I see a lot of things as a game critic, but I’ve honestly never come across a card game that tasked players with growing trees in order to win the game. The closest comparison I could possible make is the single-player PC game “Reach for the Sun”, though it centered around plants like sunflowers and lilacs. Instead of a solo experience, you’ll be competing against one or two other people to turn your seedlings into monstrous trees that award a lot of points. Of course, you can mess with your opponents a bit by burning down or harvesting their trees. Before I get into the nitty-gritty details though, I’d like to thank Game Designer Steve Thaemert for reaching out and providing me with a press copy for review purposes.
The game includes 87 cards (79 cards to form the main deck and 8 cards to form the firewood deck). The main deck includes root cards, treetop cards, attack cards, and a golden spade card.
Setup & Gameplay
The first thing players need to do is separate the firewood cards from all the others so that it forms its own deck. The rest of the cards will be combined to form the main draw deck. Both decks are then shuffled, with each player receiving three cards from the draw deck to form their starting hand. Players will also want to start a discard pile next to the draw deck by drawing the top card, face-up. The first player is chosen at random.
On a player’s turn, they’ll:
1. Draw a card from either the deck or discard pile.
2. Play one, all, or no cards.
3. If a player opts to play no cards, they must discard one card. Otherwise, the player draws back up to three cards by taking from the deck.
Players can have up to three trees in front of them. In order to start a tree, a player needs to start by playing a “seedling”/”1 root card”. From there, they can add to either the root card or the treetop space (above the root card) so as long as they both increase in sequential order and stay within one level of one another. For example, a player can not play a “4 treetop card” on top of a “3 treetop card” if there is a “2 root card” below it. The root pile will have to first “catch up” to the treetop pile.
There are also attack cards in the deck that target certain level treetop cards (the attack card is played on top of the treetop card). “Dead” trees take up space and can only be removed by playing a “golden spade” card. If the attack card is a “harvest” card, then the attacking player gets to draw a card from the firewood deck (these grant victory points).
As players lay down trees and upgrade them, they’ll earn more victory points (the point values are equal to their level). The first player to get ten points in a three player game or fifteen points in a two player game, wins! If a player ends up with three dead trees, they are automatically eliminated from the game…if one player is left, they win by default.
The above doesn’t cover all of the rules found in the manual, but should give you an idea as to how the game is played. For more information, you can check out the rulebook here:
I thought that the black & white card art was an interesting choice considering that trees are normally colorful by nature (at least anytime other than during the winter season). They really made the “dead” cards (which are orange-red) stand out in the sense that you felt a sense of dread anytime they were played on you. “Eufloria”, an elegant and beautiful real-time strategy game for the PC that features trees, has the same eye-catching art style. I’ve always been a sucker for black and white abstract art, so I’m personally glad the developer opted for such a look when designing the cards. My only semi-complaint here was that the cards were too large to shuffle comfortably, though they were easier on my aging eyes.
The game itself is very easy to pick up and play. The PDF rulebook is only about two pages long, making the amount of time spent on learning the game minimal. I appreciate the fact that “Tree” is fairly modifiable in the sense that you can remove attack cards from the game in order to make play less aggressive and more about growing. You can also increase the victory point goal for a longer play experience. Like any card game, there’s a bit of luck in drawing the cards you want or need to pull ahead of your competition. As such, the game is a bit less strategic than some others I’ve played…that is, you’ll have very little reason not to go for broke and upgrade your roots/trees & play attack cards whenever you can.
“Tree” is a simplistic yet charming little game, one that’s both easy on the eyes and fun to play. With that said, I do have a problem with the $24.99 price tag (as of 4/13/15). Most card games I’ve seen market between ten and fifteen dollars, making this particular title ten dollars too much (in my opinion). “Star Realms”, for example, features 128 cards and features semi-casual gameplay all for about fifteen bucks (depending on where you shop). If you’re like me, then you’re a consumer who wants to make sure they’re getting the most bang for their buck. As nice as “Tree” is, it doesn’t do enough to justify the price tag. That’s a shame really, as I can easily see casual gamer couples or small families bringing this little gem out on game nights for a quick card game fix. If money isn’t an issue, then by all means grab some seedlings and start planting!
Final Verdict: 7/10
Editor’s Note: Soon after the posting of this review, the developer informed me that he is in the process of creating a smaller sized deck which also effectively reduces the cost to $15.99. According to the official website, it’ll be available 4/26/15. The version featuring the larger cards (as seen in this review) has been renamed “Tree Deluxe”.
You can learn more about and purchase “Tree” here: