Herbaceous Review

You back out of the door with your coffee and toast in hand, and a book tucked tightly under your arm. You are greeted by the kiss of the warm spring morning and a lung full of the most beautiful, fresh and fragrant air. There is truly something special about the spring; the birds are chirruping, the flowers are beginning to bloom and most importantly, your herb garden is flourishing.

The game setup for Herbaceous is as follows:

  1. Each player receives four Container Cards; the back of the card is the player’s colour.
  2. Shuffle the Herb Cards and Special Herb Cards (72 cards) together into a deck.
  3. Without looking at them, remove cards from the game depending on the number of players:
    • 4 players – 0 cards
    • 3 players – 12 cards
    • 2 players – 24 cards
  4. Place the deck face-down as a Draw pile.
  5. Designate an area for cards in the centre for the Community Garden and an area in front of each player as their Private Garden. Each player places a Garden Marker in their colour between their Private Garden and the Community Garden.
  6. Place the Herb Biscuit Card to the side of the playing area within reach of all players.

The player who most recently cooked with or planted herbs is the starting player and takes the first turn. Players take turns clockwise until the game end conditions are met, and perform the following two steps in this order:

Step 1: Pot Herbs (optional)

As an optional action, at the start of a turn a player may decide to pot herbs. To do so, a player:

  • Chooses 1 of their 4 Container Cards to use.
  • Collects a set of Herb Cards specified by the chosen Container Card and then tucks them under the Container.
  • Herbs may be taken from the Community Garden and/ or a player’s Private Garden in any combination.
  • Each Container Card may only be used once per game.
  • The player may only pot one Container a turn.

Step 2: Plant (mandatory)

After Step 1, which is optional, a player must perform Step 2 if there are still cards in the deck. In this step, the player plants herbs into the Private Garden or Community Garden by doing the following:

  1. The player draws the top card from the deck and immediately decides where to place it:
  • Into the Private Garden in front of the player OR
  • Into the Community Garden in the centre
  1. The player then draws a second card and places it in the location not chosen by the first card. In other words, if the first card was placed in the Community Garden, the second must be placed in the player’s Private Garden (and vice versa)

After the deck is exhausted, players keep taking turns collecting Herbs. Once a player cannot pot any more herbs, that player stops. Continue until everyone has either used all of their container cards or until it is not possible for anyone to pot anything.

When the game ends, each player scores their Containers:

  • Each Container Card lists at its bottom how many points are earned for the number of cards collected.
  • For the Glass Jar, each Special Herb scores an additional bonus of the amount shown on the card. Also, earning the Herb Biscuit adds 5 points.
  • Players score 1 point for each unpotted Herb still in their Private Garden.

The player with the most points wins. In the event of a tie, the player whose Glass Jar has a higher total wins the tie. If there is still a tie, those players all win and should break bread together.

Herbaceous is a stunningly beautiful and elegant game in all aspects. The gameplay is simple and very easy to learn with a great level of strategy and a sprinkling of luck, and visually the game is stunning. I must say this was a game I followed quite closely when it was first announced on Kickstarter for two reasons. One, it is bizarrely interesting, as the theme of the game is something that always resonates with me.  I have purchased games in the past purely based off the theme being something that was different and interesting; and as an ex-chef I love herbs so much. Thus, the theme alone grabbed my attention. The second reason was the game was produced by Eduardo Baraf, who as well as being a game designer, is also a reviewer. I am not bringing that up because I want to help my follow reviewer out, but because before I started reviewing, he was one of the sources I trusted when I looked into purchasing a game. He was someone I found that had very similar tastes to me when it came to games and always gave an honest and in-depth look, so I was very interested to see his game.

When sitting down to play this game, I love watching the reaction of people when you first place the game down. I found for my playing group, there seemed to be a quite a few looks of concern, confusion and yet intrigue when I first placed Herbaceous down on the table. As I explained the game play to them, you could see confusion and concern fade away extremely quickly as excitement started to take over.

We played several games before we tackled the team variant of the game. That’s right; there is a team variant to this game. The game play is almost exactly the same, but team members sit opposite one another so the turns are alternated. This variant really adds a new level of strategy to the game. I find with the single player mode, there is more of a luck element involved when it comes to the card draw and there is less about playing the opponent (in a four player game). The addition of team format still has that luck element but allows for a more strategic style of game play that focuses more on ‘play your opponent’ while assisting your team.  I feel Herbaceous is a good little game but the addition of the team variant really does make it exceptional. I believe if there are four players playing this game, the only way to play it is using the team variant rules.

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Let’s talk about the art. When you think of Herbs, what colour comes to mind? Green. And as you can image there is a lot of green in this game. I know when I first heard about this game I was afraid that the art would let this game down as I felt the art would just be too much green and everything would be far too simple and would make it look bland on the table. These thoughts immediately left my mind when I found out who the artist was; Beth Sobel. Beth is an amazing artist and one I have become quite a fan of. Her knowledge and use of the whole colour palette is stunning. Beth has this ability to use subtle tone changes to make whatever she is drawing stand out. Whether it is a focal point of a card or subtle background it is done with a level of care that makes each game pop on the table. Each leaf of mint or chive stalk has been handled with such love and care, that even when you put the same card next to each other the detail of each just pops and has so much depth.

I can see why Herbaceous was such a hit on Kickstarter. I have only one small complaint, which most definitely wouldn’t stop me buying this game. The Private and Community Garden aspect of the game; I could be wrong, but other than for an end of game scoring aspect, I couldn’t actually figure out during game play why we needed both. You could have only Private Gardens for everyone. In the team variant of the game I like it, as it allows for you to put the cards you think the other team might want in front of them and almost hide the ones you want closer to yourself. But as it takes three turns to get around to you in a single player mode, I don’t think it adds much to the gameplay.

Overall I loved Herbaceous. It has a stunningly interesting theme and I love how different and unusual it is too. It has great replay value, can be taught so easily, has multiple variants of play, and not to mention has gorgeous art.

If you would like to add Herbaceous to your collection (and you really should) you can currently get a copy on Amazon for $19.58 USD ($5.41 off the RRP).

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