While I love the social aspect of multi-player gaming, and even more so when it’s a cooperative game, there’s a lot of logistics involved in getting a group together for some gaming. I’m not alone in this, so there’s a whole world of solo board and card games for people who want to solve a puzzle or overcome a challenging scenario without a video controller in their hand. And then there’s the toughest category of all; games that can be played solo but are mostly designed for multiple players. Game designers can do that by telling the gamer to play multiple characters, but that’s just cognitive overload, so a more popular mechanism is some sort of “AI” or set of rules that automate the antagonist or scenario.
Enter the pocket-sized Pumpkin Patch: Bad Seeds. It’s a matching card game for 1-3 players themed around trying to grow pumpkins while dastardly crows fly around and try to get in your way as much as possible. Featuring gorgeous thematic artwork, it’s quite fun and while the AI for solo play isn’t great, it’s still an entertaining and challenging 15-20 minute game.
Pumpkin cards must be laid down in ascending order, so a ‘3’ pumpkin can only be placed atop a ‘2’ pumpkin, and so on. You get seed points as you go and, in solo mode, can spend seeds to get specific actions to occur. Here’s the starting layout:
The “X” in the middle is the actual pumpkin patch, and a close look reveals that the four edges are level 1 seedlings, while the central card is a level 3 Baby Boo. To the top left are the two crows, our nemesis. To the right is the “compost pile” (with a level 1 seedling showing), cards you can use if none of the 3 cards in your hand can be played. Note that the three cards at the bottom of the table are, you guessed it, your hand: Level 4, Level 5 and Level 6 cards. The ‘4’ can be played on the 3, of course, but what if there’s a crow in the way? Crows block you growing your patch, and just as the game begins, they’ll fly onto two of the patches.
The AI? I created my own cheat sheet to help remember how they worked. Here’s a close-up:
In solo mode you assign a “personality” to each of the two crows and then the AI helps define how they travel each turn. I like the challenge of the Aggressive crow and the Shy crow, personally, but you can try various combinations to match your preferences. You will need to move both crows every single turn.
Pumpkin cards, close up:
You can see that the artwork is really terrific, creepy but not scary, so it’s good for little ones who like gaming too. The top left is the level of the card and the lower portion details its point value: Notice both level 2 and level 3 are worth more points based on how you lay out the other cards also in your overall patch.
Points are tracked on the point card (you can see it in the lower left of the first picture). That’s one of the weakest parts of the design because a typical solo game will get you up to 40 points or more, and the score is 0-20 with no way to track how many times you lap the scoreboard.
A little bit further into the game you can see that the center has moved up to a level 5 pumpkin, that more Seedling plots have appeared on the board, and that those darn crows are blocking two key spots:
Yet further into the game, you can now understand my dilemma: What card to play next?
Remember, I can’t play a card on any plot where there’s a crow…
My choice was to play the ‘3’ on the lower right and save the ‘2’ for one of the Seedling plots so I could lure the crows away from the center long enough to play a ‘7’ card (which I don’t have yet, but each turn you pick cards up to the hand limit of 3, so it’s just a matter of time!)
And, finally, mission accomplished. Here’s my final pumpkin patch layout for this solo game:
This one went quickly, and rather than build up the side patches for points, I decided just to wrap things up by placing the final, game ending level 8 “Cinderella” pumpkin; I only got 36 points. My previous solo game ended with about 48 points, and the challenge on a solo game is to maximize that score.
Overall, this is a fun and really fast moving game once you get the hang of both card placement and, more importantly, crow movement. The game designers could tweak things to make crows easier to work with, of course, liking having four crow cards, one for each movement pattern, and have the movement details printed directly on the cards, but for now, my AI cheat sheet is definitely handy (and I uploaded it to the Pumpkin Patch Bad Seeds file repository on Board Game Geek if you’re interested).
Is the game worth $20? Yes it is. It’s good fun, definitely kid friendly and recommended.
Pumpkin Patch Bad Seeds, $19.95 at Amazon.com.
Disclosure: Brouhaha Games sent me a copy of the game in return for this review. Thanks, guys!