Three Sisters

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Three Sisters is a strategic roll-and-write game about backyard farming. Three Sisters is named after an indigenous agricultural technique still widely used today in which three different crops — in this case, pumpkins, corn, and beans — are planted close together. Corn provides a lattice for beans to climb, the beans bring nitrogen from the air into the soil, and the squash pro…
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Category SKU ZBG-25C22000TFC Availability 3+ in stock
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Awards

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • A gentle but satisfying game
  • Simple to play but plenty of ways to win
  • Lovely to look at and pleasant to play

Might Not Like

  • If you don’t like Roll and Writes, well…
  • May be annoying for those who want to fill every box
  • NO PENCILS?!?
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Description

Three Sisters is a strategic roll-and-write game about backyard farming. Three Sisters is named after an indigenous agricultural technique still widely used today in which three different crops — in this case, pumpkins, corn, and beans — are planted close together. Corn provides a lattice for beans to climb, the beans bring nitrogen from the air into the soil, and the squash provides a natural mulch ground cover to reduce weeds and keep pests away.

In the game, you have your own player sheet with multiple areas: the garden, which is divided into six numbered zones, each containing the three crop types; the apiary; compost; perennials; goods; fruit; and the shed, which is filled with tools that have special abilities. All the crops, fruits, flowers, and hives are represented by tracks that you will mark off as you acquire these items. Many of the tracks are interconnected with other elements in the game, giving you bonuses along the way. A common feature of these tracks are circles that represent a harvest, which generates goods; get enough goods, and you unlock bonus actions. Advancing on all of these tracks offers various amounts of points, advancements, and bonuses.

The game lasts eight rounds. Each round, roll dice based on the number of players, group them by number, then place them on an action space of the circular action wheel, starting with the current position of the farmer; the farmer moves each round, which means that dice showing 1s, 2s, etc. will end up on different spaces each round. Once the dice have been placed, each player drafts one die and uses it as described below. Once everyone has drafted a die, all players get to use the lowest-valued die remaining on the action wheel. A die lets you do two things, which you can do in either order:

Plant or water the numbered zone matching the value of the die.
Take the action of the space from which you removed the die.
To plant, you mark the bottom space of two empty crop tracks. (Note that you can't plant beans until the corn adjacent to the beans is tall enough to support them.) To water, you mark one space in all the crop tracks that already have at least one mark in them. As for the actions on the action wheel, you can:

Plant or water again in the same numbered zone.
Gain one compost (which lets you adjust die values) and four goods (which will get you bonuses at the farmer's market).
Mark off the hive track, which can bring you points, goods, or bonus actions.
Mark one of the four fruit tracks. Each fruit is worth different points and different amounts of goods and has different track lengths and circle positions.
Visit the farmer's market, which gives you points and bonuses based on the number of goods you've collected.
Mark one of the fifteen tool tracks in your shed. As soon as you complete a track, you gain that power or end-game scoring opportunity.
Perennials don't have a direct action associated with them and are marked off only through actions in other areas, with the various perennials giving different bonuses as you mark them.

At the end of the round, all players receive a bonus action, either rain that waters all numbered zones in your garden, a trip to the shed, or a visit to the farmer's market. After eight rounds, you score points for harvested crops, perennials, the apiary, fruit, and some shed items. Whoever has the most points wins.

Three Sisters has a solo mode in which you try to top your own score against an "opponent" that drafts dice and blocks areas of your sheet.

I have a friend (just the one) who, like me, plays games. He, like me, has a beard. He, like me, enjoys certain games and certain types of games more than others. One of the games he likes is Twilight Imperium; one of the types of games he does not like are Roll and Writes.

Can you imagine how he feels about Twilight Inscription? Sometimes I laugh myself to sleep thinking about the thinking behind a roll and write based on Twilight Imperium.

But I digress, which considering that I haven't even started yet is probably not a good sign. Considering that I consider myself to be an okay sort of friend… sort of, it may be a good idea to prepare him for the idea of a truly epic Roll and Write. Now Hadrian's Wall might be a bit too much too soon, but I might have found a gentler, more accessible yet not completely basic entry to roll and writery.

It's called Three Sisters and it's all about gardening; what could be gentler than a bit of gardening?

So put down your pitchfork and pick up your pencil and join me in a spot of gardening without the blisters, scratches and backaches…

Never Were There Such Devoted Sisters…

Three Sisters is a Roll and Write game from Ben Pinchback and Matt Riddle (previously known for creating Fleet) for one to four players based around cultivating a fairly sizeable allotment to bring in a bountiful harvest before winter arrives after eight rounds and earn victory points for your yield.

The Three Sisters of the title relates to a native American growing triumvirate comprised of corn, beans and pumpkins: the corn provides a stem for the beans to train up; the beans provide nitrates for the soil; the pumpkins provide coverage and keep the ground clear of weeds. They also provide corn, beans and pumpkins, which is also nice.

Each player will have two sheets: one that represents their garden, the other that represents their orchard, shed, storehouse and compost heap (I told you this was a fairly sizeable allotment). In each round they will have a chance to mark off boxes in the different areas of the allotment to give them points, unlock abilities, bring them produce and provide compost.

Each round will also have a round event that will allow them to fill in other boxes, so that by the end of the eight rounds each player will be able to boast an impressive cottage garden, regardless of whether they have won or not.

Of course, there will be a winner, so let's look at how to nurture that green thumb…

Not Just A Box Ticking Exercise

As previously stated, each game comprises eight rounds, regardless of the player count. In each round, the starting player (they with the orange pumpkin token) will roll a number of dice corresponding to the number of players plus two (with the solo game, four dice are rolled, but more on the solo game later). That player then places those dice in numerical order on the Rondel board.

This is a board that has both the round tracker and the rondel (mmm, rondel) of actions that you can take in your turn. The actions are Fruit or Apiary; Plant or Water; Shed Time; Farmer's Market; one compost and four goods. At the beginning of the game, the farmer meeple (farmeeple?) starts on the first fruit or apiary space and the dice are placed in a clockwise direction from there - if there are more than one of the same number on a dice, they will both go on the same action.

The farmeeple will then move to the next unoccupied space and in the next round, dice will be placed clockwise from that point.

Once the dice have been placed, the starting player will choose one of the dice and carry out two actions in whichever order they prefer: a garden action and a rondel action. The garden action will be to either plant or water plants in the plot indicated by the chosen dice: planting allows the player to fill the starting box of two plants in the plot, watering will allow the player to fill in the next unoccupied box of every growing plant in the plot.

The plants in the garden are the aforementioned corn, beans and pumpkins. Corn takes the longest to grow but each plant harvested brings three points. Beans can only begin to grow once their adjacent corn has two blocks filled but only need two blocks to be filled to deliver one point for each plant. Pumpkins bring Goods instead of points, which can be used at the Farmer's Market or activate bonuses on the goods track (every five filled boxes on your goods track allow you to fill in an extra square anywhere but your plots) and range from taking one to three blocks to grow.

They also allow perennials (flowers like Crocuses and Daffodils) to be grown between - when two connected pumpkins have been harvested, the perennial between them grows, which also brings their own rewards.

The Rondel Actions Require A Bit More Explanation

Fruit or Apiary - this allows a player to fill in the next available box on either their Beehive track or one of their Fruit tracks. The Beehive track starts as one but splits into three branches, Honey, Wax or Split Hive, so when a player reaches the fork they will have to decide whether to go for points or produce. The Fruit tracks will give different rewards depending on which fruit they are - apples, for instance, produce points whereas raspberries produce Goods.

Plant or Water - this gives the player to take another turn at planting or watering in their dice's allotted plot.

Shed Time - the player is allowed to choose one of the upgrades available in their shed and fill in the next available box. These upgrades range from the useful, such as the Mason Jars that allow you to get goods for blackberries to the pure point-making, such as the New Tractor - which takes loads of boxes to fill but gives you a massive 18 points at the end. Sadly, there isn't an option for a beer cooler or a stack of back-copies of New Scientist…

Farmer's Market - certain plants produce Goods, and it is in the Farmer's Market where these Goods can be used to gain bonuses depending on how many goods you have - the more goods you have, the more bonuses you get and these are marked on the Rondel board so you don't have to go through the rules trying to find them. Handy.

Four Goods and One Compost - we've already looked at what Goods can do for you and jolly good Goods they are too. But what about compost? Well, you know how you might have to pick up four dice and you really need/want a five? Compost allows you to either raise or lower the value of the dice for every compost space you spend - No horse poop.

Once the starting player has used their dice, the next player in sequence chooses a dice and so on. Once all players have acted on their own dice, two dice will remain on the Rondel. The lower value dice will then be used by all players, allowing for a bit of strategic drafting - I won't say hate drafting as this isn't really that kind of game. Let's play nice, kids.

As if two dice worth of actions wasn't enough, each round has its own event: Rainfall, where every player's plots get watered; Shed, where everyone gets to fill in a shed box; and Farmer's Market, where everyone gets to benefit from their hard-earned goods. After this, the orange pumpkin of destiny is passed to the next player and the whole thing starts all over again. You might want to have some refreshment to hand; this gardening is thirsty work.

Once the eight rounds are complete, each player tots up how many points they have gained from reaping their crops, nurturing their perennials, harvesting their beehive and orchards and furnishing their shed. The player with the most points wins and can sit back and drink cider from eleven ('leven, 'leven, 'leven) …

One Man And His Log

I did mention that there was a solo option, didn't I? Well… there's a solo option too. This plays pretty much the same way as above, but there's now an added complication in the shape of Farmer Edith, who is really trying to help, bless her, but is about as much use in a garden as I am i.e., only draft me in if you want something killed.

In every round, Farmer Edith will also take dice and actions, only now she will cross out crops, perennials, fruit, hive or shed blocks according to the number on her dice, preventing them from being completed. Which is a bit annoying, to be honest, but hey, that's what you get with back seat gardeners.

So… I think that covers everything? Yes? Yes.

I Can't Roll And I Can't Write, But I Can Drive A Tractor…

Three Sisters may sound like it has a lot of moving parts, but like most Roll and Writes, it is very intuitive and unfolds in a gentle yet satisfying fashion - like Bingo with combos. The double sheet makes for a lot of variety of play styles and ways to make points - do you go for fruit or bees, focus on pumpkins and perennials, corn and beans or buy a nice shiny tractor and be the envy of your fellow allotmentees - it is up to you, allowing for a lot more tactical rather than strategic play. This may prove irritating to the completionists among us as you can't do everything, so there will always be those incomplete squares or ungrown crops staring at you.

The pads are large and the mark sheets are well set out, highly detailed and double-sided. I would have appreciated the box to come with some pencils or for the pads to be replaced by reusable boards and markers, but that would possibly be too much detail to print on boards that size. The other components are made of food and cute as buttons and the Rondel board is double-sided (for group and solo play), clearly marked out yet charming and bucolic. The rule book is comprehensive (so much so that it includes the rules for an expansion only available with the Kickstarter. Now I'm getting FOMO - thanks guys) and is easy to refer to.

Gameplay is also surprisingly collaborative for a Roll and Write - having to share a dice means an element of 'for the common good' sneaks in here. It's not completely cooperative because there is going to be a winner, but there's little that can be used to 'take that' your opponents.

The solo option is curiously combative though - I mean, Farmer Edith can mess up your plots - but satisfying for practising your combos and a nice way of getting familiar with the game before introducing it to your Roll and Write hating friend. So, would I introduce it to him? Well, I'm sure it will go down better than the time I played 7 Wonders with him. Or Everdell. Or Space Base

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • A gentle but satisfying game
  • Simple to play but plenty of ways to win
  • Lovely to look at and pleasant to play

Might not like

  • If you dont like Roll and Writes, well
  • May be annoying for those who want to fill every box
  • NO PENCILS?!?