Everdell was my number one game of 2018, a brilliant combination of several styles into one game that plays comfortably in 45 minutes or less. Its designer, James Wilson, is now back with a completely different game, Flourish, co-designed with Clarissa Wilson, a simpler card-based game for up to seven players that can be expanded in multiple ways, with solo and co-operative modes, so you can make the game more complex or just increase your ways to score. It’s a mixed bag of a solid core game, one really great expansion, some awesome art, and a whole lot of cardboard.
The base game here is just a giant deck of cards that show symbols for plants and/or stones, and may include scoring for the end of each of the game’s four rounds (on the top left of each card) or for the end of the game (bottom right). Players start the game with hands of six cards, and will play twelve cards over the course of the entire game, three per round. You play one card, pass two to your neighbors – one in each direction, or, in a two-player game, just to your opponent – and then draw one more from the deck along with the two you get from your neighbors, returning your hand to six. After you’ve done this three times, creating the first of four rows of cards in front of you, you score any cards you played in this round that have those scoring abilities on the top left. Those can be as simple as giving you a point for each symbol of a specific flower on all cards in your tableau, or can require you to have more of some sort of symbol than your neighbors, or to have at least N symbols between your neighbors but not in your own garden. The symbols for scoring are a little abstruse, and the reference cards don’t explain all of them in detail, so you may find yourself doing some creative interpretation (or just looking online).
The fourth round differs in two ways – you don’t draw any new cards from the deck, and after the round ends and you’ve scored any end-of-round cards, you score any of your twelve cards with game-end scoring abilities in the bottom right. This is where you can score some bigger gains, since you’re looking at all twelve cards in your gardens, and some of the scoring abilities are more powerful, so racking up a big lead from round-end scoring cards won’t necessarily translate into victory.
My daughter’s immediate reaction when we started a two-player game was to ask if we’d just end up scoring for all of the same things, and the answer was “sort of.” The game functions with two players, but any scoring cards that would require you to look at both of your neighbors with 3 or more players now ask you to look at your opponent’s garden plus your own, so you’re both scoring the same two gardens. Two of the smaller expansions that come in the Signature Edition, the version on sale right now, address that somewhat by adding some private objectives. The first expansion, the Garden Show, has players play three full games, and gives each player three ribbons that each show a plant or stone symbol. At the end of each of those three games, players see if they have the most of any of the symbols on their three ribbons; if they do, they flip those ribbons over for 7 extra points, and thus have 21 extra points available over the course of the three-game series. The Friends expansion is just another deck of 15 smaller cards with private objectives that are a little more involved – score 5 points for every set of three mushrooms in your garden, for example, or five points for each stone with a specific icon on it. Each player gets two Friends cards to start the game, and chooses one at game-end to score. If you’re going to use any expansions, this would be my first choice, as it’s a familiar mechanic and gives you something clear and achievable to target.
The Follies expansion is a whole ‘nother story – each player gets five ornate cardboard buildings, each showing one of the game’s five plant symbols, and must try to place them on their gardens on matching cards or risk losing 5 points at game-end for each unplaced Folly (building). Follies score based on matching symbols on their own cards or adjacent cards, or for adjacent cards with no symbols at all, and you can place cards in the final round outside of the 3×4 grid required in the base game. This seems like a level of complexity the game doesn’t necessarily need, and it does make the game bigger – the box could probably be half its size without the Follies expansion, and while I know some people really enjoy the assembly required for many games with lots of little pieces, I am, alas, not among them.
Flourish isn’t like Everdell in any way, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, just a bit unexpected. With just the Friends and Garden Show expansions, it could be a great small-box game that has the rare ability to accommodate up to 7 players – the card-drafting mechanic seems inspired by 7 Wonders, certainly – and there just aren’t that many good games on the market that can handle that many players comfortably. The game also comes with solo and co-op modes where you’re trying to maximize your score; I could see using the co-op mode with younger players, especially to help introduce them to some of the scoring mechanics here. Games take about a half hour, more or less depending on player count, and the age limit is really a function of understanding how the scoring works. It’s solid, but there’s a little part of me that was hoping for the next Everdell, too.
Keith Law is the author of The Inside Game and Smart Baseball and a senior baseball writer for The Athletic. You can find his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.