Planting and growing crops. Limited acreage, limited resources, limited time. You know the drill. Viticulture, Reykholt, Caverna, and Agricola are all mega-popular farming games. Meanwhile, La Granja is “the less angst-driven answer Agricola”, according to YouTuber, Rahdo. (And I agree; have a read of my How To Play La Granja guide and see what you think.) But, say one thing about those aforementioned games and that’s ‘they ain’t quick’. You’re talking two hours a game or more, even. Do you wish you had a small-box, farming simulator worker-placement game that took half the time, or less? Ahem, introducing Harvest: home to the quirky, pastoral community of Fallowsend. Orcs, humans, swamplings and more compete to grow the most crops to impress the judges. Who’s going to take home the Best Farmer rosette?
The Fantastical Farmers of Fallowsend
In Harvest, players take on the roles of asymmetrical, competing farmers in a light-hearted fantasy setting. Your aim? Grow the most valuable crops and improve your farmstead over five rounds. Points mean prizes, like every other Euro game. Each round has a clear, formulaic structure to it. Once newbies have played one round, they’ll begin to grasp Harvest like a hot knife through butter. (Or should that be a sharp scythe through corn?)
You begin with a modest set-up: four field slots to your farm board, but three of them start off locked. That fourth field has four planting squares in it. Depending on your farmer’s character board, you’ll start with a mixture of seed chits and resource tokens. You also get two workers and dealt an Initiative Card (numbered 1-15).
Roll For–I Mean, Draft For Initiative
Three other Initiative Cards get drawn, sitting face-up at the start of a round. The player with the lowest numbered card gets first pick. They claim one of the three face-up cards, replacing it with their own. Initiative Cards have dual purposes. The numbers establish turn order for the round (lowest goes first). Each card has an action, seed chits, or resources on it too, which you receive immediately.
You only have two workers per round, so picking an Initiative Card with actions-galore feels like an extra worker. Of course, you have to balance this against wanting to go earlier in turn order. The higher the number, the less chance you have of being first, but you’ll get a stronger reward. It’s a pleasant see-saw of a decision.
Even better though, is the fact you have to give back your earlier Initiative Card into the flop. Players after you in turn order could, in theory, pick up the card you discarded. Going last in this drafting phase can become advantageous – you could guarantee your spot in turn order. (It reminds me of the round-long player power drafting in Vanuatu.)
Early Bird Catches The Double-Action Worm
After Initiative, the round proper is pure worker placement. Send your farmer here, to do this action. There’s a Town Board with three locations. The first two players to visit locations (in a 3-4 player game) gain any two of the actions per location. (Only the first player to visit them gains double benefits in a 2-player game.) Players that arrive late only get to pick one action.
The General Store offers you any two the game’s resources. There are five seed chits: Snap Peas, Scarrots, Plumpkins, Phantom Peppers, and Rockali. Some are free; some cost stars. Also available are free water and fertiliser, and expensive elixir.
The Labour Market offers the early birds two of three choices: Plant, Tend, or Harvest. Planting means sowing seed chits into your fields. Seeds have silver stars on them – you have to pay one fertiliser token per star to plant it. You can plant as much as you’re able, but you cannot plant different seed types in the same field. Snap Peas, Scarrots and Phantom Peppers are 1×1 squares, so four of these fit in a field. Plumpkins and Rockali are rectangular 2×1 chits.
Scarrots and Rockali (Weren’t They A ’90s Pop Duo?)
The chits are double-sided. Once planted they flip over, now worth additional stars, and golden in colour, too. Stars are worth 1VP each, regardless of colour. But only golden stars act as the game’s ‘currency’ (paying for, say, elixir). You’ll likely use Snap Peas to pay for items because their star is golden, even as a seed.
The Tend action means watering your crops. Pay one water token per golden star and it produces one extra crop chit of that type in its field (if there’s room). You can cash elixir in as if it were enough water for tending one crop. Of course, the cheaper crops (Scarrots) cost less to plant and tend, but are worth fewer points. Expensive Rockali is worth five gold stars if planted.
And then there is, of course, harvesting! This action lets you pick any number of your fields and remove all crops from that field, back into your supply. By harvesting veggies, you make room to plant more seeds.
Last of all, the Land Office offers you two of:
- Extending your farm board by two extra (locked) field slots
- Getting a Field Card to place on a locked field slot
- Paying two gold stars to buy any one of the Building Cards available
Building Cards sit on a slot instead of a field. There are 30 different buildings, worth varying points. Some offer set collection rewards. The Snap Pea Silo offers an extra 4VP if you’ve harvested 11 Snap Peas by the end. Others provide rule-breaking abilities. The Rooster House lets you pick first in Initiative, regardless of your number.
Race To The Warlock’s Castle
If all Harvest provided was that Town Board, then it could suffer from drying out quicker than a drought-ridden pasture. Happily, designer Trey Chambers planted some modular worker placement spots of his own.
Harvest comes with 30 unique Action Cards. At the start of each round, one Action Card per player gets revealed. These are additional first-come-first-served public spots. Their rewards are stronger than the Town Board locations – or a handy blend of two spots. Some cost stars to visit, but they’re often worth the investment. They’re present for that round only – they get wiped at the end of the round, with others replacing them.
Farmer Versus Farmer
The reveal of the Action Cards becomes a crucial point in Harvest. They get revealed before players pick their Initiative Cards. Meaning, you’ll digest the Action Cards, deciding their value when picking your spot in turn order. If there’s one Action that’s too good to turn down, you can be sure of one thing: everyone’s eyeing it up like the tastiest turnip at the village fair. It’s not going to stay available for long. You pick a low-value Initiative Card, then. But that means a weaker reward…
There are other neat tricks going on. Building Cards are Fields on their reverse. When someone adds a Field Card to their Farm Board, it’s flip-side Building won’t become available in this game. It feels akin to the trait seen in games like Bohnanza, Port Royal, or Oh My Goods. In those games, when cards become flipped, they’re treated as coins. They have a currency function, but their reverse side gets banished from the game as a result.
The asymmetrical farmers offer a decent range of strategies to play Harvest. They’re all double-sided. Default ‘peasant’ Wil Plantsomdill’s on one side, with a unique character on the other. All players take two boards and pick one of their choice.
Plantsomdill offers no fancy player power, but he does guarantee 15VP at the end. The Swampling and the Elf Princess offer discounts off tending (water), or planting (fertiliser). The Green Wizard can make elixir on the cheap. The Troll doesn’t have to pay stars costs, but begins with no starting resources. It goes without saying, you need to play to your character’s strength as much as possible. Can you make at least 15 points from your ability?
Hey! This Cowpat Is Only 30% Poop
Harvest is part of Tasty Minstrel’s line of games that are set in and around Gullsbottom. Other titles include Harbour by Scott Almes, and Aristocracy by Reiner Knizia. The artwork in Harvest sits parallel with those games. The illustrations are cartoon caricatures, including caucasian and black characters. There’s even a cigar-smoking beaver engineer called Gus!
The Character and Farm Boards are thin cardstock, like those in Great Western Trail. (The Town Board is much thicker cardstock.) They almost have a plastic quality to them, rather than cardboard. A Character Board and a starting Farm Board take up an A5-sized space. Despite there being cards on display too, Harvest doesn’t take up a large table footprint.
There’s a mixture of iconography and text, and the iconography is clear, for the most part. I love that each Building Card has a one-sentence piece of accompanying flavour text. The Old Well card says: “Guaranteed not to contain creepy ghost children.” The humour is somewhat wry, but it’s a welcome addition. It adds an extra layer of identity to Harvest. Likewise, the Cow Pasture says: “It’s 70% grass and 30% poop.”
And talking of poop…! Harvest comes with wooden manure tokens (manureeples?) that look like cute cowpats. The component quality is what we’ve come to rely upon from Tasty Minstrel Games. The seed/crop chits are of a thicker card stock, as expected from a punchboard. The Scarrot and Phantom Pepper seeds/crops are too similar in colour at a glance, though. It’s easy to mistake them for one another. I wish the Scarrots were orange to be more distinguishable. They’re meant to be scary carrots, right? They look more like screaming mandrakes.
Final Thoughts on… Harvest
I mentioned Scott Almes earlier – designer of Harbour, another of the Gullsbottom games. Almes is better known for his Tiny Epic… series. Harbour is like a ‘Tiny Epic Le Havre’. So, is Harvest a condensed, ‘Tiny Epic Agricola’?
Harvest mimics some gameplay elements of Agricola, for sure. There’s worker placement – but no accumulation mechanism. There’s harvesting and multiplying crops – but no dreaded ‘feed your workers’ moment. There’s the reveal of extra locations to visit each round that weren’t there last time – but they’re for one-round only. And there’s not enough time to do everything you want!
Harvest is a solid, tight worker placement game. It’s quick, too. Players have two workers per round – across five rounds, that’s only 10 actions. Doesn’t sound like much, and it’s not, but if you’re efficient you can get a lot done. Remember, picking a smart Initiative Card gives you a bonus, so it’s more like 15 actions per game. Harvest tends to last between 30-60 minutes.
The asymmetrical player powers provide varying approaches to your strategy. The artwork is enjoyable and oozes a humorous ethos to Fallowsend. The rulebook is more like a rules pamphlet. It’s two sides of A4, and simple enough to digest. It could have benefited from having in-detail descriptions of the player powers. I got confused that my copy had no black ‘orcling’ worker for Gregorgeous (she has a third worker). It wasn’t until I checked on Board Game Geek that I discovered this orcling is ‘virtual’.
For scale purposes, Harvest feels tighter at four than it does at three players. Talking maths, there’s one less spot available with four. (One extra Action Card present, but negated by the fourth player’s two extra workers.) Turn order is important!
There’s a possibility Analysis Paralysis could kick in during Initiative. (Some players might try to plot their entire round.) You don’t know what Action Cards are coming, and they’re only available for one round. This ratchets up the decisions for Initiative, ten-fold. Then again, AP rears its ugly head across many Euro-style, resource management games. Plus, it’s often player-dependent.
Saying this, the Initiative mechanism is my favourite part of Harvest. I love that you give your old card back, meaning someone else could nab it, next. I’ll repeat, I enjoyed that feature in Vanuatu, and it’s superb here, too. In fact, Harvest borrows a lot of mechanisms from other games. It doesn’t bring any new ingredients to the plate, but it has tried-and-tested gameplay at its roots. Considering it’s so short and snappy, I didn’t mind the fact Harvest didn’t burst with total originality. I fell in love with Fallowsend and its droll protagonists. Fantasy Agricola in 45 minutes? Don’t mind if I do.