How to Build an Arboretum
Arboretum from Z-Man Games and Dan Cassar
In a broad term, an Abroretum is a collection of trees, modern times it has become a term to describe a botanical garden dedicated to trees and woody plants. Even more modern is the 2-4 player hand management, set collection, card placing game from Dan Cassar and Z-Man Games. In Arboretum players compete against each other building the Arboretum that will score them the most points. Sporting a small box that contains 80 cards, 10 different tree varieties (or suits) with 8 cards in each and a 30ish minute play time, Arboretum packs a lot of punch.
Arboretum’s gameplay is deceptively simple. Each player starts with a hand of 7 cards and a discard pile. On each player’s turn they do three things. They draw two cards, they can draw from the draw pile or they can draw from the top of one of the discard piles on the table, including their own. You can mix and match these draws, one from a discard pile and the next from a different discard pile or the draw pile or some variation of that, as long as you draw two cards. Next you play one of your cards in front of you to create your Arboretum. In subsequent turns when you place a card in your Arboretum you have to place it adjacent to one of the previous cards that have been played. Next you discard a card from your hand face up onto your discard pile. The game continues this way until the draw pile is out of cards and the player who exhausted the draw deck finishes their turn. That’s it, that’s how you play the game, the real trick in Arboretum comes in how you score your points.
The tricky part, the true gameplay of Arboretum is how it’s scored and what the players can do to influence who scores points and who doesn’t. First off, players have to gain the right to score a path that they have built. To do this, the players go down the list of tree types/suits and everyone compares who has the highest sum of those cards in their hand, the highest sum gets to score that suit if they have a path of at least two in their Arboretum. There is one exception to this rule, if a player has the eight of a tree type in their hand and another player has the 1 of the same tree type in their hand, the value eight is reduced to a zero and the person with the one card wins the right to score. If no player has a card of a particular suit in their hands then everyone who has a path of that suit gains the right to score as well.
Now, you may be asking yourself, well, I know how to gain the right to score paths, but how do I really score them. In order for a path to be scored each card in that path must be greater in value than the one preceding it. So because of this, the smallest path that can be scored is a two card path of the same color and the longest would be an eight card path that must start with a one and end with an eight. In order to create a path though, the only cards that have to match are the first and the last card of the path, the color of the cards in between only matter in determining the value of the path, but they do still have to be in ascending order. Now that we’ve established what a path has to consist of, you score a path by giving one point for each card in a path, you gain an additional point for each card in the path if it is a path that is at least four cards in length and they are all of the same tree type/suit. Additionally you score 1 point if the path begins with a one card and you score two additional points if the path ends with an eight. In the event of a tie the player with the most different tree types/suits in their Arboretum wins, if at that point it’s still a tie both players will plant a tree and wait five years, the player’s tree that is the tallest at that point is declared the winner(I love that tiebreaker).
So, I really dig Arboretum. I don’t know that there are many games that can give this kind of feel with this small of a footprint, sure the footprint while playing can be a bit overwhelming, but the footprint in the box is super small. It’s really a constant tug of war, if I pick this up and play this, then I am left with this to discard, but I don’t want to discard that because someone else is looking for that card and they can still use it. Thirty minutes of this kind of thinking can probably wear on some players though, the constant decisions could cause folks who tend to overthink everything to bog down quite a bit. Having played it at all player counts, I have to say that I prefer the three and four player games, although I will always play two player as well, but that’s mainly because Gabby really likes playing it this way. With two players the luck of the draw seems a bit more prevalent and it becomes more of a solitairish kind of game to me. You know every discard is potentially wanted by your opponent across from you because you aren’t building anything of that suit, so it ends up being more of a card counting situation and discard the one that hurts the least. Also in two player I’ve seen you just get every card out there in a suit, discard the wrong card early in the turn and your opponent scoops it up and gets every good draw thereafter setting up a huge score on one path which is awfully hard to overcome. That’s about all that I can come up with negative about the game and a lot of people won’t even see those as negatives. As far as the components go, the card stock is pretty nice and the rulebook is well put together and on a nice looking, thick stock. The insert works perfectly and holds the game nicely, even horizontally as long as you have the score pad in with it to hold everything in place. This game is just calling for a nice digital scoring app, so someone with more skills than I should get on that with Z-Man.
Be sure to check out the Week 31 Podcast with my thoughts and also Kerensa’s thoughts on Arboretum.