Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Wednesday 24 February 2021

The Game Shelf Previews:- Three Sisters

Game: Three Sisters

Publisher: Motor City Gameworks

Designer: Matt Riddle & Ben Pinchback

Year: 2021

Designers Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback are behind a couple of my (very different) favourite games, like Wasteland Express Delivery Service and Piepmatz. They are now collaborating under a new self-published label - Motor City Gameworks and there first game, Three Sisters will be coming to Kickstarter on 9th March 2021.

If you're a fan of the roll and write genre, like we are, then perhaps you've heard of Fleet Dice - a game all about fishing that really ups the ante on roll and write games. Three Sisters feels like a spiritual successor to Fleet Dice, with a very different theme and different dice drafting mechanism, but some of the same mechanisms and feel in the combos you can trigger throughout the game. If you like Fleet Dice, or other very combo-centric roll and write games, like the Ganz Schon Clever series, then it's worth learning more about Three Sisters.

Each round, one player will roll a number of standard six sided dice based on the player count. These will be grouped by the number rolled and then placed in ascending order on the various action spaces ahead of the gardener meeple. This will result in dice being associated with one of the main actions of the game, with any pairs rolled giving the same action.  The gardener meeple will then be moved to the next free space after the highest numbered die. Then, in player order, players will take one die and perform two actions with it. The first action is based on the die was taken from, and the second, gardening action is based on the number shown on the die. After all players have drafted a dice, then every player will get to perform the action of the lowest remaining die.

The die's number lets you plant or water in one section of your garden. Your garden has six sections, each associated with a die face. If you choose to plant you get to check off the first box in any two plants in that area (planting a seed), if you choose to water then you get to check the next empty box in every plant in that area of your garden that already has at least one box checked. Two of the plants in your garden are simply worth points, though you can only plant one if the first is tall enough to grow onto. The last plant type, pumpkins, grows in the flower patches and grants you goods, which power up certain actions. In addition when you complete a pair of neighboring pumpkins you'll get to perform a flower action, which grant you instant benefits and end game points.

On top of this die action you can perform one main action based on the action space your dice was on. These vary from shed actions, which let you earn powerful in game abilities or end game bonuses, to gaining compost and goods which grant you the chance to change die faces and gain bonus actions. You may also get the chance to visit the farmer's market, which grants you more powerful actions the more goods you have, or gain extra actions in your garden. Lastly you can gain fruit/apiary actions, which let you gain bees in your apiary, granting various bonus plants and eventually points for honey and wax, or fruits which can give you points, bonus goods or bonus plants. 

On top of all these actions, and the bonus actions you can gain from them, every round will have a one off bonus at the start of the round, this can then trigger further bonus actions based on your plants and shed unlocks before you have even taken a die. At the end of round 8 the players total their scores to find the winner.

Amy’s Final Thoughts
Three Sisters is a surprisingly thematic roll and write game. Perhaps it shows my lack of horticultural knowledge, but when I heard the title I had no idea I was in for an agricultural experience made with thought and care. The game has a great sense of coexistance, with bees being able to help you grow fruit, beans being able to grown up corn, and pumpkins growing between your flowers. This is furthered by the game being littered with bonuses. Pumkins give you goods and can grant you flowers, flowers give you free actions, these free actions you might use to grow blackberries, which give you more goods. Every 5 goods you gain a bonus action, so perhaps you improve your bee hive to get another fruit action to grow a peach which grants you a free water action that then grows another pumpkin for another flower action and even more goods! Three Sisters manages to take the wonderful bonus action chains seen in roll and writes like Ganz Schon Clever and make it (largely) make sense thematically, while maintaining that great feeling of having mega turns.

Of course for these mega turns to feel good, you have to have the opposite sometimes. There are plenty of times when you action is simply to plant some seeds, unexciting, but necessary if you want the eventual fruit. Shed actions can't combo into things by themselves, so often feel like busy work, but can pay in dividends when that new seed spreader grants you 3 plants instead of two each time you plant. Improved tools make the job easier, but time spent making/buying them is time not doing the actual work. It all makes so much thematic sense, as well as giving you the chance to try very different strategies each game. The tendency for big turns only increases as the game goes on giving each game a great sense of progression.

One big drawback to playing two player is that the four 6 sided dice you roll will almost inevitably roll one pair and two other numbers. It's just statistics. When this happens the farmer meeple will move half way around the action circle, resulting in the same player getting first choice on the same action set repeatedly over the course of the game. With the more limited actions, especially the farmer's market, this can hugely limit the players on their potential strategies. It doesn't break the game, but it was a noticeable niggle, of course with more players come more dice and an uneven rotation of the action circle which removes this flaw.

Three Sisters is a fantastic roll and write that manages to focus on that makes playing the genre great while providing an experience far more complex than most games of it's kind. This in turn makes you want to come back to play time and time again to try novel strategies and get that adrenaline rush of the next great combo. Combine this with a clear focus on a fantastic, if not fantastical, theme and you have a real winner.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Three Sisters does not initially sound like a gardening game to me, but when you learn that it is the name for a type of agriculture, where three crops help provide fertile ground for the other, then the theme of this game really comes to life. There are so many small details, like the beans which need to use the corn to climb, the shed actions, which all make sense and provide you with the tools to be better at a certain aspect of gardening, or the pumpkins which provide the fertile ground for the beautiful flowers to grow. It's refreshing to play a roll and write game that is less abstract than most.

The dice drafting mechnism in Three Sisters definitely stands out as something quite unique. It's not the most simple to understand that you both get to activate a plot of land and then take the action, but once you understand that the decision of which dice to take becomes quite tricky. The only drawback is that in a two payer game, the dice almost always roll three unique numbers, so your progress around the track if often split into alternate rounds with the same pattern of actions. We often both want to take a Farmer's Market action, which feels most powerful in the later game, and usually the same person gets it every round.

Mostly though, this game is about the combos. Whether it's a deck-building game, like Dominion, or a roll and write game, like Ganz Schon Clever, it's always fun to trigger a combo - or, in this game, a combo that triggers another combo, and another, and another. It's a gift that keeps on giving and means that some turns are extremely effective and immesel satisfying. There's so many available that there's no obvious path to take through the game and Ive tried many different strategies, picking the complementary shed actions to really maximise the strategy I have for each game.

I really enjoy playing Three Sisters, but it does share one common drawback with Fleet Dice - it's so, so easy to lose track of combos. If it rains, and you complete two pumpkins, which give you progress on the harvest track and then you trigger bonus stars, plus you can grow a daffodil, which gives you a shed action, which do you do first? Did you already take that bonus action? I'm not trying to cheat, but sometimes I wonder whether I have cheated at the end of the game and that can make me not really enjoy my victory. I'm sure that if you play at a slower pace, it's not so hard, but I like to play fast and it was fun to fit a heavier roll and write into my lunch break!

Three Sisters is definitely a step up in the roll and write category, both integrating theme and deeper mechanisms. It's got plenty going on for gamers and should also appeal to friends of family members who can enjoy the theme, much like Wingspan provided a route into a slightly meatier game experience for a broader audience than your typicaly euro game.

You Might Like...
  • The shed is full of ideas to guide you into different strategies in every game.
  • Careful planning, and good timing can lead to huge cascades of combos.
  • Unlike many roll and writes, Three Sisters feels like it really integrates the gardening theme.
You Might Not Like...
  • Your combos can get so out of control that you might lose track and accidentally cheat!
  • At two players the action selection has a risk of becoming stale with the same player getting first pick of the same action every two rounds.

The Verdict
Three Sisters certainly shares a lot of DNA with Fleet Dice, from the same designers, so if you are one of the many fans of Fleet Dice, you will probably love this too. It's got that heavier roll and write feel, along with the potential for an explosion of combos on your turn, which is one of the most enjoyable feelings in a roll and write game. There's lots of depth and variety to explore that really adds to our eagerness to play the game over and over again.

Three Sisters was a prototype copy kindly provided to us by Motor City Gameworks for an unpaid preview. It will be coming to Kickstarter on 9th March 2021.

No comments:

Post a Comment