Following the current trend of adding dice to games, Herbaceous Sprouts (Pencil First Games) has taken another look at the set-collecting card game Herbaceous and added dice to it. Actually, there is a lot more to it than that, so let’s take a look.
Each player gets a punnet-load of coloured tokens of their choice (the sprouts). They also receive a matching wheelbarrow board that can hold up to seven seed dice.
Each turn, tool cards are placed face-up next to the board. They will hold 0-4 rolled seed dice and 0-3 tools. There are four different sets of colour-coded dice with each colour sporting one side with a specific thing. Green dice have a Flower and pink dice have Gardening Gloves. Yellow dice feature a Trowel and blue dice have a Wild side that can be any other side of the die it’s on.
Players take turns picking a tool card and gaining those dice keeping them the same face-up (not easy). These dice are placed in the player’s wheelbarrow and may then be planted or kept for later rounds.
In-between each player is the garden board, which is split into four sections. Each section is then, in-turn, broken down into beds and finally spaces in each bed. Keeping the theme from the original game, each garden will only take a specific arrangement of seeds: All of the same, all different, in pairs, and Flowers only. Each bed requires a specific number of seeds to qualify. The rightmost beds requires three seeds and the leftmost requires seven seeds for example (for the all the same and all different gardens).
Once an active player has the prerequisite number and types of seed, they can return the relevant dice to the bag and place their coloured counters on the highest scoring free space in the chosen bed. A special card featuring a glass of lemonade and two VPs is awarded to the first player to get a sprout in all four gardens.
Each turn, players weigh up the benefits of getting a quick and easy low-scoring space with the seeds they have. Alternatively, they can risk waiting another round to try and get the extra seeds required. Over the rounds it becomes a race to see who’s first to get to 4-5-6 seeds to score anything.
After a few rounds it was clear we hadn’t quite come to grips with the finer points of how the garden board worked. Therefore, we had to restart and try again. This time we had a better understanding as to how all the numbers on the board work. The signs are the required number of seeds needed to score a space and the circled numbers are the VPs each space is worth.
The tools can also help. Gardening Gloves allow re-rolls; Parcels will swap one type of seed with another; and the watering can and trowel will allow the only means of planting flowers.
Thankfully, the wheelbarrow board also contains a crib sheet providing reminders as to what the tools do. However, it took a while to discover how cards with multiple tools worked. When a tool card is tapped (turned sideways and then discarded) any number of the tools on it may be used that turn. However, if it holds a Flowerpot it isn’t discarded and is instead placed elsewhere in the player area to differentiate it from the non-tapped tool cards.
The Flowerpot provides a one-time use seed of the type printed on it to help up the numbers for planting, once done the card is discarded even if the other tools on it have not been used. This is not too difficult but is unusually convoluted compared to the rest of the game.
For less than four players (or as a game variant even with four players) there is also a stash of Rival Sprouts which, at the end of each round, will be planted in the specific space on the garden board as indicated by the one tool card not picked by any player. This gives a sense of urgency over a nine-round game by potentially losing up to eight playable spaces to a non-player Sprout. If the space is already claimed, nothing happens. The number of rounds in a game is determined by the number of players.
There is also a single-player variant with a specific deck of cards to match.
There are not many options given at any time. This means that even the extreme deliberaters can’t spend too much time either choosing which of up to five tool cards to take or deciding what to do with the maximum of seven seeds they may have. With everything being symbolic there is no reading required and with few tool types there isn't too much to learn there either, so each player is generally ready to act when it’s their turn making the turn time pretty rapid.
Herbaceous Sprouts runs pretty smoothly with the one exception of round set-up. The game grinds to a halt as new tool cards are set out and new dice are rolled and placed. This doesn’t take long, but the rapidity of the gameplay makes it noticeable.
Each game may feel similar, with no unique player skills or component changes. Of course, some variety will come from:
- The order in which the cards appear.
- The result of dice rolls.
- The success of the Rival Sprouts taking over the garden.
The race to get that glass of lemonade may also predominate most replays as being the only real tangible goal to aim for outside of getting the most points.
The cards in Herbaceous Sprouts match the style and artwork of the original game and have a good finish and feel to them. The faces of the plastic dice are printed stickers and feel cheap and tacky. Especially when you compare them to the rest of the game. The dice are also a little small to handle when moving from tool card to wheelbarrow. Larger wooden dice would have had a more authentic feel as well as being easier to manhandle.
The Herb Cards feature the artwork from the original game on one side, with info on the back. They’re not relevant to the gameplay, but add that little extra something. Oddly, though, there is a misprint on two of the cards. On them, the info of one herb is printed on the back of another and vice versa.
The player wheelbarrow boards and tokens are identical to each other save for the background colour and sprout image on the tokens and on the sprout storage area on the wheelbarrow board. These all needed to be punched out of sprues and did so easily without any tearing.
They’re nothing special but do exactly what they need to. However, in the age of Takenoko and Photosynthesis, games which give the impression of things growing out of the board, it was a shame the sprouts had no 3D aspect.
The cloth dice bag is a nice touch, you can’t go wrong with a nice cloth dice bag.
The box itself is a smallish square taking up about half the space of an average game. Some bags are provided to store the sprout tokens in, but more may be needed if you like to grab a bag of your pre-sorted coloured components without having to sort through all of them in a finger war with other players all doing the same.
Thematically, the pastel colours and watercolour artwork is frequently associated with horticulture and certainly generates a calm gaming aura. However, thematically, this façade could be swapped with any other theme and not lose anything from the gameplay itself.
How gardening gloves can turn one type of seed into another doesn’t make any logical sense. Especially given that gardening tools are generally used more than once before being discarded. However, this is a game and it sometime pays not to think about this sort of thing too much.
There is no direct interaction between players in Herbaceous Sprouts. Well, unless you count claiming the place on the garden the next player was clearly saving their seeds up for or likewise taking the trowel tool you know the player with the flower is wanting.
Final Thoughts on Herbaceous Sprouts
This gentle-looking game can be a lot more savage than expected. The dice mechanics add in a neat twist to the set-collecting genre. However, the complicated aspect of some of the rules can be confusing at first.