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Board Game Reviews

I'm Never Playing Arboretum Again

D Updated September 09, 2021
 
3.5
 
0.0 (0)
1899 0
I'm never playing Arboretum again

Game Information

Game Name
Designer
Players
2 - 4
There Will Be Games

As a reviewer, I make sure to play a game 3 or more times before a review. This depends on the game, as heavier games take a lot more plays before I'm comfortable enough to say I've seen all their nooks and crannies.

With Arboretum, I've played it once, and I'm never playing it again.

Tending the garden

Ever thought about giving it all up?

Retiring early, selling the house, and moving closer to the wilderness to become a lumberjack. It's a nice, relaxing, stress free thought. Enjoy that image, because as soon as you deal out the cards for Arboretum the stress piles on you like the last five minutes of an exam.

In Arboretum, you're trying to build this perfect botanical garden filled with Cherry Blossoms, Maples, and Jacarandas. You do this by creating lines of plants, from the smallest numbered tree to the largest. This line, or path, can be made up of different plants, but two of the same species must bookend it.

You'll start the game with a hand of 7 cards, and each turn you'll draw 2. Plant one in your garden, by placing it orthogonally adjacent to an existing tree, and then put one onto your discard pile.

When you draw a card, if doesn't have to be from the plant deck. You can also draw cards from any discard pile around the table. Because of this you'll often find yourself caught between wanting and not wanting to throw a card away, as you know your opponent needs it.

So far it all sounds great.

But there's one more rule I need to go over.

Arboretum 01

You have to fight, for your right, to score points

The last rule, which required its own section; is the right to score.

At the end of the game, you'll go through all of the plant species in play. You will call out the species one at a time, then only the player who reveals the highest numbered sum of cards of that species from their hand gets to score the points for the species.

Let me contextualize this for you.

You've spent all game getting a great path of Cassias, it's 6 cards long. In your hand you've saved a 7 of Cassias to give you a chance at owning the highest numbered card. End game. Cassias are called. You lay down your 7. Your opponent - who has no Cassias in their Arboretum - lays down an 8 of Cassias. Your hard work going towards this Cassia path is now worth 0 points.

Nada.

Nil.

Now before I go into how unapologetically mean Arboretum is. Let's take a moment to savour this awesome mechanic, and how it ties the game together.

Because now Arboretum gives you another compelling reason to hold cards in your hand, while at the same time making you discard every turn. While this is easy at the beginning of the game, you'll soon hit that point where you'll have a hand of cards you want to keep, and then how do you make the decision on which cards to throw away? It's agonizing, but it's brilliant. It provides the same depth, and level of tension as Hanamikoji. Which is an incredible feat of board game design.

Scorecard from our game of Arboretum. Dave won 19-10.

I owe you an apology

I did my research going into Arboretum, critics and fans raved about it: fantastic game, but it's mean. I didn't think too much of it. I've played mean games before and public opinion at the moment is unreliable. It's too sensationalist. So when people said it was mean I thought they were being big babies.

I was wrong.

Arboretum is meaner than my high school bully.

When I played with my wife, and saw she had a 1-5 path of Tulip Poplar, with the 6 of Tulip Poplar already sunk in the discard pile, and I just drew the 8 of Tulip Poplar. There was a angel, and devil sitting on my shoulders, and all I could utter was a very worried: Oh, no, no, no.

Arboretum is a game about minimizing your opponents score as much as it's about generating a score for yourself. You can get one point through the positive action of planting a tree, or if you save the right card you can remove 5 from your opponent. It splits your brain into Ying and Yang as you need to figure out the best move for yourself, and also how best to screw over your opponent.

It's a tough game, where the decisions I made were incredibly interesting and had more layers than trees have bark. But all this brilliant game design was interspersed with the feeling of putting down my dog every couple of rounds. I mean this is the mother of my child, the love of my life, and I was being so incredibly mean to her.

Arboretum deluxe box, and cards inside.

Before I go

I need to give a shout out to Renegade Games for creating the most garish and ugly deluxe edition I've come across. The bamboo box is great, but the use of foil on the cards is awful. You can't look at them without some sort of glare shining in your eyes. If you're going to pick up Arboretum, spare yourself the cash and grab the standard edition.

It's hard to call this a review, it's more a cautionary tale and because I've only played it the one time be sure to take my word with a grain of salt.

Still, I rate Arboretum. It's filled to the brim with tough choices, and I was engaged from start to finish with puzzling out what I needed to keep, what I could safely get rid of, and what position would provide maximum comfort on the couch tonight. As much as I enjoyed these crunchy decisions, it's a game I'd rather play at a convention, or online, where I can dehumanize the opponent and allow myself to be mean. Otherwise, I have too much of a conscience to play with friends and family.

Unfortunately, this places Arboretum alongside Hanabi. It's a fantastic game but not for me.

Thanks for reading my review. I'm currently ranking all my board games in a list, and much more on my blog Roll to Review.


Editor reviews

1 reviews

Rating 
 
3.5
Arboretum
If you don't mind stealing lollipops from babies, then this might be the game for you. For a small game it has fantastic decisions to be made, and will put you in the think tank!
D
David Norris  (He/Him)
Associate Writer

David Norris is a board game reviewer from Brisbane, Australia. When he’s not writing reviews, he’s usually playing board games or reading rules. And when he’s not doing that, he’s goofing around with Steph, his loving wife, toddler son, Jay and Chester the Corgi.

You can find more of his work at Roll to Review, a one man blog that pumps out fortnightly board game reviews.

Articles by David Norris

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Ah_Pook's Avatar
Ah_Pook replied the topic: #325495 12 Aug 2021 12:14
I don't find it meaner than any other popular 2p card game... Your Lost Cities, Battle Line, Jaipur etc etc. Id you draw a card your opponent wants you don't discard it unless you're forced to. If you can deny your opponent points you do it. It's the nature of this kind of game. It's probably less pointed in a multiplayer game, but this never really seemed like a game to play multiplayer imo.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #325504 12 Aug 2021 13:21
Those foil cards are pretty, but slightly sabotage the setting of the game. I personally do not associate trees with shiny metal.
Matt Thrower's Avatar
Matt Thrower replied the topic: #325505 12 Aug 2021 13:24
Haha, I absolutely love the shiny rainbow foils. I think they're glorious, shimmering with a brand new palette from every angle. In fact I'm kind of bemused as to why folk don't like them, even tho I'm obviously in a minority.

The foils are the only reason I got the game. And I fully agree with your assessment, with an added dose of irritation at memory and sequential maths. So they're also the only reason I keep my copy.
Greg Aleknevicus's Avatar
Greg Aleknevicus replied the topic: #325517 12 Aug 2021 16:41

Ah_Pook wrote: I don't find it meaner than any other popular 2p card game... Your Lost Cities...

But in Lost Cities you can't actually hurt the other player, you can only decline to help them. You're not tearing down something they've built. This is significant and the primary reason why it works so well for more casual players.
Not Sure's Avatar
Not Sure replied the topic: #325522 12 Aug 2021 17:32
I'm a little confused. In your rules overview you said:

You will call out the species one at a time, then only the player who reveals the highest numbered sum of cards of that species from their hand gets to score the points for the species.


Bolding is mine. Your examples are like:

When I played with my wife, and saw she had a 1-5 path of Tulip Poplar, with the 6 of Tulip Poplar in the discard pile, and I just drew the 8 of Tulip Poplar.


Is it "high card" or "sum"? Because that would have made your choice a lot easier, as 8 won't beat 1+2+3+4+5=15 by any measure.

But if it's "high card", then making runs but being scooped by a single "ace"-equivalent seems like a horrible way to score a game. I can't see any incentive to doing that. Might as well just collect 8s in your hand until the end.

I feel like I'm missing something.
mc's Avatar
mc replied the topic: #325523 12 Aug 2021 18:40
Yeah, it's the sum of cards in your hand, I'm pretty sure. But they don't score themselves - they just determine who gets the points for that suit.

If Dave's mrs had a run of 1-5 in her hand of 7 cards, yeah, it would beat out Dave's 8, and she would get to score that suit - only, she then probably wouldn't have any of that suit on the table to actually score.

And I guess that's the bit that Dave has bounced off here - an arbitrary top deck can be held at little cost and just ruin someone else.
Whoshim's Avatar
Whoshim replied the topic: #325528 12 Aug 2021 20:56

Not Sure wrote: I'm a little confused. In your rules overview you said:

You will call out the species one at a time, then only the player who reveals the highest numbered sum of cards of that species from their hand gets to score the points for the species.


Bolding is mine. Your examples are like:

When I played with my wife, and saw she had a 1-5 path of Tulip Poplar, with the 6 of Tulip Poplar in the discard pile, and I just drew the 8 of Tulip Poplar.


Is it "high card" or "sum"? Because that would have made your choice a lot easier, as 8 won't beat 1+2+3+4+5=15 by any measure.

But if it's "high card", then making runs but being scooped by a single "ace"-equivalent seems like a horrible way to score a game. I can't see any incentive to doing that. Might as well just collect 8s in your hand until the end.

I feel like I'm missing something.


I haven't played (I only read the article and this thread), but it looks like the highest sum in the hand wins the ability to score that type, which means, to avoid being beaten by an 8 from the opponent, one would want to have, say, a 4 and a 5 in hand. I feel like it would be possible to play around the opponent top-decking a card.

The example from the article (playing out a 1-6 of Cassias and keeping a 7 in hand) seems to be an example of poor play. If my plan can be disrupted by "opponent draws the 8", then my plan is pretty shaky.

I will have to look more into this game, as it seems like the kind of game I would like. :D
Frohike's Avatar
Frohike replied the topic: #325529 12 Aug 2021 21:22
If you're squeamish about what goes down with 2-p Azul (with someone who knows what they're doing), you will totally detest this game.
Ah_Pook's Avatar
Ah_Pook replied the topic: #325532 12 Aug 2021 22:12

Greg Aleknevicus wrote:

Ah_Pook wrote: I don't find it meaner than any other popular 2p card game... Your Lost Cities...

But in Lost Cities you can't actually hurt the other player, you can only decline to help them. You're not tearing down something they've built. This is significant and the primary reason why it works so well for more casual players.


they have almost the exact same hand pressure of holding cards your opponent needs until you are forced to discard them in furtherance of your own goals. the hand pressure is exaggerated in Arboretum because you also want to hold cards to burn your opponents scoring opportunities, and the scoring and whatnot is more elaborate in Arboretum, but they give me an extremely similar vibe in play.
Davidjc's Avatar
Davidjc replied the topic: #325545 13 Aug 2021 12:18
If a player is still holding a 1 in hand for the right to score at the end of the round, then the 8 of the same suite in hand is worth 0. In the example above, you might hold the 1 back for a few rounds to see if the 8 comes out - any holding to an 8 can reduce your options. But yeah, it is a mean game.
Not Sure's Avatar
Not Sure replied the topic: #325594 14 Aug 2021 17:13
Ah, so you have to hold something back in your hand in order to score what's been played on the table.

If you hold a high card, you can nullify someone else's scoring, but you still score what you have of that type (usually 0). I get it now.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #325635 16 Aug 2021 09:59
I think my two issues with this (in this particular game at any rate) is 1) it's very easy to completely surprise someone with a Nope action, because you have cards they cannot have knowledge of; and 2) I get the rug pulled out from under me at work on a regular basis, so this is another piece of potential frustration at the end of the day. I appreciate not everybody is affected by that second one, but when you deal with people that have their own fiefdoms and don't like sharing, this mechanic becomes really tedious really quickly.

Even a random Nope is preferable to one where someone is sitting in wait, confident because of a high card or two that they can just switch off your scoring. A face down dummy hand as the blocking mechanism, or a random card draw for everyone at the end where people got to pull a couple of cards to add to their hand just for this phase could be effective at mitigating the incentive to play to block. My plays of this are limited, but it just seems too strong an option to me. And if you've got that guy in your group, this hands him a whole lot of F-You mojo to work with.
Davidjc's Avatar
Davidjc replied the topic: #325702 17 Aug 2021 14:39
Apart from maybe your first game, i doubt you will be surprised by a random 'nope'. All the cards are used, and you will have a good idea about what is remaining and what isn't in your hand. You will be trying to make the option for someone to get rid of their 8 early as their least-worst option, or perhaps make it harder for someone to mine for their best option. The tension for a player is trying to work out what is their least worst option in terms of their discard. I must admit that i would play this as a two player game - i very much prefer three or four player.
Davidjc's Avatar
Davidjc replied the topic: #325703 17 Aug 2021 14:40
sorry, would not play this as a two player.
DavidNorris's Avatar
DavidNorris replied the topic: #326378 08 Sep 2021 23:21
I did bungle the rules on this review, but we did play it correctly none the less. I will update!

Also you guys are kidding on the foil cards! Every minute it felt like someone was shining a flashlight in my eyes. My preference is to use it in small doses like when Dixit did only the gold in their cards, and not the whole card itself.

Unless it's a charizard.