Friday, September 14, 2018

Orchard is nine cards of brilliance

Orchard: A Nine Card Solitaire Game (which will be called just Orchard from here on out) won the best overall game award in this year’s Nine Card PnP Contest. I haven’t played enough of the runner ups to judge but Orchard has entered into my stable of regularly played solitaire games.

Orchard is a nine-card tile laying game, something that I’d have thought of as ridiculous a few years ago. And here’s the thing: it not only works but it’s actually good. As far as I’m concerned, that’s an amazing accomplishment.

Mind you, it’s not just nine cards. You also have to use fifteen dice and a couple of markers. That said, you have to use meeples to play Carcassonne. It’s not like it’s a cheat. And I have tried playing without the dice and markers, just using mental bookkeeping. But that’s a pain and makes figuring out your score take a lot longer. Just use the dice.

Each card is double sided and shows a six fruit trees that come in three different types: lemons, apples and plums. You place cards by overlapping cards. Like trees have to go over like trees, using the dice to track the number of layers using the one, three and six pips with four layers and six points bring the maximum. You have two spoiled fruit tokens that let you stack different types of trees but each one costs you three points and you can’t cover that tree. You also have only five dice per type of tree and if you out of dice, you can’t stack that type. After you place all nine cards, count up pips and subtract spoiled fruit for your score.

Having eighteen card faces (you could make eighteen single-face cards and deal out nine per game), the overlapping and the restriction of five dice per type of tree creates a lot of variability in the play and thus a lot of replay. 

My scores have been all over the place. Which probably means I’m not very good at Orchard but I think that also means there’s a lot of decisions and that there isn’t a formula that solves the game. The game only takes five minutes but I will argue that every card placement is a real decision.

The developer has come up with a multi-player variant: assigning a number to each card (I don’t know if he has adjusted faces in any way) and one player drawing a card and calling out it’s number. Everyone has their own set and builds their own orchard using the same cards in the same order. You know, exactly like Take It Easy. Which is clearly a very functional way to do it but I was hoping for fighting over one big orchard :P Still, I can picture Orchard getting published as a one to four player game with this change.

My baseline for PnP games is getting five or ten plays out of a project. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a lazy crafter so a lot of my projects are only a couple pages big. I rarely spend hours on a project and I usually get a decent return for what I put in.

Orchard blows that standard out of the water. Some games I’ll recommend if you like exploring PnP or unusual ideas or solitaire games. Orchard is a game that I would seriously suggest crafting or even ordering from a print on demand if you like short solitaire games. It’s one of the best PnPs I’ve tried and it’s only nine cards and works even in black and white. 

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