The full name of this game is The Legend of the Cherry Tree That Blossoms Every Ten Years. That’s a mouthful. Or a word processor-full. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll just be calling it LoTC. Or Cherry Tree. No matter what you call it, this is a game where you are trying to collect flowers from this mystical cherry tree that only blooms every ten years. If you collect the most, the cherry tree will grant your wish. But if you try to take too many, the tree will judge you to be greedy and you’ll never get your wish. It’s a fine line between “most” and “greedy,” so tread carefully.
How It Plays
LoTC is a push your luck game with set collection thrown in. Some of the flowers sets you’ll be collecting are visible to all players, and some are hidden behind your player screen. Astute players will try to track their opponent’s hidden sets in order to better their efforts for end game scoring.
To begin the game, the flower tokens are placed into the bag, and the bonus cards are laid out on the table. (The blue side of the cards is for a regular game, and the pink side is for an advanced game.) Each player gets a screen and you’re off and running.
On your turn, you will draw flowers from the bag. You must draw at least one, but no more than eight per turn. (If you somehow goof up and draw more than eight, put all your flowers back in the bag and your turn is over. Count carefully!) You can draw a maximum of three times on your turn. So you could draw one flower on your first pull, three on your second, and four on your last. How many you draw on each pull is up to you, and you can stop at any time after you’ve drawn at least one flower.
Your flower collection is unsuccessful (i.e, you “bust” in push your luck parlance) if you draw three flowers of the same color, or five flowers of different colors. If this happens, you put any black flowers back in the bag, choose two flowers of different colors from the remaining ones collected, and place them in front of your screen for all to see. The others go back in the bag. Note that the black flowers take on the color of whichever condition would result in a bust. So if you have two pink flowers and draw a black, that black will cause you to bust. Black flowers are not great during the draw phase, but they are useful during the scoring phase. More on that in a minute.
If your flower collection was successful (you didn’t bust), you first check to see if any flowers you collected match the combination shown on one of the bonus cards. If so, you can use the bonus shown on the appropriate card. If not, move on and choose one color from your collection and place those flowers behind your screen. Put the rest of the flowers in front of the screen. Note that you don’t have to put flowers behind your screen. You can add them the ones in front of the screen if you wish. But given the way scoring works and that this is the only way to get flowers behind your screen, it’s an option worth seriously considering.
So how are flowers scored? Why are you collecting and choosing whether to display them in front of or behind your screen? The game ends when the last flower is taken and displayed. Flowers in front of your screen are scored by color. The more flowers you have of a given color, the more points you earn for them (or lose). So, for example, if you have two pink flowers, that’s worth -1 points. But if you have eight pink flowers, that’s worth 15 points. If you have black flowers in front of your screen, they are wild and you can make them any color you want for the purposes of scoring.
Flowers behind your screen are divided into a “warm” group (pink and yellow) and a “cool” group (light and dark blue). White and black flowers can be added to whichever group you choose. You cannot, however, use the black or white flowers to “create” a group. If you don’t have a warm group, you can’t use the black/white flowers to make one. Add up how many flowers you have in each group. The player with the most gains a specified amount of points, with second and third taking decreasing points. If there are ties, some convoluted math will settle it, awarding an equal number of points to the tied players.
Now add up the points you have from the flowers in front of and behind your screen. The player with the most points wins the game.
A gaming sundae with a cherry on top, or the pits?
Normally, I’m a big fan of push your luck games. They’re usually fairly light and quick and, while pretty random with the nature of the chit pull or die roll, they still give you a thrill. There’s a tension in such games that’s difficult to replicate with other mechanisms. Deciding how far to go and when to play it safe may not be the deepest, crunchiest decisions in the gaming universe, but given that they usually lead to either huge scores or abject failure, they feel important.
Sadly, much of that joy is missing from LoTC. It feels like the mechanism chosen for this game (push your luck), was the wrong choice because it doesn’t do anything that the best push your luck games do so well. The set collection/where to display your flowers idea is interesting, but unfortunately the method of getting to that decision is problematic.
While it’s a serviceable game in which nothing is broken, it’s not a ton of fun, either. The biggest problem with LoTC is that the push your luck mechanism is too constrained to be fun. The best push your luck games give you the thrill of walking on a knife edge. Do I go just one more time, knowing that if I do I’ll get even more? And then maybe just one more time after that? Or do I act sensibly and stop because if I bust I’ll lose everything I’ve built this turn and what I’ve got is pretty good? Your decision is agonizing. Greed versus sense. Probability versus improbability. Plus, your opponents have the fun of egging you on to your own destruction, or gagging over your ridiculous good luck as you escape with all the points.
LoTC has none of that knife edge thrill. There’s no absolute failure for busting. If you don’t have a successful collection, you still wind up with (usually) two flowers in front of your screen. Push your luck games are at their best when there is a true punishment for busting. If you know you’re going to get nothing if you bust, yet you also need to score big, that makes the decision much more difficult. When there’s no painful penalty for busting, it takes the fun out of the decision. You think, “Sure, I’ll go again. At the very least I’ll get these two flowers in front of my screen. I’ll get some points at the end of the game, anyway.” Sure, it’s not a big score and you don’t get to choose were to put those flowers, but it’s something.
Even this could be forgiven if you had a real chance at a big score. In many push your luck games, the number of points you can score or your advancement up some track is limited only by your willingness to press onward. In LoTC, there is an actual limit to how well you can do. Even if you press on and draw all eight of the flowers you’re allowed on a turn, only two of any given color can match because at three like colors you bust. And you can’t have five different colors, either. (And don’t forget those black flowers that will make you bust if you’re one flower short. So, really, once you get within one flower of busting, there are two colors that can doom you, not just one.) So you’re working with in a very narrow window where the risk simply isn’t worth the reward. This isn’t like a dice game where you can roll as many times as you want as long as you don’t get “snake eyes,” for example.
The odds are that even a successful collection won’t be worth much. You can keep two flowers of the same color and put them behind your screen. The other flowers go in front of your screen. Since you score points at the end of the game for either case, the distinction doesn’t seem to matter that much. All success gives you is “more,” but likely not that much more. The rules basically prohibit you from getting a big score.
Which I guess goes with the theme of not being greedy with the tree, but also sucks the fun out of a press your luck game. True, the best press your luck games punish you for being greedy in their way, in that if you bust you lose all that you worked to build. That’s a form of punishment for greed. But they also encourage greed in that they allow you to build up as much as you can and keep it, as long as you don’t bust. LoTC simply punishes greed and takes away the thrill of seeing just how much greed you can get away with. When there’s a cap on how much you can gain on any given turn, the joy of taking big risks is gone.
Push your luck games are also more fun when everyone has access to all the resources each turn. If there are six dice in the game, each player gets to roll them all. If there are ten cubes in the game, each player gets to choose from the full bag. The odds of success or failure remain consistent for each player. Perhaps the odds decrease or increase for an individual player on a specific turn, as is the case when you roll six dice your first roll, choose three to keep, and then roll the other three, choose some to keep and then decide whether to keep rolling those last few or quit. But when that player’s turn is over, all six dice are turned over to the next player for them to use as they see fit. Even if resources decrease throughout the game, it’s better when they decrease equally over the rounds. So if a game starts with six dice in round one, and drops to four dice in round two, that’s fair because everyone suffers the same reduction in probability. It’s not a case where the first player gets all four dice and the next player is left with two.
LoTC takes that away. If you’re successful, you keep all the flowers you draw. Even if you’re unsuccessful, you keep two flowers. In either case, there will be fewer in the bag for the next player. Each player is not playing with the full allotment. Going late in turn order can leave you stranded, even during the first round, if other players end up keeping a lot of flowers. Late in the game, there may be nothing in the bag you even want, meaning drawing and pressing your luck is meaningless and even punitive. Yes, once you know how many of each color are in the game you can mitigate your odds somewhat by carefully tracking who has how many of each color and figuring out what remains in the bag. But that doesn’t change the fact that if there’s nothing in there you need, you’re still stranded.
This probability problem also means that it’s possible to bust (or get so close to busting that the decision not to continue is made for you) on your first pull. Many push your luck games give you a “freebie” on your first pull or roll and it’s almost impossible to bust on your first turn. It becomes the carrot dangling before you, daring you to keep going. In LoTC, the combination of punishing rules and decreasing probabilities means that your first pull can doom you. And if you try to play it safe and only take one or two flowers on your first pull, you’ll likely end up feeling that trying again isn’t worth it because even that single pull has put you perilously close to busting. What, then, is the point of continuing to draw? Sure, I might get more flowers, but the likelihood isn’t great. And since the rules limit what I can keep anyway, it usually feels easier to just stop. There’s no carrot dangling in front of me, daring me to build on it with just one more try because I know that one more try is usually pointless. It doesn’t feel dangerous or tempting. It just feels defeatist.
The sad truth is that there’s very little here that’s the kind of fun I look for in a push your luck game. I love those groaning moments when you have to decide what to do and it really hurts to bust. I love it when your opponents are openly cheering you on because they want you to fail. LoTC is just pull flowers, shrug, maybe draw again, and then place your flowers behind or in front of the screen. No decision seems to matter all that much.
And, of course, the decision is largely out of your hands because the randomness of the flower draw (and the ever-reducing pool of flowers) means that you may not have any decision to make at all. The odds of your collection being successful, much less getting lucky enough to be able to invoke one of the special ability cards, are pretty small. Most turns feel like an exercise in futility, and often I found myself happy to just settle for the two flowers in front of my screen rather than even try for more.
The game works, and some people may find it fun. If you have successful collections, it can be interesting to decide which flowers to display behind your screen and which to place in front. Can you remember what your opponents have behind their screens, and what are your chances of beating them to the number one spot for that color group? If all of your collections are failing, which colors do you keep in front of your screen to try to maximize your score there? So there can be decisions to make, the problem is they don’t happen often enough to keep me engaged.
I’ve said enough about the lack of fun this game provides, so just a few more words of caution. First, the rules are far more complicated than they need to be for such a simple game. With a game like this, you should be able to be up and playing in minutes. Instead, it takes multiple read-throughs to figure the game out. Not only are the rules difficult to interpret, it feels like many of the rules are what take away the fun of the game. A simple game like this would benefit from fewer rules, not more.
Also, the terminology is muddled in places. Sometimes the bonus cards are called Mastery cards, and in other places they’re referred to as Prowess cards. Things like this don’t help understanding. Final scoring is also more complicated than such a simple game should require. When I played with non-gamers, that was their biggest hurdle. They could understand how to play, but when it came to final scoring and settling ties, there was a lot of head scratching over which flowers counted for which groups, and how to do the math to settle the ties.
The game is lovely to look at, though, and the flowers provide a nice tactile experience. It plays fast once you know the game, often ending in fifteen minutes or so. Unfortunately, in a market crowded with fillers and press your luck games, LoTC just doesn’t do enough to separate itself from the pack. In the words of Marie Kondo, it fails to “spark joy.”