Beyond the wild wood comes the wide world
I struggle to describe the horrific excitement involved in opening the digital version of my favorite board game. Obviously I want to revel in all things Everdell, but I’m not sure I want, in any way, to prefer the digital experience. Everdell was my gateway into the depth and breadth of tabletop gaming and remains my greatest love. I simply had to try.
I have explored this familiar wood via Steam, though the game will be available soon enough on every digital platform. I have included a number of screen shots to help provide an idea of the operation and the interface for the game’s various activities. I’ve set out today assuming you own some familiarity with the tabletop version. If you want to know more about Everdell, check out our review of the tabletop version!
Everdell comes complete with a full Tutorial for those unacquainted with the world and the base mechanisms. The Tutorial is text-based but includes step-by-step interactive instructions that leave you more than ready for your first adventure.
At a glimpse, the digital environment wonderfully captures the tranquil charm of the Meadow. Butterflies fitter about the various greenery. Fish leap from the passing river. The workers are in near constant motion, peering over the edge of the tree, scratching their itches, and even waving to remind you just how friendly the world can be.
Under the category of local play, there are four available modes: Challenges introduce unusual game scenarios to a solo game in which victory over the two AI opponents is the primary aim. Solo Play is a standard game against a chosen number of automas. Pass and Play enables multiple local players. Rugwort’s Trials are a series of games reminiscent of the tabletop solo mode, battling the devious rat, Rugwort.
Gameplay is as close a facsimile of the tabletop as possible. The home view shows the populated Meadow, the growing City, the various Basic and Forest locations, and the Haven in their expected locations. The Autumn-only Journey spaces have shifted north a bit to a more visible sidebar.
The player’s hand is visible across the bottom with each card available via mouse-over for a closer look. Resources, cards, Season, and Workers are tracked according to their familiar iconography along with a running tally of the score underneath the waiting Worker. Opponents are pictured in the sidebar along with their statistics.
Every location in the game offers information with a mouse-over, keeping the options clear at every turn. Available plays in both the hand and the Meadow are highlighted via a glowing outline, providing a useful assist in decision-making.
In order to see the Cities of their opponents, players must scroll to the right where the full layout takes shape. As Events are added to the City, they appear in proximity. Likewise, any Workers that have been deployed to Constructions show in this view.
The Evertree, along with the various Basic and Special Events, are visible either by scrolling up or clicking the tree icon in the lower right of the screen. Hovering over that tree button reveals a summary of the various Events if you’d like to avoid shifting the view. But if you want to see them in all their earthy glory, you must click or scroll.
Placing a Worker is as easy as a click and drag. In one of the more charming animations, the critters are physically lifted by the scruff of the neck and moved with their legs flailing. Each available location highlights as the critter passes over, along with a description of the location’s action. Letting go sets the critter into a front flip and a smooth landing while the location’s blessings are distributed.
If a turn requires the activation of a card’s Ability, the screen magnifies the decision space and allows for choices via click-and-verify or drop menus.
The running tally, while helpful in assessing the need for very specific cards, often creates an anti-climax when the last Season rolls to a close. Sometimes the score is a foregone conclusion. At other times, the AI simply waltzes by, handing out a crushing defeat. The various modes offer changes in difficulty. I’ve found that the Medium opponents are indeed a solid average challenge. I win some. I lose some. I like that.
On the one paw
I am thoroughly impressed with this iteration of the Everdell universe. The digital play space is a wonderful representation of the game’s personality and beauty. I especially appreciate the little touches that give the greenery vitality, as if the game doesn’t need you to enjoy itself. I love the various graphic conveniences that assist decision-making and the constant availability of player information. Because the game is ever-aware, options that might otherwise have slipped through the cracks move front and center via the golden glow. These aids certainly help each player feel at home in the Meadow.
There are only four critters in the game for players at present: Mice, Squirrels, Hedgehogs, and Turtles. They are limited and, sadly, assigned randomly. I’m sure this will expand sooner rather than later, though, to include the wide variety of fauna from the tabletop. They are as adorable and animated as they ought to be to keep the experience friendly and active.
By far, my favorite avenue of play comes from the Challenge mode. These altered setups present scenarios I would never attempt or even consider on the table. What would happen if all the cards for the Special Events were in the Meadow at the start of the game? What if your starting hand was only three Postal Pigeons? What if you played with one less season? What if you played only one season but with eighteen Workers? Rather than mere scoring dares, these ideas are all about victorious survival, and they are just the sort of thing that help the digital experience to stand out.
On the other paw
That being said: for all the charm and all the convenience of the app, I would never choose to play Everdell digitally when the tabletop game is available.
Though there are numerous hints and tricks available to keep an eye on the various areas of the board, there is never a moment where the whole is wholly visible. Yes, I can scroll up to see the Evertree, but I can’t just glance over with the same ease. Yes, I can scroll right to see my opponents’ cities, but I might have to linger on several cards to really grasp any approach to their strategy. On the table, I can do it all without moving my head and with greater comprehension from a wider field of vision. The app feels constrained and compartmentalized.
As a result, I find I often miss opportunities or moments that would serve me well despite the number of helps. I am often late to grab a card because I miss the fact that the Mouse could take it for free. I forget about their open Inn and the chance to play a card at a discount. I’ve found I score less overall, whether against humans or the AI, because I just don’t have as clear a grasp of the total situation. One of my favorite features of Everdell on the table is just how immersive an experience it can be. I’ve yet to feel that on the screen, no matter how much it appears in bits and pieces.
Compounding this difficulty is the speed of the digital game. Opponents’ turns are instantaneous, which certainly moves the game along. Rather than increasing efficiency, the pace most often serves to decrease my awareness. I watch their moves as they post on the screen, but I cannot see the evolving landscape without an arduous (as arduous as a screen can be) intentional effort. Sadly, this effort changes the game significantly for the worse.
Were I in a situation with limited access, I would happily pull out the digital game. But if I do so, I’m going straight to Rugwort’s Trials or the Challenges without ever a thought for a standard game. I can chalk up the digital shortcomings and distinct environmental challenges to the thrill of something novel. But I just can’t sacrifice the affective charisma of the original.
If you love Everdell and you love digital experiences, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed in this outing. It is worthy of the name. But if you’re sitting atop the fence looking for incentive, I’m not entirely sure this version of Everdell will pull you down one way or the other. If you have the opportunity, I say check it out for the portions that shine with originality and delight. And who knows? You may find this woodland friend more faithful than have I. But if you come to the Pazehoski home for game night, the invitation will be for the original.