I love games that have an innovative design to them. There’s dozens, if not hundreds, of games where you play in a sci-fi universe, shooting at other sci-fi creatures. And how many games have elves and dwarves and goblins all having it out for one-another? Can anyone even count the number of superhero games on the market? So when I heard about Grow, the game where you grow a tree (not a real tree), I was rather intrigued. I mean, who wouldn’t want to try out “Groot, the home game?” (You can thank my friend Crazy Two-Sheds Fish for that line.)
The good people at Cricket Games sent me a copy to try out.
So let’s sprout into another TGN Review. This time, it’s Grow.
The game contains 1 base, 2 trunks, 12 beetles, 40 leaves, 20 branches, 40 flowers, and 40 buds (the buds and flowers are split into 10 of each of 4 colors). The pieces are made of painted or stained particle board that’s about 1/5” thick. The colors for the flowers and leaves are very bright pastels. When I originally saw the pieces on the Grow website, I thought they were made from colored foam. The paint job on the pieces is very thick and doesn’t scratch off easily. Even after several games, where the parts connect hasn’t worn away much. The paint has become a little shinier in those spots, but it hasn’t flaked away. I was sent a collector’s edition that comes in a very nice, wooden case with a small latch. It fits into a nice carrying bag much like a reusable grocery bag. I was very impressed with the quality of the pieces. However, the balsa wood dividers in the box are rather fragile, so care must be taken when getting out or putting away the parts. The pieces were wrapped in green tissue paper to help keep them from moving around inside the box.
Take the two trunk pieces and attach them to the base. It’s a rather snug fit, so be careful. Then, take out the leaves and separate them into 5 piles of 8 each. These represent 5 seasons of growth. For a quicker game, you could cut back on the number of seasons. Take out a number of branches equal to half the number of leaves (20 in a full game). Each player picks of color flower they want to be and takes the corresponding bud and flower pieces. Each player also gets 3 beetles. Make sure everyone can reach the tree and you’re ready to play.
In Grow, players take turns adding leaves, branches, and flower buds to a tree in order to score points. The first thing a player does is bloom any buds they had placed on the tree on a previous turn (if you have no buds on the tree, skip this step). When a flower blooms, a player gains a beetle. Then they take a branch from the pile, if there still are any, and places it on the tree. Like all the pieces, the fit is rather tight, and while there isn’t an actual “click” or anything you can hear, it’s easy to tell when you’ve placed the piece on as far as it should go. Those two steps are “musts” while the third step is where player choice comes into play. A player can either grow a leaf, place a bud, or use a beetle. Leaves are the points-multipliers of the game. The further a flower is out on a group of leaves (called a Leaf Chain), the more points it is worth. So if a flower is on just the first leaf from the branch, it is worth only 1 point. But if it’s on the 4th leaf out, it is worth 4 points. Placing leaves is also how you gain buds.
If you choose not to place a leaf, you can instead play a bud (if you have any). There are restrictions about where buds can be placed, as a leaf can only support 1 flower at a time. Also, once a leaf has a flower on it, the whole chain back to the branch becomes “locked down” and can’t have new flowers placed on it. However, you could start a new leaf chain from part of the previous one and still score more points that way. If a player doesn’t place a leaf or a bud, then they may play a beetle. Beetles can be used in one of several ways: they can attack an opponent’s flower, attack an opponent’s beetle, or protect one of your own flowers. If you choose to attack, both the beetle you used and the opponent’s piece are (beetle or flower) removed from the game. If you choose to protect one of your own flowers, simply place the beetle on that flower. A player only gets the use of 3 beetles during the game (regardless of how many flowers they eventually bloom), so use them wisely.
Gameplay in Grow follows a very set pattern. Leaves beget buds, buds beget flowers, and flowers beget beetles.
Those three steps are how most turns will go. However, if a player has placed the final leaf for a season on the tree, then at the end of their turn, they must roll on the Event chart. There are 6 events. Half of them are positive, letting players sprout buds or grow flowers, while the other half damage the tree somehow by removing flowers or leaf chains from it. When the final season has finished and the final event happens, players total up their points. For each flower, you count how many leaves they are from the branch (as described above), and that’s the amount they’re worth. Highest point total wins.
I’ve enjoyed playing Grow. However, I found in a 2-player game, the player that goes first gets a jump on their opponent, and it can sometimes be rather hard for them to catch up (unless one of the “bad events” happens to help re-level the playing field), so I recommend having at least 3, and preferably 4, players for your games. While player choices are rather limited to “place a leaf or a bud” on most turns, the use of beetles really adds to the strategy factor of the game. If you’re a fan of avant-garde, different types of games, give Grow a try.