Guide your woodland creatures to victory
Android, iOS, & Steam
# of Players
Dire Wolf Digital
Everdell is a charming worker placement title from Starling Games and designer James A. Wilson that has been brought to digital screens by Dire Wolf Digital. Players take control of an adorable animal faction trying to construct buildings and recruit helpful creatures to expand their cities. A game lasts four seasons of play, at the end of which points are accumulated and the creatures with the most win the game. A digital game can be played in about 15-20 minutes.
Everdell’s biggest strengths are its simple ruleset and its adorable theme. On a given turn players simply choose between playing a card or placing a worker. It couldn’t possibly be any simpler than that! Woodland creatures with their own intermingling civilizations is a trope baked into media since forever, so Everdell packs all of the charm and whimsy you would want from a board game following in that long tradition.
A game of Everdell differs from the next one in a few ways: which goals are available, the card shuffle/deal, and a few randomly selected actions. This is a small list, but it makes all the difference in the world. There are a TON of critter and construction cards in the game so you won’t see them all over the course of multiple games, let alone in a single sitting. Which cards come out feeds into the higher level scoring goals which require you to construct/recruit a specific pair to activate. There are also smaller level goals which have you needing to get a certain number of the different types of cards for a smaller point bonus. Naturally, the critters and construction cards themselves also potentially provide points.
The actions in Everdell are mostly based around resource collection. Sticks, stones, purple things, and oranges are the game’s currency (it’s actually twigs, pebbles, berries, and resin which I learned by referencing the rulebook after typing my wildly incorrect guesses). Place one of your worker turtles on a space to gain a couple of twigs which you can use on your next turn to build an Inn. Pretty standard worker placement stuff going on here.
Everdell came out a few years ago now and has risen up pretty high on the BGG all time rankings, sitting as the 31st best board game of all time at the time of this writing. Personally, having only played it digitally, I can’t quite put my finger on why it is so beloved. I get that the physical version has the benefit of some quality components and a 3D tree structure that makes the whole setup jump off of the table, but the game itself hasn’t hooked me as much as other top tier titles have. Some of the explanation might lay in the implementation details, so let’s jump into those.
Barrier to Entry
The rules here are simple; place a worker or build/recruit a card. The tutorial does a fine job of teaching these points and explains the peripheral rules around different action spaces, cities, etc…
The depth and complexity of the game comes into the cards themselves, but even those are straightforward enough on their own. Each card has fully descriptive text that doesn’t leave any room for misinterpretation. The learning curve here is in how to leverage cards off of each other to build the best woodland civilization you can, and that’s something that can’t be taught through rulebook or tutorial.
Given what the game is, the tutorial does a great job of walking new players through the basics.
Look and Feel
This game looks great on first pass. All Dire Wolf games do, there really wasn’t any question about this aspect of the digital implementation. The theme is carried throughout, from the splash screen to the sub-menus, it all pops off of the screen. Subtle animations are found throughout which you might not notice your first or seventeenth time playing a game, but you will certainly appreciate when you finally do see them.
With that glowing preface out of the way, because the game genuinely does LOOK amazing, this section is also where Everdell loses most of its points in my book. For starters, there is no undo button which is entirely inexcusable at this point but is also an issue compounded by just how small the drag-and-drop areas are when playing this on a phone. The various action spaces are incredibly close together and if you miss by a few centimeters, you are out of luck.
Beyond that, the game consolidates each player’s city area into a series of avatars for the critter/construction card played. This is fine but while learning the game you are going to have to zoom in on them constantly. You can’t actually zoom in enough to get details from the main view, you have to select each individually, read the text, then move onto the next. As cities grow to be sized in the double digits, this becomes a major part of the playing experience, and it isn’t a positive one.
For their part Dire Wolf seems to know this is an issue, they put out an early fix for the common card area (“The Meadow”) by adding a button which brings up the eight cards available in the area to be shown in a view where you can actually read them all. Sure, this is a nice convenience option, but it’s also a fairly large admission that the default game overview isn’t really playable on all devices. That’s not great.
The sum of all of this is that this implementation makes this game very difficult for new players to really learn. Sure, the rules are simple and well explained, but learning what all of the dozens of critters and construction cards do and how they may or may not play off of each other? That’s going to be a tall task if you plan on playing primarily on a phone.
Online multiplayer mostly works quite well. Notifications work, you get real-time and async options, it is cross platform, and so on. A great option I always love seeing is the ability to plug in AI into your online games. If you and a friend want to play async but don’t want to wait on the cadence of adding a third or fourth human, you can plug in an AI or two and still play a larger game.
One more really cool idea in this implementation is that for asnyc games the timeout is three days, if you timeout once an AI will take your turn for you. However, you will get the chance to take your next turn. If the AI is forced to take two turns in a row for a player, then the player is booted from the game. I love this, on a long weekend and forget to check your phone? Let the AI take a turn and come back Monday to keep playing. I’m a big fan when companies go out of their way to implement these tiny quality of life features. Most people won’t ever notice them, but somewhere out there somebody is going to be in the middle of an intense game of Everdell with their friends and this incredibly tiny feature is going to be the difference from them finishing out a great game and getting booted for AI.
Dire Wolf has not fixed their AI problem. I was able to easily defeat Medium AI on my first play of this game. I routinely get trounced in my online games, so rest assured that I am not good at this game. This continues to be a shame that it bogs down all of their apps, but I won’t dwell on it anymore here.
The single player options are really impressive here. You get your standard “play a game with AI” option, but also over a dozen challenges and Rugwort’s Trials which is a take on the game’s true solo mode. The challenges are what you might expect from similar features in this space; the same starts in spring instead of winter, special starting circumstances, non-random Meadow cards, etc… These are all quite cool, but all of them are hampered by the poor AI you will be playing against. Rugwort’s Trials is how you play the true solo mode of the game. The rules follow those included in the physical edition rulebook and even include two difficulty spikes to keep things tough.
Taking an action
I’ve seen a handful of odds and ends bugs since release. There were some crashes and recently I had an online game end but nobody was able to see the final scores. The score issue only showed up once out of all of my games.
The Wrap Up
I suspect Everdell fans who want a great looking implementation that will allow them to play online on their mobile devices will absolutely love this version. It looks great, it has a lot of options, and it plays well.
I suspect that people wanting to use this digital version as a chance to try out and learn the game might be left feeling a bit cold. The UX makes it difficult to get an easy overview of what is happening in the game and requiring so many taps to read card details to try to formulate plans is an unfortunate pain.
Outside of that, the game does suffer a bit from small drop areas on mobile, poor AI, and the lack of an undo button.
I think Everdell digital is a fun way to try the game, and if you are on a PC it probably does everything you would want pretty well. It’s unfortunate that some UX choices really bring down the ability for new players to really jump in and learn the game. That, ultimately, will likely keep this from being a game I return to on a regular basis.