Remember when you were a kid and you imagined that your tree house had an arcade, a pool, and a full kitchen? You imagined being able to live in it forever, never having to go home to your parents. If you were like me, though, reality never matched your imagination. Your real tree house was probably a one room shack (or just a platform) that was always on the brink of falling out of the tree. Well, take heart. You can still live your dream, at least in card game form. Best Treehouse Ever has you building fantastic and fanciful tree houses complete with bowling alleys, hot tubs, and candy stores. (Of course, you could also try to get on “Treehouse Masters” and let them build you a treehouse, but the game is probably easier. And it has no property taxes.)
How It Plays
Best Treehouse Ever is a card drafting game in which players attempt to build the best treehouse. “Best” is the treehouse that has accumulated the most points at the end of the game. Those points are earned by having rooms in the colors that score during each round, having the majority of rooms in one color at the end of the game, and completing bonus objectives.
Each player begins the game with their starting tree card. This is the “trunk” of the tree upon which you will build your house. The balance marker is placed in the center of the card, indicating that the treehouse is currently balanced. When building your treehouse, you cannot overweight it with too many cards on one side or the other or else it will fall out of the tree.
Each player is then dealt six room cards. Players may look at the cards but may not show them to other players. Each player selects one card to add to their treehouse and places it facedown in front of them. After everyone has made their choice, cards are revealed simultaneously and added to the tree houses.
There are special rules governing how rooms can be added to the treehouse. I won’t go into nitpicky detail of each rule, but basically they are as follows:
- Rooms must be supported by two branches, except for edge cards which are only supported by one. The treehouse develops in an inverse pyramid shape and each row can hold more cards than the previous one.
- The first card of a color may be placed in any valid spot. Subsequent cards of that color must touch a room of the same color.
- Tree houses cannot be more than six levels high, including the starter tree card.
- Your treehouse must remain balanced. For example, when you place a card on the left side of the treehouse, you move your balance marker to the left. Same with adding cards to the right. Cards added directly to the center line do not move the marker. Once your balance marker reaches the edge of your starting tree card, you can’t add any more cards to that side of the tree or you will overbalance it and it will fall. So, for example, if you’ve reached the right edge with your marker, you must add your next card to a place that would shift your marker to the left.
- If you cannot place your chosen card, for whatever reason, it is simply discarded from the game.
Once all players have played their room cards, everyone passes their hand of cards clockwise. Players continue playing cards and passing their hands until each player is playing a hand of just two cards. One card is kept and played and the other is discarded. This marks the end of the draft.
Once the draft is complete, players score their tree houses. Each player receives a game changer card and places it on one of the color scoring cards. (Who gets to choose a game changer first, and the order in which each is played, is detailed in the rules and varies from round to round.) There are four game changer cards: Two indicate that rooms of the chosen color will score two points per card, and the other two indicate that rooms of the chosen color will score zero points. If a color scoring card does not receive a game changer card, rooms of that color are worth one point.
Players add up their points and mark their total on the scoring track. Game changer cards are then removed from the color scoring cards, not to be used again until the end of the next round. Six new cards are dealt to each player and round two begins. Rounds two and three are played exactly like round one.
The game ends after three rounds. After the third round is scored as normal, players count up how many room cards they have of each color in their treehouse. The player with the most cards of a color receives the scoring card for that color. He or she collects bonus points equal to the number of rooms of that color in the treehouse and adds those points to the points they earned over the three rounds. If you opted to include the bonus cards, any player that completed one or both of their objectives adds those points to their final score, as well. The player with the highest point total wins the game.
A Treehouse Club Worth Joining or Keep Out?
I’ll say it up front: The theme of treehouse building was what attracted me to this game. When I was a kid, I had a treehouse and I envisioned all kinds of crazy rooms for it. While it was never more than one room in reality, in my mind it was full of secret spaces, a kitchen, and a pool. So when I saw Best Treehouse Ever, I knew I had to have it. Plus, I’m always on the lookout for lightweight games that can be played quickly on weeknights, yet which also offer a bit of strategy and decision making. This one seemed like a winner on all counts. So, was it?
For the length and depth of this game, I feel that it is a winner. There is a decent amount of strategy for something that comes in such a small box. It’s not as deep or thinky as Tides of Time, but that’s okay. While it shares a drafting mechanism, Best Treehouse Ever is more on the level of a family drafting game like Sushi Go or Fairy Tale.
The main idea of the game is to populate your treehouse with colored rooms and then hope that at the end of the round/game you have the most of a given color and that the colors you have will score the maximum amount of points. If all you had to do was collect colors, it would be a very easy game. But it’s not that simple and the little twists are what take it from a simple drafting game to a game with some meat on its bones.
First, you have to make sure you don’t block yourself with your card placements. Since you must place the second card (and all future cards) of a color so that it’s touching another card of the same color, it’s all too easy to get into a situation where your only valid card placements for a turn mean that you’ll have to block off other colors that you were collecting. You have to evaluate whether it might be better to discard your card on that turn rather than block off a lucrative collection of a single color. Or should you start something new to protect yourself in case your main color doesn’t score at the end of the round? If you do play that card and block yourself, will you be able to continue adding on to it based on what’s left in the draft, or is this just going to be a random card stuck in your tree?
Next, you have to figure out your opponents’ strategies. What colors do they seem to be going for? Can you deny them those cards during the draft while still creating something for yourself? You’ll be able to see how their tree is developing as the game goes along. Once you’re very familiar with the game, you may even be able to figure out which bonus challenges they’re trying to complete and try to stop those.
Knowing what your opponent is doing will also determine how you approach the game changer cards. Which one do you think you can get based on the choosing order? Will you be able to play it on the color that most benefits you (or slows down another player)? Since the cards are drawn in player order and then played in reverse order, you’ll have an idea of what you might be able to grab and how you want to play it, but your plan can still be wrecked. You may be able to grab the card you want, but by the time your turn to play it comes around, someone else could have thwarted you.
While all of this is going on, you also have to keep your tree balanced. If you get too far over to one side, your choices of where to play a card become much more limited and it’s easier to get stuck in a situation where you can’t legally play a card, in essence wasting a turn. You want to stay on the centerline because that gives you the most options, but that’s almost impossible. It creates a fun tension.
For a little game, there’s a lot going on. Best Treehouse Ever is one of those games where you need to have a plan A, B, and C, and you still may find yourself having to fly by the seat of your pants. The draft, a mistaken placement on your part, the game changer cards, and your attempts to complete the bonus challenges are all moving parts in the game. If one goes awry, your whole plan may be blown and you have to quickly come up with something else. But that makes it challenging.
Some people won’t love this much randomness and chaos. Best Treehouse Ever isn’t for people who want total control of their fate, or who desire a deep strategy that holds together beginning to end. However, since Treehouse is primarily a family game, all this chaos tends to level the playing field, making kids and non-gamers feel like they’re in with a chance until the end.
A lot of people have said that they don’t like this two player, but we enjoyed it. The draft was more strategic because we could better estimate which cards we were likely to get back. Knowing that there was a decent chance that a certain card would come back led to better long-term planning. It also made it possible to better focus on the bonus challenges and go for those points. In games with more players, it felt a lot more random and getting the bonuses was more a matter of luck than any sort of planning on our part.
Since the only game changer cards used in the 2-player game are the negative/stops a color from scoring card (and each player only gets one), how you use them is also very strategic. You’re only going to be able to stop one room color from scoring and, unlike in a game with more players, you can’t hope that someone else’s placement of a game changer will help you out. So you have to play your one game changer card carefully and decide whether it’s better to make it help you, or whether you should hurt your opponent.
I will say that the game changer cards feel a lot more hostile in a two-player game. Because it’s obvious which colors each player is going for and there’s only one player to target, having that game changer card dropped on the one that you know will hurt you the most can be very painful. When there are more players, it feels like it evens out a bit more. If you don’t like this level of aggression, I suggest leaving the game changers out of the two player game.
Regardless of how many players are in the game I appreciated that the designer included options that can raise or lower the difficulty. You can choose not to play with the game changer cards, which is nice when playing with young kids because they don’t get upset when the, “take that” gets dumped on their treehouse. The bonus cards are also optional. If you don’t want to bother, you don’t have to. However, if you add everything in, you have a game that, while not super deep, offers a decent challenge.
That’s not to say that the game is a brain burner or super heavy because it’s not. It isn’t designed to be, though. And for what it is, it’s a lot of fun. It’s a family game that won’t bore the adults, but yet it’s also a good filler for gamers, or for playing with relatives and friends at gatherings. The theme is something that most people can get into and enjoy and the mechanics are easy enough for first-timers to grasp.
As far as the negatives, there were only a couple and they really come down to personal preference. First, I was excited because this is a small box game that I thought would be a good addition to our travel stash. Unfortunately, the tree houses get large and it ends up taking up a lot of table space, especially with three or four players. It’s not the sort of thing that you can play in a small space.
Second, it can be fiddly. There are a lot of cards and they need to stay lined up. One table bump or dragged sleeve, however, and you’re spending time putting your cards back in order, or trying to remember where your token was on the scoring track. It can get a little annoying, but the game is short enough that it’s not annoying for long.
Those minor concerns aside, whether or not you like this game will come down to how much you enjoy drafting as a mechanic and how much you enjoy light games that have a bit of strategy but aren’t total brain burners. If you have kids, it’s probably a sure bet as a family game. Even if you don’t have kids, I can recommend it if you like short, weeknight-type, games that have a bit of whimsy to them. We don’t have kids and enjoyed it. It will be staying in our collection as one of those games to play when we’re tired, or when non-gamer friends are over.
And I will say this in parting: This is one of the few games in our collection that just makes us smile. The art is so adorable and the trip back to childhood (without being a childish game) is so much fun that it’s a keeper just for those days when the adult world is too heavy to deal with. There’s value in that alone.