“How many gentle flowers grow, in an English country ga-ar-den?” If you just heard yourself singing that as a kid at school, congratulations – you’re probably as old as me. English country gardens are exactly what spring to mind when I’m playing Flourish, the latest game from James and Clarissa Wilson, names you might remember from one of the prettiest games ever – Everdell.
While Flourish is an undeniably pretty game, it’s a big departure from the combination of worker-placement and tableau-building that Everdell brought us. It’s a streamlined card game, where players are playing and passing cards to their neighbours, trying to maximise the scoring combinations available on their cards.
Build Me Up Buttercup
The play-and-pass card drafting mechanism that Flourish is built on is very simple to get to grips with. The cards show things like one of five flower symbols on, or ornaments and garden decorations.The idea of the game is to make the cards you decide to keep, combine to score big. Cards either score at the end of a round of three turns, or at the end of the game (sometimes both). Sometimes scoring is dependent on the cards in your own garden, sometimes on the cards your neighbours have on display.
What makes Flourish tricky is the way you’re obliged to pass a card to each of your neighbours during your turn. You build little cardboard walls, and literally pass the cards over the garden wall. It’s a bit like growing roses up a fence. You’re making beautiful things happen on your side of it, but by passing one of your cards to your opponent, you might be giving them something they really want – just like your roses growing through onto their side of the fence.
I love it when a game does this decision-making well. Trying to do the quick mental maths to work out if the net gain of keeping a certain card outweighs the potential score benefits of giving another to your neighbour, is great fun. It introduces a dilemma of whether you try to build a strategy from your first hand, or wait to see which cards you’re given.
Every Rose Has Its Thorn
What might surprise you after reading about this card game, is the fact that it comes in a standard Kallax-friendly box, not a small box. When I opened the box I found sheets of punchboard, so I did what anyone would – punch those bad boys out. After building countless little buildings and walls for the best part of a couple of hours, it turns out the vast majority are for one of the included expansions. Just be aware that for your first game, you only need to build the little walls.
Expansions are part and parcel of Flourish, and it’s important to understand that they’re more like optional modules, rather than big expansions. It’s a bit like the way Fresco did it back in the day. Each one adds a small something to the gameplay and can be used in conjunction with others. The Compost variant for example, offers a way to cycle through the deck faster. Follies lets you place those little cardboard buildings on your cards for extra scoring, and the Garden Show uses ribbons and turns it into a three-game campaign.
On top of this, there’s a really nice solo bot to play against too, which is ridiculously smooth to run. Considering the fact it builds its garden with random cards, it’s deceptively difficult to do well against. Flourish is a game which feels very natural to play solo too, and I’d urge anyone who has the game to try it. It’s a great training mode if nothing else.
Kiss From A Rose
Flourish does a great job of catering for a wide variety of games groups. There aren’t many games out there which scale from one to seven players seamlessly, and fewer still that give you the choice of playing competitively or cooperatively. The co-op version is especially good when you want to teach new players the game. It turns Flourish into a thinky puzzle, where you chat among yourselves to try to come up with the best way to use your cards between you.
I’ve not gone all the way up to seven players yet, but I have played at all counts from one to five. I’m really pleased to say that it works really well at all of those counts. The two-player mode I’m especially fond of, as it feels like a proper duel. The iconography on the cards isn’t immediately obvious, but once you understand it, it’s very clear. It’s a very important design consideration, as you need to be able to see what’s going on in your neighbours’ gardens at a glance.
It might go without saying if you’ve played Everdell before, and this being another Starling Games box, but the production values are really high. The cardstock feels nice, the score dials are a nice touch, and the buildings (despite being a pain in the butt to have to build) look great. There’s even a thoughtfully made insert and a diagram showing how to use it.
The biggest problem Flourish will have is having the Starling logo and James’ name on the box. Not because those are synonymous with bad games, in fact, it’s just the opposite. They set expectations so high with the table-swamping Everdell that it would always be a tough act to follow. Especially with a card game. The fact that it’s a card game works in its favour though, as it stops people trying to directly compare it with the former game. Ironic, given the number of times I’ve mentioned Everdell in the course of this review, I know.
Flourish is a great game in its own right. It takes a few games to get the hang of what sort of combos and scoring works, but it’s very intuitive and easy to pick up. If you don’t like tableau-building, you’re not going to enjoy it, but if you’ve played games like Splendor and enjoyed them, you’ll like Flourish. The beautiful illustrations and setting mean it’s a game I could even entice my mum to play too.
It’s maybe a bit over-produced. The folly buildings could easily have been tokens, and potentially reduced the box size and price, but as it is it’s fine. Starling Games have already built a reputation for nice things in boxes. The inclusion of the variants and expansions means you get decent amount of game for your money, too. I think it makes an excellent two-player game, and I’m really looking forward to trying it out at a convention this year with a full quota of seven.
Review copy kindly provided by Tabletop Tycoon. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
Designers: James & Clarissa A. Wilson
Publisher: Starling Games
Art: April Borchelt, Dann May, Christina Qi, Naomi Robinson
Playing time: 30-60 mins