Everdell (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designer:  James A. Wilson
  • Publisher:  Starling Games
  • Artists:  Andrew Bosley, Cody Jones, Dann May
  • Players:  1 – 4
  • Ages:  13 and Up
  • Time:  40 – 80 Minutes
  • Times Played: > 10 

To call Everdell a success would be an understatement.  It is currently the 38th highest ranked on BoardGameGeek, an impressive accomplishment for any game, but a remarkable feat for a game that was just released in late 2018.  Everdell has won or been nominated for numerous gaming awards.  More than 22,000 BGG users own Everdell, but given that many BGG users don’t log their collections, and given that many gamers don’t use BGG at all, the true total is far higher.

The franchise has earned millions of dollars.  The original Kickstarter had 6,775 backers and earned more than $473,000.  The first expansion, Pearlbrook, had 8,012 backers and earned more than $609,000.  The second and third expansions, Spirecrest and Bellfaire, had 11,900 backers and earned more than $989,000.

But we here at The Opinionated Gamers had never covered Everdell.  And, in fact, I had never played it until I traded for it earlier this year.

But this week, as summer officially turns to fall, I wanted to cover this game about changing seasons in detail.  Welcome to Everdell week.  Today I review the base game, and over the next three days, I’m reviewing the expansions.  But the coolest day will be Friday, where I make the case that Everdell can tell us a considerable amount about gaming in 2020.  

This is the story of a great game that I overlooked, even if the rest of the hobby didn’t.

The Gameplay

In the valley of Everdell, a civilization of forest creatures is forming, and the seasons are changing.  

At the start of the game, each player receives two workers, plus a handful of cards.  Each turn is straightforward: a player can place a worker, prepare for the next season, or play a card (either from their hand or from a common area called the “meadow”).

There are fixed worker spaces in every game — these spaces allow players to collect additional resources, additional cards, or points — but there are also four areas that vary from game to game.  Some spots allow more than one worker, but most only allow one player to occupy the space.  

When a player has placed all of his or her workers, he or she may call them back and prepare for the next season, opening those spaces once again.  The first and second time they do this, they get an additional worker for the next season, but the third (and final) time they do it, they get two.  Additionally, there is a bonus for moving to the next season.  In the spring and autumn seasons, a player activates all of their production cards, generating resources and other benefits.  In summer, they can draw additional cards, either from the deck, or the meadow (which isn’t usual, since players must normally draw from the deck).   

The effect of moving between seasons is that workers come on and off the board at differing times.  There is no requirement that players be in the same season, and it is entirely possible (and a frequent occurrence) that players end the game at drastically different times. 

But while the game may appear to be mostly about worker placement and changing seasons,  the real game is in the cards, which represent the critters and constructions that will make the forest civilization.  Each card comes with a cost, although players can also earn free cards by building prerequisite constructions.  Players are limited to a hand of eight, and with a few exceptions, their civilization is limited to just 15 cards played.  So players must carefully choose which cards to hold, and which cards to play.  Certain spaces allow players to discard cards for resources or points.  

There are five types of cards in the game.  Traveler cards activate once, giving a single benefit.  Production cards activate when played and during certain seasons.  Destination cards give additional worker placement spaces.  Governance cards give special powers that change gameplay.  And prosperity cards give point bonuses at the end of the game.  

Along the way, there are events for collecting sets of cards in the city.  The basic events — these are in every game — reward players for collecting sets of the card types in the games.  The special events vary from game to game and require specific cards — for instance, the “woodcarver” and “chapel” — to earn various rewards.  Players must place a worker to collect both the basic and special events, but of course, they can get that worker back as they prepare for the next season.  

The game ends when all players have passed and finished playing.  At that point, players earn points for the cards in their city (which generally are the lion’s share of points in the game), point tokens (which can be collected at certain spaces and from certain cards), basic and special events, prosperity cards (which generate bonus points in a player’s city), and the “journey” (which is a special space that awards points for discarding excess cards in the final round). 

My Thoughts on the Game

The first thing people notice about Everdell is how exceptionally well produced it is.  The artwork on the cards is striking — more than one person I’ve played with has compared it to the children’s book The Wind in the Willows — but the production value goes beyond the cards.  

There is a large 3D tree at the end of the table, a large circular board with landscape, and sculpted 3D resources.  The animeeples that serve as player pieces — a hedgehog, mouse, and others — are cute, and in the Collector’s Edition, there are metal coins, wooden tokens, and other fun additions.

This production value contributes nicely to the theme: players feel like they’re building a small city in a forest, giving their favorite woodland creatures a place to build a civilization.  Everything they need will be there — from a farm, to a post office, to a monastery — operated by various critters.

But if players come for the production value and theme, they stay for the gameplay.  Everdell is an excellent balance of several mechanics, namely worker placement, card drafting, set collection, and resource conversation.  Nothing here is particularly groundbreaking (we’ve seen the individual pieces before), but all of it put together creates a fascinating game that is highly engaging.

The game builds and progresses nicely.  The first season is short — a sort of foraging for resources — and that builds to a long final season, in which players are scrambling for points and putting the final touches on their city.  

And for something that builds so nicely, the game plays quickly.  We’re usually done in an hour or so.  Everdell works well at all player counts, and it is easy to teach.  But it is hard to master, and after many plays, I’m still finding fun card interactions and side strategies.

Overall, I’m highly impressed, which is why I’m reviewing the series this week.  But I’ll be back with more detailed thoughts on Friday, when I make a case that Everdell is emblematic of gaming in the year 2020.  

Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:

Brandon K – This probably isn’t fair, I played Everdell a couple times back in 2018 when I picked up a used copy of that fancy Collector’s Edition, or whatever they called it. I was excited, it was coming off a successful Kickstarter and had a lot of hype surrounding it, and better yet, a cute theme and a unique feel with the way that the seasons can progress differently for different players. Ultimately, that mechanism, and the card digging, were enough for me to turn around and sell it immediately after that second play. It came off awkward and took entirely too long with the group I played it with, not to mention that some folks really didn’t grok how to use their actions efficiently leading to excessive unbearable downtime. I think I won the second game and was done playing it about 15-20 minutes before the rest of the players, it just did not work for me. Oh, and that tree? Burn it, it’s annoying to deal with in game, and for as pretty as it looks, it won’t stand the test of time with it falling apart more and more with each bump, not to mention how obstructing it can be. I get why folks like it, I think, but I don’t understand where it sits in the BGG Top 100, it’s kind of comical. Luckily for ya’ll, Chris really likes it, and I haven’t played any of the expansions, so this is the only time I’ll chime in. 

Alan How: I was initially skeptical about the game as the tree made me think it was a major gimmick. But then I played a friend’s copy and I realised that the tree was a gimmick but the underlying game was enjoyable as you made plans to improve your tableau of cards. Then expansions turned up but I’ve not played them yet. I wouldn’t be surprised if it moved to a love it rating with more experience. And it is pretty.

Dan Blum (1 play): I played the game shortly after it came out. I was not particularly impressed. There’s just nothing original there at all. That’s fine in many cases as well-known elements can be combined in interesting ways, but Everdell has too many rough edges. One is that the deck is far too large, which results in draws being far too random and in frequent dull stretches when players cannot get cards that are useful to them; there are just too many types of cards so it’s quite possible to get ones that don’t interact usefully. (A lot of the card interactions were not explained very well in the rules, which didn’t help.) Overall the game is much too long for what it is.

I agree with Chris that the popularity of the game tells us something about where gaming  is in 2020. What it tells me is that a lot of gamers will give high ratings to a game that has a nice physical presentation and lots of seeming complexity, regardless of whether it actually works well or has anything very interesting to offer. (They also will reward a physical presentation that hurts the game – Everdell’s card art is nice but the ridiculous giant tree and the wooden bits get in the way of the game.)

Lorna: I think the game play is average but I love all the animals in the card art driving it up to a “I like it” score. I do feel especially in a 2 player game it works better to draw 2 cards instead of one to cycle through the deck faster. I think the Spirecrest expansion is the best one

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  Chris Wray
  • I like it. Lorna, Alan H
  • Neutral. 
  • Not for me… Brandon K, Dan Blum
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5 Responses to Everdell (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  1. jaxommm says:

    Dan Blum, I’m not particularly impressed by someone commenting on a game after only one brief play.

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