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 multiplayer mode of play, which generally takes between 60 to 90 minutes to complete. Earth is on Kickstarter until March 7th, so if anything I say below interests you, check out their fundraising project here!
And if you’re interested in the solo game, you can find my review of it here!
How to Play
In Earth you are an island, with a distinct and unique ecosystem. Your goal is to plant flora into a 4 x 4 tableau that will grant you special abilities and amass points, as its the player with the most points who gets the distinction of being the best island.
Every player starts with 3 double sided cards, an island, an ecosystem, and a climate. These cards will dictate how many cards and soil you start with, grant you a special ability to use throughout the game, and give you an end game scoring condition that only you can fill.
In the centre of the table four Fauna cards are laid out, each offering a unique goal (such as “have 6 plans with 3 or less cube spots” or “have 4 cards completely full, all their growth and plant tracks complete”). Should you accomplish any of the requests of the fauna cards, you’ll earn victory points. The first player to satisfy each one will earn slightly more than those who come after them. On this board two more ecosystem cards are laid down, offering even more end game scoring conditions that all players can fulfill.
Now the stage is set and everyone draws their initial hand of cards based off their individual island. Some will draw 10 cards and need to compost 4 of them, others will draw 3 cards, but get extra soil to start with. Either way, each player will have an asymmetric starting position with their own benefits and drawbacks
The active player chooses one of the four actions (Planting, Composting, Watering, and Growing). That player gets a major benefit based off that action while all other players get a minor benefit. Then all players trigger any abilities on their cards from top left to bottom right that match the colour of that action. Once resolved, the next player becomes the active player, and the game continues in this fashion until someone has completed their 16 card tableau and triggers the end of the game. Play continues so all players had the same number of turns, then the final scores are tallied.
Points in Earth come from a wide variety of places. Cards in your tableau have a base VP, cards in your event space usually have a negative VP, you get 1 VP per card in your compost pile,1 VP per plant cube in your tableau, 1 VP per growth token, unless the canopy has been placed, in which case you gain the completion bonus instead, Terrain cards in your tableau may offer VPs, the Fauna board offers VPs to those who completed them, and finally, the ecosystem cards will offer VPs as well.
Earth is a rare game where the player interactions aren’t negative; you’re not trying to cut your opponents down or steal their resources to gain a better position for yourself. Instead, there’s a beneficial relationship here. When you choose an action all the other players gain a fraction of the benefit you received, and everyone gets to trigger any cards of that colour.
With over 360 unique cards in the main plant deck, there’s no real way to hate draft or otherwise stifle your opponents, other than capitalize on their weaker positions. If you see they’re low on soil, it may be in your interest to choose the Plant action as they may not be able to fully utilize the benefit. Likewise, if you notice that both your opponents are full on cubes but you aren’t, consider taking the action that gives everyone cubes and laugh as they groan!
You won’t get far in Earth if you’re playing this way however. The goal is to grow the best ecosystem you can, and that is only achieved when you can create and maintain a well balanced engine. Having too many cards that produce cubes is a detriment when you’ve reached your capacity. I’ve really enjoyed playing cards into my tableau that create a self-sustaining ecosystem; the first card earns me a soil, the second card let’s me compost a card from my hand. The third card lets me pick up a card from the deck, and my fourth card discards a soil and a compost to earn 2 cubes and 1 growth. It’s so satisfying when you can align your abilities to create the perfect perpetual motion machine.
Earth has been billed as Terraforming Mars mixed with Wingspan. While it has much more in common with the latter, I can see the comparisons to both. Like Wingspan, you have 4 actions to choose from on your turn, and the action you take dictates which aspects of your engine will trigger. It also features point scoring cards based on various features (like 3pts per plant with a colour in its name) which Earth does its very best to inform players of the likely-hood of obtaining cards by including how many cards in the deck include that feature. I’m curious as to how that would change with future expansions, if diluting the deck would modify those odds, or if every expansion that adds cards to the Plant desk will need to maintain the appropriate ratios of cards.
Also like Wingspan the cards of your engine trigger in a specific order, making where and when you place them important. While some will agonize over the loss of efficiency when you’re forced to put a card that scores points based on being adjacent to other cards along the edge, it absolutely does cut down on some analysis paralysis. Considering you’ll be triggering the abilities on your cards on every players turn, it’s nice that you can just start from the top left and go to the bottom right, collecting and converting resources. This step can happen simultaneously and helps cut down on the play time.
While the comparisons to other games like Wingspan are apt, another mechanic I want to touch on is the benefits players give to each other on their turns. Harkening back to games like Puerto Rico or Race for the Galaxy, when the active player picks an action they get a major benefit while all the other players get a minor benefit. This system manages to keep all the players at the table involved, as their actions directly affect and benefit you. It’s wonderful when you’re agonizing over your cards trying to figure out which two you’ll want to plant but being constrained by your low soil supply, then the player before you takes an action that pours soil onto your player board. I really enjoy this positive player interaction and think it’s one of the more interesting parts of this design.
Earth has been fun to discover. I love the slight amount of asymmetry from the start and more as each player grows their engine in a different direction. I particularly enjoyed my friends as all the pieces started to fall into place. When deciding on their first hand of cards and exclaiming “oh! OH! But then… ooooohhh!”, their excitement was contagious. if you’ve enjoyed games like Wingspan or Terraforming Mars in the past, I’m willing to bet that you’ll enjoy Earth. Even if you don’t, at the very least you’ll get to enjoy some really lovely nature photography and learn about some fascinating plants. Like how cool the bleeding tooth fungus looks!
If you’re in the market for a medium weight engine builder that’s high in discovery and low in direct conflict, Earth will not disappoint!
Earth appeals to me in all the right ways