I have said it before but it bears repeating, the best games are those that are easiest learned but with a great deal of depth and complexity so you can hone your strategy over time. Z-Man Games released another game in 2015 which meets those standards nicely. Arboretum is a tile-laying strategy game where the players are rewarded by ending the game with best paths laid out before them. A real arboretum becomes more valuable and aesthetically pleasing when its contents are chosen strategically. Likewise for this game, a carefully designed path is paramount to success.
Begin your turn with 7 cards and draw 2 additional cards. You may choose to draw from the deck or from anyone’s discard pile. You can also do this in any combination (i.e. one from the deck and one from a discard pile). Then play one card to your Arboretum and discard another. You play a card in your Arboretum either horizontally or vertically to another card you have already played. You don’t have to go sequentially. But you cannot go out of order. So 1-3-7 would be acceptable but 3-1-7 would not be. You will end your turn with the same number of cards with which you began.
Here’s the rub. In order to score a path once, it must begin and end with a tree of the same color. Look at my sample hand and notice that each card is a different color. By themselves, these cards would do nothing to aid my scoring. This is where you start building your strategy. By watching what colors others are working towards you may decide to shift your focus and pick up cards they are discarding. Or you may decide to compete with them and go for the same color which will drive what you discard and maybe even when to play cards into your arboretum. Or it may just make you decide to hold onto a single card of that color to block your opponent from being able to score a path that he or she thought she had in the bag.
That’s right, you can block opponents in Arboretum. Remember when I told you that you begin and end your turn with 7 cards? At the end of the game, everyone looks at the cards they;re holding. If you have the highest sum of a particular card then you score the path of the corresponding color. Referencing back to my sample hand, unless someone were holding a red (Maple) 8 then I’m the only one that could count points scored for a red path in my arboretum. That is unless someone had more than one red card that summed to more than 7 (a red 6 and a red 2, for example). Then that player alone maintains the right to score that particular path.
I can hear you…”this is all great but you’re confusing me with paths and arboretums and scoring, how do you score?” Good question. Let’s take a look at a sample arboretum from a game I previously played using the image from our Instagram account. I have a row of Oaks 1-3, a row of Olives 5-7, and a another row of Oaks 6-7.
At a macro level the path beginning with Oak 1 and running through Oak 7 is the highest scoring path in my arboretum. I get one point for each card in the path (6). However, my path begins with a 1 so I score an additional one point (total is now 7). If I end up completing this path by laying an Oak 8 then I get one extra point for the card plus TWO extra points for that card being an 8. In that case my total would be 10 points for that one path. Had the path been made up of ALL the same color, I would have gotten a bonus of plus one for each card in the path.
However, the Olive 5 interrupts that in this case so we’ll go with 10 (pretending I have laid that previously mentioned 8). Once we come to the end of the game I would get to add 10 points for this path to my total score so long as I’m not blocked by another player. If any of my opponents were holding the 3 or 5 of Oaks in their hand when the game ends then they have blocked my right to score my main path. This is where being mindful of what has been discarded—and what has been picked up from discard piles—is so crucial. You can waste a lot of effort if someone is on to your plan and they’re holding the appropriate cards at the end of the game.
So who will enjoy Arboretum?
I rate Arboretum as a 4.5 of 5.0 because I loved it and my 11-year old did too.
But Crystal wasn’t so fond of the game. She thought the art was amazing (and it really is) but she had little interest in replaying the game. It’s a little pricey for a card game. You may want to play a demo copy before you just jump right in with your own purchase. However, if you have an appreciation for fantastic artwork and tile-laying then I cannot recommend this game enough. This is definitely one you want in your collection. Z-Man games has published a lot of great games and Arboretum fits wonderfully into their catalog.