Flourish Signature Edition
Publisher: Starling Games
Release Date: April, 2021
MSRP: $60.00
Designer(s): James A. Wilson & Clarissa A. Wilson
Number of Players: 1 – 7
Playing Time: 20+ mins.
Product #: STG2801ENFRDE
Age Rating: 9 and up
ICv2 Rating: 4 Stars out of 5

When I heard that the creative team behind Everdell had turned their hand to a card-drafting game, I was immediately intrigued, doubly so when I saw that they had applied just as much attention to detail in crafting a game that was beautiful to behold.  But was it going to be a walk through the garden, or were there bees in the flowers?

Summary:  Flourish is a game about creating the perfect garden, or at least as perfect as your cards will allow.  Each turn, you select one card from your hand to play, then one card to pass to each of your neighbors.  All play is simultaneous, so you won’t know what your neighbors are up to until the cards are revealed at the end of the turn.  Points are awarded for playing certain combinations at the end of each three-turn round, with a big scoring also at the end of the game.  The cards serve double-duty, offering both the resources you need to collect in order to score (flowers and garden decorations) as well as establishing what you need to collect for the end of round and end of game scoring.

One of the more interesting elements is that the game can be played either cooperatively or competitively, using the same system.  This allows groups with different tastes to enjoy the game, as well as giving players an option to enjoy a different style of game using the same system.  A solo-play variant is also included.  The Signature Edition comes with two expansion modules:  The Friends expansion gives players a secret goal for the game, while Follies adds a strategic tile-laying-like element, awarding bonus points based on where you place your cards around five little structures.

Originality:  There are not many games that offer highly playable cooperative and competitive versions of a game in the same box, and it works very well here both in terms of theme and mechanics.  The two playing modes have a very different feel and offer different challenges when choosing cards to pass.  The card drafting system will feel familiar to those who have played similar games, but the multi-purpose nature of the cards adds an extra layer of decision-making to that process.

Presentation:  The artwork for this game is delightful, with splendid illustrations by April Borchelt, Christina Qi, Naomi Robinson, and Dann May.  If you enjoy flowers or pastoral delights, watching your garden grow during the game is a lot of fun.  Scores are kept on individual rotating-dial boards made to look like the entrance of a hidden garden, further enhancing the visuals.  Three-dimensional "follies" (small structures such as gazebos one might add to a garden) are cute and fun, and add an additional element to the visual tableau.  The box is gorgeous, and the cover sports a welcomingly open garden gate that draws the viewer in while gold-foil touches give a certain degree of class.  The components are lavishly displayed on the back of the box, though the descriptive text is rather minimalist.  My biggest beef with the presentation is the title, which is in an appropriately flowery and curvy font that I find very hard to read from any distance.

Quality:  The components are quite excellent: boards and tokens are nice thick cardboard. Cards are thick and flexible, with a fine linen finish.  The 3D structures took a little finesse to put together, but prove quite sturdy once assembled.  The dials on the score-keepers turn easily and they are easy to read.  Information on the cards is easy to understand without using any text, though a play or two may be needed before players fully internalize the meaning of every symbol used.  Fortunately, player aid cards provide useful reminders.  Unfortunately, there are only three (English) copies included, forcing players to share in large groups.  The rulebook is well-written and nicely organized, with lovely illustrations of key elements and card symbols.  I would have liked more examples of play and particularly of scoring, but I do appreciate that the entire rule-set fits on three large pages.  A page of variants offers more variety of playing experience, and the game plays nicely both with and without them.

Marketability:  The broad playability of the game, with both competitive and cooperative play as well as allowing player counts up to seven gives the game a potential to appeal to a wide variety of game groups, and the simultaneous play means that even large groups will not overly slow the game down. But there are quite a few card-drafting games on the market, which may cause this one a little trouble getting the attention it deserves.  The price point may be a stumbling block for a game with such a short playing time, but the quality of the components does justify it. The game includes tri-lingual (English, French, German) rules and player aids.

Overall:  I very much enjoyed playing Flourish.  I find it delightful to explore a garden of my own creation, and I really liked the different feel from playing both cooperatively and competitively.  The mechanics are easy to pick up, but the multiple ways to score and the challenge of sharing cards with the other players makes every decision meaningful and interesting.  Even after numerous plays, I do not feel that I have explored everything that this game has to offer.  I have also found it to be a true rarity in that it plays very well with three players, often a troublesome number, particularly for competitive games.

But, every garden does have a few weeds. I wish that the solo variant offered more depth, as it uses the simple expedient of playing against a random “dummy” hand.  In small groups, I think there is a tendency to pass the same cards back and forth, which can make the turns feel a little repetitive (though the “Compost” variant goes a long way towards resolving this).  In the end, the game feels casual enough to just have fun while still challenging enough to really dig into. And that’s why I’m giving this game 4 out of 5.

--William Neibling