Cardboard Vault Reviews!
SOW is one of the four games available in Pack O Game SET 2, currently on Kickstarter, by designer Chris Handy and publisher Perplext. If you're already familiar with how the game plays, feel free to skip to the review section to read my thoughts on the game.
SOW is a 2-4 player game where each player is trying to grow and pick flowers, to have the most valuable bouquet at the end of the game. The mancala mechanic is the core of the game, with hidden player goals adding variability and an element of bluffing.
At the start of the game, the wheelbarrows are placed in a square and the seed cards are randomly laid out in groups of two in a circle.
Each player secretly looks at the wheelbarrow card closest to them to discover their favourite flower colour (red, white, blue or yellow). Flowers that the player has picked with this colour are worth more points at the end of the game: 3 points if the favourite colour is in the centre, 2 if it is on the petals and only 1 for flowers without it.
On their turn, a player will choose a row of two or more cards, pick them all up, and place them one at a time around the circle. If the last card placed is a seed, then it is immediately flipped over to become a flower along with all the other seeds of that colour in that row. If the last card is a flower and is placed under any player's wheelbarrow, the active player chooses a colour on that flower and the player who controls the wheelbarrow gains all flowers in that row with that colour.
There are also special actions that can be taken if both of the garden cards end up in the same row after a move. If this happens, the player chooses one of the cards, takes the displayed action and flips the card over. The windmill changes the directions the flowers move (to clockwise or counterclockwise), the gopher lets the player remove all flowers in any row from the game, and the watering can lets them instantly pick a flower in one of the rows under their wheelbarrow.
The game ends when each row has only one or zero cards, and the player with the most points from their picked flowers wins.
SOW is an absolutely fantastic game. I love games that use the mancala mechanic (Trajan and Five Tribes are two frontrunners in my ratings), and SOW takes the mental challenge at the heart of these types of games and boils it down into one that plays in 20 minutes. The rules aren't difficult to pick up (seeds turn to flowers, flowers earn points), but there's an incredible amount of factors to consider when you make a move. Ideally you want to pick flowers with your favourite colour at the centre and the best way to do that is to turn seeds of your colour into flowers (seeds will have their colour in either the petals or centre), but you also don't want to give away your colour to your opponents and give them the opportunity to take points from you. You have to be watching out for moves that benefit you, while also blocking profitable moves for your opponents and making sure that you don't set them up for a wheelbarrow of points when you place cards. In order to manipulate the flowers and garden cards where you want them you usually have to plan a few moves ahead, although a four player game becomes much more tactical, and you definitely need to be able to analyse the state of the board quickly because there are so many possibilities in carrying out just one move.
SOW is packed full of strategy and is my favourite of the four SET 2 games I've played (or at least a tied first with GYM). It is challenging despite its size, and even benefits from its compact nature because every card and gameplay element feels necessary. The game is elegant, streamlined, and simplified without being simplistic, which speaks to its excellent game design.