Review – Evergreen

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Designer Hjalmar Hach

Artist Wenyi Geng

Publisher Horrible Guild

Category Drafting, Tableau Building

Length 45 minutes

Release Date 2022

Player Count 1-4

From the designer of Photosynthesis comes Evergreen, another nature-themed game. This time, the game is at a planetary scale as players try to create the lushest biome. Let’s check it out!

Review

Evergreen is a game of drafting and tableau building, in which players develop a thriving ecosystem over 4 seasons. The goal of the game is to earn the most points.

Each player controls their own planet board, which is made up of several different land types. To begin a round, players draft cards from a common display. Their chosen card color determines which region a player will activate that turn, and which power they will develop.

After everyone has taken a card, 1 card will remain in the display. Many cards show either fertility symbols (flower icons) or aridity symbols (skull icons). If the leftover card shows either of these, it is added to the “fertility zone” display—in essence, fertility benefits a land type and aridity hurts it.

Then, everyone simultaneously performs an action on their board, on the land type shown on their card. All actions allow players to do some combination of placing sprout tokens and growing trees (i.e. turning a sprout into a small tree or a small tree into a big tree). Specifically, the 4 actions are:

  1. Place up to 3 sprouts on empty spaces
  2. Grow up to 2 trees in different spaces
  3. Plant 1 sprout and grow 1 tree in another space
  4. Plant 1 sprout or grow 1 tree anywhere on the board
On the first turn, this player took a card with a snow land type. They chose the “Plant 3 Sprouts” action.

Every card also shows a special power, which the player can use before or after their action. Powers allow the player to advance up the tracks at the top of their board and either place board features or gain points. As players advance on their tracks, their powers become better, allowing them to place more pieces.

The card also lets them increase their “big tree” power.

In addition to tree tokens, players may be able to place bush or lake tokens as well. Bushes count as trees for the sake of creating a large forest, but don’t collect light (more on light in a moment), and lakes provide an extra growth action for 2 adjacent trees.

The game lasts 4 seasons, with each season being shorter than the last (a la Wingspan). At the end of a season, players collect sunlight points. Sunlight is based on a sun token; each player has one, and it moves around their board throughout the game, shining light from different directions.

As the game goes on, players boards will start to look like this.

As the sun shines, trees cast shadows of 1 or 2 length, depending upon their size: small or big. (Sprouts, bushes, and lakes do not cast shadows.) If a tree is in the shadow of another tree, and it is the same size or smaller, it is blocked and receives no light. The height of a tree dictates how many points it receives. (If you have played Photosynthesis, this whole system will feel very familiar.)

Then, after the light phase, each player earns points for their largest contiguous forest. A forest consists of small trees, big trees, and bushes; sprouts do not contribute.

Lastly, players discard their cards from the current season, move the season marker, and rotate the sun token clockwise around their board. At the end of 4 seasons, players score points for each land type based on its fertility value and the number of big trees there, and the player with the most points wins!


Even though it comes from a different publisher, Evergreen absolutely feels like a follow-up to Photosynthesis. Over the years, my rating of Photosynthesis has dropped, so I was very pleased to find that Evergreen improves on its core ideas.

The issues I have with Photosynthesis—issues of optimal strategy, seemingly imbalanced scoring proportions, and a messy, 2-stage system of planting trees—are all absent in Evergreen. The key change, I think, is the division of a single, shared board into individual player tableaus. By giving everyone their own board, players are no longer vying for a single, best space, nor are they fighting over steadily-decreasing point tokens from a single supply.

On the flipside, since the board is no longer shared, Evergreen is much less cutthroat than Photosynthesis. Some people may prefer this change, but as someone who loves interaction in games, I do miss the in-your-face feeling of the original. Still, when given a choice between these 2 games, I would pick Evergreen just about every time.

So many wooden bits.

Strategically, this game is engaging from start to finish. Unlike some drafting games, in which the last player in the pick order is stuck with whatever card is left, the last player here makes an important decision about what gets added to the fertility zone, which directly affects endgame scoring. Likewise, each player has to figure out how to optimize their board for maximum points, which means thinking ahead to where the sun will be in coming seasons. It’s a good, multilayered puzzle.

The production of Evergreen is nice, with recessed spaces on the player boards and a ton of wooden bits in different shapes. The symbology is intuitive, which makes the game easy to teach. The box is Ticket to Ride-sized, but slimmer, giving it a smaller footprint on the shelf. Overall, it’s a handsome-looking product from Horrible Guild.

Bottom line, I’m happy to see a successor to Photosynthesis that addresses its issues. Evergreen is a strong design, and I expect to come back to it often.

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

The Bottom Line

Evergreen is a strong design, a successor to Photosynthesis that addresses the issues I had with that game. Recommended, especially for fans of puzzly games with minimal player interaction.

 

7.5

Author: Stephen Hall

A bard pretending to be a cleric. Possibly a Cylon, too. I was there when they dug up the "E.T." cartridges.