Flourish is the latest title from Starling Games and, in James A Wilson, it shares a designer with Starling's ever-popular game Everdell. Flourish is co-designed by Clarissa A Wilson.
From the box lid to the individual cards and 3D components, the beautiful artwork in Flourish leaps out of you. Full credit here to the art team of April Borchelt, Dann May, Christina Qi and Naomi Robinson. You don't have to be an avid gardener to play this game but you can be sure that anyone who loves pottering in the garden will find Flourish immediately appealing. And this is a game that's accessibly playable even by those who have yet to discover the joys of modern board gaming.
Everyone starts the game with a hand of six cards. They choose one to play (initially face down) into their tableau (garden) and pass a face-down card to the player on either side of them (in a two-player game, you pass two cards to the other player). Players then reveal the card they've played to their garden, draw another card to take their hand back up to six, then repeat the process until you each have three cards in your individual gardens. That constitutes the end of the round, and you score at this point for cards that trigger any end-round scoring. This is then repeated till you've played four rounds and have 12 cards in your garden. You then score any cards that trigger end-game scoring.
The cards have symbols on them representing one or more of the five species of plants and/or symbols representing garden features. The cards that trigger round or end-game scoring mostly give you points for plants and symbols in your own garden but some will give points for what's in one or both of your neighbours' gardens and some will require you to have more of a particular plant in your garden than at least one of your neighbours. The icons are commendably clear so that even novice players are unlikely to feel they have to rummage through the rulebook to check what a scoring card icon means.
Play then is simple, but you'll want to think carefully about what cards to play in your garden and when it's best to play them. These mechanics mean that Flourish hits that precious sweet spot of being playable as a light family set collection game while being equally playable by hardened gamers all intent on squeezing the maximum scoring potential from their cards. The game takes up to seven players, and the number of players doesn't appreciably increase the playing time because players are all playing and revealing simultaneously. It's only perhaps the scoring that takes a little longer as you increase the number of players.
A great feature of Flourish is its versatility. You can play it as a competitive or cooperative game. Played competitively, you'll have an eye to what your neighbours are planting so that you can profit from cards that score off their gardens. You'll want to avoid passing them cards that will obviously help them but this isn't a game where you are actively attacking or screwing over your opponents. No-one is ever reliant on the cards they are passed (indeed there's nothing stopping you from passing a card straight back on the next turn) so the card drafting aspect has only very limited impact in competitive play. Where the card drafting really comes into its own is when you play the game cooperatively. In this mode, you are trying to maximise the total score of all the gardens, so you'll be selecting cards to hand on that are especially helpful in boosting your neighbours' scoring as well as your own. We've so far only had the opportunity at Board's Eye View to get in a handful of plays at different player counts but from our initial plays, Flourish is probably at its best as a fully cooperative game.
And Flourish comes with a bunch of options and expansions built in. If you want to cycle through the deck more quickly, you can play a Compost variant where, in addition to passing cards, you have the option to discard a card from your hand into a discard (compost) pile, drawing two cards rather than one to take your hand size back up to six. This variant has the effect of upping your choices each turn so it gives players a chance to shoot for higher scores, albeit at the cost of a slight increase in playing time.
A Garden Show variant involves dealing three ribbon tokens to each player. These are face up and each shows a specific plant or feature. You score a bonus of 7 points if at the end of a game you have more of that plant or feature in your garden than any other player. The rules recommend playing the Garden Show variant over three consecutive games, totalling points over the three games. This variant is intended only for competitive play.
The Flourish rules incorporate a solo option where you're playing competitively against an automated opponent named McGregor. His placements are random so there's not much challenge to beating McGregor but your score will be the difference between your own final total and his. In solo play, therefore, your objective is to maximise the gap...
The game incorporates a Friends & Follies expansion that really adds to Flourish. The Friends expansion is simply a small extra deck of cards. The cards show end-game bonuses that can be scored if their requirements are met (for example, 5 points for every three roses in your garden). Each player is dealt two Friends cards (face down in competitive play; face up if playing cooperatively) at the start of the game and they choose at the end which one to score with. This is a modest expansion but we found it was a useful addition, especially for those coming fresh to the game, as it gave players an objective on which to focus when making their choices over which cards to play into their garden.
It's the Follies expansion that introduces a whole new dimension to the game. You each have a Folly (3D standee) for the five plant types. At the end of each round you can play a Folly onto any card in your garden that doesn't already have a Folly on it. The one proviso is that you can only place a Folly on a card with a matching plant on it. The Follies score for the matching plants on all orthogonally adjacent cards as well as the card they are on; they also score for any adjacent cards which have no plant symbols on at all. There's a 5 point penalty for any Follies that you don't (can't) place out in your garden.
Through careful placement the Follies can help you rack up some impressive scores but they do require players to think much more about card position and juxtaposition. Games take longer too because the rules allow players to rearrange the cards they play each round and they permit placement for the final round at the end of previously played rows rather than in the discrete fourth row demanded in the core game. We love the Follies expansion - and the game we've shown off here on Board's Eye View has the 3D Follies in play, but we'd recommend initially playing without this expansion if you're introducing Flourish to new players. It's great tho' to know that this is a game with which you can step up to the next level, and seasoned games players will mostly want to incorporate Follies, both in competitive and cooperative play.
Flourish is on Kickstarter right now. You can click here to check it out and back the game.