Reviews

Review – Everdell: Pearlbrook (Starling Games)

Pearls
Pearls

Explore a New Underwater Society in Pearlbrook

Pearlbrook is the first full expansion for the 2018 release from Starling Games, Everdell. It introduces a new side board, the River board; the Frog Ambassadors go to gather a new resource—Pearls—from aquatic critters and constructions. Use these pearls to play Adornments or to construct fabulous 3D wonders to make your city the pride of Everdell!

Designer James A. Wilson and artists Andrew Bosley and Dann May bring the same whimsical look and feel to this expansion as its predecessor.

The Story

We didn’t always know about the river. When we first made our camp at the base of the Ever Tree, we stayed close, still visitors in this strange land. As the weeks went on, we ranged further out, clearing trails through the thick undergrowth that ringed the valley. I began to chart out this small domain we were shaping, mapping the valley from a raised outcropping to the east.

The dense tree line to the west kept the land beyond in mystery, and though I climbed as far as my paws would take me, I could not clear the trees. So, we formed a party to clear a path, and discover more of the valley that had become our home.

Three days into our ranging, the rains came. For days it fell upon us in stinging sheets, turning the earth to mud under our paws. It was slow going as our fur was heavy and damp. On the ninth day, the first clear day, we finally broke the tree line, and found ourselves looking down at a winding, swollen river. We yelped with excitement and rushed to the banks, lowering our mouths to the clear water and drinking deeply.

And then I saw it: something moving in the water not far from where I knelt. I watched transfixed as a spindly pink hand reached for a rock, followed by the strangest head I’ve ever seen with feathery spines, and a smooth pink body. We watched each other in nervous curiosity for several moments before the creature dove back into the water with a flourish, but not before he pulled something from his small pack and tossed it my way, where it landed with a splash. When I rose and gazed down through the clear water, there at my feet lay a perfect, shining pearl.

 – Passage from the Gilded Book
   Arta Thistlemark, Royal Cartographer

What’s New in Pearlbook

River board
River board

Pearlbrook is the first full expansion for the 2018 release from Starling Games, Everdell. Click here for my in-depth review of Everdell, which is one of my favorite 2018 releases.

So what does Pearlbrook add to an already phenomenal game?

The River board

The most notable addition is the River board. Each player also receives a Frog Ambassador to add to their pool of workers. The Frog Ambassador’s purpose is to visit the waterfolk in the underwater locations of Pearlbrook to establish diplomatic connections with the citizens of Everdell. This will reap valuable bonuses, including the new pearl resources, that players can cash in for Adornments, or trade in with other resources to construct magnificent Wonders in their cities.

Additionally, there are 12 River Destination Cards for use on the River board, which I will go into later.

Wonders

3D Wonders
3D Wonders

There are two board overlays with Pearlbrook that cover the previous location of the Basic Events in the Everdell base game. Players will now trade in resources to build 3D wonders for massive points. However, these Wonders take a lot of resources, so players will need to decide the most beneficial way to allocate those resources.

 

Adornments

At the beginning of the game, players receive 2 of the 12 Adornment cards. Adornment cards cost 1 pearl to play, so it will take several rounds to accumulate the pearl before playing. When playing the Adornment, the ability on the top half of the card activates immediately, while the bottom half is end-of-game scoring.

For example, the Masque allows the player to immediately play one card worth of to 3 VP for free. Furthermore, the player also receives 1 additional VP for every 3 VP tokens they have at the end of the game.

Adornments
Adornments

Playing an Adornment counts as the player’s action for that turn. Adornments do not take up a space in the city or count towards the hand limit.

Pearls

Pearls are a new resource in the Pearlbook expansion. They are not as easy to obtain as the other resources. At any time, a player’s Frog Ambassador may visit the Shoal location on the River board and pay 2 of any resource and discard 2 cards to gain 1 pearl. There are ways to earn Pearl resources, such as playing Adornments or visiting River destinations. Additionally, any unused pearls a player has at the end of the game are worth 2 points each.

Additional Game Components

New Workers
New Workers

This expansion also contains new Special Event Cards, Forest Cards, Critter Cards, and Contsruction Cards with Pearlbrook theming. Additionally, it contains more point tokens (because you can score big with this expansion) and a scorepad to assist with final scoring. Finally, 4 new sets of workers—Platypi, Axolotls, Otters, Starlings—in the form of adorable critter meeples, give even more choices when selecting workers for the game.

Gameplay

The most prominent addition that Pearlbrook brings is the River board and Frog Ambassadors. There are 4 River Destinations and the Shoal location on the River board. During set-up, place 4 River Destination Cards (2 Citizens and 2 Locations) face down in each of these spots, with one pearl on top of the card. Frog Ambassadors can only visit these underwater locations. They cannot visit Forest locations or any other spaces on the original board. Furthermore, the regular workers cannot visit any of the underwater locations.

River Destinations
River Destinations

To visit any River Destination card, revealed or undiscovered, the player must meet the listed requirements in the form of specific card types in their city. The first time a River Destination is visited, the player earns the pearl resource on top of the card, and flips the card over. If they can also complete the requirements on the card, they may do so to gain the listed reward. If not, the space is now open to all players to visit and use when it becomes unoccupied again.

River Citizens will require discarding certain card combinations to gain a point token and a pearl. River Locations will require payment of a point token and a certain resource to gain cards and a pearl.

Frog Ambassador may also visit the Shoal location on the River board and pay 2 of any resource and discard 2 cards to gain 1 pearl.

The Good

Pearlbrook does exactly what a good expansion is supposed to do – simultaneously simplify gameplay while adding new features and mechanics. I like how the requirements for completing Basic Events in the base game are transferred over to the River Destination cards. And then resources are traded in for constructing the Wonders. Big points can be scored for these Wonders, too. But they are also expensive. Decisions will have to be made to acquire more resources, and then whether to spend those resources on Wonders or on Critters and Constructs in the city.

Redesigned Wooden Twigs
Redesigned Wooden Twigs

Furthermore, whether you were able to pick them up during the Pearlbrook Kickstarter, lucky to grab them at Gen Con, or are waiting until they hit retail, the newest add-ons from Tarry Hare’s General Store are amazing! I was most excited about getting a new wooden Ever Tree. My original cardboard tree from the base game has shown some wear over the past year. I have to take it apart to travel with it. The assembling and disassembling have caused minor damage to the tree. It is also nice to have the newly redesigned twigs that don’t roll all over the table.

Production Quality

While the production quality of this game is off the charts, I wonder if certain things needed to be included, while others could have used a little better production quality.

For example, are the 3D Wonders and the Open/Closed signs really necessary? And while the new sets of workers are really cool, they are not needed either. How much did these “extras” increase the price of the game? Could they have been included as an optional add-on to the game, like the wooden Ever Tree and the redesigned wooden twig tokens? And while the new wooden twig tokens are great, the berries still roll around on the table.

While some of these new components are awesome, a couple others fall a little short. My River board does not sit flush with my original Everdell board. While it is a minor gripe and affects my gameplay 0%, my eye notices it every time and is bothered by it. The two board overlays that cover the previous locations of the Basic Events are very thin. I wouldn’t even call it cardstock, it is more like a thick paper. I understand the want to have the new locations as flush against the board as possible, but I also wonder how long these will last without any wear.

Wooden Ever Tree
Wooden Ever Tree

There is also a misprint on the 12 River Destination Cards. The backs of the Citizen and Location cards are different colors. So when visiting the River Destination, even though it is hidden, you still have an idea of what will be revealed. The publisher is working with the factory to reprint replacement River cards, but they are still working out the logistics of when these will be produced and shipped.

A few other minor gripes…

The rulebook does not mention the Wonders by name. I was able to deduce by point allocation and worth of resources as to which one went in each space. It was just surprising that nowhere were the actual names mentioned. The Special Event cards don’t have Pearlbrook icon. The rulebook states that when setting up the Special Events, use at least 1 Pearlbrook Special Event. How do you know which is which?

Finally, one of my biggest gripes of boardgames today… paper scorepads. I have played Pearlbrook several times so far. How many times have I used the scorepad? Zero. This is an unnecessary addition that not only adds to production cost, but also has an environmental cost.

Final Thoughts

Pearlbrook is a beautiful addition to an already awesome game. While I may continue to play with just the Everdell base game when I first teach it to new players, I will always play with the Pearlbrook expansion with more seasoned players.

Frog Ambassadors
Frog Ambassadors

I love how the addition of the River board simultaneously simplifies the gameplay, while adding new features and mechanics. New decisions are made to acquire more resources to complete additional tasks. Big points can be scored.

And let’s not forget how beautiful this game is. The additional components are stunning. The pearls sparkle in the light and have a glorious tactile feel to them. The new sets of workers and the Frog Ambassadors are adorable. Who doesn’t want to play as a platypus or an axolotl? Furthermore, the artwork on the box cover and new cards by Andrew Bosley continues to be as gorgeous as the artwork in the Everdell base game.

If you love Everdell, this is a no-brainer. You will love this expansion as well.

Game Statistics

  • Release Date: Fall 2019
  • MSRP: $50.00
  • Playing Time: 40-80 minutes
  • Age Range: 13+
  • Player Count: 1-4

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About the author

Shanon Connelly

(a.k.a. “Super Muffin Girl”) is an avid board gamer, cosplayer, and all around nerd girl. She has been cosplaying for over 10 years, attending several conventions every year. She recently started a YouTube gaming channel, "Time to Play!", which previews and reviews board games. Follow Shanon on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (@supermuffingirl).

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