Renature is an area-majority, tile placement domino game for two to four players. With its super cute animal dominoes, nature theme and chunky wooden components, this game is perfect for springtime. Check the weather forecast, grab your picnic blanket and find a lovely stretch of grass to play this competitive, strategic game outdoors....very thematically appropriate*!
(*Game functions just as well inside and during other seasons.)
Each player must attempt to score the most points by growing turf, bushes and trees in certain areas. But to do so, they must first place an animal domino tile in an adjacent space to the spot they’d like to grow one of their plants. Add to this that all players are vying for the most control over areas and you’ve got yourself a nature war!
Prepare To Re-Nature
Full disclosure, the first time I set up Renature I did an awful job. Rules have a tendency to make me anxious. Having watched a how-to-play video first I thought I knew exactly what I was doing. Until I realised that the set up for 2 players and the set up for 3-4 players is quite different. Just ensure you read the correct part for your player count!
Okay once you’ve correctly read the rules, place the main board in the centre of the play area. Put the joker marker on the butterfly. You’ll then need to place all of the flower tokens on their respective squares on the main board. Ensuring each flower is displaying the correct numbers for its area. You’ll also need to place the cloud tokens on their relevant spaces.
Each player needs their player board in their colour and the wooden plant components. These are turf, bush, pine and oak. Plus any neutral components marked on the board. Everyone should also take six cloud tokens. They then place their score marker onto the score track on the main board.
Then from the bag of dominoes, each player takes their number without looking at them. They then place them in a pile in front of them. Again, without looking at the faces of the dominoes, each player will then draw 3 from their pile to form their starting hand. As the game continues all draws must be blind.
We found this bit quite difficult. It’s not that easy to draw a domino from a bag without seeing the face sometimes. In all fairness, we do have quite a small table. So, we were forced to keep our dominoes on the sofa next to us. But, I think it’d be tricky to draw dominoes without seeing some of them no matter which way you went about it.
For a game on the lighter side, the set-up process feels a little complex/long to me, but it’s definitely not something that would put me off playing.
On the main board of Renature, there are two types of space. Brook spaces and Area spaces.
The Brook spaces will become home to your animal dominoes, whilst the Area spaces are where you’ll be planting your various plant life.
At the top of the board, you’ll notice four Brook spaces that have a thick black outline, these are the starting squares for player’s dominoes and once these squares are filled you must place any subsequent dominoes onto the board following the usual domino rules.
The only exception to this is if the animal you are placing/are placing next to is the Joker animal. At the beginning of each game, the joker animal will be the butterfly.
Placing And Planting
Turn structure is pretty simple in Renature, and each turn consists of four parts.
Firstly, you need to place a domino from your hand to the board. Your domino must be next to a domino already on the board, following regular domino rules (two sides matching) or it must be placed onto one of the four starting spaces.
If you cannot place a domino you must return 1 domino to the box.
Next, if you managed to place a domino and there is an empty Area space available which is orthogonally adjacent to your domino, you may place one of your plantlife tokens.
If you couldn’t or chose not to place any of your plants you turn ends here, and you will draw dominoes blindly from your pile until your hand reaches three.
If you did place a plant you will score it immediately. Each plant, no matter the variety will earn you one point. However, depending on which plant you place you may score more, if there are other plants of your colour (or of neutral colour) that are lower in value in the same area. This sounds much more complex than it actually is. Essentially all of the plants have value (turf - 1, bush - 2, pine - 3, oak - 4). You only score extra points if the matching colour/neutral plants are equal to or lower in value than the one you just placed.
Once scoring is complete, move on to refilling your hand and play moves to the next person.
In each area, there is a flower token that displays two numbers, one large number on the top and a smaller number on the bottom.
This little yellow flower offers points to players in two different ways.
Firstly, once an area is enclosed by animal dominoes, whoever has the most points worth of plant life within that area scores the larger number on the flower token. Whoever scores the next highest number of points scores the lower number. In the case of a tie, players cancel each other out and the points go to the next player with the highest value. It’s also worth noting here that the plants must be in your colour, and the neutral colour is now seen as its own identity. If the neutral colour wins, no one gets the points, it does not matter who placed the neutral plant.
The second way to gain points from the yellow flower is by being the player to enclose the area. So if you place the final domino that triggers the first point scoring system, then after points have been tracked on the board, you will take the yellow flower and gain the secret number of points off the back of the token at the end of the game.
An enclosed area is an area with all of its orthogonal borders covered by dominoes. This does NOT include the diagonal spaces at the corners of each area. An area is also considered closed when there is one isolated space that cannot house a domino due to lack of space. An area is NOT considered closed when there is still space for a domino, even if it’s impossible to fill (because all potential dominoes have already been used).
The Clouds Have Power
Another tool at your disposal and always worth keeping in the back of your mind are the cloud tokens. Each player has six cloud tokens at the beginning of the game, and the only way to acquire more is to plant in an area that has more cloud tokens within it. As soon as you plant in one of those areas you get the cloud token immediately, so long as you have space for it on your player board. If you don’t, you may immediately perform a cloud action in order to use it.
Cloud tokens allow you to: Use two to change the joker animal, at any time during your turn; Use three to take another turn immediately or to reclaim one of your plants from any area (scored or not) and place it back to your player board.
The reclaim action costs cloud tokens that are equal to the amount that the plant is worth. So returning a Turf will cost one cloud, a bush is two clouds and so on.
Who Natured Best?
When everyone has run out of dominoes the game ends and final scoring takes place. There are a few things here that can alter the scores quite dramatically so it’s important to be thinking about them throughout the game.
Firstly, any area that was not enclosed is now scored. So that’s every area that still holds a yellow flower token. These areas are scored in the same way as the enclosed areas, however, no one will get to keep the flower token.
Next, you’ll score a point for each unused cloud token that remains on your board.
Then you’ll LOSE points for every plant that is still on your player board. The points lost are equal to the plant’s value.
And finally, you’ll score the flower tokens you earned, by flipping them over and gaining points equal to the number on the back.
The player with the most points wins!
Life in Nature
I really enjoy Renature. It’s a game I’d initially be drawn to because the theme really appeals to me, but it goes further by packing in a great game. I find my happy place in light-medium, abstract strategy games and Renature is packed with strategic decisions, the need to plan ahead and just a pinch of luck.
There’s a lot going in Renature. And for the first few games, you might need to refer back to the rulebook to check you’re scoring correctly and doing so at the right time. But the number of avenues to explore on the road to potential victory are what makes this game so great. All of the different elements, the plant scoring, the enclosure scoring, the cloud tokens can be used in different ways to gain points so you need to be constantly on your toes, trying to predict your opponent's moves and strategies in order to get the upper hand. But the fact that there are so many choices means you can never be 100% certain and have to keep thinking and readjusting your plan as necessary throughout the game!
And to add to all of these juicy mechanisms, the game is also brilliant to look at. The components are all of really high quality, they feel great to hold and play with. The dominoes, which feature an array of beautiful animals that you might find in a forest or wood, could even be used apart from the game as regular dominoes!
My Final Thoughts
Renature is a pretty game with a lot of thought behind it. There are so many choices to be made from the very beginning, that there is potential for analysis paralysis, and it’ll probably take a couple of games before the mechanisms and scoring really start to make sense and you begin to apply new strategies.
But that’s what makes this game really exciting. It’s not the type of game that you can have a complete plan formed before you begin playing, as a lot of what you’re able to do, is going to be connected to the dominoes that end up in your hand. Which means replayability is high.
This game is definitely a keeper in my collection and I’m looking forward to more warm spring days filled with sitting on the grass contemplating how and where to plant my trees!
If you enjoy Renature’s natural theme and area control mechanics, Bosk could be the next game for you. If you love the trees but prefer much calmer tile placement, give the gentle and light Legendary Forests a go. And if competitive play with Critters is your thing try Everdell, for totally different mechanisms, but ultra cute forest dwelling animals!