You know all about Everdell. It's the one with the cardboard tree. My job here isn't to talk to you about Everdell as a regular board game review. Instead, I'm going to look at it from a pure solo point of view. Is it enjoyable? Does it replicate the multiplayer experience? Does it scratch the itch? How much 'admin' is there, to make it work?
Quick Reminder: What Is Everdell?
Everdell is a worker placement game for 2-4 players, where you compete to build a tableau of cards. The setting is the charming valley of Everdell, under the watchful eye of the Ever Tree. Over the course of four seasons, you'll aim to score the most points by creating the best 15-card display. Constructions need building, and, likewise, corresponding critters to work in them.
As a multiplayer game, Everdell is a stunning experience by Starling Games. Plenty of approving nods go toward artist Andrew Bosley. Designer James A. Wilson is the brains behind the operation, no doubt, but the enchanting Wind In The Willows art tingles you right in the feels.
The anthropomorphic animals carry oodles of character. The fact that certain critters work in particular constructions appeals to the max. Of course, the historian is a spectacled bat, hanging upside-down, reading a book. Of course, it conducts its duties in the clock tower by the babbling brook.
What's New With Set-Up? Are There New Rules?
As a solo experience, you set up Everdell as you would a two-player game. This means shuffling and dealing out three Forest Cards. These are modular worker placement spots, meaning you'll pick a random three (of 11) each time you play. Considering you pick four Special Event cards too; you'll play with a near-unique board set-up every time.
Your opponent is Rugwort, the rat, a "cantankerous old rodent". Rugwort has returned to Everdell and takes on the role of an AI woodland tyrant, of sorts. Your aim is to outscore him, like a two-player game. He is your sole opponent. Like you, Rugwort begins with two workers at the start of the game.
You pick another set of animeeples to represent Rugwort's "rowdy, rambunctious, rat ruffians". You place one of these on the 'take three twigs' action space. The other starts on the top-left Forest card.
The purpose of these dummy workers being on locations represents a second player. Rugwort's workers have blocked you from gaining these spots for the first season of the game.
Rugwort The Rascal
You're the starting player in this solo mode, so you begin with a hand of five cards. You go first, and the actions you take on your turn are like regular Everdell. Place a worker, play a card, or prepare for the next season. Rugwort, however, does not take turns, per se. There is no automa deck to obey 'on Rugwort's turn'. He springs into life when you play a card into your tableau.
When you do this, trigger your card's action as per usual (if it's a Traveler or Production card). If you bought/took it from the Meadow, replenish it, first. Then Rugwort gets to play a card. The game comes with a d8 die, numbered 1-8. Roll it, and whatever the result, the nettlesome rat takes a card from the Meadow. (The cards get given numbers; top row, left-to-right being 1-4, and bottom row left-to-right being 5-8.)
Rugwort takes the card and it sits face-up in his tableau. (You're still restricted to not building duplicate Unique Critters and Constructions. But Rugwort can collect doubles.)
Any actions on the cards that Rugwort claims don't trigger the same way they would for human players. Instead, you sit them in piles, in accordance with their colour. Rugwort won't score these for
their face-value points either, nor end-game bonuses. He will, however, earn a more standard accumulation of points for cards gained, come the game-end. (I'll explain how this works, later on.)
Minimal Admin: Running Rugwort Is Relatively Relaxing…
This means that if you're not playing cards, there's no interruption in your turns. Rugwort does nothing when you place workers. This does feel a little jarring compared to playing multiplayer Euro-style games. Usually, you spend the downtime between turns planning your next move. That, or wincing as your opponents' plans unfold. 'Dammit! They've blocked my preferred worker placement locations again…' None of that, here.
Rugwort's two workers remain static during the season. At the end of this phase, these workers move to new locations for the next season. One now blocks the get-two-resin location. The other moves counter-clockwise onto another Forest location.
In the third season, one now blocks the pebbles, and the other blocks the final Forest location. In the final season, one blocks the berries, and the other moves onto the '3VP Journey' space. (This latter location is somewhere you go to throw away cards for points in autumn.)
Sure, they block two of the locations for you, but this is but a mild irritation. You can plan your entire season knowing you can guarantee the remaining vacancies. In this regard, Rugwort's predictability results in this element of the solo experience losing a tad of drama and urgency.
…Until He Makes His Move On The Meadow
There is, however, real buttock-clenching with regards to the manner in which Rugwort collects cards. That roll of the d8 die has a habit of falling on the one card you had your eye on, scuppering your plans! You'll soon come to resent Rugwort, because you're jumping through hoops to ensure you can afford cards. Meanwhile, he's snaffling one up 'for free' every time you play one. It's rubbing salt in the wound! This also starts to amplify when it comes to preparing for the next season…
Preparing for the next season is what you do when you run out of actions to take. When you do this, you also check Rugwort's current card tableau. If he's acquired enough cards to earn a Basic Event, he claims it. (Such as collecting three Governance card to claim the City Monument, for example.) You, meanwhile, have to send a worker here as an action to accomplish this. As the rapscallion rat prepares for the next season, he too earns more workers, equal to you. These extra workers don't block locations, though. These ones block cards in the Meadow…
The first extra worker he earns sits on 'card one' of the Meadow (top row, far-left). Rugwort can still claim this card via the d8 die roll, but you can't. Now you only have 7/8 cards to play with in the Meadow. As the seasons pass, Rugwort blocks more and more of these cards. In the final round you have a mere four out of eight cards available!
It Feels Like That Dirty Rat Is Hate-Drafting You
This element of the game adds major nail-biting into the mixer. Rugwort doesn't have a mini, nor does he sit opposite you and cackle. Yet you'll find yourself cursing his name as this system saunters into the gameplay, claiming cards you had your eye on.
A big part of Everdell is aiming to build specific cards to get the Special Events. Rugwort doesn't need cards to complete these. So when his d8 claims one, it feels like the rat's hate-drafted you! But when the luck of the die favours you and Rugwort builds a card you don't care about, you make a little fist-pump. It's all about the little victories!
Part of me wishes there was a Rugwort mini or standee that came in the box, which could lord over this rival tableau. I usually keep the rulebook open on the solo spread of rules. Why? It has Bosley's
artistic interpretation of Rugwort on it. A slack-jawed, grizzled rat; a one-eyed, scarred, sneering menace, leaning on a cane. When playing Everdell solo, I often find myself like Tom Hanks' character in Castaway. I snap and gripe at this picture of Rugwort, the same way Hanks did to Wilson the volleyball. (You know the scene, where the two of them 'argue' on the island.)
When it comes to end-game scoring, Rugwort scores two points per card in his tableau; three points per Prosperity card. He gains another three (guaranteed) points for his worker on the Journey. Three points for each Basic Event he completes. Plus he gets three points for every Special Event that you fail to complete!
The Three Years Of Rugwort: Rascal > Rotten > Rapscallion
There's three varying levels of difficulty you can apply to Rugwort with regards to this solo mode. It's meant to represent three years of the rat trying to sink his grubby claws into the heart of the Everdell valley. The easiest starting variant - 'Rugwort The Rascal' - is the one I mentioned above. The second sees Ruggers blocking the four-point spot in the Journey in autumn. Plus, he earns six points per Special Event you fail to achieve, instead of three.
The hardest variant starts to make you despise the little tyrant! Six points for failed Special Events, and he also blocks the five-point spot in the Journey. But the real kicker is in the final season. He kidnaps one of your workers! This means you have five - not six - workers for the all-important final phase of the game.
Seeing a variety of difficulties present is a delight. If you're a seasoned Euro-gamer, and you've played Everdell before, you should be able to beat the easier variant. It's a much tighter affair with the medium and challenging difficulty settings. Those failed Special Events being worth six points to Rugwort? The punishments start to amplify the need for absolute efficiency.
You need to build a strong tableau in other areas to combat this. Or, you need to find a way to cycle through cards from a hand-management point of view. Because if the certain Special Event requirements aren't in the Meadow nor your hand, you have to force the issue.
Final Thoughts On… Everdell: The Solo Mode
All the rules you need to learn the solo mode are on one double-page spread of the rulebook. (Only one, if you ignore the medium and hard difficulties.) The level of admin needed to run Rugwort is minimal. Whenever you play a card, roll the d8 and take one from the Meadow for him. Because of this, the solo mode means it's a decent way to learn how to play Everdell in itself. There are next to no clunky, extra rules required.
So how does this compare to playing it with real gamers? Rugwort's worker placement aspect is bland, in comparison to games with an 'automa' deck. (Where you draw a card and it tells you what the bot player does.) While there's a lot less admin involved here - so less distractions between your turns - this element is too predictable for me. Human players throw confusing spanners in the works, and that's what makes strategy games enjoyable. Alas, the lack of that in the worker placement element makes it the weakest part of the solo experience.
But the way in which Rugwort takes cards from the Meadow is infuriating, in the best possible way. And in doing so, you can tell when he's about to trigger Basic Events, which forces your hand. This feels like playing against a real player, and it's tense. If the worker placement aspect of it were like this in equal parallels, then this would be one heck of a rip-roaring ride.
Want to play Everdell at a multiplayer count? Click here to read my How To Play guide for the game at 2-4 players!