Review – Arboretum

Imagine you really love trees, so much so that you want to build your own place to house them. To look at them. To love them.

Say you’re walking through your forest of trees, when you are suddenly attacked by a bunch of ninjas who also really love trees! In fact, they’re trying to tear down your trees because they want their trees to be more prestigious.

Who knew that growing trees was such a militant business?

Well, if you played Arboretum, the great card game originally published by Z-Man Games but now published with breath-taking art by Renegade Games Studios, you might know a little bit of that feeling.


The game was designed by Dan Cassar and the new edition has artwork from the immensely-talented Beth Sobel. Originally published in 2015, the new version came out in 2018. It didn’t have any rules revisions or anything, just different production quality and art work.

What’s this brutal card game like?

Let’s take a look.

The deck consists of 80 cards containing 10 different tree species (so 8 cards in each species, number 1-8). For a 3-player game you are removing two species, and in a 2-player game you’re removing four species.

Arboretum - Cards
Those look so beautiful

Each player is dealt seven cards, and they will always have seven cards in their hand at the end of their turn.

On your turn, you will draw 2 cards. You will then play one card to your arboretum and discard one card. Each player has their own discard pile in front of them. When you’re drawing, you can take the top card of any discard pile (even your own) or the top card of the draw deck.

Arboretum 1
All the pretty colours…

When you play a card, it goes in front of you and has to be adjacent to another card you’ve already played.

That’s basically it!

Review’s done.

(Editor – I think you’re missing some stuff)

Oh yeah! Why are you placing the cards where you are?

Scoring in this game is very interesting, and you always have to keep it in mind when you’re playing cards to your arboretum.

For each species of tree that you score, you have to trace a path of cards in ascending order that starts and ends with a tree of that species. No other card has to be the same species, but the first and last cards do.

You get one point per card in the chain. If your chain is four cards or more and it’s all of the same species, then they’re all worth two points!

You also get an extra point if you use the “1” card and an extra two points if you use the “8” card.

Seems pretty easy, don’t it?

That’s where the ninjas rival arboretum creators come in.

You don’t just get to score every tree in your arboretum.

You have to earn the right to do it.

When the end of the game comes about (when the last card in the draw deck is taken), each tree species is scored. Let’s say you start with Blue Spruce. Each player looks at the remaining cards in their hand and reveals how many Blue Spruce cards they have. Whoever has the highest total value of Blue Spruce gets to score the Blue Spruce trees. It doesn’t matter how many cards you have. It’s the highest total value (so whoever has the 3 and the 4 will beat the one who has the 6). If tied, then you both get to score.

One other thing, though. If you keep the eight in your hand and somebody has the one, then your eight actually becomes zero. Keeping the eight can be risky!

Even if you don’t have any Blue Spruce in your arboretum, if you win the right to score it that means the other players…well, don’t. Nobody gets any Blue Spruce points.

You then go down the score sheet doing the same for each species.

Whoever has the most points is the winner!

Is Arboretum a beautiful lush forest full of nature sounds? Or is it a desolate wasteland that’s had a fire go through it?

I absolutely adore this game, but it really kind of tricks you.

It looks like such a peaceful, zen-like game.

And then it becomes a knife fight in a phone booth (a lush, green, leafy phone booth).

This game can be nasty.

But let’s start with the components.

The cards are pretty good quality. They’re not linen finish but they’ll do ok.

The artwork by Sobel, as I said earlier, is phenomenal. I love the bright colours (it’s very colour-blind friendly) and they are easy to read.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the old and the new (old on the right).

Some people do like the old artwork better, but I like the vivid colours of the new.

The game comes with the 80 cards, a score sheet, and a rulebook.

And it comes in a fairly large box.

Arboretum - Box

And yet this is all that’s in it.

Arboretum - Inside

And the scoresheet (and rules that are the same size)

Arboretum - Scoresheet

That’s it! Other than store presence, did the box really need to be this big? The scoresheet didn’t need two games on each page. The rulebook could have been smaller and squarer.

It’s a trend in games where boxes are much bigger than they need to be, and this is mostly due to retail stores (visibility on the shelf and to help prevent theft).

It’s disappointing in this case.

So the components are decent. How is the gameplay?

This is where Arboretum really shines. As long as you don’t mind a little throat-cutting.

I love the fact that you have to earn the right to score a species. That leaves you with some great decisions based on what’s in your hand. You have three cards of a certain species. Which card do you keep back and which do you play?

What you’ve already played may affect this too. You don’t want to place a five next to a two necessarily. That could hinder your chain-making.

What inevitably happens is that you have the agonizing decision of what to discard. You know one of your opponents is collecting Oak cards, but you don’t want to get rid of anything else because that could hurt you!

At the end of the game, nothing hurts worse than having this high-value chain of cards and then discovering that somebody screwed you over and kept higher value cards of that tree. They don’t have any in their arboretum, but your 12-point chain is worth nothing!

And that’s where this game shines.

You have to really think hard about what you want to do, and what you don’t want your opponents to do.

All of this in a quick 30-minute card game.

The mechanics are simple, and while the scoring can be a bit complex, it’s easy to follow after one game. Thus, it’s an easy teach.

I really like card games, so it’s nice to get some innovation in card play mechanics.

Arboretum has that in spades.

If you’re not into “take that” games, you may not like this one. While you’re not physically attacking your opponents, you could easily be hampering them at the end of the game.

For others, though, this is a fantastic game that’s well worth getting out at the end or beginning of a game night, or on a work lunch break.

You can’t go wrong!

This review was written after 5 plays




10 Comments on “Review – Arboretum

  1. I bought the deluxe edition. Have yet to play though because the foil card scare me. What a horrible decision!!

    But after this I might just have to bite the bullet. Because it sounds great.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, the foil edition just did nothing for me. I’m glad I didn’t spend the extra money. 🙂

      But the game is great! If that’s your only avenue to play it, it’s well worth it.


  2. Great review! I just traded this away in last month’s math trade (on BGG) because it was too cut-throat for anyone I’d be playing it with. Lovely design and great play mechanic, though–just not for us.

    In the interests of full disclosure, I received Tubyrinth for it, which I have not played yet. But it can be played solo and is puzzly, so it looks promising.

    Liked by 1 person

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