • Additional Challenge – After playing the regular Solo Variant, play again using the remainder of the deck not used during the first play.  Add the scores from both games together.  The goal is to exceed 114 points.

Finally, the copy of Herbaceous provided also included the Herbaceous: Flavor Pack Mini Expansion.  This mini expansion contains three Flavor Cards and two cards that contain the associated rules.  In summary, two of the three Flavor Cards are randomly selected and each one is shuffled into half of the main Herb Card deck.  If a player draws a Flavor Card during a turn, then all players may perform the associated action (starting with the player that drew the card), the Flavor Card is discarded, and the player that originally drew the Flavor Card continues the turn by drawing a replacement Herb Card.  The three unique Flavor Cards are:

  • Cinnamon – Each player may swap an Herb Card from that player’s Private Garden with an Herb Card in the Community Garden.
  • Peppercorn – Each player may steal an Herb Card from the Private Garden of the player on the left and once all players have done so, the players add the stolen Herb Card to their own Private Gardens.
  • Star Anise – Each player may add a regular Herb Card from that player’s Private Garden into any container (this is not considered a Pot Herbs action, so the Herb Card can be added to a container already containing herbs, or herbs may be potted in a container already containing an herb card put there by the Star Anise action).

Note: In reviewing the Herbaceous Kickstarter project page, it appears that the Flavor Pack Mini Expansion expansion was a Kickstarter exclusive and therefore won’t be available in retail copies.

herbaceous_cover3

My Thoughts on the Game

Craig V:  I had originally spotted Herbaceous on Kickstarter and then contacted Pencil First Games after reading some information about the upcoming game release.  An herb-themed game (I love to cook!) that supports 1-4 players (a solo play option is always intriguing), has a really attractive appearance (the artwork is incredible), and isn’t too rules heavy sounded like something that I’d really like to play and review.  So here we are…

From the cover with glossy highlights to the molded and branded insert that holds everything just right to the gorgeous artwork and linen-textured cards, there is no denying that Herbaceous is an incredibly attractive and well-produced product.  The rules are well-written and the artwork is absolutely stunning and fits perfectly with the overall feel of the game as does the clean, minimalist graphic design (although including the names on the Container Cards and Herb Biscuit Card would have been more consistent with the Herb Cards and mostly eliminated the need to include player Quick Reference Cards, but this is a minor personal preference).  The Garden Markers are a nice addition and really look and feel thematic, even if they are unnecessary for actual game play (although they are fancy enough that they would look right at home in my real herb pots!).  Apparently, many of the upgrades were made possible through achieving stretch goals as part of the Kickstarter project and the result is a really beautiful game.

Teaching Herbaceous to new players takes less than five minutes since the game play and rule set are quite streamlined.  This makes the game really welcoming for casual gamers, to people new to playing hobby games, or even for experienced gamers that are looking for a really quick filler game.  Game play involves a couple key decisions (e.g., where to place the first Herb Card drawn and when to Pot Herbs), but it’s not a deeply strategic game.  As such, Herbaceous is a great conversational game in which players are able to socialize while enjoying the game.

Herbaceous is a set collection game at its core with a bit of “push your luck” and the usual randomness associated with most card games.  The randomness is perhaps more amplified when playing with fewer than four players since some cards will be removed from play and the exact deck composition is then unknown.  This also adds to the “push your luck” factor of the game since some cards (e.g., special herbs) and sets may be more difficult to get in 2-3 player games so deciding when and what to pot can be even more important.  Players are able to look around to see what herbs other players are collecting, but turns are still fairly quick.  Gameplay is breezy, so the randomness of the card draws feels less frustrating and more like lighthearted fun and entertainment.  The theme for the game could have probably been just about anything, but planting and potting herbs is unique and really fits with the mechanisms.  The theme is further brought to life by the artwork in both its style and colors.

Playing with the Herbaceous: Flavor Pack Mini Expansion is a good way to spice up the game a bit if players want just a splash of something more in the game.  Adding the two Flavor Cards has a minimal effect on the setup and rules explanation times, but adds just enough twist to the game to make each play different since which extra rules-breaking actions will be available and when they will occur during the game are unknown.  I really like that the Flavor Card actions are simple, but can be quite effective and that they taken by all players and not just the player lucky enough to randomly draw one of the cards.  This gives all players an equal opportunity to improve their scores during the game.  While I could see additional Flavor Cards becoming available in the future, three to start is just enough to whet the appetite while keeping things simple.

I played the solo variant of Herbaceous quite a few times since I sometimes like to play solo games and am always interested in adding another one to the available options.  From box top off to ready to play, setting up Herbaceous to play solo only takes 1-2 minutes, depending on how much shuffling is desired.  After that, a single solo play through only takes 3 minutes or less!  After all, only half the deck is used per game, and with 6 cards already out and flipping 3 per turn, that’s only 5 rounds of total game play.  The keys to scoring well in the solo game seem to be properly managing the Community Garden and earning the Herb Biscuit Card.  As with the regular game played with fewer than 4 players, not all cards are available in the deck, so the fate of the game is somewhat predetermined since the possible sets are limited and it’s possible that earning the Herb Biscuit Card won’t be an option based on the cards remaining in the deck to play.  Regardless , the game plays quickly enough that it’s just fun to blow through it trying over and over to improve the best score like an addict.  I was finally able to graduate from “Professional Herbalist” (achievement level 5 of 6) to “True Green Thumb Harvester” after about my tenth solo play attempt, but I barely made it with only 57 points and haven’t been able to hit that level since!

I also shared this game with my wife since I thought that she might enjoy it due to the theme and streamlined gameplay.  She was a non-gamer when we first met, but has slowly become a very casual gamer and is moving more and more toward being a casual gamer with each play.  We played Herbaceous together a few times and she provided her thoughts about the game: “It’s a pretty game and it’s easy to play, but it feels a bit chancy and becomes repetitious after a few plays.  The iconography in the bottom left corner of the Glass Jar card doesn’t make sense.  Also, it would be fun if each player had a fence to hide the contents of the Private Garden to add more strategy to the game.  It’s a good game.” 

Overall, Herbaceous is an inviting and engaging combination of a fresh theme, wonderful artwork, and approachable gameplay.  This game will likely appeal to most people, especially those that may not otherwise usually be interested in hobby games.  I am really pleased that Herbaceous has met my expectations and I have enjoyed sharing and playing it quite a bit.

Herbaceous

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Dale Y: I’ve played the game with Craig, and it offers an interesting take on the set collection genre.  The game plays quickly, but that’s not to say that you have a lot to think about during the game.  I like the fact that you are initially tasked with collecting different types of sets.  Thus, when you start out, you can use almost every card to move towards one of your goals.  

The game hinges on a few small push your luck decisions.  First, deciding to pot or not can be a tough choice.  Obviously, you’d like to use as many herbs from the Community garden as you can to make your set better, but you have to decide whether you can risk another go around the table before taking those cards – as everyone else will have a chance to raid the Community Garden before your next turn.  Then, deciding whether to plant into the Community or Private garden first can be an interesting decision.  Sometimes you might want to keep a card because it works well with your current plan; other times, you might choose to keep a card because you know that one of your opponents could really use it.  Of course, you have to decide where the first card goes before you see the second, so this little mini-bit of tension makes each turn interesting.

However, overall, it’s a fairly light game that plays in 15 minutes or so.  While the player does have to make some decision – none of them should be overly taxing on the mind – this is definitely the kind of game that can be played while socializing at the same time.  Perfect for casual gamers or social events, and nice for a filler/closer for the game group.

Karen M: I kickstarted this game based on the mechanism of drawing a card and deciding what to do with it – albeit an extremely pared down version of this mechanism. I was also drawn by the gorgeous artwork. I thought both of these things would make this an appealing choice for my game nights that are often populated with casual gamers. I have played with a few different groups now and it’s been fun to watch them play the game and not quite grasp what is happening until about halfway through their first game – then the light bulb goes off and they immediately want to play again. This game is also a great filler for more serious gamers because the decisions, while light, are interesting. I am happy to have supported this one on Kickstarter.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it! Karen M
  • I like it. Craig V (and wife), Dale Y
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

Herbaceous

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About Craig V (shigadeyo)

I'm an outdoor adventurer, kettlebell/strength enthusiast, foodie/beer guy, and a touch of geek all rolled together. Some of my many interests include: beer, homebrewing, fitness (kettlebell and barbell), travel, food and cooking, hiking, backpacking, camping, canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), letterboxing and board and card games, of course!
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3 Responses to Review of Herbaceous

  1. Mike Chipman says:

    When I look at this game, I want it to smell nice. Does it? Good review. I almost pulled the trigger on the KS. Wish I would have now.

    • Craig V (shigadeyo) says:

      I hear you! I just cracked the box and checked again and while there are no scents of herbs wafting out, it doesn’t smell too bad! That’s not a joke either since a lot of the recent “Made in China” games that I have been around for opening and punching usually have a really strong ink or other chemical smell, sometimes almost musty.

      Your comment sent the wheels in my head turning though. I have a bunch of culinary lavender from when I bought 1# bag of it (yeah, I have A LOT of it on hand) that I could stuff into a small fabric pouch and tuck under the box insert. That way, a pleasing scent of lavender would waft out each time the box lid is removed! I wish that I would have had this great idea before. Thanks!

      One thing – of several, I’m sure – that I didn’t mention in my review comments was the fact that the Herb Biscuit takes Special Herbs of value 1, 2, and 3 to get which are Mint, Chive, and Rosemary, respectively. I’m not sure that is a great combination of herbs to put into a single biscuit, but I want to bake one with those herbs to find out before I go on the record stating that there is a thematic gap in that combination to earn the Herb Biscuit card! That particular mix isn’t working in my head, but it may turn out to be a nice surprise. That being said, it seems like a tasty combination for a lamb dish.

      I believe that “Herbaceous” was just released for retail purchase on 2/07/2016, so check the online game stores or inquire at your FLGS. It may take some time for it completely work through the distribution networks, but don’t worry, you won’t have to wait long now! Given the overall package and the expected MSRP, this game is a great one to add to any collection. I keep playing it and sharing it and haven’t burned out on it yet. Actually, the more I play it, the more I am enjoying it. Maybe that means that I should have rated it as “I love it!”

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