Spaceships, Aliens, Zombies, Cowboys, Pirates, Vikings, Colonialization and War. These are the themes we see time and time again. I’m not complaining, I enjoy them. Sometimes however, it is nice to relax into a calmer setting. I think it is one of the many contributing factors to the success of Wingspan. The theme is accessible and made the gaming experience more chilled. In the same year that Wingspan was grabbing the board game headlines, another nature-themed card game got published, Ecosystem.
Wanna know what I think of it? Of course you do that’s why you’re here. But first I have to rabbit on about the intricacies of the game. You’ll have to grin and bear the nature puns, in my introduction, bee-cause I find them mildly amusing. Oh deer! I hear you stream! But what do you expect? I made them up on the dragonfly. The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted that these are howlers. Sorry. I am hanging my head in shame.
Shuffle the cards together, deal ten to each player. The game is now setup. I can’t even make a whole paragraph for this section, that’s how easy it is!
This is a card drafting array-building game in its purest form. You will pick one of the ten cards in your hand passing the remainder to the player next to you. This first card will be the start of a 5 x 4 grid that you will build in front of you. All other cards need to be placed adjoining at least one other played card. And no, diagonals do not count! From the cards passed to you, you select another card for your grid, and pass the rest on, and so on and so forth.
Play continues until all ten cards have been selected. Then a further ten cards are dealt. The process is repeated until each player has twenty cards in front of them in their 5 x 4 grid.
The different cards all have varied scoring objectives. For example, bees like to be near meadows to pollinate, and bears like to be near bees for their honey and also trout to eat. Now you understand why it is called Ecosystem!
It is tempting to concentrate on a particular card, such as streams or deer. However, there has to be balance in an Ecosystem and additional points can be scored for good diversity. Not enough of a mix and you will lose points.
The player with the most points is the winner! There is no tie-break so if you score the points the victory is shared.
What it’s like
Ecosystems is quite straight forward and I can play it with my boys. I find it easy to explain and grasp. There are the subtleties of all the scoring to take into consideration but once all these are understood, handy player aids help reinforce all the scoring succinctly which helps newer players along the way.
That isn’t to say that this card game is a walk in the park, there is plenty to consider. As with most drafting games there is some luck in what cards are passed to you. That is what you have to mitigate when building your grid in front of you. It is the challenge to try and make it all work, regardless of what slim pickings you are left with at the end. That’s what gives the brain a work out.
I enjoy the drafting mechanic, and always have. I like how you often know what you want, but also know what the next player is likely to really want too, taking what you want or taking what they want is a lovely predicament.
Now drafting doesn’t work so well at two players and never has. However, when playing with two, Ecosystems randomises what is being passed around the table by creating a third player who randomly selects a card each turn. This makes it ever so slightly harder to follow what cards you might see again. It does work very well. However, I’m not sure if I would buy Ecosystem if I was only going to play it at two player, because I am fortunate to have lots of other two player games I would choose above it.
Because everyone is drafting and playing to their grid in unison, the game takes around the same time regardless of how many are sitting at the table. Which is good as this game plays up to six comfortably.
The 10+ age rating on the box seems okay, I know we are a board gaming family but my 7 year old can play competitively, so I reckon most 8 year olds would be fine!
Overall you get what you need in the box and it’s all to a good standard. The instructions are clear and concise, and are reinforced with handy player aids that remind you of the different scoring opportunities for each card type.
The artwork in Ecosystem is undoubtedly beautiful. My favourites are the bees and the dragonflies which zing on the cards. I know some will say the cards are a little on the small size. While I can see their perspective, I think building a 4 x 5 grid with bigger cards and six players you’d need a decent footprint to be able to play. Thus the smaller cards are a necessity. I like that it makes the game more travel-friendly too.
What the kids thought
Max (7): I really like it and its good for people my age. I like all the ways you can score points with all the different animals. The artwork is beautiful. I like the meadow and the trout cards the best as they are very pretty.
George (11): I think the artwork is very pretty and the best looking card is probably the bear. I enjoy picking the cards as they go round. I also like the strategy of placing the cards to get the most points.
Harrison (14): I like to go for rivers, dragonflies and trout because it feels like the best combo for points. The artwork is great and it’s a relaxing game to pick up and play. I like that it is thinky but doesn’t take too long to play.
Final thoughts on Ecosystem
Outside the family game environment, Ecosystem is unlikely to be the main event of an evening of games, nor does it pretend to be. What I like about this game is that it does bridge the gap between a game I would like to play with my kids and a filler game for a slightly higher player count with gamer friends. Its ease of teach and simple gameplay makes it a winner in both scenarios. It never seems to outstay its welcome at the table either. The ratio of strategy to time is harmonious.
The artwork and theme give Ecosystem a tranquil feel. Very reminiscent of walking through a meadow. However, at times the decision making process breaks the serenity as your mind melts with all the possibilities on offer, making it feel like trying to cross an impassable stream while escaping from a pack of wolves. I love that about the game, it is so simple, yet makes the cogs buzz like a swarm of bees between the ears. In its smaller box class, Ecosystem is truly a fantastic option that I recommend you trying out if you get the opportunity.
Number of players: 2 to 6
Board Game Review Recommended Age: 8+
Publisher’s Recommended Age: 10+
Playing Time: 25 minutes
Setting Up and Take Down Time: 1 minute
Designers: Matt Simpson
Publisher: Genius Games
Ecosystem shines in its simplicity, but manages to radiate more strategy than you might expect. It also exudes a calm gaming experience perfect for chilled Sunday afternoons with the family, or the end of a heavier gaming night. The fact that six players can play with no significant difference in play time is a real bonus too!
Artwork and Components
Value for Money
- Seats six players
- Beautiful to look at
- Simple to learn
- Plenty to think about
- Play feels quick and smooth
- Size of the cards
- With more players it can take up a surprising amount of room on the table
- Not as good at two players
- No tie-break win condition
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