06 September 2018
Will you be the raining champion in this game of clouds?
The power of component-feel is something we shouldn’t underestimate. Whether it’s dice bouncing around inside your cupped palms, plonking a wooden meeple on a map or nudging a tile neatly next to another, there’s an irreplaceable joy to getting (literally) hands-on with a game. Board gaming is an inherently tactile activity – which is precisely why digital versions will never supersede their analogue progenitors, right? So it’s surprising to find a digital card game designer behind a game with some of the most satisfying tabletop palpability we’ve experienced in ages. Even more surprising when you consider it’s a game themed around something utterly intangible.
Having worked on Gwent, the free-to-play digital card game spun off from the Witcher series, Warsaw-based David Chircop has now released the gorgeously-named Petrichor (meaning the spirit-lifting smell of freshly rained-upon earth), in which players gently compete as clouds trying to nourish a randomly-arranged selection of crops (coffee, cotton, wheat, etc.) to score the most points.
If that sounds a bit airy and insubstantial, don’t be mistaken. Combining card set-collection, action management, worker-placement (or, rather, cloud-placement) elements and a bit of bidding, there is a lot going on in Petrichor. So much so, it takes a few playthroughs to really get to grips with its manifold mechanisms.
Each turn, a player discards from a hand of weather cards both to perform an action (frost, to put a new cloud on a crop tile; sun, to add two water drops to a cloud; wind, to move clouds around; rain, to shift droplets from clouds to crop tiles) and vote for two weather effects that will manifest at the round’s end. If sun wins the vote, for example, every player gets to double their water droplets in a chosen cloud, possibly turning it into a thundercloud (with four or more droplets), or causing it to burst when it hits eight droplets, emptying its H2O payload on the points-yielding crop below.
This is where the game’s superb ‘component-feel’ comes in. There is something truly satisfying about plonking its translucent glass droplet tokens into the cardboard cloud trays… then tipping them from the tray onto a tile, with a tinkle that does bring to mind the sound of rainfall. With a crisp graphic design by Sami Laakso and vivid watercolour illustrations by Daniel Attard, it’s a looker of a game, too, sure to impress any friends you lay it out for.
The only caveat is that some visual devices aren’t as intuitive as they might be. Players only score at harvest time for developed crops, with the points awarded according to a ranking system for the number of droplets each player has on tiles (not in clouds); one that’s shown on every tile, but isn’t instinctively decipherable. And harvests only happen when the three harvest dice show the relevant symbol. These can only be turned by sacrificing your weather-effect bid to turn the face of a die (which also earns you bonus victory points) – a mechanism that takes a little while to absorb.
Despite this, and a rulebook which is replete with exceptions, once you settle into the game it develops a pleasing, quick-paced flow. And, of course, rewards all its participants with its wonderful physical design. Rain hasn’t been this fun since Gene Kelly splashed around in a Californian puddle.
An impressively visualised abstract game that uses its physical components to maximum effect. Don’t just talk about the weather; play the weather.
Designer: David Chircop
Artist: Daniela Attard, Sami Laakso
Time: 20-80 minutes
This review originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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