WBG Score: 8
Player Count: 1-4
Published by: Rebel Studio
Designed by: Karolina Kijak
It must be lovely to be able to take a long walk whenever you like and see all the wonderful things that nature has to offer. Living in the UK with our cliché amounts of rain however limits this…quite a bit. Luckily I now have Meadow to help me see what nature has to offer and I get to avoid the snakes, it’s a win-win situation…….in fact I may never leave the house again!
Obey the laws of nature.
Setup Meadow by placing the East, West decks on each side of the board and filling the spaces below them with cards the South deck will go in between and fill up the remaining two columns from that deck. Give each player their path tokens. Each player receives a starting ground card and a road token. Decide on a first player then, in turn order each player takes one row of cards from the board and then takes the top card of the North deck. This deck will come into play later in the game. The cards get replaced for the next player to take.
On your turn you’ll play one of your path tokens either on the main board or on the campfire board. Each token has a number on the arrow end and a special ability on the other. When you play onto the main board you place the arrow end into one of the empty notches on the main board and then take the card that is the number of spaces away from your token as indicated by the number on the arrow. Next you get to play a card from your hand into your meadow.
Each card will have a fantastic piece or art on it. (Seriously though you need to stop staring at it and pay attention otherwise we’ll never get through this review.) You’ll also have a symbol in the top left which will be the symbol the card gives you once it’s played. The ones underneath are the requirements you need to have on show in your meadow in order to play the card. You can then play that card in your meadow on top of one of the required symbols covering it up. There will also be landscape cards and these cards play pretty much the same but they will also require a road token. You start the game with one and can acquire more by using one of your path bonuses. You can also discard two cards from your hand to act as a requirement when playing a card. You can do this multiple times for one card but you can't do this for all requirements on that card, you need to be able to fulfil at least one from your meadow.
When you play the token on the camp board using the square end of your path token you’ll trigger a special bonus. This could be letting you take any card on the board, playing two cards from your hand, take two road tokens or look at the top three cards from a deck and add one to your hand. Aside from the power that lets you play two cards, you won’t be able to play a card into your meadow when you use a bonus power.
One other thing you can do when you play a bonus is you can claim a goal from the campfire board. These are tokens set out around the campfire board in a circle with symbols that match the ones on the cards. They create pairs and if you have both symbols of a pair showing in your meadow you can claim one by placing your lowest point marker in the space between them. This will mean that no one else can claim that particular pair.
After half of the rounds have gone by, clear the board of all cards and swap out the south deck with the north deck and refill the board. The north deck will contain cards with higher point values. After a number of rounds score up the points from any goals you’ve claimed and the points from the cards in your meadow.
Indiana Jones and the search for the Edible Dormouse.
Meadow is a beautiful game, there’s no two ways about it. It’s one of those games that you could easily take off the shelf every now and then, shuffle through the cards, admire the artwork, then put it back without even having played it and still feel like you’ve got your money’s worth. I’d encourage you not to do that all the time though because beyond that stunning artwork from Karolina Kijak and Katarzyna Fiebiger is a game that screams “come for the artwork but stay for the brilliant thinky puzzle underneath” As a side note if you’re game does start screaming at you I’d advise contacting the publisher for a copy that isn't possessed
Playing cards and collecting the prerequisites for the cards Meadow is like the plot of an Indiana Jones movie (or if you’re of the younger generation Uncharted) You know where you need to start and you know where you want to get, but the journey in between will have you bouncing here and and everywhere trying to find the best path and just like those movies, the journey is where the joy of the puzzle lies in Meadow. Whilst you stare lovingly at that artwork, so much so that you have to be nudged to take your turn, you’ll eventually spot a card that you want. It could be for its points value or it could be the perfect symbol to nab one of those goals. So you take it, but now you need the requirements visible in your meadow to build the thing and that ain’t gonna be easy. What follows will be a chain reaction of events where you play one card, which then lets you play this other one, but then you need this other one so you can play this symbol there which finally lets you play the big card you initially wanted to play in the first place. That all sounds quite convoluted and in some cases it can be but it’s also a lot of fun trying to puzzle it all out. It’s also not all wasted. Apart from ground cards, each card has a points value so not only are you working towards goals and the bigger cards but you're also still scoring while you’re doing that.
More than just a walk in the park.
Meadow is certainly a game that has you thinking multiple steps ahead and in a perfect world you would be able to take cards at your leisure and nothing would disrupt your beautiful nature filled engine. Unfortunately this is board gaming and other players exist to (to be fair, unknowingly) mess up all of that beautiful work in more ways than one. This is an open drafting game so yes, players taking your cards has its usual frustrations and will have you rethinking your plan whenever this happens. More often than not though the cards they take won’t be the issue. Where they’ve placed their path token will. It's a great feeling when your turn comes around and that perfect card is still left for you to reach out and grab. All you need to do is place out your path token and take it. Then you get the sinking feeling when you realise that none of your path tokens can get you that card either because all the spaces you need to use are blocked, or because you’ve used the token needed to get it earlier in the round. That possibility of having, not only your card taken, but also your path to that card blocked as well really ups the tensions between turns. This increases with the player count because the spaces will fill up quicker and there’s going to be more chance your card won’t be there by the time your turn comes.
This is where the bonuses come into play. These are all going to be useful at some point in the game but all but one of them come with a price of not being able to play a card that turn and that can be a pretty big thing, but the sacrifice may sometimes be worth it.
I really love the puzzle this game throws at you and I love the way you can watch your engine build and evolve. The first few turns and rounds are all really about building it up. You can build ten columns in your meadow and I suggest you try and get as many as you can before that North deck kicks in so you can play those cards, which usually have a few more requirements on them, a bit easier.
Having to cover up a symbol when you play a card gives you so many tough choices to make. Especially when you’ve spent a few turns building up to get a card, only to agonise whether or not you want to cover it, or another one up you’ve worked for, so you can play this other card.
Don’t feed the ducks!
The gameplay itself does scale up well between the 1-4 player counts but the lower the player count the less the cards cycle. If at two, both players take a card on their turn then you’re only seeing potentially two new cards before your next turn. It can be a bit frustrating when none of the cards on the board fit what you’re doing and the new cards don’t either. In that instance it’s easy to feel like you’re playing a token for a card just for the sake of it. Especially if any of the bonuses don’t work for you. It’s always good to have cards in your hand that you can easily discard for a requirement but I’d rather have taken those with a plan in mind and then change track. It would be nice if there was some way of refreshing a row with a bonus just to keep the board state fresh, especially in those lower player counts.
I’m also torn between the length of the game in terms of rounds in the four player game. It’s eight rounds rather than 6 in other player counts. In one respect It does feel like it may be one or even two rounds too long, but on the other hand I have had games where I needed those rounds just so I could finish off the plan I had going. I do appreciate though that it’s that many rounds to give players an equal chance at going first.
This last one is a very me thing and I’m going to quote an earlier film icon I mentioned earlier, Snakes, why’d it have to be snakes!
Learning is optional.
One thing I would like to applaud Rebel for doing is that fantastic card index book. They’ve done a similar thing in Chronicles of Avel (see my review on the site) Each card has a number on and you can look it up in this book and find out the name of the animal, it’s scientific name, a fact about it and you can even use the book as a field journal if you’re so inclined. I love that they’ve done this. It means that none of this information that, while fun, isn’t relevant to the gameplay, can still be included without compromising the art and can keep the cards to a decent size.
Another thing included in the box is five sealed envelopes with thematic cards inside. They’re not recommended for your first game but they can be shuffled into your decks once open. You can open these whenever you want but if you want to have some fun with them then there are some achievements in the rules that you can aim for before you open each one. Some in game, some real life. All mine are open but don’t worry, I’ve not included any of them in the photos.
I do have a lot of fun with this game. The thinky, engine building nature of it gives me a great puzzle to work on and the beautiful artwork gives me something to look at while I’m doing it. Nature themed games are more and more popular these days and this is one I think stands out well amongst them.