The Butterfly Garden is the latest game designed by Doctor Finn’s Games (Biblios, Biblios Dice), going up on Kickstarter tomorrow, 2/23. In this rather beautiful hand management/set collection card game, 2-6 lepidopterists will compete to see who can deliver the most butterflies to the butterfly garden, thereby earning the respect of their peers and winning the game. There is a loveliness to the game and its pastoral theme and a simplicity to its mechanics, all of which, unsurprising to those of us familiar with Dr. Finn’s games, belies more gameplay depth than one might expect.
(Kickstarter prototype alert – Dr. Finn was cool enough to send us our copy for preview. We were shocked to learn that the art we received wasn’t final – it looked good already! But the final art we snagged from the KS page looks even better!)
Each player begins the game with a hand of butterfly cards, as well as a jar card, used to hold butterflies for delivery to the garden. Each turn happens in two phases.
In Phase 1, players will choose one of the cards from their hands and play them face down. Once everyone has chosen a card, all are simultaneously revealed. The numbers on these cards determine turn order (lower numbers go first). Initiative is one of the most strategic elements of gameplay, because going first is always beneficial, but which card you use to set your initiative is vitally important in Phase 2.
In the second phase, players will follow several steps.
- They will capture a butterfly from the field, putting it into their hand of cards (this is one of the benefits of going sooner than later; the field is only replenished between turns).
- If the butterfly they played in Phase 1 has a special action associated with it, it will trigger now. Some of these abilities let players manipulate the cards in their hand, jar extra butterflies, or score VPs directly.
- The player will then move the butterfly they played in Phase 1 into their jar, which can hold up to 8 butterflies.
- Finally, if a player is able, they can complete a single delivery to the garden, by discarding butterfly cards from their jar to meet the requirements on the available delivery cards.
Delivery cards will specify either an exact combination of butterflies or sets of butterflies that must be discarded from the player’s jar to earn those points. Each round, there is one less Delivery card available than the number of players, so there is no guarantee that, even if you have the butterflies you need, you’ll be the one who gets to score them.
Each delivery made will earn victory points based the difficulty involved in fulfilling it, and the game will end either once a player has met the VP goal of the game (varies with the number of players), or the delivery cards run out. The winner is the aurelian who has earned the most points.
Andrew: While The Butterfly Garden is a mechanically straightforward, I found it to be a little thinkier than it had any right to be. There were never so many choices that I felt paralyzed, but trying to be efficient with butterfly collection is the name of the game; you might play a card in Phase 1 just because it has a really low number and you want to grab a specific butterfly from the field before your opponent goes, or maybe just for its special ability. Then, of course, you don’t jar butterflies immediately when you catch them from the field, so there is always an element of fore-planning – after all, if your opponent sees which Delivery you are aiming for, they may make sure to take care of it themselves first.
Jess: And there’s the fact that the cards with low numbers tend to have fewer or less-useful butterflies on them, so that has to factor into your planning, too. The Butterfly Garden’s got a unique cadence; most of the time, you are calmly collecting these absolutely beautiful butterfly cards (the game’s final art is gorgeous; Catherine Gruetzke-Blais brought some truly lovely art to the game), but there are these moments of tension, like when someone may grab the card you need, that adds a bit of punch.
The Butterfly Garden is absolutely an abstract set collection game with a pasted-on theme, but we didn’t care about that one bit. The theme may not be integrated into the gameplay, but both are so pleasurefully delivered and easy to appreciate that they work well together despite the disconnection between the two. While the game plays up to 6, our concern would be that higher player counts might add just a touch too much chaos and contention for our tastes. However, in all fairness, we didn’t test it with 6, and your group’s analysis paralysis may vary. The Butterfly Garden absolutely works at the 2, 3, and 4 player marks, though, without any appreciable slowdown or issues.
The Butterfly Garden is just one more fine example of Dr. Finn’s clever, mechanics-driven design sensibilities. Portable, beautiful, and incredibly playable, with think The Butterfly Garden is a real winner, and we can’t wait to back it on Kickstarter ourselves on 2/23!