(I put “card game” review in the title so you don’t think it’s a review of the planet we live on, or maybe a good gardening company)
Nature seems to be the in thing for games right now. If I had a penny for every nature-based game that has come out in the last couple of years, I’d have…nothing…because pennies don’t exist anymore!
At least in Canada, anyway.
What was I saying?
Oh yeah, nature-based games.
One of my most-beloved nature-based games is Wingspan, a card game where you are playing bird cards to your bird sanctuary board.
I do really enjoy it.
When I heard about the new nature-based card game from Inside Up Games, Earth, I was really enthused.
Earth was designed by Maxime Tardif with artwork by M81 Studio, Conor McGoey, Yulia Sozonik and Kenneth Spond. It plays 1-5 players, though I haven’t tried the solo mode.
It’s a tableau-building card game combining many different elements from some great games.
It reminds me most of Wingspan, but there’s also the Terraforming Mars icon extravaganza as well as the Puerto Rico “one player takes an action and each other player takes a lesser version of that action” mechanic.
How does this thing work?
And how it is it so phenomenal?
Let’s take a look.
Each player in Earth gets a player board that will hold their initial Island and Climate, as well as their Ecosystem card (endgame scoring points).
The board also holds any Event cards that you play (the lightning bolt) and your Compost.
As well, the board tells you what your four possible actions are and what all of the symbols mean.
Basically, the board is a godsend for understanding this game.
Your Island card (teal blue) will give you your starting resources and cards as well as an ability of some kind while your Climate card (orange) will give you one additional ability.
Each card is double-sided so you can choose which one to use in the game. They are worth a variety of points, with the stronger ones worth fewer points. You can get a bunch of points if you don’t want to start off with very much.
Your starting resources will give you a certain number of cards, some of which (most likely, though occasionally you don’t have to) you will have to put in your compost pile.
That can be bad because you drew a bunch of cards you want to use.
However, compost is worth one point per card at the end of the game and you will also often be spending compost cards to do various things.
The cards are either Flora (the green cards) or Terrain (the white cards). Each of them will usually give you either an ability during the game or endgame points (though only Terrain cards give you endgame points).
On your turn, you can do one of four actions.
The green action is to plant cards, which allows you to spend soil to put cards into your 4×4 tableau.
If you take the action, you can plant two of your cards (as long as you have enough soil to pay for them). You will also be drawing four cards and keeping one.
Every other player can plant one card and draw one card.
How are you planting these cards?
You’re going to be forming a tableau of them. When planting a card, you have to play the card next to an already-played card. Differently from most of these games, diagonal is considered adjacent, so you can have a bit of a weird pattern.
You are restricted to 4×4, though. So once a row or column has 4 cards in it, you can’t go any further in that direction.
The red action will get you 5 soil and allow you to compost 2 cards directly from the deck (rather than from your hand). The secondary action is that other players can either get 2 soil or compost 2 cards from the deck.
As you can see from the picture above, much of your Flora will have room for “sprouts” (the green cubes).
Taking the aqua action will get you 6 sprouts (if you have room for them as each card has a maximum) and 2 soil. Each other player can either get 2 sprouts or 2 soil.
Finally, the yellow action lets you just draw 4 cards and gain 2 growth on some of your Flora.
Growth is another thing that many Flora cards have, where you will be stacking wooden pieces on them. Each Flora card has a maximum amount of growth available (the number in brown). You get one point per growth at the end of the game, but if a flora card is maxed out, you get the points in white instead.
During the game, you will be spending sprouts, growth, and compost to do various things, which hopefully will be getting you more points, or at least getting you soil so you can play better cards.
On the cards, you can see various coloured rows on them.
These are abilities that are activated when that colour’s action is taken, either by you or another player.
The yellow ability above give you one growth on a card (it doesn’t have to be that card) whenever the yellow action is taken. The aqua ability lets you spend a growth (again, from any card) to get two of something else (stupid picture-taker…he’s going to be fired).
You have to activate your tableau from top to bottom, left to right, so sometimes where you position your cards does matter.
You will also have some abilities on your player board. You have to decide whether to activate those abilities before or after your tableau. You can’t switch back and forth.
There is a center board with four Fauna cards on it, along with two Ecosystem cards.
When a player satisfies the conditions of the Fauna card, they can put their token on the highest remaining space for it.
For example, the European Mole card requires 20+ soil in a player’s reserve.
Once you have that, you place your marker on the highest available space. If two players do it on the same turn, then it’s done in player order from the active player.
If you’re the first to do it, you will get 15 points at the end of the game. Then 11, 8, 6 and 5.
The game continues on like this until somebody completes their 4×4 tableau. Then play continues until everybody has had the same number of turns (so if the last player triggers the endgame, no more turns are taken).
Which brings us to scoring, and there is a lot!
Played cards (including Events, which can be played at any time and not just on your turn) are worth the points on them, growth is one point each, sprouts are one point each. Your compost is also worth one point each.
Then there are the Ecosystem cards.
On the board with the Fauna, there are two Ecosystem endgame scoring cards, along with the one you chose at the beginning of the game.
The Congolian Rain Forest above will give you 5 points for each pair of cards in your tableau that has 4 or more sprouts on it.
Like in Wingspan, these Ecosystem cards give you the percentage of cards that qualify for it.
All of these cards (Fauna and Ecosystem) are also double-sided, so you can choose which side you want to use at the beginning of the game.
Be ready to count points, and thankfully there is a scoresheet provided, because there will be a lot of them! Usually at least 150 points, and a good game is considered 200+.
Is Earth a beautiful rain forest with lush vegetation and lovely trees in it? Or is it an ecosystem that’s been laid waste?
When Earth first appeared on Boardgame Arena to try out, I played a couple of asynchronous games of it and fell in love.
Even though I didn’t really know all what I was doing!
The rule book helped, but not having the cards in front of me and taking turns asynchronously, I didn’t really get a feel for the flow of the game.
When I got it to the table, though, that love turned to lust.
So much so that we ended up playing it twice that day!
First, the artwork (mostly pictures, but nature is beautiful so the pictures are beautiful) is amazing.
They have really chosen some great pictures of the various Flora, Fauna, and Terrain for the cards.
It makes your tableau look beautiful!
For me, what makes Earth so great is the action selection and card play.
There is almost literally no downtime, except a bit late in the game when some players have so many abilities to activate that it takes them a long time to get through them all.
That’s one reason I really like the order of activation rule, so you aren’t trying to min-max your abilities. You have to do them in order, so your only decision is whether you want to perform an ability or not.
With each player getting to do an action, plus activating all of their card abilities, you won’t be waiting for the next turn for long.
I also really like the many different ways to get points.
Yes, it is a tactical game where you have to go with the cards that you draw, but you do have a sort of guide with your Ecosystem card and the Fauna cards that are out.
Some may find these too restrictive, making everybody focus on the same thing, but I’ve found that it’s not the case for the most part.
In the game I won, I earned 60 points from the Fauna cards, got some sprouts and some endgame scoring, and some growth. My compost pile was mostly empty.
In another game, the winner had a huge compost pile but there weren’t many people getting points from the Fauna.
You take what you are given, but it’s not as random as it seems.
This is almost a lunchtime game, but sadly not quite. All three of my plays have taken almost exactly 70 minutes (67, 67 and 71) and there’s also setup time to include as well.
However, while it doesn’t fit into a lunch hour at work, it is short enough that it’s a great end-of-night palate-cleanser. Even with setup, I would say this is at most a 90-minute game.
Teaching it is pretty straightforward as well. It’s an easy game to pick up and though you might not do well in your first game, by your second game you will have it down pat.
I mentioned the player boards above, but I want to reiterate that here.
It has everything you will need to play this game.
All of the icons are explained, the endgame scoring is explained.
It has a specific place to put all of your soil, and even reminds you of the “spend three sprouts to gain two soil” ability which you can do at any time (except in the middle of an action).
I wish more games had player boards this useful.
The game does take up a bit of space, so make sure you’ve budgeted for that, especially if you’re playing a full 5-player game.
Each player has their tableau and player board, and then the center board is there as well.
You will not be playing this game on your TV tray (do people even use TV trays anymore?)
One minor criticism of the game, and it’s very minor, is that sometimes it’s hard to keep track of everything that you’re going for.
Between the Fauna cards, the Ecosystem cards on the center board, plus your own, it can get a bit difficult.
Add to that any Terrain cards you’ve played that have their own endgame points and your mind might just shut down.
It’s almost like they’ve thrown everything but the kitchen sink into it and it can be a bit overwhelming.
I still find the game wonderful, but even my brain sometimes has trouble processing it.
Especially on Boardgame Arena, and especially when you’re in multiple games at the same time!
It’s also a bit fussy with players putting growth and sprouts on their cards and then taking them off when they’re paying for another action. Having small containers for each piece of wood is really a great idea. I think it would be less fun if the guy in my game group who has this game didn’t already have them all sorted and ready to go.
Overall, Earth is a winner of a game and if it’s not in my Top 10 games played in 2023, I will be greatly surprised (and very happy because that will mean I’ve played many excellent games this year!)
If you get the chance, give Earth a try. Even if you can’t play it on the table, try it on Boardgame Arena.
I think you’ll be glad you did.
This review was written after three plays, along with numerous asynchronous plays on Boardgame Arena
Looks great, but I’ve heard the iconography can be rough at times. Also I’m sure with my group we can smash your max 90 min description 😥
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The iconography isn’t really worse than Terraforming Mars or Ark Nova, I don’t think. And of course time is relative for gamers LOL
More relative to some than others! Haha
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From the description, this sounds a bit dry… but so did Wingspan, and I’m very fond of that. So, you rating it even higher is very high praise indeed!
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I can definitely say that both games sound dry when you talk about them, but they really aren’t.
Well, some people would find them so, but if you enjoy Wingspan, there’s no way that you’ll find Earth dry.
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