Number of plays: 2
Designer: Maxime Tardif
Release Year: 2023
Mechanics: Tableu building, Card Drafting, Hand Management
A prototype of Earth was provided by the publisher for review purposes
Earth, designed by Maxime Tardif and published by Inside Up Games, is an engine building, hand management, tableau building game for 1 – 5 players. In this post I’ll be focusing on the solo mode of play, which takes about an hour to complete. Earth is currently on Kickstarter so if anything I say below interests you, check out their fundraising project here!
How to play
In the solo game of Earth you are pitted against an AI named Gaia who is controlled by a small deck of 6 cards. The setup is mostly the same as the multiplayer game; shuffle the (massive) deck of 360 unique cards, then draw an island, climate, and ecosystem card, which will form your asymmetric starting powers and personal end game victory point goals. These cards are double sided to offer plenty of variety. Four Fauna cards are laid out on the common central board, and two public ecosystem cards give all players further victory points to work towards. After that, you’re ready to start.
On your turn you pick one of the four available actions (Planting, Composting, Watering, and Growing). After taking the benefit the action affords, you activate any cards that have played that contain the same colour as the action you just took. Then Gaia gets a small benefit based on that action.
For Gaia’s turn, draw the top card from her deck and follow the instructions. Most cards will have you adding points to her board while simultaneously giving you a small benefit and activating all the cards in your tableau of a specific colour. A large part of the game is ensuring you’re ready to capitalize on whatever benefit Gaia offers you.
Back and forth you and Gaia play until either you have 16 cards (in a 4 x 4 grid) in your personal tableau or Gaia plays all 6 of her cards twice. Whoever amasses the highest score is the winner.
Earth was a fast game to learn and play. I found it helpful to know some of the design inspirations behind the systems (it was sold to me as cross between Terraforming Mars and Wingspan), but what I didn’t know about was the Puerto Rico-esque action following mechanism where the active player gets to choose an action and gets a big benefit while all the other players at the table get a small benefit. This interaction is simulated well in the solo game, as Gaia will trigger many of your abilities. Knowing what cards still remain in her deck is akin to looking over at another player and estimating which of the available actions they’ll take on.
While it was fairly simple to grasp the rules, I was somewhat overwhelmed with information when I started my first game. Trying to choose the Island card that I would use, and which 2 of the 10 cards in my hand to compost was a bit much. Every plant card has around 7 different features to consider (cost, base points, ecosystems, plant type, tree size, plant cube spots, and potential bonus action), so parsing 10 cards right at the start can be a bit much. In later plays, the shock was nowhere near as bad as I had a deeper understanding of how the mechanics fit together and how to quickly scan the cards for the information I needed.
Designer Maxime Tardif has posted an extensive designer diary talking about how they balanced the cards in Earth (which you can read here). While the value of each card is quite variable based on the goals of each game and other cards that it may interact with, you can be comforted by the thought that even if you throw away a good card, the rest you keep should be somewhat balanced.
Earth has a massive amount of variability ensuring that no two games you play will be identical. With 360 unique plant cards, 32 double-sided ecosystem cards, 23 double-sided Fauna, 10 double-sided Island and Climate cards, every game will have you exploring something new. In one game I focused on building a grove of berry bushes, with each one giving benefits to my other bush plants, while in another game I focused on growing all the trees on my cards to their full height. There’s no obvious single path to victory. Instead, players who are able survey the situation and capitalize on it the most effectively will be rewarded.
I enjoyed my solo plays of Earth. It was relaxing and challenging at the same time. I love the feeling of building an engine, particularly when you happen to get all the right pieces in place and your one action cascades into mountains of points. The AI opponent has four difficulty levels to choose from, so you can make adjustments if you find yourself absolutely trouncing her. The harder difficulties don’t drastically impact how Gaia plays, just how many points she accrues and how much more benefits she earns from each of your actions. I found the Medium difficulty to be the sweet-spot where I had fun and could narrowly eke out a win. I keep looking at the harder difficulties but shying away, waiting for the day where I’m in the mood to get absolutely wrecked by Gaia.
I have to admit that I don’t think there’s too much of a difference between having a dummy player accruing points and a point goal to work toward, but it feels more engaging to see Gaia’s board grow alongside your own. I enjoy the feeling of pressure as I see the mess of cubes and trees on Gaia’s board and only being able to guess at just how many points she has and how in the world am I going to surpass her. Sometimes I’d find myself second guessing which action I should take because the benefit I would be providing to Gaia would vastly outweigh the points I would gain.
While the copy of Earth I received from Inside Up Games is a prototype so none of the components are final, I found the production charming. They chose to use hundreds of breathtakingly gorgeous photographs on the cards. I love the height of the tiny trees as they grow off the table (somewhat reminiscent of Takenoko), but take care! I shudder to think about the calamity the would be caused by carelessly bumping the table and knocking everything askew. I’ve enjoyed following the crowdfunding campaign as they reveal more about the final compontents.
One of the features that I’m really looking forward to is the neoprene play mats. Neoprene play mats isn’t something that’s really tempted me before, but I love the gorgeous imagery on these mats, and having a mat to lay your 4 x 4 tableau of cards onto would be a very nice addition.
Earth is a looker, the mechanics are fun and interesting, and it’s simultaneously relaxing and engaging. I enjoy the different difficulty levels that let me choose if I want to push myself to new heights or if I just want to wind down at the end of the day. I’d love to see Gaia get some more decks that could simulate different priorities or change how she acts in some way, but as it stands, Earth is a quality game that I’m excited to explore further.