Arboretum: Branch Out and Try this Evergreen Strategy Game
Arboretum is a gorgeous 2-4 player strategy card game where players build their very own arboretums from the deck’s ten tree choices. Arboretum’s theme, design, and intrigue quickly made it one of my favorite games in the 30-minute range. If you want to design your dream arboretum but have nowhere near enough room to make a real one, then this is your best chance to do so.
Why I love it
The game’s strategy involves a combination of hand management and tile placement that feels unique to the game and creates interesting dilemmas on an almost turn-by-turn basis.
As a nature and plant lover (and someone who just genuinely enjoys making satisfying aesthetic and numerical patterns), it’s really enjoyable to build arboreta (arboretums? If I didn’t guess arboreta first, I’d disappoint my Latin teachers) with different types of trees in new and interesting ways each game.
Each turn involves decision-making, so it forces players to analyze their options and either prioritize their own scoring or blocking their opponents. Personally, I think playing Arboretum has helped my strategic decision-making in other games too, as it forces players to sometimes let go of some plans in favor of others with more potential.
Who would love it
Gamers or Non-Gamers: Gamers. As a strategy game, I would recommend this more towards people who are willing to devote time into tough choices. While the game is relatively simple, the scoring system can be hard to immediately get a grasp of, so new players may need a game or two to get a full understanding of the game
Competitive gamers who enjoy blocking others’ scoring as much as scoring themselves
People whose favorite part of Lord of the Rings is the Ents
Nature lovers living in cities
People who like strategy games but may not have time or space for heavier games
If you’re not competitive at all and just out here looking to build the prettiest Arboretum possible and are not that interested in winning yourself, you would probably still have a fun time with the game
Who might not love it
People who have trouble making decision (or their game partners who hate waiting for them to make a choice)
If you can’t handle it when another player blocks what you want to do in a game, you might not love the game, as blocking others’ scoring is often as vital as scoring points for yourself in Arboretum
What it is (briefly)
In a turn of Arboretum, players draw two cards, play one, and discard one. This is a simple mechanic, and the game’s turn structure is simple and straightforward. Players build paths in their arboretum, starting and ending with the same suit, and may have any variety of trees in between, so long as the value on each card can ascend from the lowest numbered card to the highest numbered card in the path. These paths can overlap one another and use the same trees, as long as they start and end with the same color, and sometimes paths will be entirely inside other longer paths. The longer the path is, the more points it is worth at the game’s end. Paths are worth double points if they contain only one color of tree and are four trees or longer. The main catch is that only the player with the highest sum of a color in their hand at the end of the game gets to score that suit, unless there is a tie, in which case all players with that value get to score the suit. 1s and 8s in paths are worth bonus points, but 1s negate 8s values in other players’ hands at the game’s end!
When to play it
If I’m packing light for a trip but I want to bring along a few games, Arboretum is always an easy addition
Arboretum is quick and easy to play as strategy games go, so I enjoy it in smaller groups, most often with two players
The game is very strong with 2 players, as decisions are made with more complete information. With 4, the game has more variance from the other parties and introduces more colors, making for more compelling final arboreta
On Arbor Day, or if you’re actually in an arboretum, just for the bit
You might like it if you also like…
Carcassone – similar end-game scoring system and placement design style
Photosynthesis – more for the theme than the actual gameplay
Early on, try to start with a card that you can play off of by one number value up or down; I usually like to start with a 3 or 4, so I can play off of it either up or down and retain the higher numbered cards in my hand.
When arranging your arboretum, try to leave open the possibility of double scoring on same-color paths. I usually do this by arranging trees of the same color vertically and ascending number horizontally. This also enables starting a path on one side with a low number and closing it out on the opposite end without blocking off any numbers or double scoring paths.
If your opponent has played the 3 and 5 of the same color next to each other, it is generally safe to discard the 4 of that color so long as merely possessing the card does not open up the opportunity for them to make a longer path without risking their ability to score that path color. If I must decide between discarding the 4 and 5 of a color where my opponent has already played the 3, I might let go of the 5 first to make them play it, rendering the 4 useless for their paths.
Arboretum fits an interesting niche in my games collection, as it is both a short game and a heavily strategic game. For strategy game lovers, I think it’s bound to grow on you and become an evergreen favorite.