Growing Trees, Blocking Points, and other news

Growing Trees, Blocking Points, and other news

Hmm, seems there's a fair few cobwebs around these parts.

Turns out a website is one of those things that quickly makes its way to the back-burner when life gets chaotic. This summer's been just that for me (and, I imagine, for so many people given the, you know, world). When choosing what to trim, making regular ventures to this part of town became a sanity-preserving shave.

However, unlike some crises, I've come out the other side of a busy few months and, with that, we're getting back to it. More regular posts coming, including updates on new books (expect the next one, The Hero's Code Book 3, to launch in September!).

For now, though, I'd like to turn your attention to a mean little game about beautiful trees - Arboretum.

I'll admit, I have a particular bias when it comes to small box games with nothing more than a scoresheet and a deck of cards. My initial inclination is that they'll be amusing affairs, good for a beer-and-pretzel half hour or a light-hearted way to pass a layover.

Some, like Fluxx in its many forms, have a bad habit of over-staying their welcome, dragging a simple premise into an infuriating struggle with random chance. Those I try to avoid, lest beer-and-pretzel become whiskey-and-more-whiskey just to make it through.

Arboretum avoids both fates by keeping its length player-controlled and ups its intensity by giving those same players brutal axes with which to cut each other down. It's fast, it's harsh, and it's also pretty, with beautiful trees on every card.

The goal, you ask? Why, just use the hand you have turn after turn to make a delightful array before you. Every card has a number stamped on it, and you want your arboretum path to walk from lowest to highest. Your #1 Oak ought to neighbor a #2 Oak, then #4 and #7 Oaks for the best score. Of course, the odds that you get all those lovely oaks in hand are slim.

And, even if you do, if you don't have a fifth oak sitting in hand by scoring time, when the slim central deck gets drained (about 8-10 trees placed in our games, though players can draw from discard piles to pad the length), then you won't get anything for your oak implementation. Worse yet, if someone has a higher oak in hand than you, they get to score their oaks while you get nothing.


I've been staring at forty points worth of trees arranged in beautiful, mathematic brilliance only to walk away with five points and a last place finish at the end, all because I underestimated my cutthroat rivals. They cut me off, kept higher number trees in hand, and left me holding the bag. All game I'd been watching the discards, stealing cards I thought I could use, taking trees my opponents weren't, and had nothing to show for it.

All that in less than 30 minutes.

If there's a fault with Arboretum, it lies in that aggressiveness. Because scoring depends on what's held in your hands, players can block each other even on accident, a lucky draw wiping out a strategy. Fragile egos or those easily frustrated by plans not coming to fruition should stay away.

Everyone else looking for an up-to-four engaging, beautiful, experience? Arboretum's a tree worth planting.

A.R. Knight

A.R. Knight