Teaching Time: 10 mins
Playing Time: 15-45 mins
Setup Time: 1 mins
Value For Money: Low
Basic Kickstarter Edition
Tiny Trees is a super cute, family friendly strategy and dexterity game. Its an early project by a starting company with a lower grade of components than would have been ideal, so I have a lot of sympathy for it but it is a long way from perfect.
Right from opening the box onwards Tiny Trees is a story of ups and downs. On the ups, the game has zero single use plastic, which is perfect given the theme and suggests real attention to detail. Sadly, prior to opening the box I had to pay additional customs and import charges on top of delivery charges, which very much indicated a lack of attention to detail. I opted for the light weight non-deluxe version of the game which came with components needing to be cut out. Being a keen Print and Player I don't consider that too much of a problem but couldn't swear to the level of quality if the game was actually prepared with standard scissors as suggested, I used a steel ruler and craft knife. Seeing that the version of the game I opted for was far from budget for a box not exactly packed with components (46 tree cards and 19 others) it really would have been nice if at least the roots and trunks were in a thicker card stock.
Game play is simple and satisfying. Players take turns choosing either hexagonal "branchlet" cards or smaller flowers to slot into their growing 3D tree, this is where the dexterity element comes in since as trees grow larger and more rickety branches risk hitting the table, resulting in penalties and eventual loss for their player. Once enough piles of cards are empty the game ends and players score based on lifeforms (beetles, birds and mushrooms) and the recurrence of tree types in branches. Extra points are available for completing specific tasks in tree building.
The core of the game is essentially set collection with the sort of gentle competition familiar to anyone who has played Azul or Ticket To Ride, gentle groans when a card you want is claimed but nothing too vicious. Set collection aside the construction element is jolly and gives the game its gentle family feeling, as the trees grow becoming more and more pleasingly wobbly the game takes on a jenga like quality.
The game is very sweet but there are one or two minor flaws. The end game scoring is a little fiddly and made trickier by the 3D trees themselves. On the subject of the trees, while I have sympathy for a "humble" Kickstarter project needing to keep costs down in this case it presents a real problem. Since branches hitting the table generates an in game penalty choosing not to stretch out a branch is a tactical decision. As such thinner card stock makes a reward such as having the widest tree significantly tougher, which becomes difficult to judge as a game balance issue or simply a component one. Finally, its a real pity that while the game leans away from direct conflict, which is very much in the spirit of the game's theme, that the rewards for its direct VS challenges are so mean. Some of the best fun in the game comes from a head to head tussle over building the widest shrub with increasingly weird looking wobbly plants, so handing a mere three points to the winner seems out of balance, particularly since is doesn't scale with number of players.
I don't know if Tiny Trees is going to receive full release, as an independent design with no barcode or CE marking distribution is unlikely, but it would be a real pity if its availability never extends beyond a fairly small Kickstarter. Its very cute and sweet with fun not only in its set collection strategy but also in its dexterity balancing and spacial reasoning based game play.