Succulent is a tile-laying game with elements of set collection and light resource management. With a lovely production and table presence, it is arguably one of Renegade’s most visually appealing releases yet. At its core, Succulent is essentially an abstract game, but it is an enjoyable one for family and gamer audiences.
Here in the Arizona desert, succulents are extremely common. These hearty plants can withstand our intense, triple-digit summers, so they are a favorite for landscaping and home decor in the southwest. (My wife and I both love them.)
Succulent uses these lovely flora as the basis for an abstract game experience. In this game, players take turns drawing and placing garden bed tiles, collecting plant cuttings, and fulfilling goal cards.
To start, 8 tiles are arranged in the center – 6 of them face down – to form the main play area.
Each player receives a personal tableau board…
… as well as two flower bed tiles, their gardening implement, and all the flowers in their color.
The goal of Succulent is to earn the most points. To do this, players take turns either placing garden beds from their supply or taking new ones using their gardening implement.
Each garden bed tile has a number of holes in it. When a tile is placed on the board, its owner receives cutting tokens for every icon the tile covers. For example:
Here, the player has placed a size-2 garden bed, covering a red and a purple icon. The player takes the cuttings in these colors…
…and places one of her flower tokens to mark the tile as her own. If any flowers are immediately adjacent to the newly-placed tile, their owners receive a small water droplet token (more on these below).
Sometimes, an icon on the board includes a droplet symbol, as well. (In the previous example, the space just above the player’s flower shows one.) When a player covers an icon with a droplet, she takes a droplet token and adds it to her tableau board.
Now, here is how the droplets are used:
Each “box” of a player’s tableau board shows a different color of succulent, along with a number of droplet spaces. If a player can fill all the droplet spaces in a particular box, she may then choose to spend them in place of a cutting of the indicated color. Put another way, she can use them as a “freebie” when buying a card. (Players can also earn large droplets, which are not removed when used, and can be worth points at the end of the game!)
This brings me to the cards. I mentioned that the goal of the game is to earn the most points, and the primary way players get points is by spending cuttings to purchase cards.
Each card bears a cost at the top (e.g. 1 purple, 1 orange, and 2 red cuttings, as shown on the left card). If a player has sufficient cuttings (and/or “freebies” from collected droplets), she can purchase a card on her turn. The point values on the cards vary, as do their scoring methods and conditions.
If a player cannot or does not wish to place a tile on her turn, she can instead take new tiles. Doing this also involves the cards. Each card shows a number of garden bed tiles on the bottom, and a player can place her gardening implement on a card to take those tiles. To continue the example above, notice that the red player previously placed her implement on the left card, which gave her a size-1 and a size-3 tile. If a player claims a card with a gardening implement on it, its owner earns a bonus of a large droplet. (Again, these never go away, so they are really awesome to have.)
As players continue to place garden beds, the spaces remaining on the board will dwindle. Whenever a player places a tile such that it covers the last visible droplet icon on the board, that player may flip a new tile, revealing an entirely new section. Getting to flip a tile is significant, because it allows the active player to decide the general direction the board will expand; there are some strategic nuances that go along with this.
The game continues until a player has either placed their last flower or purchased a certain number of cards. At this time, players take one final turn, and then the player with the highest score wins!
Succulent is a lovely game, both visually and strategically. It has that sense of abstract minimalism, with an attractive, but understated aesthetic. Admittedly, the theme could have been any number of things, but the horticulture idea works great. (And the cover art is stunning, to boot.)
I’ll come right out and say it – I rarely, if ever, like J. Alex Kevern’s games. That said, Succulent is easily my favorite of his designs. This game is relaxing to play and it has some cool ideas; the different sizes of droplets, the multi-use cards, the expanding board, and more. I don’t know that it does anything revolutionary, but it takes existing mechanisms and uses them well.
However, there are a couple of issues I found with this game. First, there is some variation between the colors of one of the the plant icons and its cutting tokens. The icon in question is a light, earth-tone green (the color of a succulent), but its cutting tokens are gray. Not a huge deal – it’s easy enough to deal with – but it seems like a slight oversight.
The larger issue lies with the scoring cards. The majority of them are clear in how they work, but a couple of them are worded in such a way that players can interpret their meanings differently. The rulebook has an index of all the cards, but rather than provide clarification, it merely restates what is written on them.
Still, Succulent is a nice, light game. Its pros definitely outweigh its cons. I recommend it, especially for fans of abstracts and folks who, like me, love “pretty” games. Check it out!
A review copy was provided by Renegade Game Studios.
The Bottom Line
I enjoyed Succulent. It is easily my favorite J. Alex Kevern game, and I recommend it to fans of family-weight abstracts.