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Subject: Visually striking, but lacking in gameplay rss

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Terrific looking game but the gameplay leaves something to be desired.

The game is well constructed - the branches and leaves look great, are nicely colored, and fit well together. The tree can be built out in all directions pretty solidly - we had no problems with it falling over. Playing in a games cafe, we had people watching it and some asked about it. The game is played in five ‘seasons’, which involves placing branches (brown square pieces with attachments on all sides), leaves (green pieces with attachments on three sides), and the player's colored buds and flowers onto the tree. On a player's turn, they place a branch if any are left for the season, then may place either a leaf (from a common pool of eight per season), place a bud of their color (if they have any in hand - a player gets a bud piece every time they place a leaf on the tree) or use a beetle (more about that later). At the beginning of each season, a die is rolled, and a random event occurs, which may require the players to add additional leaves, remove leaves, change positions of flowers, and so forth.

The problems is that the game doesn’t really drive to the outcomes you might like. There is almost no incentive to build out very big leaf chains. Each player has eight buds they can get, and so it makes sense to play them nearly as soon as you get them. If I put a second leaf onto a chain, one of the other players will have put a bud onto it by the time my turn comes around again. While it is still a bud, I can extend that leaf chain off one of the sides, but now that is an even more tempting target, so I have just given points to someone else. Combine this with the fact the every bud that survives to your next turn automatically flowers (add a flower piece to the top and making it eligible for points), I can sit back and pounce on any opportunity that arises.
Each player also has three beetles, which are gained by completing a flower, and can be used for attack or defense. You can place a beetle on one or your flowers, which protects it from other beetles (though not from random seasonal events); or you can use your beetle to destroy another player's flower. What we found was that the flowers tended to be only one or two points (that is, on a leaf chain of one or two leaves back to the branch) so not all that worth protecting: it was better to attack. But an attack takes up your entire turn, so while I kill off another player’s flower, that just leaves the leaf chain open, and it pretty much always gets a new bud onto it by the time it is my turn again - quite often it is the same player who lost the flower reclaiming it. Once again, better to just throw a bud out there and try to get one or two points of my own.

We were talking about it afterwards, and while it is possible that we got a rule or two wrong (the rulebook is not always completely clear), we thought some changes might make it a bit more ‘game-y’:
* Perhaps players have fewer buds, so that they might hoard them for a big score, rather than sticking them onto the tree at any available opportunity;
* Maybe it could be harder to get buds, say perhaps that players only get one when they put a leaf onto a leaf (instead of onto a branch), so that larger leaf chains get built out of necessity;
* Perhaps leaves only grow from the branches, and not from the trunk, concentrating them a bit more;
* Maybe the flowering of a bud costs the player a turn as opposed to happening automatically, so that you may have to miss an opportunity to make sure you score. Along with this, perhaps beetles only attack buds, and flowers are a ‘locked in’ score, so it would make the choice more difficult: whether to lock in a score or hope it will survive another turn;
* Perhaps the random events could be on cards instead of a die roll, so that there is more variation (we got the locust twice) - that means that the four out of the five game turns that have events would each have a different event guaranteed (there are six possible events, so you would still get variety from game to game);
* Give each player a “2x” piece, which would allow them to (once per game) take two actions on their turn: for example, I could play a leaf and a bud off a leaf chain that just has a bud on it, to get one more point than the other player will get.

Anyway, these are just some ideas. As I said, the game is quite striking, visually and tactilely. When we play again, however, we will try out some “house rules”.
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