Over the river and across the meadow far from the Evertree lay the Spirecrest mountains. Well, actually just slotted in below the main board like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle piece. Spirecrest is the third and latest expansion for the multi award winning hit game Everdell. A substantial gameplay expansion, Spirecrest introduces travellers, weather and big critters to Everdell lore. So how does Spirecrest fit into the expanding Everdell universe and is it worth your hard earned twigs and berries? Well grab your hiking boots and nap sack, we’re about to find out!
As I mentioned Spirecrest has a new board that slots neatly into the cutout at the bottom of the main board. The Spirecrest board has 3 areas, foothills, peaks, and ridge, with a trail leading through them all. These areas will correspond to the 3 main season transitions. So each area will have a selection of map tiles, one more than the number of players, and it’s own stack of discovery cards. Your player set up will include taking a starter map tile and placing your rabbit traveller Meeples at the beginning of the trail. You’ll also reveal the first weather card. Weather cards have temporary rules active for one season that will effect all players and make play more challenging. That’s it, you’re setup, now how do we play?
Spirecrest adds a new phase to the game that each player will work through immediately after performing their ‘prepare for season’ action. The new exploration phase is made up of 3 actions, chart, discover and travel.
- Chart: Choose one of the remaining map tiles in your area to add to your expedition. Place your new tile to the right of your starter map or any tiles already in your expedition. Each tile has a resource or card cost that will need to be payed at games end in order to score its points and continue on your expedition.
- Discover: Draw the top 3 cards from the discovery deck of the area you’re currently exploring. Set the 3 cards below the 3 slots at the bottom of the Spirecrest board. Choose one of the cards to play into your area. The left card would be free, the middle costs 1 card or resource and the right card cost 2 cards or resources. Discovery cards do not count toward your city total, but give useful bonuses or abilities. Discovery cards will either provide endgame vp, ongoing abilities, one time abilities, personal worker locations or big critters. These large animals will replace one of your workers, imbuing it with a unique ability.
- Travel: Now move your rabbit traveller to the next area of the board. If you’re the first player to enter this season you’ll flip the next weather card that will effect any player in that next season. You’ll also flip the map tiles for this area ready for the chart action of the next season. If you’ve just prepared for autumn your traveller will instead leave the board and go to the first tile of your expedition. When you’ve taken your last action in Autumn, the last round, your traveller will begin their expedition. Paying the cost of each tile in turn and collecting the points marked on it. If you can’t pay the cost on the next tile in order your expedition ends there even if you could afford a later tile, so choose your maps wisely!
Run Rabbit Run
I love the fact that all the various facets of Spirecrest are tied together by your rabbit explorer travelling along the trail at the end of season. Your rabbit Meeple is little more than a place marker really but it’s a nice thematic flourish. More importantly though It keeps the expansion compact, easy to understand and remember. As you’re completing your explore action the next player can even be continuing with their go. This keeps the total time added to each game very low too, while the effect on gameplay is considerable.
The expedition map is worth a decent percentage of total score if you can pull off the whole thing. It’s nice having the choice of tiles to take so you can plan ahead a little. It’s not too tough to complete the expedition usually but it is something else to think about when planning your grand strategy. You might even consider Preparing for Season early to nab the map tile you want.
The Discovery cards are where this expansion truly shines. There are so many delicious options and opportunities in these 3 decks. From victory points to engine building, powerful locations to unique abilities. Each season you’ll get to choose from 3 cards so you can make sure you get the card that best gels with your plans. The big critters that you can discover are fun! Sure the giant Meeples are a gimmick and only serve to remind you that your worker has a special ability. But this is Everdell, the ridiculous production values and mega cutesy components are an integral part of the experience, so bring them on I say!
Talking about the weather
Before I played Spirecrest I was worried about the weather cards. I worried they’d be frustrating or annoying and spoil my enjoyment of the game. I needn’t have worried. The weather cards dictate a new rule in place for a particular season. While they certainly can be annoying, rather than wreck your game the weather just encourages you to adapt your strategy or wait a season before doin certain actions. In fact I think the Weather cards provide an essential challenge in counterpoint to the Discovery cards. They keep the game tight, lean and stimulating. Also they help each game to feel different to the last.
The only caution I would issue to potential buyers is to recognise the difference between the Retail edition and the Collectors edition. If you’ve seen pictures of all the cute new critters and giant gritters online then it’s important to note that the retail edition of Spirecrest comes with only one new critter type, the Fox. Gameplay wise the two editions are very similar, the Collectors does however have 3 extra big critters included within a total of 9 extra discovery cards on top of the retails 42 original Discovery cards and 8 original big critters.
River deep, mountain high
When reviewing a game it’s really hard not to compare it to other games that share a key mechanism or theme. With expansions id say it’s even harder not to compare it to other expansions for the same game. But then I’ve been asked so many times, ‘what’s better, Spirecrest or Pearlbrook?’. So maybe it’s no bad thing to have a little head to head section for these two major expansions. Pearlbrook expands on the original worker placement mechanism by adding a special worker and several locations unique to that worker. It also adds a substantial stack of cards to the base deck and a new resource, the Pearl, as well as replacing the basic events with very expensive and powerful Wonders. One of my favourite parts of the original expansion are the adornment cards that cost pearls and give players various asymmetric bonuses. Now I really like Pearlbrook but I think Spirecrest is a better expansion, and I’ll tell you why.
Spirecrest doesn’t remove or alter the gameplay of the base game like ditching events or increasing play time with an extra worker, it just enhances it with very little extra time added to each game.
Adornments are great and really useful for squeezing maximum results from minimum resources but Discovery cards are better! Although each player will only collect 3 discovery cards they will choose from 9 over the course of the game. This means the boosts these cards give can be more selected and targeted toward your current strategy and needs rather than the randomly dealt adornment cards.
The expedition map that you build is yours alone and you can plan specifically to complete it rather than aiming for a powerful wonder that someone else could steal away at any second.
Last but not least, Pearlbrook adds a substantial wedge of cards to the deck. The Everdell deck is... large, especially if you already use the Extra! Extra! Cards. By adding even more to the deck it lowers the chance of drawing cards that pair together. Spirecrest avoids this issue by leaving the deck well alone and adding all its content during the Explore phase.
Final thoughts - Spirecrest
Spirecrest is an excellent expansion. It enhances the base game without losing its spirit. It provides new challenges but plenty of new opportunities and advantages too. While it is highly language dependant this helps it to be very quick to learn too. All the abilities or effects are detailed on the cards meaning there’s no need to learn them all pre-game. In fact Spirecrest has that golden quality for expansions! While it adds considerable strategic depth to your game, it does so while adding very little setup time and hardly any game length. For these reasons Spirecrest is my favourite Everdell expansion yet and well worth the investment!