Brian Holland

by Brian Holland

For many years, modern games have trended toward themes of violence, death and destruction. Arboretum, however, sees you recreating the tranquillity of a quiet morning walk amongst the trees.

‘It’s a relaxing, deep game.’ Said Sara Erickson of Renegade Game Studios. ‘You are trying to create a path through your arboretum that is the most efficient, and beautiful path possible.’

‘I think having the type of artwork where it’s very soft and nature-y feeling gets you in the mood for this type of game.’ She said. ‘Trees are good for that- you can have ten beautiful colours, and make something unique and peaceful. It’s a light theme that helps you understand the mechanics.’

Arboretum is a game designed for 2-4 players. While the mood is universal, the mechanics of the game, -drawing from a shared deck, discarding and playing a card-, are simple, and will be familiar to everyone.

‘I played it last week with my mom.’ Erickson told me. ‘She picked it up right away, and she it not a gamer.’

Erickson’s mother, an avid player of classic games like Bridge and Hearts, understood very quickly the things she needed to pay attention to. However, the appeal of Arboretum is broader than you would initially expect.

In Arboretum, you score points based on the path you’re building with your trees. But there are several different types of trees, and you’ll only score points for them if you have more of those trees in your hand than any other player. resizeimage 1

This can foster an experience of bluffing and double-bluffing, and adds a series of decision points to the game that were otherwise not immediately apparent. That said, there is no right or wrong way to go about playing a game of Arboretum.

‘You can play more casually because you can just make a beautiful arboretum.’ Erickson said. ‘But it can be a cut-throat game. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Poker- you can count cards, you can play with the bluff aspect- but it’s not the most important part of the game.’

‘It works well with people playing different strategies.’ Erickson said of the gameplay. ‘Games can be frustrating when you have players doing opposite things, but Arboretum doesn’t have that problem.’

‘Even when everyone plays differently, we have a good time.’ She said. ‘The game scales itself really well. If you want to play super competitive, you can, but you certainly don’t have to.’

Tabletop devotees may recall Arboretum when it was published by Z-Man Games (Pandemic, Terra Mystica), but Renegade Games Studios have created a very new visual experience.

‘We really wanted to work with Beth Sobel,’ Erickson said of the new art in the game. ‘She has an amazing talent to recreate nature in a soft and beautiful way.’

The rules of Arboretum, while clarified, remain unchanged from previous edition of the game. However, like other Renegade Games Products, there has been additional focus on accessibility- in Arboretum’s case, for colour-blindness.

‘We used symbols in addition to the colours [on the cards].’ Erickson said. ‘We’ve made sure all the symbols are very different so you can tell at a glance which is which. It’s very important to us, and we changed some of the types of trees in the game to accommodate that.’

Arboretum cards

Renegade Game Studios is also releasing a deluxe version of Arboretum, which features a felt-lined wooden box and set of rainbow foil cards. If you’re the type of gamer who likes nice, shiny things, they have you covered. 

Also included in the deluxe edition is a velvet bag, big enough to store the regular version of the game if you want to travel without scuffing up your foil set. All-in-all, Arboreteum Deluxe is a very premium experience.

But without all the trimmings, Arboretum remains a uniquely peaceful and strategic experience, with a flair all it’s own.

Take Sara Erickson’s favourite thing, for example. ‘I’m gonna have to say the tiebreaker. There are two in the game, but if you tie on both of those, then you each have to plant a tree, and after five years, whoever has the tallest tree wins.’

She tells me a tree she planted to determin the winner of a game from three years ago, is still growing.

Ultimately, there are few games currently on the market that blend smooth and consistent gameplay with such a relaxing theme. 

‘The mood and mechanics are very simple and familiar.’ Erickson reiterated. ‘They’re also unique and beautiful and I think that’s really important and hard to find in a game.’


Both Arboretum and Arboretum Deluxe are available to preorder at your local Good Games store right now!