Things have sure changed over the past 10 years of talking about products and services that we personally enjoy and recommend. What started out as an outlet for Nicole to talk about new things she was discovering soon turned into an outlet for our family to share details about all the great games we play together. Way back in September of 2009 we wrote about our first game company, Gamewright, and their then-current line of family-friendly titles. It wasn’t until January of 2014 that our Thrift Treasure series began and has been an uninterrupted feature every Sunday on SahmReviews.
But the real catalyst for making games (and toys) our primary feature was our visit to the Chicago Toy & Game Fair in 2013. It was there that we realized that all these new hobby games that aren’t on the shelves of your local big-box store weren’t receiving the online attention they deserved. At that show we soaked up as much information about the industry as we could and started publishing articles and video interviews about the various attendees. It was immediately obvious we had struck a chord with our audience. Today we still continue the Thrift Treasure series every Sunday and talk about all types of games at least three other times per week!
That’s enough about our growth. Having been involved with games for so long we’ve seen companies come and go. Some go out of business while others get scooped up by larger conglomerates. We receive real joy when we see a company issue their first games and then keep producing over the years to become a well-known player in the industry. Such is the case with a company we first talked about back in 2015, Pencil First Games.
At that time they had already published two titles, Lift Off! and The Siblings Trouble, and were in the middle of their latest Kickstarter campaign for Gem Packed Cards. Last year they published Herbaceous, undoubtedly their most popular title to date and one that is still regularly included in our game night bag. Things haven’t stopped there and the following fourteen months has seen two more brand new games along with another Kickstarter campaign! Let’s take a look at what Pencil First Games has been up to!
Legendary Creatures takes a new direction compared to other titles published by Pencil First Games. First, it is set in the fantasy world of Xyleria, a place where apprentices vie to be promoted to the rank of Druid and graduate from Kajan, the School of Life. It also comes in a larger box than the others, except for maybe Lift Off!. Lastly, it could probably be ranked as their most complex game to date. Don’t let that last statement scare you off, once you wrap your head around the game play, you’ll realize that while there is a ton of depth, it isn’t very hard to learn and play.
A full explanation of how to play Legendary Creatures is probably too long for this article, so we suggest taking a look at the video created by the publisher for a great overview of the mechanics of the game. We’ll follow with a brief synopsis of the game’s interactions and theme and let you decide if this is one for your family.
The main goal of Legendary Creatures is to earn Renown by recruiting creatures to join your expedition party, utilizing their spells and furthering your progress through the four realms. Creatures are represented by cards, and you begin the game with a deck of 12. The game is played over three days, each containing three phases (a total of nine rounds). On each turn you and your opponents will draw four simultaneously and choose three to accompany you, with the fourth being set aside until the end-of-day. All chosen party cards are revealed at the same time and the results will determine player order, actions available to you and realms in which you will receive bonuses.
Each player has a pool of three magic spells they can cast once per day. Decide which (and if) you are casting any this phase and then proceed to resolving your Creature Cards when it becomes your turn. When resolving (from left-to-right), you will decide which realm to send your entire party and either take one of the actions on the bottom of each card or collect magic tokens equal to the number on the top left. All of these resources are tracked on your personal player board.
At any time you may spend your collected resources to move up on your current realm track by paying the listed fee for each space. The further you move on the track, the more Renown you will earn. You may also dismiss one of your party members that has not been resolved to exchange it for a new creature from the Vast Expanse pool. These change every round and introduce a minor deck-building aspect to Legendary Creatures. That new creature is immediately added to the recently-vacated space in your party and can be resolved right away.
When the round is complete, all party members are sent to your discard pile and Gifts are assigned to players furthest ahead in each realm. The Day Mark token is then advanced. At the end of a full day the cards which were set aside during the party creation are then compared, with the highest getting first choice of a Landmark card. These have additional awards or powers and also earn you Renown based upon their position. New creatures are added to the Vast Expanse and players can now use all of their Spells again!
There are a number of other items in the game that add variability and chaos to your plans. Spells cast by other players may allow them to move in a realm when you do, Shields prevent all movement in a realm while Amulets give each player their own ability that may be used every phase. The Amulets may also be traded to another player by paying a Renown and giving them your unused Amulet. The receiving player has no say in the matter!
After three days (nine rounds), the game is over and players total their collected Renown tokens along with the Renown value shown under their position in each realm. If there are leftover orbs or magic in the players inventory, receive a point for every five you turn in. The player with the highest overall total wins this game of Legendary Creatures!
While currently advertised for ages 14+, Legendary Creatures is easily a game that can be successfully played by kids as young as 10 as long as an adult were around to help with the rules. The artwork is family-friendly and features known mystical creatures such as fairies, mermaids and unicorns! A very good value at the $50 MSRP, you can find copies available on Amazon right now for under $40!
Sunset Over Water
I guess you could classify Sunset Over Water as the spiritual successor to Herbaceous. Not because it is about food or plants, but because it appeals to the same crowd. One who is looking for a game that is easy to learn, quick to play and beautiful to look at.
Sunset Over Water challenges you and up to three other artists to hike through the wilderness and paint landscapes of the places you visit. You’ll then return to town to sell your creations by fulfilling the commissions ordered by collectors. The most successful artist among you will ultimately be awarded the victory.
Inside the box you’ll find sixty beautiful Landscape Cards along with 30 Commission Cards, 32 Planning Cards (8 for each player), 7 Daily Goal Cards, Player Reference Cards and custom artist meeples for each player. The deck of 60 Landscape cards are shuffled and dealt out in a 5 x 5 grid, which will become the playing area. The rest are set close by as a draw deck. Commission Cards are also shuffled and dealt out in a row until there is one more than the number of artists. Daily Goal cards are also placed nearby, with the top card revealed. All players begin the game with their artist token on the center card.
Sunset Over Water is played over six rounds, each representing one day. At the start of a round you’ll draw three cards from your personal Planning Deck and choose one to play (the other two are returned to the bottom of your deck, in any order). Once everyone has chosen their card, they are all revealed at the same time. The top of the card has a time on it, which will determine player order (earliest going first). In this player order, the next two sections of the card are resolved. The center area dictates the allowed directions the artist may move and the total number of spaces (up to, you do not have to move the entire amount).
The bottom portion of the Planning Card shows how many landscapes you may paint on this day. Pick up one card on the board for each allowed landscape along the path you just traveled, including your starting space, and place it in front of you. Now you are headed to town to try and fulfill any of the available Commission Cards by submitting completed landscapes that match the collectors’ requirements. Each of these commissions have a number printed at the top, representing the number of victory points you’ll receive at the end of the game.
A Daily Goal card is also available to anyone who completes its requirement. This will range from being the last person to move in a particular direction to creating a landscape (picking up a card) with only one feature. But while anyone may pick up the card when they complete the goal, only the last player to do so will get to keep the card (they take it from whomever possesses it at the time).
After all players have painted and ran to town to sell, the round ends. The Wilderness grid is refilled up to 25 cards and the Commission Cards are also repopulated. A new Daily Goal Card is drawn and the next round begins. After six rounds the game of Sunset Over Water immediately ends. Add up the total points depicted on your fulfilled Commission Cards and Daily Goal Cards. Receive a bonus point for every two unsold Landscapes (rounded down), and the artist with the highest score wins Sunset Over Water!
You’ll find your copy on Amazon for less than the $25 MSRP or at your local game store. If they’re not carrying Pencil First Games products, be sure to ask them to begin doing so!
If Sunset Over Water is the spiritual successor to Herbaceous, then Herbaceous Sprouts is the wonderchild. If you’ve ever played Herbaceous, then you understand the theme behind this new version currently available as a pre-order on Kickstarter (through June 18th).
I’m not sure if there’s an official descriptor for games like Herbaceous, Seikatsu, Sunset Over Water and now Herbaceous Sprouts, but around here we call them “relaxing games”. Our unofficial term is due solely to the theme being about a hobby or subject that is calming and serene. We’re not trying to overthrow the king or discovering who is the spy. We’re simply collecting herbs and flowers, much like we would in our own garden.
While Herbaceous was all about collecting sets of herbs, Herbaceous Sprouts expands on that idea and introduces one of our favorite items to the game – dice! Instead of sets of cards, players draft a single card with dice on it to their wheelbarrow on each turn. These custom-printed dice have different herbs or flowers on each face and those are what you’ll use to plant young sprouts into the community garden.
Each turn you will receive a number of dice, but your wheelbarrow will only hold seven of them. The community garden has rules about what can be planted. For instance, in one area you must plant six of the same herb. In another you must plant three different herbs. While one region is reserved for flowers only!
The tool cards you draft with your dice award you with special actions to be used immediately or at a later time. A Watering Can allows you to exchange any two matching Seed Dice to place a Sprout in any open space in the flower garden. A Seed Bag rewards you with a random die drawn and rolled from the bag of dice. And the Sprout Pot acts as a seed when planted, but does not count against your 7-die limit in the wheelbarrow!
Every planting space in the garden is worth a specific number of victory points and the first to sow their seeds in that area takes the highest-valued parcel. After all players have taken their turn, the Tool Card line is repopulated by the next player in clockwise order and another round is played. A game of Herbaceous Sprouts ends once the Tool Deck is exhausted and the final round is played out.
Add up the victory points from all of your Sprouts in the garden and include 2VP’s if you possess the Lemonade Card (earned by being the first to plant in all four different gardens, as long as no other rival sprouts are in all of them) as well as bonus points for leftover seeds in your wheelbarrow if they can be paired up or arranged in sets of three (flower seeds are worth one point). The player with the highest overall total is the winner of Herbaceous Sprouts!
Much like Herbaceous and Sunset Over Water, we expect Herbaceous Sprouts to be very popular on retail shelves. You can guarantee yourself a copy with all of the Kickstarter stretch goals by backing the campaign before June 18th!
It’s obvious Pencil First Games hasn’t rested on their laurels and continues to produce the types of games we all want in our collections. Make sure you’re following them on Facebook and Twitter for the dirt on what’s growing next!
Have you played any games about herb gardening?