Looking at the box art for Plotalot, I am instantly put into a sense of calm. The tranquil surrounds of a farmer, surveying her land as the sun rises over her crops. It’s a beautiful scene. The box paints a picture of calm and beauty. The naturalistic of the game title and subtle box branding all combine to make me feel that I am in for a relaxing game.
Then, you play Plotalot. And, oh my! How things change! Plotalot is a family friendly card game with a beautiful theme, but it is full of take-that. So many cards are all about hurting your opponents, you need to be in the right mindset and with the right group to play this game. I talked with designer Gemma Newton about this and she said she wanted to create a game she could play with her family at Christmas instead of watching TV, a game that had some spice but was still just for fun. “Whilst mine has got elements of that (take-that) it’s soft, it’s kind, it’s family. And it’s warm.”
This explains Plotalot to a tee. Whilst you may have just taken your Gran’s prize pumpkin from her plot, both you and her will still be friends! The art, theme and flow of the game makes for the take-that to work in a way I have not really experienced before.
Get Off My Land!
Plotalot starts with everyone choosing a plot to grow their crops on. You are randomly assigned a small, medium or large plot, which will affect how many vegetables you can plant at the start of the game. This sounds like there may be some advantage for some players right from the start, but the game has a clever mechanic of avoiding this. The smaller plots fill up quicker of course, but this also means you can harvest them sooner. If your plot is completely full, you can harvest for free rather than use one of your two actions per turn, so getting a full plot regularly can be an advantage in the early stages of the game. Those with a larger plot can plant more, but it will take them more turns to cycle through their free harvests.
Turns do proceed quickly though. You start with five cards and can take two actions per round with your mix of vegetables and action cards. You can lay more plots, plant a vegetable, harvest a plot, discard unwanted cards, put down an enhance card or attack an opponent. The attack cards range from the comparatively tame, such as halving your opponent’s next plot score, to stealing one of their plots outright. The take-that is present throughout and could put some players off.
I spoke with designer Gemma Newton about this, as it did feel somewhat overly powerful to me to be able to steal other players' plots, especially if they only had one at the time. It leaves them in a tricky situation. There are a number of cards and actions you can use to rectify the situation, but of course, they may not come around to you quickly. “I’ve rarely had a situation where you couldn’t get back into the game,” Gemma says. “In one respect, stealing someone’s only plot is a harsh move and can annoy (other players) but in another it’s so interesting to make people adapt their game and force them to use attack and enhance cards to get back into the game. And when they do get another plot, it’s a huge sense of achievement.”
You Greedy Rabbit!
I would concur with this. It happened to me in my second experience of Plotalot, very early on in the stages of the game. I felt out of the game and was unsure if I had the rules correct it was so unsettling. But then I drew a ‘Greedy Rabbit’ card which allowed me to steal a plot back from another player and I was back in the game. This is the key really. There is a lot of take-that. And the ramifications of this are significant in how it affects the game.
But there are so many cards of this nature, you are never out of it for long. It becomes a bit of a tug-of-war. And I love this! We found the take-that created laughter, not frustration. It went back and forth and we all knew any negative affect would not last forever and we would immediately plot our revenge!
Of course, like all good take-that style games, there is a ‘nope’ card! It takes the form of a cute and cuddly hedgehog. Gemma adds, “The Helpful Hedgehog can also become a huge moment in the game because of plot stealing. Keeping it back for plot steals gives the player a sense of freedom and provides a huge laugh when blocking a big attack.”
Pumpkins Means Prizes!
At its heart, Plotalot is a brilliant fun card game to play. The reason why I have enjoyed it so much is the mechanic used for scoring and the opportunities this presents. Each time you harvest a plot, you note the score for that yield on the score sheet. Then total them up at the end. As such, there is a constant sense of progression, and you can get a rough idea for where you are placing against the other players throughout. But individual harvest scores can be so ranging, depending on the size of the plot and the vegetables harvested, you can never be sure how you are currently ranking. A game I played recently had scores from one point up to 64 from one harvest. And the least amount of harvests made were five (me!) and the most was nine.
The scoring range can be vast. There are also combo opportunities where certain vegetables increase your score when grown with others. Likewise, there are some combos that reduce the overall points from a particular harvest. The game feels like it races along at a fast pace, with constant changes to the scores. You always feel involved and like you are constantly making progression.
The timing of the game is very simple and has some user control, which adds to the excitement around the scoring. There are two central draw piles: vegetables and action cards. When one pile is depleted, that triggers the final round. So, all players could constantly draw from one to create a shorter game, or spread their picks out. At the end, you can see how many are left. Then work out how many more turns are likely for you. Perhaps even try to end or extend the game accordingly.
Plotalot was originally called “Allotment Wars,” and I can see why. Never has the growing and harvesting of vegetables seemed so competitive! The game was renamed Plotalot by designer Gemma Newton's mother, to create a more placid and attractive sounding game, which in part explains why this game smashed its Kickstarter so significantly. But I also think it is because Gemma has created something beautiful and fun that resonates with people.
Gemma has a passion for creating sustainable games, and Plotalot has been made using no single use plastics. Gemma wanted it to be plastic free but the vinyl on the cards requires plastic to be used. The components are beautiful and I can see why the vinyl has been chosen. In truth, it creates a more durable product anyway, that surely is good for the environment. This game is here to stay.
Gemma wants to encourage a more inclusive gaming community, where everyone feels like they can play their role. I asked her about her initial hesitation for entering the world of publishing and designing herself. “It was a confidence thing, being able to put a piece of myself out there amongst what is fairly male dominated design industry. I don’t want to become a poster woman for this. However, I really do hope more women do design and take the chance. We all have a lot to say, we have a different take on gaming.” I agree entirely. Gemma has made a brilliant game in Plotalot. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next, and hope that others who play her brilliant game will be inspired to try and do the same.
Gemma certainly took the chance and succeeded. Plotalot is now available at retail via Zatu’s website and is gathering a strong following of firm fans. I would consider myself one of those. This game will stay in my collection and will be enjoyed hundreds of times, of that I am certain. To say this game has grown on me would be an understatement, as well as a terrible pun! If I want 30 minutes of fast, fun, frantic family fun, I can see no other game that I will turn to.