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Disclaimer: This review is based on a beta copy of the game. All graphics and components are provisional, and all components seen in photos are home printed / sourced.
Also, I was involved in playtesting the game, so take my review & comments in the context of that fact.
"Petrichor; n. the pleasant earthy smell after rain."
Brief game overview
Petrichor is a game about clouds. And about rain. And growing crops. But no, it's not a game about farming (at least, not as such)...
You play as clouds, floating around fields, growing, merging, and raining your water drops onto crops, which may eventually grow when they are wet enough. At certain times during the game a harvest will happen and players score for crops they have helped water. Gain enough points, and you become known as the best cloud in all the skies.
How the game is played
I won't go over all the rules (as some are still in flux at time of writing), but to give you a basic explanation of the flow of the game:
In the main display are a number of "fields", laid out in a grid (2*3 for 1 player, 3*3 for 2-3 players, 3*4 for 4 players), the tiles being randomly selected from the 16 possible tiles that come with the game. Each tile shows a certain type of crop, and each type of crop scores slightly differently, depending on how many of each player's drops of rain are on it at harvest time. Which crops come out will affect how you play the game, so each game can play out quite differently, but at its core, crop scoring is all about area control.
To attempt to control crops, you can influence the weather. Each player has a hand of cards, each of which shows one of four weather symbols: Frost, Sun, Wind or Rain. Playing a card allows you to carry out that card's weather action, which can be creating a new cloud, adding water drops to a cloud, blowing clouds from field to field (possibly causing clouds to merge into thunderclouds), or raining drops onto crops. Get enough water drops onto a crop (regardless of which player's drop those are), and it starts to grow, making it a potential for harvesting later on.
The actions you perform have other consequences, though. Each action you perform allows you to add a vote on a weather action on the score board. And these votes are evaluated at the end of every round; whichever two actions get the most votes in total will cause a large weather action to happen. Some of these large weather actions affect all players, like all light clouds growing into thunderclouds, or all thunderclouds raining all their drops onto the crops they're over. Others allow each player to add more drops to a cloud, or blow water drops from crops onto other tiles. So if you really want a certain end of round weather action to occur, you'll have to play card actions that match. But these may not be what you ideally want to do.
And then there's the voting influence. For each weather action that ends up being performed at the end of a round, whichever player(s) have the most votes on that action move up the "Voting Wins" track. This track gives end-game bonuses, and the further up this you are, the most points you'll get. Push your wins all the way to the top of this track, and you could be almost doubling your final score! But keeping that control is tough. So influencing voting is ALSO about area control...
This review is mostly based on a 4 player game. I've also played the game with 2 players twice, and solo a whole heap of times; I'll compare them at the end.
As a 4 player game, this is a very well balanced and tight game. It lasts for 6 rounds, and each round takes around 15 minutes, or likely quicker if everyone has played before.
Exactly when a harvest occurs is based on a clever dice-manipulation mechanism: The dice are rolled at the start, and any dice that ever show an 'H' (which is on two of the sides) are locked in. Players can influence any remaining dice by foregoing a vote and reducing a die's value by 1. If a die is already at 1, it will be 'reduced' to an H and is then locked. Once all dice show 'H' a harvest will happen at the end of the current round. So what tends to happen is that players will start to push the harvest dice towards a harvest once they think they are set up for scoring big on a good crop harvest. But the remainder of the round, and the round end weather actions, will likely shake things up a bit before scoring occurs.
So things in Petrichor are *somewhat* controllable, but are *just* enough out of players' control to give trailing players at least a chance to keep up, and to keep players constantly having to adjust their strategy to work with what is happening on the board and on the fields. You can expect 2 or 3 harvests to happen during a game, and when a harvest does happen, it feels like a great moment. All your best laid plans finally come to fruition. OR, you notice that Bob over there snuck a single drop onto that Potato tile while you weren't looking and suddenly *he's* going to get the big points! Damn you, Bob!
Halfway through (mid round 3)
The area control on the crop tiles is all slightly different - Some are standard "the more drops you have, the more points you get" but Potato, for example, scores the most for the player with the *second most* drops on that tile; Wheat scores lower for the player with the most drops on it but that player gets a bonus 'wheat' token that can score bonus points at the end of the game; etc. This makes the area control very interesting and dynamic, and who controls a crop tile can change pretty quickly if you set things up just right.
The area control on the *weather votes* is another really interesting mechanism. Not only do you want to play actions that allow you to get the best control of the crops, you also often want to perform actions that let you add your vote to just the right weather vote to win THAT majority, as that can score you big, big points at the end! But you may not WANT that specific weather action to be triggered at the end of the round, so do you really want to add MORE weight to it to win the majority vote?
The combination of the two areas of control is a constant push-pull between the players that creates a really exciting and intense battle all through the game. Sure, some turns are slow as players consider and calculate exactly the best action to perform, and players don't have anything active to do on other players' turns, but you're constantly checking who has majority where, and which votes are going to cause which weather actions, and how will that affect your majority on each crop you're on (or not!). Not to mention the inevitable innuendo-laden statements ("I'm about to perform a big wind action!", "Don't you dare rain on my potatoes!").
And there are a number of strategies you can try to go for during the game as well. Are you going to try going for a lot of points on crops, like Coffee with its ability to become "developed" (which greatly increases its scoring potential)? Or are you going to try to push up that "voting wins" track to get to the max +36VP bonus points at the end of the game? Or are you going to try to get a majority on the Wheat bonus tokens, which gives you +12VP at the end? Or are you going to try a combination of all those? What can end up happening is you try to push too far in one strategic direction and find you've suddenly run out of raindrops, or voting tokens, and you have no more decent cards to play this round, and everyone else still has a lot of cards left to play. Don't stretch yourself too thin, or you may stall out mid-round! You may control that Cotton tile with 15 drops, but how are you going to wrestle control of that Coffee tile with only 5 drops to your name, spread around multiple clouds across the fields, with only 2 rain cards left in your hand? It's all about balance.
Almost done (mid round 6)
We had 3 harvests during a game last night, and players were really actively pushing the harvest dice down to force a harvest as often as possible. Potato went mostly ignored for much of the game as players didn't want to be the first in there to then be hijacked by another player blowing their own cloud of drops onto the tile. But the last harvest had both potato crops scored, to great effect (especially with the big Wind weather action before harvesting which shook the control of the potato crops up a lot!).
Final scores (we all lapped the score track)
Comparing the player counts
I've not played 3 players, but I can compare the 4 player game to 2 players and the solo game. With 2 players, the board is only a little smaller but still feels tight. The game obviously runs quicker, and that's a great thing for a 2 player game. The strategy is heightened more, as wrestling control of crops and votes is a lot more controllable, but also potentially devastating to your score if you suddenly lose control of a few high-value crops due to bad planning. It feels very similar to 4 players, in fact, and that's a credit to the game.
The solo game I've not mentioned in any detail, but in summary you play against a bot which has its own deck of cards with its own set of actions it performs. It tries to push your clouds and drops away from the higher scoring crops and onto lower scoring ones, and move its drops to the more lucrative tiles. It's also what feels like a much smaller play area - just 6 tiles. But it's still very tight, and it plays in about 30 minutes (and only has 4 rounds). It's a somewhat different game to the multiplayer game, but can still be a great challenge, especially with the variable difficulty levels you can add to it.
In summary, this is an enjoyable game. At all player counts too (notwithstanding 3 players which I've not played with yet). It's tight, it flows well, it has a very unique theme, and it just feels fun to play. And even with a 4 player game lasting an hour and a half, you don't feel like the time is in any way dragging; you get swept along with the gameplay, much like the fluffly little clouds you are playing.