The last few months have seen a resurgence of gardening as a popular pastime. When Renegade Games Studios released Succulent early in 2020 they could not have predicted how “on point” this game is. The last six months have seen so many spending their lockdown time on garden projects. Now this game brings the gardening experience indoors, but without the mud.
Now before you close this blog to read instead about aliens across the galaxy or some mythical world - stop, pull up a deck chair, don your gardening gloves and reach for your watering cans. Succulent is a clever and colourful game. You might not choose “plant cultivation” as a theme, but grab your trowel and let us dig a little deeper into our gaming compost. Here you will find a game that is a mulch of so many different mechanics; set collection, area control, engine building, modular board.
Don’t be embarrassed. We’re in good company. The last few years have seen a few garden-related titles such as Cottage Garden, and more recently Tang Garden. Succulent is the latest to join the ranks of games that might appeal to “Britain in Bloom” entrants.
So, before we tackle the game, a few points of horticultural explanation. The title refers to a plant type. Succulents are fleshy, almost pumped up plants. They retain their water in arid climates but these plants are such that if you snap off a leaf and plant it in moist compost it will then regrow to form a full plant from this cutting. This is how succulents grow and how Succulent works.
This is a game for two to four players. The game is set in a garden, made up of eight plots of ground. The centre two are already planted up with a series of five succulent species, randomly placed. The six remaining tiles around the edge are still awaiting cultivation. This is the shared playing area that gamers use to take their cuttings and claim as their “patch of land”. At the start each is given a greenhouse to propagate their plants. This is subdivided into five sections for each coloured succulent type. As each greenhouse compartment is filled with cuttings, so rewards are gained. The game is played out over a series of rounds and will typically take about an hour.
Each round of the game has two steps, performing an action and possible, completing a project. When performing an action, you may choose to: either place a flower bed onto the garden to gain area and take cuttings, or choose to restock and gain more flower beds for later use. As you place flower beds into the garden you claim succulent cuttings that are enclosed. These beds are regularly shaped and players start with just two- a small square and medium rectangle. Some parts of the garden are more valuable, being closer to the water supply. Claiming these areas will give you water droplets for your greenhouse.
The new flowerbeds are released when players claim a stake in a project. These projects are individualized goals that enable points to be scored. To claim the flowerbeds associated with a project a player puts their gardening token on any unoccupied project card. These project cards also indicate the conditions required for completion and points and consequences of being successful.
Thankfully space in the shed is limited so players are unable to hoard more than six flower beds and 10 cuttings at the end of their turn.
Completing a Project
As players place their flowed beds within the garden they can take cuttings of the succulents. Once a player has a series of cuttings they might choose to cash in these to claim a project card. Any gardener’s tokens already played onto these projects are returned to their owners together with a water droplet for their greenhouse. The project row will always contain five cards (or six in a four-player game).
As the garden fills with flower beds so there is a greater pressure on space. Once the last water droplet space is covered by a flower bed then another garden plot (selected by that player) comes into play. As a reward, that player may place one small square flower bed from there inventory anywhere in the garden, claiming any cuttings as needed. The game finishes once a player has played their final flower on a flower bed, or if eight projects are completed (seven projects for a three-player game or six for a four player game).
The final score is a tally of three categories:
- The completed projects cards. These may have a fixed value, others have a variable point scores depending on the condition of the garden, green house or even completed projects
- Scoring spaces within the greenhouse covered with large water droplets
- Remaining items such as cuttings and small water droplets score half points each.
The first thing that hits you is the artwork on the box. This is a visual feast for the eyes. There are plenty of colourful plants or jostling for prime position. Identifying the theme is not a problem here.
Open the box and the rulebook is similarly colourful. The explanations of the stages of gameplay are clear with pictures and diagrams to clarify the games set up. Renegade games also produce a helpful link to a video link to a video on how to play succulent]. This is always useful for certain gaming types. I do like the final page of the rules that contain a reference of all the project cards that are available and how this affects the final scoring.
One word that keeps coming to mind in writing this review is colour. I always worry where a game relies so heavily on colour how this might impact the enjoyment for those who find some colour differentiation difficult. Renegade Games Studios have to have nailed this very well. Every plant in the garden is sufficiently different in hue and design to make colour decisions easy.
The components are of excellent quality. The game board and flower beds are made of very thick card with printing on both sides. The player tokens are gorgeous. I can guarantee that no other game has a shaped lawn-edging knife or trowel among it’s pieces. The project cards are nicely printed with clear instructions as to their scoring value.
The box insert, however, has no specific storage for some of the components. The flower beds are just thrown in haphazardly on top with a rulebook to hold them in place. If you store games vertically, like a book, I can see this box looking like a freshly turned compost bin when it is opened. Perhaps a second edition should also contain a rethink the box compartments. This would accentuate the premium feel of the game.
Gameplay itself is surprisingly “thinky”. There are a number of possible competing strategies. It might be good to start claiming plenty of flower beds in the early part of the game. However, to do so means others will have more opportunity to fill their greenhouses with cuttings and snatch the useful watering spots. As you fill your greenhouse and prioritize certain colours, so you can get a little engine builder going. This makes it easier to gain cuttings of a specific colour and therefore claim further project cards.
Alternatively, it might be wiser to see which project cards are more accessible to you and then tailor your flower beds accordingly. In placing flower beds, invariably you will hinder other players choices. This might be by claiming a colour that they need or by occupying such a space that none of their flowerbeds can fit. Depending on personalities at play, you can almost hear the secateurs being sharpened and ready for a battle in the garden.
Succulent will suit the player who enjoys games with a spatial awareness element to them. It doesn’t need Tetris fitting capabilities but it helps to know what pieces the opponent has and where they might want to play them. A satisfying aspect is when the next part of the garden comes into play. The gamer who claims the last water space can choose which area needs expanding. There is a cascade of scoring possibilities especially if they claim one of the watering spots too. This means a player wants to be the one who plays the last spot in a garden. To do so might mean neglecting claiming project cards. This tension of choices is what makes Succulent a good game.
Every turn provides plenty of options. If another player steals the watering spot, you can still take cuttings or claim more flower beds. Choosing the correct cuttings to allow you to claim the right project card is essential. With only five or six available at any time there is always a dilemma whether to grab a lower value project and use your cuttings, to prevent others from scoring. Otherwise you could wait and preserve your stock until a more lucrative card [perhaps] becomes available.
I enjoy Succulent. The completed boards have a cheery look- almost a rightness about them like a properly planted herbaceous border in a National Trust garden. The four-player game usually lasts about an hour, sometimes quicker depending on the competitive edge of the gardeners. A two-player game will have you cleaning your pruning knives after 40 minutes.
Succulent is one of those games that is cross-generational. My in-laws really warmed to the game. My children (who have put up with years of gardening) are equally comfortable with it. For them, the theme is not so important as the area control and set collecting elements of the game.
Final Thoughts about Succulent
Taking cuttings from plants may not seem too racy as a theme. To make that judgment about Succulent would mean denying yourself a lovely, quality game. This game fits alongside so many games with an ecological slant; Photosynthesis, Arboretum or Bosk. It has a combination of gameplay mechanisms that make it very enjoyable. For this reason, I can see us continuing to enjoy the game during Autumn as we look out at the rain hammering the garden on a Sunday afternoon, remembering the warm summer months we have just enjoyed.
So, for a gardening gaming experience, without the need to get muddy fingers or hit by a thrown trowel, Succulent really hits the spot.
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