What's Eric Playing? #153: Harvest Dice
Full disclosure: A review copy of Harvest Dice was provided by Grey Fox Games.
Dice games! I got into roll-and-write games a little bit ago, most heavily through Qwinto, a game which I love but have not published the review of as of this post, which is strange. Need to fix that, at some point. But either way, now I keep an eye on fun dice games. Until a few years ago I thought that there was only Yahtzee (and I hate Yahtzee, due to having had to program my own and grade about 40 more instances of other people’s), so I’m pretty glad to be wrong.
Anyways, in Harvest Dice, you’re taking the roll-and-write to the next level and doing a roll-and-draw instead, as you have to make sure that your veggies make it into your field, the market, or the belly of your beloved pig, Pip. Naturally, you want to have the best farm, so you challenge your friends to a farm-off to see who’s further afield than others. Will you be victorious, or will you be put out to pasture?
Setup is pretty trivial. First, decide if you want to play Basic or Advanced mode. (There’s an important difference.) Take the appropriate sheets:
For Basic, note that there are already X’s in the Carrot, Lettuce, and Tomato spaces. That’s an easy way to tell the difference. If you’d prefer Advanced, use the sheets on the right side.
Put the dice somewhere easily accessible. If you’re playing with only 2 players, use 2 dice of each color, not all 3:
If you got the game from Grey Fox, you’ll have a super-cute pig start player marker reminiscent of the high-quality start player marker in Evolution: CLIMATE. If not, you’ll have the tile, so give the start player one of those:
You’ll also note some pencils come with the game, and it’s important for me to show you them, here:
We’re all better off for having seen those. Anyways, give every player one and you’re basically ready to start:
The game has some light similarities to a much lighter version of Sagrada (itself, arguably, a lighter version of Roll Player). In all of those, the start player rolls the dice and then all players draft the dice (each player takes one they want in turn order). When you take a die, you may do one of two things with it:
- Plant the die. Add the symbol representing that vegetable (triangle for carrot, square for lettuce, circle for tomato; though you are allowed to draw nicer veggies if you so desire) to your field. You must plant the veggie in the column matching the number on the die, unless otherwise stated. If you already have a veggie of that type in your field, you must plant this veggie orthogonally adjacent (not diagonally) to that veggie. It’s weird if you try to mix your vegetables and bad for farming, I’m told.
- Feed your pig. If (and only if) you cannot plant the die, you may feed the veggie to your pig, instead, who will grant you abilities some may consider … unnatural. For each pip on the die (so a 6 is 6 pips), you may cross off the next circle in the pig area (going left to right and then top to bottom). If you complete a row, you unlock a pig power! There are two types of pig powers:
- Basic Game + Advanced Game: You may change the value of your die by adding or subtracting one pip (2 -> 1 or 2 -> 3; you cannot increase a 6 or decrease a 1).
- Advanced Game only: You may change the color of your die to any other color (you may plant it as any veggie you want).
Pig powers may be stacked, provided you’ve completed enough rows. At the end of the game, you’ll score the number next to your furthest down completed row. Nice work!
Players continue taking dice in turn order until only one die remains (this means in a two-player game that players will take uneven amounts of dice). This die is sent to the market, meaning that all players check off one of the circles of that type in the bottom-center of their player sheet. This is important for scoring!
The game ends if, during a round:
- Any player fills their entire field;
- Any player crosses off all of their pig spaces;
- All six spaces in the market corresponding to one veggie are marked off.
When that happens, tally points:
- Each veggie is worth X points, where X is the number of spaces in the market that have been marked;
- If you’ve filled out rows in the Pig Area, score the number next to your furthest down completed row;
- For each complete row in your field, score 5 points;
- Advanced: The player(s) with the most carrots, the most lettuce, the most tomatoes, and the most pig spaces marked off each score 5 points for each of those things. If there are any ties, all tied players score the 5 points.
The player with the most points wins!
PLAYER COUNT DIFFERENCES
Well, at four, it’s possible that if you’re going last you won’t even get an option for a veggie of a certain color, since there are only three dice, but either way you should keep an eye on who’s taking what (especially in advanced mode, as it’s pretty much impossible to get the most of everything). If you fight someone for control of a certain veggie, you’ll both lose, since hardly any of those will get to the market. That said, the contention is a really cool part of the game, so I’d probably recommend it (as I do with most drafting games) at three or four, but only slightly. I still think it’s fun at two.
- Keep an eye on what’s being picked (or not!). If you don’t, you risk taking the most of something that’s never going to market, so you get stuck with very low-value veggies (or worse, in Advanced Mode, where they start at 0, worthless veggies). You should eventually try to take some high-value veggies if for no other reason than preventing the game ending while your veggies are mostly worthless.
- Don’t screw yourself over. If you take a red, orange, and green 4, then you literally can only take 3s and 5s until you can take 2s or 6s, which makes your game hard, unless your goal was to feed the pig the entire time. Try to spread your veggies out.
- Don’t feed the pig 1s. They’re not super useful (you don’t get anything for them, basically), so it’s not worth taking them when you could plant them instead. To that end, actually:
- Try to fill out your 6s quickly. You want 6s to become unplantable quickly so you can fill out rows in the Pig Area fast, so I usually try to plant those first or second, if I can. That way, once it’s full, I can take the die and feed it straight to the pig for a free row + pig power. That’s not a bad deal, until your opponents notice that and start using it, themselves. Sad times.
- Complete rows. They’re 5 free points; you basically should just always be trying to do that.
- Start in the middle of a column. That means you have 4 potential places to go after your first placement. If you start at the top or bottom, you lose out on a potential placement option. That’s … not great.
PROS, MEHS, AND CONS
- Cute theme. Farms are fun! And it’s family-friendly, though I haven’t really seen a ton of family-unfriendly roll-and-writes. And I’m pretty sure I don’t want to.
- $15 is not a bad price. I try not to wade too much into the economics of how-much-do-games-cost-and-how-much-can-I-really-comment-on-games-that-I-get-for-free, but, in the interest of doing just that, this is a solid stocking stuffer or light gift for the gamer in your friend group / family / office pod / robotic hive mind.
- Nice art and graphics. It’s very upbeat and friendly and inviting. It’s very well done. The dice are nice and bright, the whole thing just kinda feels welcoming.
- Easy to learn. It’s a dice-drafting roll-and-write. Pretty simple and straightforward.
- Plays pretty quickly. It’s a bit longer than my usual roll-and-writes, but again, I’ve just been playing Qwinto and that game is ridiculously fast to play.
- Easy to transport. It’s just dice and a pad, which is the lovely part about roll-and-writes.
- I like that there’s a basic and an advanced version. I think the gamers I’ve played with can handle advanced out the gate, but it’s nice to have a simpler version to teach people who might be unfamiliar with drafting games or roll-and-writes. It’s thoughtful.
- I really like the drawing aspect. It’s a simple enough schtick, but it really makes the game memorable and fun. Much more so than writing a number or a letter or something. Plus, some of my friends are really good at drawing, and I am not, so that makes it more entertaining, as well.
- Roll-and-write games with expendable scoring sheets always fill me with existential dread. I can’t really control it; I just start thinking about what happens if / when I eventually run out of sheets and then I think about the future and it stresses me out. It’s not really Harvest Dice’s fault, but I bought a laminator, so hopefully I can fix this problem for future iterations of existential dread.
- The Basic and Advanced board differences are pretty subtle. It would have been nice if they had a different background color or something more prominent that said “Basic” and “Advanced” rather than just relying on the extra parts to illustrate their point.
- The whole Pig thing seems to reward sixes far more than ones, and I’m not sure why. I think there’s a design thing that I just don’t get, but they’ve got the same probability of being rolled, so why do the actual number of pips matter? One thing I appreciated about Unearth, for instance, was its decision to make middle-of-the-road rolls the most undesirable, rather than low or high rolls. This game seems to make high rolls more desirable, though.
- The advanced game seems much more interesting at more than two players. The whole “bonus points for having the most of X or Y” is never particularly fun at two, no matter what game, since it’s just kind of a tug-of-war mechanic (though tug-of-war games are fun, like the military battle in 7 Wonders: Duel or the whole of Tesla vs. Edison: Duel). The basic game is solid at two, though it’s more exciting at more players, in my opinion.
OVERALL: 8 / 10
Overall, Harvest Dice is super! It’s, like I said, a cute roll-and-write with great art and a super-slick drawing mechanic that I like a lot, but it’s also got some nice drafting mechanics that are pretty cool. I’m a particularly big fan of the market mechanics and how not paying attention to what gets left behind can leave you with a very worthless board, if you’re not careful. It means that you need to watch what other players are rolling and taking and keep active attention even when it’s not your turn, which is something I’ve always liked about Qwinto, as well. If you’re looking for another solid roll-and-write and you’re not afraid to draw some really ugly veggies, then you should definitely check out Harvest Dice!