Tabletop Review: Earth
Earth is the newest offering by Inside Up Games and designed by Maxime Tardif, and I have to set some personal bias aside on this one. Before the pandemic, I was able to interview the founder of Inside Up Games and artist of Earth, Conor McGoey, at Origins 2019 (click here for interview). Conor was personable and incredibly gracious at my lack of press experience. He generously donated a handful of premium copies of Gorus Maximus to Stack Up for us to send out in Supply Crates. However, to counterbalance that bias, the whole strategic, engine-building/resource-managing style game, along with the theme, typically isn’t my go-to genre. It’s why it took me so long to play Wingspan, but I digress. The game is from Inside Up, and their track record is solid, so I had to back it when I saw it go live on Kickstarter.
Earth is a beautifully themed, strategic engine-builder/resource-manager style game for 1-5 players. This is definitely one of those games where the rulebook can seem a little overwhelming if you’re new to the genre, but the actual gameplay is surprisingly smooth and intuitive. Players each start with an island and climate on their player board, which grant certain effects, along with a blank tableau that will be filled by planting cards as the game progresses. The game is over after one has completely filled out their 4x4 card tableau, and the goal is to score as many victory points as possible. Players take turns selecting 1 of 4 actions: planting, composting, watering, or growing. Planting adds flora and terrain cards to your tableau, composting gives you the most dirt (which is your currency required to plant), watering mainly produces sprouts, and growing aptly produces growth, all of which award victory points in their own way at the end of the game. Each of these actions corresponds to its own color, and each color allows for a cascade of effects depending on how many cards you and others have in play. Effects can apply to all players, regardless of whose turn it is. Selecting what cards to plant in your tableau is crucial, as it’s most beneficial to utilize synergies between cards to get the maximum payout as those cascading effects take place. There are several other smaller details to the game, but the last main element is the fauna board, placed in the center of the table. Fauna cards are never played, but they exist as objectives that reward a sizable amount of victory points if completed by the end of the game.
It took me a couple playthroughs to really get a feel for it, but the learning process itself was still greatly enjoyable. There are a lot of moving parts - each player only selects 1 of the 4 available actions per turn, but as the game progresses, the rippling effects from that action grow and become more complex. However, as I mentioned before, these effects are highly intuitive. Every element and action taken comes with its own symbol, and each player board does come with a reference section at the bottom to help identify what each symbol means. Once you get used to those symbols, you essentially just follow the trail of effects until you can’t anymore, and the turn passes to the next player. I truly do recommend giving the game at least three playthroughs before making a judgment on it, as there is a great benefit to knowing what kind of cards exist and how they may interact with each other. A lot of the game is planning ahead, and you’re probably not going to know much about what's out there over the course of your first game. So again, give it a few tries before making a final judgment; I guarantee it’ll get easier with each subsequent game.
As one who typically does not steer toward this genre and theme, I was absolutely surprised at how much I enjoyed this game. It’s been well received by the community, but it has reached beyond its borders to someone like me who prefers RPGs, survival horror, and the like and has made me a true fan. It may not have converted me fully to this genre, but the game itself is highly enjoyable and beautifully illustrated. Well done, Maxime Tardif, Conor McGoey, and Inside Up! As someone who is less familiar with this genre, this is more of a personal score on how much I enjoyed the game and a little less objective as I don’t have as much experience with other installments with which I can compare; but I give Earth 9 sprouts out of 10.