Spring Meadow review
Uwe Rosenberg is best known as the designer of the mentally taxing farming game Agricola, but in recent years he’s turned his attention towards tile-laying games with decidedly gentle themes. His output includes Patchwork, a game of competitive quilt sewing; Cottage Garden, in which players plant beautiful arrangements of flowers; and Indian Summer, a quiet celebration of colourful autumn foliage. Now he’s returned with his latest, Spring Meadow: a game all about going for a walk.
It’s not what you would call action-packed, but this isn’t a game that sells itself on excitement and drama. Instead, it’s a thoughtful, Tetris-like competitive puzzle. You and your opponents become ramblers hiking through a snow-covered landscape in the first few days of spring. You’ll each start the game in possession of a personal player board – a grid covered in ice-white squares. On your turn you’ll choose one of a selection of differently shaped tiles from a shared pool, all showing areas of grass, and add it to your board. Over the course of the game you’ll fit tiles together as best you can, filling in gaps and gradually transforming your uninviting snowscape into a lush, green meadow.
Picking the best tiles to fill up your board can be a tricky spatial challenge, and it’s made harder by the fact that some squares show little tunnels – the homes of ground-dwelling squirrel-ish creatures called marmots. The tiles you lay on your board come with holes punched through them, and you’ll aim to position them over the creatures’ burrows to avoid trapping them underground.
There’s also the game’s system for drafting tiles. At the start of each round you’ll randomly distribute available shapes on an impressive central board that looks like an Ordnance Survey map. On your turn you’ll choose one from a row dictated by a 3D cardboard signpost that moves around the edge of the board as you play. It means that your choices are always limited, and the game is all about making the best use of the tiles you have available rather than the ones you’d ideally want.
The drafting process also serves as a kind of built-in clock for the game. Whenever the signpost reaches an empty row on the board, it triggers a scoring phase. It’s possible to strategically deplete rows, ensuring that scoring happens at a time that’s advantageous to you. On the opposite side of the equation, there are times when you’ll deliberately reject tiles that would be perfect additions to your landscape because taking them would risk setting off scoring before you’re ready.
It adds an extra layer of decision-making on top of the game’s puzzler core. But these kinds of critical choices arise less often than they might and, while Spring Meadow plays with some interesting mechanical ideas, they never quite come together in a way that makes the game feel like more than the sum of its parts. It’s a perfectly serviceable brainteaser, and it comes with some nice visual flourishes, but you could say the same thing about any number of potential alternatives – including some from the same designer. If you’re new to Rosenberg’s shape-shuffling creations, this probably isn’t the place to start.
It’s not that there’s anything particularly wrong with Spring Meadow, and it does some very nice things with its aesthetic presentation. But there’s no standout element that really makes it shine when compared to its creator’s previous tile-laying output. If you’ve played Patchwork, Cottage Garden and Indian Summer, there’s no real need to rush out and complete the set.
Designer: Uwe Rosenberg
Artist: Andrea Boekhoff
Time: 15-60 minutes
This review originally appeared in the November 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.