Earth by InsideUp Games
Players: 1 to 5
Playtime: 45 to 90 minutes
Perfect for: Groups who love complex, strategic engine builders with a strong theme and multiple paths to victory through resource collection/allocation.
Earth is a game of ecological balance. Over several rounds, players will craft their own biome by populating a custom habitat filled with flora and fauna of their choosing. Taking heed to follow ecosystem “rules” (i.e., the right the living things paired with the optimal home), players can create synergies. Ultimately, the person with the most efficient and comprehensive biosphere will be victorious.
To begin Earth one to five players collect a personal gameboard, leaf tokens, and various cards (representing islands, climates, and ecosystems) for personal use/scoring. The players then build a central gaming area complete with shared resources and objective cards. Once everything is well organized and the goals set, gameplay can begin.
Cards are the key to the Earth. Players will draft various terrains, fauna, and events over the course of multiple rounds. The overarching goal of the game is to “plant” cards strategically into a 4×4 grid—their placement and arrangement often leads to scoring victory points. On a turn, players will have options for which primary action to take. Choices include: 1) planting cards and paying their resource cost; 2) composting cards to score VP later; 3) watering previously planted cards to place sprouts (VPs) on them; or 4) initiating growth on planted cards (also to score VPs). All other players get a bonus follow-on action based upon the primary activity selected. In addition, players can activate event cards which provide immediate one-time bonuses. Play continues until one person has finished planting 16 cards. At that time, players tabulate victory points and the person with the most wins.
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What works in Earth is the incredible balance and immersive experience. Some games just work, and Earth is a prime example. With titles that focus on engine-building, it can be easy for non-active players to become disengaged on others’ turns. Not the case in Earth, thanks to both the follow-on actions and also the amount of mental prowess required to strategize. At the same time, Earth is never overwhelming. There are many avenues to consider and leverage, but only to the point where Earth feels like it gives players options. There’s a natural flow to the proceedings that keeps the entire experience from beginning to end both rewarding and satisfying. Finally, the artwork is absolutely stunning. Designer Maxime Tardif (DiverCity, BrilliAnts) combines gorgeous nature photography and intuitive iconography to make Earth a visual delight.
Players who don’t enjoy non-aggressive games with resource management and world-building may not enjoy Earth as much as others. Despite all of its components and variables, Earth is a rather chill game (although it is hefty enough to take a couple of hours, even with experienced players). This does mean that even with all of the linked actions, players might experience downtime and/or analysis paralysis during action selection. Also, while Earth is competitive in nature, most of the rivaling is a race—players often gain more victory points for accomplishing objectives before their opponents.
Earth is quite simply an exceptional game. It builds upon other games in the genre before it by smoothing out common issues in strategic resource allocation titles. Between the natural synergy, the art direction, the pace, and the measured complexity, Earth sets a new gold standard in design. Earth comes with the highest possible recommendation for nearly all board game groups.
Recommended if you like: Wingspan, Terraforming Mars, Ark Nova