What is Meadow?
Meadow is what you call a set collection or symbol matching game. In this game you are an explorer going out into nature to observe landscapes and animals and collect keepsakes. Throughout the game you will collect cards to put in your meadow. The symbols you collect represent a food chain, where small animals need things like berries or mushrooms and bigger animals need the small animals to be able to place them. The player with the most points at the end of the game will win.
How to play
The setup for Meadow is pretty easy. You place the main board on the table and place the cardholder in the designated slots. You add the cards in the right cardholders (W-S-E), the fourth cardholder with the N-cards goes above the board. Then you place the campfire board, there are two two-sided boards for all player counts from 1 to 4. You shuffle the goal tokens and place them on the board, for a solo game you will use three goal tokens. Then place the turn marker on the first stone of the turn track. For games with two players or less you also block two notches of the campfire board with the provided bits. For the bot you will place down the little map board. This will be used to determine which cards the bot grabs.
Before you start the game you will receive five path tokens and three bonus tokens in the colour you choose. Use one bonus token of each remaining colour to add to sides of the map board of the bot. After that you receive a road token and a double-sided start card. The bot will draw the four cards on the first row of the board and receive one card from the N deck. Refill the board and then you can choose any of the rows to take your four card plus a card from the N deck.
On your turn you will perform an action with your path tokens. The pointy side of the tokens lets you grab cards from the main board, while the flat side lets you perform special actions on the campfire board. The bot will only take cards and collect them on its board. It will not perform special actions, use bonus tokens or play cards to a meadow.
A card column in your meadow will always start with a ground card. You always start the game with one double-sided ground card and you can add nine more throughout the game. Every column needs to start with a ground card and the ground symbol will remain visible throughout the game. On top of these ground cards you can add your other cards. These are your observation cards and they have requirements about the symbols you need to have in your meadow before you can place them. If these symbols are visible you can place the card in your meadow on top of one of the required symbols. You always leave the victory points visible.
You can also play landscape cards above your meadow. To play these you will use your road tokens. After you use a road token you will flip it to show that it has been used. Landscape cards can also have requirements before you can play them. The last cards you can use are discovery cards, these represent items you discover on your travels and they can be placed on top of landscape cards.
During the game you will grab cards from the main board using your path tokens. When you grab a card from the main board your are also allowed to play one card to your meadow. The bot will also grab cards from the main board but he just always collects them. The cards he collects will represent his score at the end of the game.
The other thing you can do with your path tokens is perform special actions on the campfire board. There are four actions you can do here. You can take any card from the main board. You can take two road tokens. You can look at the top three cards of any deck and keep one or you can play two cards from your hand to your meadow. When performing a special action you don’t get to play a card to your meadow after doing your action. If you have both symbols visible of a neighbouring pair or tokens on the campfire board, you can place a bonus token (starting with the lowest number) in between those symbols on the campfire board. You can place one bonus token per turn if you have placed a path token on the campfire board.
When you have placed all of your path tokens the round ends (the bot will not have placed all of its path tokens). Collect your tokens and give the rest back to the bot and shuffle its stack of path tokens. Now move the round marker to the next stone. Once the round marker reaches the hourglass on the campfire board, discard all the cards from the main board and replace the S deck with the N deck. Then refill the main board with the new deck included.
At the end of the game you will count all your cards and bonus tokens to determine your score. This needs to be higher than the bots score. If its higher you win, if it’s lower you lose.
Look and feel
One of the main selling points of this game is how beautiful it is. And it is visually absolutely stunning. The art for all the cards is lovely and depicts all kinds of lovingly painted wildlife and landscapes. But the art on the cards isn’t the only component that is great about this game. I also love the card deck holders that can go into the box preassembled and make setting up and playing the game loads easier.
The rest of the components are also fine, quality wise. The round marker is a nice, screen-printed wooden traveller. The boards are cardboard, as well as the road, path, and bonus tokens.
The only minus for me would be the size of the box. The box has a plastic insert that accommodates all of the components nicely but it is very spacy. The box could have been a lot smaller if the components would have been fit in a little more snug. This can of course also be a positive when you want to put expansions in with the base game. There is already one expansion (which I don’t own) so that might be a possibility.
How do you play Meadow solo?
The solo for Meadow is an easy to run bot. The bot only collects cards from the main board which are solely used for the points (the bot doesn’t build a meadow like you). To determine which card the bot will grab it uses a small map board. This board represents the main board and you put one bonus token of each colour on one of the sides of this board.
When it is the bots turn you draw one of its path tokens (it gets all the remaining path tokens after you have chosen a colour). The colour of the token determines which side of the main board the token will go, matching the coloured bonus token on its map board. Then you look at the number on the path token and match that with the right number on the main board. Grab the card and add it to the pile for the bot.
If the bot draws a path token with a question mark it will not draw a card. Instead it will block one of the spaces on the campfire board. It will not do a special action, it simply prevents you from adding your token to that spot.
Once all of your path tokens are used the round will end so the bot will not use all of its tokens per round. Once the round ends you collect your own tokens and gives the rest back to the bot. Officially you have to shuffle the path tokens back into the bots stack to make his new draw pile. I, however, just use a bag for the bots path tokens so I add them back into the bag after each round. This is easier than making a draw pile every time and shuffling the path tokens (their odd shape doesn’t make them easy to shuffle).
What I think of the game
The main term I would use for Meadow as a solo game is relaxing. The art is beautiful and building up your meadow is kind of meditative. This is helped a lot by the easy to run bot, doing its actions is simple and your quickly back to making decisions about your own meadow.
When the game starts the choices you have are fairly limited. Your start card has a symbol on either side so you have to choose which one to use and then you choose starting cards that will (hopefully) match with this symbol. So you first few turns are simply to build up your base. But once you have are halfway through the game and the N-deck comes into play the choices get a lot harder. You have more cards in your tableau which means more symbols to keep track of. The new cards also require more symbols and give more points. I regularly try to plan ahead three or more turns only to foil my own plans by adding a card on top of a symbol I would have needed two turns down the road.
So how relaxing this game truly is depends a lot on your own way of playing. Do you want to plan ahead multiple turns? Then be careful you don’t ruin your own plans! But you can also simply look at your options on every turn. Because there are quite a few cards on the main board there is often something available you can play now or in a turn or two.
Playing this game solo doesn’t detract a lot from the experience I think. But there is only one bot so it doesn’t happen very often that it will take just that card that you wanted to grab. I can imagine this will happen more with more players. The bot also isn’t very smart so in my experience it’s easy to win from him. Because he just collects cards willy nilly it will also collect a lot of zero points cards (landscape cards for example) without getting any benefit from that. When a player grabs one of these cards it is with the goal to be able to use a high scoring card in the future but the bot doesn’t make this determination.
In my opinion this game works better as a pure BYOS (beat your own score) and I mainly compare my score against other games I played to see how well I did. From what I understand the expansion “fixes” this and makes the game a pure BYOS so that is definitely something to check out. There are also multiple adaptations to the bot available on the forums of BoardGameGeek to check out.
All in all I think this is a pretty good game. It is easy to play and operate the bot but the real great combos come from investing some good thinking and planning ahead. The components are good and the art is stunning, making playing the game a great experience.
- Beautiful artwork, great components
- Planning ahead is rewarding
- Easily operated bot. Blocks spots forcing you to take it into account in planning
- Easy to learn with a good rulebook
- Solo victory conditions don’t really work. Winning from the bot is to easy. (Downstream might fix this)
- The bot usually doesn’t really hinder you in any meaningful way
- Box is bigger than needed
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