Sometimes it’s not about slaying monsters, or resource acquisition, or worker placement, or even building railroad lines. Sometimes a board game is about relaxing with friends and loved ones, taking it easy and having a good time doing something as simple as watching the flowers grow. I’m working through the list of board games I came across and snagged copies of at PAX Unplugged 2019, and I decided something like that would be just the thing to start. Place tiles, build a beautiful array of twisting vines, and watch the flower (pieces) bloom with Trellis, a game of zen and blossoms designed by Teale Fristoe, illustrated by Vikki Chu, and published by Breaking Games!
Trellis caught my eye when searching for review copies partly because of its nice box art and partly because of the relaxing experience a game of ‘zen and blossoms’ promised; 2/3rds into the con at that point and I was starting to get a bit frazzled, and even if I didn’t get to play at the con the future promise of watching the flowers grow with some friends was desperately needed. Talking with the Breaking Games staff at the booth (We’re Doomed! is doing very well, by the way), they remarked that Trellis is actually something of a hard sell at a con: once the basics of the game are grasped there’s not too much need for table talk, so a passing con-goer sees a table of somewhat serious-looking and quiet people placing flower pieces, with little flare to draw that con-goer in. That only made it more appealing to my half-cooked brain at the time, I’ll be honest, so I asked for a copy and brought it home. So how does it actually play?
Each player has 15 flowers and a ‘hand’ of three hexagonal tiles, and the way to win is to be the first player to place the last of your flowers. A starting tile, with the start of a vine on each side (one for each color of vine in the game), is placed on the table to start things off. The first player’s turn starts by them placing a tile, connecting a vine on their tile to a vine on whatever tile they placed it next to; the vine doesn’t have to be of the same color, but we’ll get to why you might want it to be shortly. After placing a tile they place a flower on one of the three vines on the tile they just put down; there can only be one flower on each stretch of vine, meaning that a tile can have a maximum of three flowers. The first player’s first turn then ends by drawing another tile from the deck, but on every subsequent turn there’s another step: blooming.
When a tile is placed and attaches lengths of the vine of the same color, the active player checks to see if there are any flowers already on the pre-existing tile. If there are, a new flower blooms on every empty length of the same-colored vine that’s been connected. If the flowers in question belong to the active player, great, they still place their turn’s flower, draw a tile, and move on. But the blooming flowers might very well belong to another player as ‘gifts’, but giving is also definitely receiving: for every ‘gift’ flower that bloomed for another player, the active player gets to place another of their own flowers. By default they have to put them on the tile they just placed, but if they run out of room, their flowers can be placed on an open vine on any tile on the table. Blooming also works in reverse: when a flower is placed on a length of vine, if there are any connected lengths of the same color, another flower blooms there as well.
So, for a laid back game, there’s a fair amount of strategy involved. Do you give your opponents gifts and try to jump ahead? String together vines of the same color to bloom your own flowers, or build vines of different colors to cut off your opponents’ efforts? Go off in your own direction with tile placement, or get tangled up in the mix and hope for some gifts? It’s important to note that the win condition is last flower placed, so it is very possible for someone to be gifted victory, but there’s limited opportunity for a ‘gotcha’ moment; you can simply count up how many flowers are on the board, and if your opponent has 14 on it, don’t give any gifts.
I found Trellis to be as easy-to-play and relaxing as I’d hoped, the quality of the tiles and pieces is high, and the entire aesthetic is very pleasing. I will say that while Michelle and I (thanks honey!) had a good time playing it together, it doesn’t quite sing the way it should with only two players. Without more players to work off of going first seems to grant a decent advantage that will take self-blooming to overcome, and the gifting mechanic isn’t as complex or rewarding. Even then, though, it was still an enjoyable experience watching the flowers grow, and I look forward to playing it some more, with two players or the full set.
Maybe with a cup of tea next time.
Trellis is, as mentioned above, for 2-4 players aged 8-10+ with an estimated playtime of 20-30 minutes. You can find downloads of the rulebook (it comes in English, German, Spanish, and French) and order a copy yourself off the Breaking Games site, and you can also find the game on the shelves at Target.
Thanks to the Breaking Games team at PAX Unplugged for providing a review copy of the game!