As a card carrying member of the non-elite myriad of European board games it is always a great day when you discover a new game from the designer Michael Kiesling. It is just as exciting to find a new game from the imagination of the excellent Wolfgang Kramer. BUT to come across a game that carries these two industry giants as joint designers with illustrations from the ever-popular Dennis Lohausen is a dream come true. After taking this into your gamers heart and digesting what it could mean, you then study the credits in greater detail and discover that two other industry stalwarts, Peter Eggert and Viktor Kobilke, are heading up the development team.
RENATURE is a tile laying game where the tiles are double ended, animal illustrated, dominoes made from highly polished wood. They are laid in similar fashion to Dominoes, ensuring that where they are adjacent to other tiles the animals match, mismatching is not allowed. It is for 2-4 players, actually plays exceptionally well with two players, aged 8+ and is great value for money at a cost of between £30.00 - £40.00.
Apologies, but because I didn't find typing the same word over and over I have used Tiles and Dominoes descriptively for the same component pieces.
The board is an uncomplicated 15x15 grid of squares overlaying streams and fallow, arable agricultural land. There are 55 dominoes, each with two animal pictures, including one double for each of the ten different animals. These are shuffled face down and a number dealt to each player depending on the number of players; 26 (2) 18 (3) and 13 (4). This ensures that not all the Tiles are used every game and as you are not allowed to view the animals on the removed tiles you cannot 'card-read' to know what Dominoes your opponent/s have.
When you lay a Domino you may also lay one of your Plants (ie Plant one of your Turfs, Bushes, or Trees) in an adjacent (never diagonal) empty arable lot. Each player has their own board where they keep their Plants and Clouds on (Clouds can be used for buying an extra turn immediately after finishing your turn and for controlling the 'Wild' animal. There are a few places on the board you can collect Clouds from (actually just 4 places and five stars) but you begin with a full compliment of six Clouds and you are not allowed to hold more, so budget your Cloud spending carefully and tactically so you can spend them in or close to the turn on which you can pick one up. Clouds are also worth 1VP each if you still have them on your board at game end.
Like Dominoes you have to play against a previously laid tile if possible. As there are 10 animals in the game (an equal number of each) it is quite possible that you won't be able to match one on your turn as you only have a hand of 3 Dominoes and some tiles have been previously removed.
In RENATURE the Dominoes have to be played on the squares containing streams and you can only plant Plants on arable land next to one of the just played Domino's sides - if the end of your Domino is between two pieces of land then you can choose to plant on the left or right but not both. You may only plant against the tile you just this turn placed. One Plant per turn. To stay in with a good chance of winning you really do need to Plant every turn if you possibly can.
From the top down on this page I have published photos from a game in session, showing how the board can grow - each photo being a few turns before/after - the lower down the page the nearer to the game end.
There are 18 arable areas on the board, mostly different shapes and sizes, and each has a value on it. This value equates to the top number (of two) on the Area Score Tokens (each area has a specific Area Token associated with it) - generally the player with the most Plant points in an area gains the top number and the second most the lower number; any player alone in an area when it is scored adds in both Area Token numbers. On the flip side of each Area token is a number of bonus VPs - you aren't supposed to look at them until you collect them but after a couple of games you have a pretty good idea what the bonus VPs will be.
It is about now that I must mention the 'Neutral' - the light-wood - Dominoes. Every player has a set of them, some of each value, and their points count when evaluating the scoring of the area. They are another way players can create problems for each other. Any Plants left on a player's board count against that player in the final counting.
Not all the Dominoes or Clouds are used each game. Not every animal becomes the 'Wild' animal that allows anything to be placed against it or can be placed against any other animal, mismatching or not, and still be legal.
The components are mostly all natural, being carved/moulded shiny wooden pieces, with the exception of the folding board (do be careful with this when opening as the folded seams do quickly begin to weaken and fray) the player's boards and the Tokens. The stunningly beautiful artwork is complimented by one of the best rules-books you will ever see for a game; slim, colourful, decently written, well laid out and full of text and pictorial examples, a credit to DEEP PRINT and PSC the game publishers.
This is an outstanding game for Families and Friends and for Gamers. It has gorgeous illustrations and is easy to play and understand, though Gamers may find a few nuances party players may miss. If I could change just one thing it would be the board. As I say, I understand that some Dominoes are not in every game, but we have started to fashion a bit of a pattern in play. It's not exactly a strict routine that can win you the game N times out of 10, but after several plays you do begin to have occasional feelings of Deja Vu.