Herbaceous is back, but now in a “fun-sized” edition!
The game plays exactly the same way as the original Herbaceous, and the only difference is the components themselves. This post is modified from my review of Herbaceous, updated to reflect the component differences.
Herbaceous: Pocket Edition is a compact version of Herbaceous, a card game for 1 to 4 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 20 minutes to play. It’s currently seeking funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $15 for a copy of the game. There are currently no plans for Pocket Edition to go to retail, so it will only be available through this Kickstarter campaign or later directly from Pencil First Games. It’s a set-collection game with a small element of press-your-luck; it’s kid-friendly, both in theme and gameplay, but is also great for adults.
Herbaceous: Pocket Edition was designed by Steve Finn and published by Pencil First Games, with illustrations by Beth Sobel. The solo rules were designed by Keith Matejka.
New to Kickstarter? Check out our crowdfunding primer.
Herbaceous is all cards (except for the garden markers). The Pocket Edition uses half-sized Euro-style cards, and the private garden markers have been downsized as well so they’re the length of the cards. Mini cards can be a bit more difficult to shuffle than full-sized cards, so the size difference will mostly come down to personal preference. At least in Herbaceous you never have a hand of cards, so you don’t have to put up with the experience of managing a bunch of tiny cards at once.
The cards all feature illustrations by Beth Sobel, and they’re lovely: colorful paintings of various herbs that are reminiscent of seed packets and will help get you in the right frame of mind for gardening. The Pocket Edition cards have been simplified to reduce clutter: now they’re just the illustrations, without the text banner and icon indicating the name of the herb. I do wish there were at least a reference card showing the names of the herbs somewhere, but you don’t really need to know the names to play the game—it just helps with the theme and being able to refer to things.
The Container cards depict various types of containers to pot your herbs in, with some icons to indicate what sets of herbs can be put in each container and a scoring chart showing how many points you’ll get depending on how many cards are placed in the container. The layout was changed slightly from the regular edition so that the scoring chart wouldn’t be too tiny.
The player aid cards are double-sided, with the turn order on one side and an explanation of the containers on the other. The icons used on the Container cards are fairly easy to interpret, and once you’ve played a few times you probably won’t need the aid cards at all. I will note that the Pocket Edition player aids are pretty much exactly the same as the old ones, just scaled down, which means the text is pretty tiny.
The Private Garden markers are little cardboard arrows that look a little like planting markers, and are used to delineate each player’s private garden. They’re not entirely necessary (because you can just use your own section of the table) but they’re a nice touch; the graphics and colors match the backs of the container cards for each player.
Herbaceous was already a small-box game, but the Pocket Edition really is pocket-sized: the box is smaller (though thicker) than my phone. It has a simple cardboard divider, so that there’s no wasted space. The game components are all 50% of the original size, but the box is less than 25% of the volume of the original box.
You can download a copy of the rules here.
The goal of the game is to score the most points by potting combinations of herbs in your containers. (Info on the Solo Variant is down below.)
To set up, each player takes 4 different Container cards. The Herb cards and Special Herb cards are shuffled together into one deck. If playing with fewer than 4 players, a set number of cards is removed from the deck without looking at them. The Herb Biscuit card is set aside. Each player has an area in front of them called a Private Garden, and the center of the table is the Community Garden.
On your turn, first you may Pot Herbs if you want, and then you must Plant Herbs.
To Pot Herbs, you choose one of your unused Containers, and then pick Herb cards from the Community Garden and Private Garden that will fit that container, tucking them under the Container card. Each Container has different rules: all identical cards, all different cards, different pairs of cards, and up to 3 cards of any type. The Special Herbs can only be planted in the Glass Jar, and are worth as many bonus points as indicated on the Special Herb card. In addition, if you’re the first to pot one of each type of Special Herb, you take the Herb Biscuit card, which is worth 5 points.
Each Container may only be used once during the game, and you may only use one Container per turn.
To Plant Herbs, you draw the top card of the deck, and choose to place it either in your Private Garden or the Community Garden. Then, you draw the next card and place it in the other location.
If you use up all of your containers, you will still take the Plant Herbs action but will no longer Pot Herbs.
The game ends when everyone has used up their Container cards or when it is impossible for anyone to pot anything.
Add up your points from your Container cards, and whoever has the most points wins!
The finished copy has rules for a solo variant, designed by Keith Matejka (Roll Player).
Setup is slightly different: randomly remove 36 cards (half the deck) and put them away. Then put 1 card in a discard pile (usually there isn’t one), 2 cards in the Community Garden, and 3 cards in your Private Garden. Set the Herb Biscuit nearby.
You may Pot Herbs on your first turn if you want.
During the Plant Herbs step, you place three cards one at a time into the three different locations: Community Garden, Private Garden, discard pile. You may decide where the cards are placed as you draw them, but you must place one in each place.
If at any time you place a 5th card into the Community Garden, all cards in the Community Garden are discarded.
The solo variant ends when you cannot pot any more herbs, or the draw is exhausted (in which case you may pot one more set of herbs). You add up your score as usual, and then compare it to a chart to see how well you scored.
For an extra challenge, play again using the other half of the deck and total your scores.
The 3 Flavor cards are a Kickstarter bonus that can add a little variant to the game. They’ll be included for Kickstarter backers, and then available separately for $5 after the campaign. My Pocket Edition prototype did not include these, so the photo above is from the full-sized game.
You shuffle the three cards, discard one (without looking) and then place one in each half of the Herbs deck. When the card is drawn, all players take the action listed on the Flavor card, which is then discarded, and then another Herb card is drawn to continue the turn.
Since Herbaceous: Pocket Edition is exactly the same game as Herbaceous, just smaller, your choice between the two (or whether you’d want both versions) will primarily be determined by how much you like small boxes. The original game was already pretty compact, though the plastic insert did mean there was some extra space—Pocket Edition trims all the fat, and gives you the same experience in less than half the size. I probably wouldn’t recommend it to new players who have trouble reading small text because of the reference cards and scoring charts, but there’s not a lot to read on the cards if you already know the game. The only other major difference is the tactile feel of shuffling mini cards, which can be more difficult than shuffling full-sized cards, and the lack of herb names on the cards.
The original Herbaceous got our GeekDad Approved seal, so Pocket Edition does too because, well, it’s the same game! The rest of this section is my verdict from the original review.
Herbaceous is a refreshing breath of fresh air thematically—there are no monsters, no swords, no pirates, no spaceships, no magic: just a lot of beautiful herbs. And a bun on a plate—don’t forget the bun on a plate. Don’t get me wrong: I love monsters and swords and pirates and all that—but there are a lot of tried-and-true themes that get used very, very often in the world of tabletop games, and not as many themes that stand out. Sure, there are other games about gardening (and farming especially) but something about the realism of Beth Sobel’s illustrations made this one exceptional.
The gameplay itself is very straightforward, and easily learned. It’s a set collection game, with a very tiny dash of press-your-luck. To score points, you’ll need to get the biggest sets possible in each of your four containers. The Large Pot needs identical Herb cards: if you get all 7 of a kind, it’s a whopping 22 points, but that’s fairly unlikely. The question is, what is likely? Is it worth taking those 4 Lavender right now for 12 points, or should you wait to see if you can get 5 or 6? If you wait, will your opponents pick those Herbs before you get a chance?
The other complicating factor is that another pot needs pairs of Herbs, and another pot needs all different Herbs. So you’re not only competing against other players, but your sets are sort of competing against each other. Once potted, you can’t move things around, either. Deciding when to wait and when to pot is the key decision you’ll make while playing Herbaceous.
The slight bit of press-your-luck comes in the Plant Herbs phase. You draw a card, and decide whether it goes in your own personal stash or out where anyone can take it—but you know the next card will go in the other location. If you draw one of the Special Herbs first, that’s usually an easier decision because those are rare. But what if that means you add another Saffron to the Community Garden, allowing the next player to grab one more pair for their Small Pots? Should you plant this Rosemary in your own garden because you already have several Rosemary? Or should you plant it in the Community Garden in case the next card is that Tarragon you’ve been looking for?
The fact that the Pot Herbs phase comes before the Plant Herbs phase makes it a deliciously challenging choice. If you pick Herbs now, you may draw one more card for this set right after, and you’ll regret it. But if you don’t pick those Herbs from the Community Garden, who knows if they’ll be there by your next turn?
All of this plays out in about 15 to 20 minutes, too. Eventually the deck runs out and people have to plant from what’s available on the table, so you can’t wait too long before picking and potting or there won’t be much to choose from. I’ve tried it with different player counts and it feels pretty good no matter how many players you have (though setup is easiest with 4 because you don’t have to remove any cards). The four-player game is also slightly different in that you know exactly how many cards are in the deck—in a 2- or 3-player game, you won’t know until the end whether some of the herbs you’re trying to collect were removed during setup.
I don’t usually play as many solo games but I did give the variant a shot to see how it felt. It does keep a lot of the feel of the multiplayer game—the discard pile simulates other players taking herbs from the Community Garden or planting herbs in their own Private Gardens—basically cards that you won’t have access to—but sometimes you can see it coming, as in the case of reaching 5 cards in the Community Garden. It forces you to stop and think about whether to plant when there are four cards in the Community Garden, before it gets cleared.
If you want a fun card game to play when you’re not in the mood for slaying dragons or fending off zombies or building a civilization from scratch, Herbaceous is a nice pick fresh from the garden. The Pocket Edition gives it a new form factor for those who like to take their games on the go.
For more information or to make a pledge, visit the Herbaceous: Pocket Edition Kickstarter page!
Disclosure: GeekDad received a prototype of this game for review purposes.
This post was last modified on October 6, 2020 1:59 am
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