I love that one of the hottest games at the moment is about soil. And ecosystems. And watering plants. Earth is an engine and tableau building game all about flora, fauna, terrain and ecosystems. Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised this kind of theme has resonated with so many people because there’s something relaxing about earth and soil and nature. One of the key parts of the game is that when anyone takes an action, everybody else benefits from it too. I love when downtime is reduced and there’s a constant influx of resources. Fortunately for solo gamers, Earth has a great single player mode too which I will be going into detail about.
There’s a few special boards for solo play: a unique player mat (with a flower symbol) and the Gaia System who is your opponent. I love when games have special solo components and boards, to me it speaks to designers thinking about how to optimise the game. Gaia has a little deck of six cards that she cycles through twice before the game ends. These include Gaia’s main actions and the secondary actions you get to take. Gaia also has lots of space for sprouts, growth, compost and active flora and fauna.
Otherwise the set up is very similar to a multiplayer game, you put the little leaf tokens on the board as well as your starting island, climate and terrain, which’ll give you some of your initial scoring goals. In this initial set up, I was on Nishinoshima island (with a sunny and cloudy symbol) with a hemiboreal climate and Monteverde cloud forest ecosystem. I was trying to get as many mushrooms as possible for this ecosystem. These details are lovely, and I feel like I’m learning with a board game! I didn’t know hemiboreal was a word or that it supported a variety of deciduous plants.
You also use the shared objective fauna board, where you get more points the earlier you meet the objective. Gaia has a fauna card that’ll score her the objectives (and she’ll place her leaf token), but you have flexibility in which one she’ll go for (she’ll always go for the highest number of points). It’s definitely recommended to focus on these in solo as Gaia will come for you if you don’t pay attention to them (like she’s done to me). You also have the option of adding some extra ecosystem cards for scoring beside the fauna objectives.
You start the usual way by getting your cards, composting the required amount and getting some soil. Then you can take an action of your choice. Gaia will also benefit from your actions. There’s also an option to increase the difficulty by using the row along the bottom of the board. Not that the difficulty needs to be increased as Gaia is tough, but once you’ve mastered the game it’s a nice alternative.
The four main actions consist of:
- Planting – this action allows you to place flora on your island for their soil cost, after this you take four cards, keep one and compost three
- Composting – you get five soil and two cards to compost from the deck
- Watering – gain six sprouts and two soil
- Growing – get four cards and grow trees twice
Then you can activate your engine starting from the top left and working your way across.
Every time you do an action Gaia gets a secondary bonus:
- Planting – Gaia gets to score your discarded cards (face up)
- Composting – Gaia gains soil (once she reaches ten soil, she composts five cards)
- Watering – Gaia gains a sprout for every blue power in that engine
- Growing – Gaia gains growth per card you gain (and Gaia has spaces for trees to grow and I love that for her)
It’s always an interesting dynamic with each action as you don’t want to give Gaia too much either. When I was low on soil, I kept thinking ‘is there any other way for me to get soil without giving Gaia soil?’. And when your engine is good, you normally can.
When Gaia takes her action, you get to benefit first (which is stated at the top of the card) then Gaia will get the main benefits. On the easier difficulty you’re able to get an extra turn if you reveal a fauna card, and to me that was pretty essential as it would be really difficult to finish your island otherwise. You still get an extra seven points for finishing your island.
You also have the option of playing terrain cards which often lets you score extra for certain flora placements, as if you didn’t have enough to think about. Event cards are often one-time bonuses that you can play at anytime but score negatively at the end, but the bonuses are often worth it.
There’s the potential to be overwhelmed given there are so many ways to score points, but in Earth you have to pick your battles and I don’t think it’s a stressful experience, your island will look nice regardless. There is the potential for analysis paralysis because you can start crunching about which actions will give you the most points. I don’t live that way, but Earth may cause distress for those that do.
So you and Gaia continue to take turns until you’ve finished your island or when Gaia has gone through her cards twice. By this stage you will have developed your engines and you’ll be getting nice bonuses from all your actions, turning sprouts into compost, getting some extra soil, growing some trees, it’s just lovely. For me this is a game where the process is the main thing rather than winning.
I absolutely loved playing Earth solo, for a game that already minimised down time, the solo mode makes it even better. You’re constantly getting new sprouts, canopies and plants and it’s great. The little trees you grow are just the best, and they score you points if they reach their maximum potential! Gaia is also a worthy opponent, you definitely need to think about your placements and fauna, or Gaia will definitely defeat you. There’s something beautiful about your finished island and Gaia’s one too. She gets trees too! And even when you lose (and it’s likely), it’s still so satisfying to see your soil powers, sprouts and flowers all working together.
I probably should mention some minor negative things so I’m not just gushing. The game is very tight, you have very limited actions and there’s the potential you won’t complete your island because Gaia only goes through her deck twice. You have to be very considered about what flora gets planted, what gets composted, what goals are prioritised and this may be too much for some. You also see Gaia gaining so many points and you’re unsure whether you’ll be able to compete. As usual, these games reward the best engines and if you don’t get your engine going the way you want it to, it can be annoying. And there is a lot of maths, as you have to calculate Gaia’s score which consists of face up flora (and she scores positively for negative event cards), sprouts, compost, trees and fauna bonuses. And compost cards can go over 100. Then you would score as usual, of which there are eight scoring categories and all the little numbers may not be your favourite way to finish a game.
These really were minor things for me and didn’t take away from the very satisfying feeling of completing my island and fully growing lots of little trees. Since there are soooo many cards, there are lots of different combinations of flora and fauna to explore and the replayability is great. The components are fantastic too, the player boards look great, the card art is vibrant and attractive and I’m obsessed with the tree stumps and canopies (if you couldn’t tell). An all-around beautiful production. Earth is already an excellent game and the solo mode is a great addition to it all.
That concludes our solo thoughts on Earth. Do you agree? Let us know your thoughts and tag us on social media @zatugames. To buy Earth today click here!