- Designers: Matt Riddle & Ben Pinchback
- Artists: Beth Sobel & Marlies Barends
- Publisher: Motor City Gameworks
- Players: 1-4
- Time: 30-60 Minutes
- Times Played: 3
This is a preview of a game that is currently on Kickstarter. I was kindly allowed a PnP copy of the game to play. I never promised Matt or Ben any kind review, or preview, but after playing it, I felt like I should. Spoiler alert, I am a backer, so here it goes. Oh and the Kickstarter can be found HERE!
One thing I love about Roll and Write games is the way that everyone tries to twist and manipulate the genre and make it something that it wasn’t before. Some Roll and Write titles are really easy Yahtzee variants that allow for some good ol fashioned dice chucking, some decide that the regular dice chucking needs a bit of a twist, or the game around it needs something else, like maybe trick taking (I’m also a backer of this one)? The main thing about Roll and Writes though seems to be that folks just absolutely love trying to tackle different things with them, small miniscule little tweaks that mean a world of difference while allowing the player to feel comfortable in what they are doing from the word go. We’re rolling some dice, and we’re writing or checking some things off on a board. Three Sisters is a lot of the later, it’s a familiar style of game with familiar mechanisms, but twisted just enough to make it different, and quite possibly the meatiest Roll and Write you throw down on your table, which is funny as there is nothing about cattle in this Gardening and Farming Roll and Write. Oh lovers of dice and rondels, prepare to rejoice.
Three Sisters is a roll and write gardening game where you are competing against other farmers to be the best. You do this through selecting dice from a rondel and performing different actions to plant crops among many other things. One thing you need to know about Three Sisters is that there are choices aplenty.
To start with each player will get two sheets which represent their backyard farm. One sheet will have the main garden and house your perennials while the other sheet has all sorts of fun thing, like an Apiary, fruit trees and even a shed. All with those little ubiquitous boxes and circles to mark out, just like any good self respecting roll and write.
I feel like I should note here that I made everything fairly large when I printed it out, I’m not sure of the sizes of the pads that will have the sheets on them when the game is produced.
Based on the number of players, you will have a set amount of dice. It will always be two more than the player count. I’ve not played the solo game yet, so I haven’t read the rules for it yet to know the setup, if I do, I will add that information to the end of this review. There is also a central board, this central board is where the rondel of actions is, and also the round tracker. In my photos, the red pawn is the farmer, and the green pawn is tracking the rounds.
The first player will roll the allocated dice and then place them on the rondel in ascending, starting where the farmer is. Multiples will go on the same spot and you do not skip any spots. After placing the dice, move the farmer to the space directly after the last die on the rondel. After that, everyone is ready to roll, I mean play, everything has already been rolled.
Starting with the first player, each player is going to select a die and take the actions for that die and the space it came from. With each die you can either plant crops, or water a field. Which field you can do that in is based on the face value of the die. To plant, you simply mark an X in the bottom most box of a Pumpkin, Corn or Bean plant in the garden area. Beans have to have corn grown at least two tall in order to be planted, so at first, you can only plant corn or pumpkins. When you water a field, you grow each crop in the designated field that has been planted by one. The active player is also going to gain an action from the space the die was taken, in the game you can do this in any order, so action space first or second, it’s completely up to the player. There are seven action spaces on the board, there are two shed time action spaces and two apiary or fruit action spaces. These action spaces allow you to take actions in the mentioned areas. There is also the Farmer’s Market space, the 1 Compost and 4 Goods and the Plant or Water space. I’m not going to go too in depth on these actions as I swore this wasn’t going to be one of my long reviews. Shed Time allows you to take a shed action. Shed actions are mainly about scoring points at the end of the game and can gain you extra benefits during the game. The Apiary or Fruit actions allow you to act in one of those two sections. One Compost and Four Goods gains you those things. Compost is used to manipulate the dice and Goods are used to gain extra bonus actions as you cross certain thresholds, every fifth good. What you gain from the Farmer’s Market action is based on how many goods you currently have, but it’s always at least one Perennial action and either a Fruit or Compost action. Plant or Water is just like when you take your die, but you aren’t bound to the die value, you can take the Plant or Water action in any of your garden spaces.
After everyone has chosen a die and taken their two actions, there are two remaining on the rondel. All players then take the dice action and space action of the lower valued remaining die. After that, there is an end of round action for the players to take. Each round, players will take five actions, but through clever play, there can be oh so many more. You see, any time that you cross off a star, that’s a bonus action. Some bonus actions tell you what you can do, others, like on the goods track don’t and that means you can take any of the actions on the board, with the exception of Plant or Water.
You do this for eight rounds, in the end you gain points for Harvested Beans and Corn. On your player boards the circles that get crossed off mean that you are harvesting the crop. You gain any points you earned in the other areas and the player with the most points is the best farmer/gardener, at least until the next time.
I didn’t want to bore you too much with the meanings of every little action and thing on the boards, there is a lot going on. There are plenty of videos up on the Kickstarter page if you want to dig in, plus the rulebook is up for everyone to peruse. It’s a wonderfully written rule book as well that manages to dissect every little tidbit in the game and leave you with little to no questions after that first read and play. It’s a bit wordy for a roll and write, but it’s kind of necessary here, as this isn’t your mother or father’s roll and write. I’ve been told that Three Sisters kind of grew out of Tiny Farms & Fleet the Dice Game, neither of which have I played but will soon remedy. This is also the first game from Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback’s new publishing house, Motor City Gameworks, which may have one of the coolest logos around, apropos of nothing.
Three Sisters is in reference to companion planting, specifically to the Native American legend that the three crops (corn, beans and pumpkins) were inseparable sisters who could only grow and thrive together. The corn acts as a pole for the bean vines to grow on which also stabilized the corn against strong winds and made them more sturdy. The pumpkins, or squash, help protect both the beans and the corn. The squash leaves shade the ground, keeping it cool and moist, also keeping the weeds away. The native people of the Americas were doing this for Centuries before the European settlers came over, and gardeners and farmers continue to use this method today. If there is one thing that I have taken from this, is that there is a lot more to gardening than I ever thought or imagined, and this explains why I have never been able to successfully host one.
Three Sisters plays out really wonderfully, and thematically. Sticking with that theme, the pumpkins and corn are grown first, and the beans cannot be planted until the corn is of a specific height. The crux of gameplay though is getting the most actions that you possibly can out of your somewhat limited action pool. Five actions per round would not be enough to do what you want to do, so you have to find all of those fun little combination actions that allow you to gain more actions. This can lead to some wonderfully exasperating turns where if you plan right, it all falls into place. I do this, to do this, then this, becomes this. I believe that Chris Wray likes to use the term “Combo-licious” when talking about games like this.
It can play a bit long, at least for us it did. Each and every choice matters and that can certainly lead to some parts in the game where you slow it down a bit and examine it all. If I use some compost to change the die to this, I can then use this garden spot to surround this perennial to gain this action, which gives me even more choices, but wait! What if? It can be a lot, but it’s oh so worth it when you find that right combination. There is no real interaction here, other than hate drafting possibly, but we found ourselves really paying attention to our own player boards far too much to be checking what others are doing, and I imagine if you are playing that way, it may slow things down even more. I will admit to choosing action spaces though that I knew others probably wanted, but they were never without a good choice as well, it just may not have been the best or the way they planned. There’s always a different path to get the same result, or maybe even a better one, you just gotta find it.