Same Game, Different Journey
Everdell is a unanimous hit among my group of friends. It's never difficult to find people willing to play it. In fact, it's so popular that I ended up purchasing the Bellfaire expansion to add two more players to the game. However, when I'm not in the mood for a round that could take up to 3 hours or in case I want to exercise a different strategy to that appropriate in a game against humans, I really enjoy playing the solo mode. Like with many game that have both multiplayer and solo modes, playing alone will give you the familiarity to become better at Everdell in general, however here your end game is significantly different.
In the solo mode, you don't play against any of the other tribes. Instead, your enemy is a rat villain named Rugwort the Rascal. Rugwort doesn't harvest or activate the effects of the cards he plays, nor can he strategically combine his cards to maximize his points. However, he poses enough of a threat to keep you on your toes. An 8-sided die is included in the base game exclusively for solo play and, every time you play a card, you roll the die and Rugwort plays the card from the meadow that corresponds to that number - for free. That means even in winter, when you're barely scraping enough resources to play a Farm, he could potentially counter that with a Palace. And that's not even where his greatest power lies. As the seasons progress, he will be adding workers to certain locations on the board - coincidentally ones that can't be shared so you won't be able to deploy your own workers there – as well as to cards on the Meadow, which is something that doesn't exist in a multiplayer game. Cards with Rugwort workers on them cannot be played, drawn or discarded by you, only him. So, if you’ve spent the whole game waiting for that Ever Tree to show up so you could play it, you have to act quickly, or it may be blocked until the end of the game by one of his workers. This is however predictable: his new workers are introduced to the board when he prepares for the season, which happens whenever you choose to prepare for the season yourself. The rule book has a section detailing where his workers go for each season, and it's very easy to follow.
Hoard Those Events
Rugwort’s biggest game changer is how he achieves and scores for events, common and – more dangerously - special ones. The rule book envisions three rounds played against Rugwort, not necessarily back to back, and in increasing levels of difficulty. Every time you prepare for a season, if Rugwort has enough cards in his city to claim any of the common events, he does so immediately. That may not set you too far back, but it’s something to keep an eye on. And, at the end of the game, he scores 3 (in year 1) or 6 (in years 2 and 3) points per special event that you didn’t claim. That can give him a whopping 24 points out of nowhere. So this is the fundamental unspoken goal of a solo game: you must get those special events yourself. Easy, right? Well, no. The base game has such specific requirements for special events, that even in a game of 4 people, it’s not that rare for one or all of them to end up unachieved. How likely are you to have played a Judge and a Queen in order to achieve the Tax Relief special event? Or a Chip Sweep and a Clock Tower for the A Well Run City one? If you’re used to playing with your friends and you have your favorite cards you regularly stick to when trying to either build an optimized resource gathering engine for your city, or you stick to the fancy high value cards, you will have to let go of that and relentlessly chase those special events requirements, otherwise even 2 unclaimed ones will mean 12 points for Rugwort. In year 3, you also only get 5 workers in Autumn, so if you leave the events unachieved until the last minute, you may end up short on workers to deploy and claim them.
The Bellfaire expansion, a fan favorite, has brought many welcome modular additions to Everdell, along with some suggested named variants for battling Rugwort. Whether you’ll choose to be penalized for empty spaces in your city at the end of the game, or to speed up the way Rugwort claims special events, or boost the number of points he gets for each card in his city, these tweaks will require different strategies for each playthrough. However, if you want to make your life easier instead, Bellfaire also added 9 new special event cards, and they are all easier to achieve than the original ones, in that their requirements are much less specific, like having any 5 Common Constructions in your city for the Bed & Breakfast Guild or any 4 Unique Critters for the Gathering of Elders. If you’re finding yourself often losing because of that final leap Rugwort’s score takes thanks to your inability to claim those special events, there’s no shame in perhaps using 2 original ones and 2 Bellfaire ones, or to shuffle them all together and hope for the best.
Who Will Triumph
Playing Everdell solo is thoroughly enjoyable – and challenging. The advantages you might have otherwise, such as opponent inexperience or misfortune – it’s so satisfying when you can tell someone has been working towards the Everdell Games but falls short due to one card – are out the door, and while Everdell is usually a game of making the most out of scarce resources, this will be exacerbated by the fact that you cannot prioritize playing multiple green cards to reap those harvested goods, since that means you’ll have overlooked the requirements for special events, so your resourcefulness will really be put to the test. Even at your wealthiest, in autumn, your choices will be limited, because Rugwort will have half of the Meadow blocked with his workers, which cleverly mirrors how in a multiplayer game, everyone else would also have more workers and be more fiercely competing for those last-minute heavy hitting cards. Nevertheless, with perseverance, a bit of endurance to get past the learning curve and a knowledge of where to put your priorities, you will succeed in riding Everdell of this rat infestation.