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Everdell: Pearlbrook Expansion Review

Everdell Pearlbrook Expansion Review

Everdell, by Starling Games, was (arguably) the most beautiful game of 2018. Maybe even of any year ever! The art and graphic design by Andrew Bosley are just undeniably attractive. Those little critter meeples are so cute and the Evertree, boy that tree epitomises table presence. Who’d of thought that under all that cuteness lay one of the best engine building worker placement games I have ever played?

Everdell marries worker placement and tableau building in such a natural and organic manner. Its use of card synergies is the backbone of a really great modern board game. But we’re not really here to talk about Everdell are we! What we want to know is how does Pearlbrook, its first expansion, stand up against the base game? Does it warrant a place in our collections?

Going Down to the River

The first thing the Pearlbrook expansion adds is a new game board. This fits snuggly against the left side of the original board. The river Pearlbrook flows peacefully across this new board and at the top of it sits the space for the new resource, you guessed it, pearls. Below the pearl location are four more worker placement locations. All these spots on the pearlbrook board can only be visited by a frog ambassador and only used once per season. The expansion includes one large frog worker meeple in a colour to match each existing Everdell and Pearlbrook critters, including the super cute tan otter meeples that come with the expansion.

The river spots each have a card-based prerequisite to meet before you can visit them. You must have laid a certain amount of one type of card in your tableau in the same way that the basic events worked in the base game. When you qualify to visit one of these spaces your frog ambassador will find a single shining pearl sitting atop a face down card. Immediately take the pearl into your supply and flip the card face-up.

River cards are either citizens or locations and there will always be two of each type laid out. Any river card will require you to discard certain things in order to gain a pearl and other benefits but what those discarded items are will depend on the unique card. It’s possible then to gain two pearls on the first visit to one of these locations but it’s not easy and it’s impossible to plan for with accuracy because the cards start face-down.

Some people have found this ‘blind luck’ factor somewhat disturbing. However, I think it’s important to remember pearls are tough to get hold of, no other single action gives you even the chance to gain two pearls. They are the hardest resource to collect in the game by far and this difficulty in acquiring pearls is of course a design decision. The reason is simple, pearls are powerful! And with great power comes plenty of victory points (VP)!

It's a Wonderful Life

So, you have your little stash of glittering pearls, what on Earth are you going to do with them? Well, each pearl in your supply is worth two VP at the end of the game, if unused. But that’s no fun, we want to spend them! The first thing to spend your pearls on are adornments. Each player is dealt two adornment mini cards at the beginning of the game. They cost a single pearl to play and players may play both cards over the course of a game. Adornments do not count towards your 15-card tableau limit. Their rewards are split into two, first you gain an immediate benefit then the adornment will give you a unique endgame scoring bonus. Here’s an example:

  • Adornment - Gilded book.
  • Immediately - Gain resources equal to the cost of any blue card in your city.
  • Endgame - One VP for each blue card in your city.

What else can we spend our hard-earned pearls on? Well, something huge has come to Everdell, wonders! These cardboard behemoths replace the basic events on the main board and they ain’t messing around when it comes to VP. The four wonders are worth 10, 15, 20 and 25 points respectively. 25 points!! That’s huge! Potentially, that’s more points than the basic card score of an entire 15-card city.

Wonders, though, are an investment. They range in cost too. A couple of examples are:

  • Pay one twig, one resin, one pebble, two pearls and discard two cards from your hand for the 10-point wonder.
  • Pay three twigs, three resin, three pebbles, three pearls and discard three cards from your hand for the 25-point wonder.

Wonders then take serious strategic planning to achieve, multi season planning even and provide perhaps the biggest tactical game changer of the expansion.

There are several new critter and construction cards added to the main game deck from Pearlbrook too. All of which add some fun new actions.

Shining Pearl or Damp Squib?

I shan’t beat around the bush here, Pearlbrook is a fantastic expansion! Starling Games have certainly matched the sky-high production values of Everdell. From the perfectly shaped board extension to the exquisite new meeples, it's great. Andrew Bosley’s breathtakingly beautiful artwork ties the two together seamlessly too.

Pearlbrook adds complexity to the base game as you would expect, but it does so via strategic decision making rather than a slew of new rules and mechanisms to sit and learn. It supports the main city building goal of Everdell with the adornment bonus’ and new critters and constructions, but it also adds new powerful wonders to aim for which can afford alternate routes to victory.

The expansion builds modestly on the player interaction of the base game in terms of competing for frog worker spots, competing for wonders and certain new cards allow you to send them to an opponent’s city and benefit from that. One facet of Everdell that Pearlbrook really develops is a player’s ability to cycle rapidly through their hand and the main deck, and even use spare cards from their hand as a resource themselves. I love this effect and I think it was definitely needed with the addition of even more cards to that already hefty main deck.

As I mentioned, Everdell supports card synergies. Every construction allows you to lay a particular critter for free. As a result. you'll often be looking for certain cards to appear out of that deck and adding even more cards to it will make them less likely to show up. For some this might be an issue. Personally, I feel the new combos the Pearlbrook cards add to the deck compensate plenty.

Another possible issue is the removal of the Basic events. They are replaced with the super scoring wonders. If the modest scoring events were more your speed you may be disappointed to see them go. A related point is the ‘king’ card, which is effectively nerfed by the removal of basic events which it scores endgame points for. While the ‘king’ still scores for special events he is still undeniably less valuable when played with Pearlbrook.

Final Thoughts on Pearlbrook

In summary, Pearlbrook is a stunning addition to a beautiful game. It adds more than it takes away in both quality and quantity. If you liked Everdell then you should love Pearlbrook. It retains that tight competitive worker placement of the original and the highly enjoyable synergies in tableau building. It also adds a very useful unique personal bonus’ and high stakes/high reward competition for powerful wonders.

Pearlbrook has landed with a splash and in my collection at least it’s here to stay! If you haven't played the base game, check out our review.