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Sunday, June 7, 2020

Everdell – Starling Games – Review

You might look at the little mouse family playing happily on their berry farm, or at the barge toad floating lazily down the warm, sun-speckled river and think, “yes Kara, it is easy to play. Look how happy everything is – how could anything in this beautiful world be difficult?” well, I hate to burst your rose-tinted bubble, but guess what? Despite the blissful artwork and mesmerizing components, Everdell is actually a crunchy, thinky, slightly brain-twisty game! 

Jeremiah & Kara


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Theme and What is it?


The first rays of sunlight settle softly across your face, gently scattering your dreams and waking your eyes to the world. With a sleepy yawn, you sit up and stretch your arms up high above your whiskers. You shuffle to the closet and pull on a fresh pair of trousers – left foot first, then the right– and wiggle them up around your tail. You eat a quick breakfast of berries and cheese, kick on your boots, and push open the door to your small cottage. Soft morning sunlight filters through the towering bushes around you, branches heavy with plump purple berries ready for harvesting. To your right a break in the bushes reveals the river, its waters moving calmly in the still of the morning. If you squint, you can just make out the figure of the Barge Toad making his morning deliveries. You close your eyes and take a deep breath – bringing the fresh forest air deep into your lungs. Then you exhale, open your eyes, and pick up your rake – you have work to do.

Everdell is a stunning game in which players are competing to build the best woodland city they can. You’ll be able to plant farms, build schools, inns, and even palaces, in your efforts to create a truly wonderous woodland home for the myriad of creatures that will be drawn to your city. By carefully managing their resources, planning ahead, and clever worker placement, one player will secure the victory.

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Gameplay Mechanics


Mechanically, Everdell is actually a very simple worker placement game. Players send their workers to different spots around the forest to collect resources like wood, stone, resin, and berries, which they can spend to construct building cards. The building cards are added to their growing city, and usually give the player some kind of bonus that they can use for the rest of the game. It’s a very straightforward, easy-to-understand game, but does that mean it’s easy to play? You might look at the little mouse family playing happily on their berry farm, or at the barge toad floating lazily down the warm, sun-speckled river and think, “yes Kara, it is easy to play. Look how happy everything is – how could anything in this beautiful world be difficult?” well, I hate to burst your rose-tinted bubble, but guess what? Despite the blissful artwork and mesmerizing components, Everdell is actually a crunchy, thinky, slightly brain-twisty game! 

Part of the beauty of Everdell is that even though mechanically it’s a very simple game, the choices you have to make during the game are massively important. It doesn’t just matter where you place your workers or build your buildings, it matters when you place/build them. The order in which you place workers or build buildings can have an astounding impact on how well you do in a game. I once saw a player who thought his game was over, take back his turn (we allowed it because we’re nice) to play a critter instead of a building, and that tiny adjustment let him stretch out his game by 7 more turns! It was incredible, and it shows just how important timing can be in this game. It’s part of what makes Everdell not just feast for the eyes, but for the brain as well.

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Initial Impressions


I’m a sucker for quality art and components, so as soon as I saw Everdell I was out-of-my-mind excited. The towering tree, rubbery berries, custom animal meeples, and gorgeous Andrew Bosley artwork made my heart itch for this game. 

The rulebook for Everdell is wonderful. It’s short, well-organized, and the rules are clearly explained. My favorite part of the rulebook though is the pictures. Throughout the rulebook you’ll find pictures of some of the characters that live in Everdell, as well as notes, letters, and memos that the characters have written. There’s an endearing exchange of letters between a little mouse husband and his wife; notes from a doctor diagnosing a patient; and an excerpt from a history book detailing a momentous event! These little extras, scattered throughout the rulebook, immerse you in the theme of this fantastic world even before your first play.

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Game Build Quality


The component quality for Everdell is fantastic. Not only is the towering Ever Tree beautiful to look at, but the designers found a way to make it functional as well. There’s a snuggly little cavity at the base of the tree for the draw pile to rest, the lower branches hold special event cards that players can claim during the game, and the upper branches hold the extra workers that players will gain throughout the game. 

All the cardboard used in the game is nice and thick, and the cardstock used for the cards has a nice linen finish. I love that the designer and producers took the extra effort to include custom animal shaped meeples, as well as custom shaped resources, because it makes the Everdell experience even more beautiful and tactile. The box is sturdy, and comes with a nice insert to hold everything in place.

Surprisingly, there are actually a couple things about the components that I don’t like. Even though the Ever Tree looks gorgeous on the table, it tends to block the main board from the view of some of the players, which can be really frustrating for them because they can’t see which cards are available in the meadow, or where other players have already placed their workers. It also has to be disassembled to fit in the box and reassembled before each play, which puts wear on the fittings. 

The large, circular board for Everdell is gorgeous, but the circular shape takes up a ton of table space. It can be really difficult to fit a 4 player game on one table, because the main board takes up so much room.

I feel those complaints need to be pointed out, but I also think they’re minor. Overall, the component quality for Everdell is incredible, and I can see that the designers put a lot of thought into making Everdell as excellent as they could. 

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Artistic Direction


Everdell has some of the best art I have ever seen in a board game — or anywhere else in life, for that matter! 

Each card is packed with life, and story, and still somehow manages to include all the information you need to know about how to build, score, and use the card during the game. The colors are warm, soft, and inviting — it seriously makes you wish you could “blue-skadoo” straight into the cover of this stunning world. 

One of my favorite things about the artwork in Everdell is that a lot of the artwork on the cards are connected to each other. In Everdell, the shopkeeper is a rabbit. In the card for the General Store, you can see the silhouette of the perky-eared hare standing in the doorway. The town historian is a spectacle-wearing bat, and on the Clocktower card you can see him flying toward the top of the tower. Whatever the construction, you can always see the critter who lives there somewhere in the background. This adds so much to the theme, and helps players feel like they really are creating a woodland town full of living creatures with their own stories.

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Fun Factor


Everdell is full of crunchy decisions and tight gameplay. Players around the table sit quietly in intense concentration. You’ve gotta be aware of what your opponents are doing, plan out each of your turns, and manage your resources more carefully than TP in an epidemic in order to do the absolute best you can do.  Sometimes you might think you have so few workers and so little resources that you couldn’t possibly do everything you need to during the game, but you’d be surprised by how much you actually can do if you time everything just right! 

So much of the fun in Everdell comes from watching your city grow from literally nothing into a bustling metropolis full of happy little residents. It’s a game that’s satisfying, even if you don’t end up winning!

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Age Range & Weight


The manufacturer recommended age is 14+, which I think is just right, since Everdell requires quite a bit of strategic thinking and planning ahead.

You might look at the cutesy creatures, squeeze the squishy berries, and think “what a cute game”! False. It is not cute. Not mentally anyway.

Everdell is definitely a mental exercise that will leave your brain feeling stretched and satisfied. Turns generally move pretty smoothly, but occasionally a player will get stuck trying to analyze their turn and choose their best option. As a two or three player game the downtime between turns isn’t too bad, but once you add that fourth player things tend to really slow down.

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Everdell is a brilliant, beautiful, medium-heavy strategic game with gorgeous components and incredible artwork. The mechanics are solid and gameplay is filled with interesting choices. This game would be especially appealing to people who like worker-placement or tableu-building euro games, but for anyone looking for a strategic game with an immersive theme and stunning table presence, you can’t go wrong with Everdell!

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Jeremiah & Kara Clark
Shortly after we got married we were introduced by our next door neighbors to designer board games. And we were immediately hooked! Since then we’ve been able to play hundreds of different games over the years, and we still can’t get enough. It’s been great having a hobby that we can both share together, and it’s a blast to explore all the different types of games, especially since we each have our own unique tastes in games.

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