Here's an attractive and appealing game that can be quickly learned and played by almost anyone yet it's a game that offers scope for strategy.
Designed by Matt Simpson, the core mechanic in Ecosystem is card drafting. The 2–6 players each start with a hand of 10 cards; they take one and pass the others to the player to their left. The cards selected are initially placed face down so that they can be revealed simultaneously. Players then place the card out into a 4 x 5 tableau. After the first card is placed, all other cards have to be orthogonally adjacent to a card already in the tableau. When the card drafting for the initial 10 cards each is complete, the process is repeated with another 10 cards, but this time passing to the player on the right.
Over the course of all this card drafting, players will each have built their own 20 card tableaus. These score in an end-game reckoning according to the cards displayed, with scoring for many of the cards dependent on their position relative to other cards in the tableau. So, for example, a Bear scores 2 points for each adjacent Trout and each adjacent Bee; Bees score 3 points for each adjacent Meadow; sets of Meadows score incrementally for the number of adjacent Meadows (3 points for two; 6 points for three).
Working out where best to position your cards can be quite a puzzler. And because card drafting means hands of remaining cards eventually return to you, you have some idea of what cards are likely to be available to you on an upcoming draft. That's obviously more the case in a two or three player game than if you're playing with a higher player count.
We've especially enjoyed the puzzle element of Ecosystems. The art by Lindsay Falsone adds to the game's appeal, as does the ecological theme, which fits in with the educational mission of publishers Genius Games. And, in a period of extended social distancing, this is a game that lends itself to solitaire play. There are no official solo rules but you can, for example, try drafting with a dummy player that picks a card at random from each hand passed to them. Your aim in playing solo will always be to try to beat your best score.