We fell in love with the fantastic new board game Three Sisters
Three sisters is a new roll-and-write from the designers of Fleet: the dice game, and it’s absolutely fantastic. Based on the accompanying planting technique that the indigenous peoples of the Americas have used for several thousand years, the game has a brilliantly complex system of interconnected rewards and bonuses that makes it an intellectual puzzle that I wanted to play over and over again.
The “three sisters” technique involves growing corn, beans, and squash together for their symbiotic relationship in the field. Corn stalks give beans natural trellises to climb, beans fix nitrogen in the soil, and squash provide natural soil cover to reduce evaporation and prevent weed growth, while the three crops, eaten together provide the nine essential amino acids that humans cannot produce. for themselves. Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback, the designers of Three sistersalso worked with two Indigenous advisors who read the rules of the game and reviewed his art to ensure they were using the theme and subject matter with respect, without cultural appropriation.
In Three sisters, players have two tally sheets that they will score during the game, one of which shows the player’s garden, with six areas and six different perennial flowers below it, while the other shows the shed, apiary and the player’s fruit trees, compost bin, and the generic “goods” section which is much more than its name suggests. The first player in each round rolls the dice, two more than the number of players, grouping them by value (from one to six, with the single pip replaced by the image of a pumpkin) and places them on the puck from the small center board. Players then go in turn, selecting a die and performing two actions depending on the value of the die and the space it was resting on, after which all players use the lowest remaining die for two actions bonuses, again depending on the value and location of the die.
The first action, based on the value of the die, is a Plant or Water action: you can plant two new plants in the area of your garden corresponding to the value of this die, or you can water all the plants in this area. Each area contains a number of corn, bean, and squash plants. Corn plants are four spaces high, while their adjacent bean plants are two spaces high. When you finish a corn plant by checking all four boxes, you get three victory points; once you complete the second box of a corn plant, you can start the bean plant, which is worth one point when completed. Pumpkin plants vary in size, but once completed you get one to three goods (not points), and if you complete two adjacent pumpkins you also tick the perennial flower space between them and fill a space in the column of this flower at the bottom.
Then you do the second action, based on the space under the die. These can involve a free Plant/Water action, checking a box in your Shed, checking a box in your Apiary or on a Fruit Tree, gaining a Compost and four Goods, or visiting the Farmer’s Market. The Shed has a dozen items you can complete that give you continuous perks, or regular bonuses, or endgame point bonuses. The apiary and fruits, such as perennials, can do the same, with increasing benefits over time. The Farmer’s Market gives you benefits based on the number of Goods you’ve gathered, marking out more lively and possibly fruit-bearing spaces.
There are also bonus actions available depending on your goods – every time you collect five more goods you get a free bonus action, ticking off a space in any area other than your garden. Your compost is useful when the dice hate you, with a compost used to add or subtract one from the face value of the die (one and six are considered consecutive). Compost is a bit underpowered, although you can get an item in the shed that lets you use three composts for a free bonus action, which is pretty awesome. Without it, you’ll likely end the game with an unused compost pile, which is at least the opposite of my experience as a home gardener.
At the end of each round, everyone takes a collective action, marking a space in the shed, visiting the farmer’s market or watering the six areas of their garden when it rains. After eight rounds, you count all of your points and declare a winner.
I really enjoy a good rolling and writing game. The Clever series (That’s pretty smart!, Twice as clever, smart cube, Why am I so smart) is the example here, incredibly replayable and highly rewarding thanks to the cascading bonuses you can create with a bit of strategy. seven bridges is also very… uh, clever, and greatly rewards strategy even with the inherent randomness of a dice game. Dinosaur World: Rawr and write! was one of my best games of 2021, and it’s the one that came to mind Three sisterslargely because of its reach.
Rolling and writing games get bigger, get more ambitious and ask players to do more – cover more ground (literally, in this game) and think more to build those bonus chains which I find to be the best part of a roll-and-write. Three sisters does that, in spades (get it? spades? whatever). You can acquire tools at the start of the game that will increase the power of the Plant action or the Rain phase, or give you additional goods when you collect certain fruits. You can work around the edges of your garden trying to complete all the gourds in order to get all the perennial bonus actions, which in turn trigger more bonuses as you progress through each perennial column. In addition, the squash gives you a lot of goods, and if you accumulate them, you get bonus actions from the goods section. You can often use a bonus action to do something else that earns you more goods and triggers another bonus action. There’s a lot of that in Three sisters, from the second or third round at the latest. If you like that kind of stuff, this game is definitely for you.
The art itself, by acclaimed illustrator Beth Sobel, is attractive, but the combination of small black text on detailed, richly colored illustrations makes it very difficult to read unless you have good lighting – and even So, I had to get my reading glasses. The game comes with a single-player mode, where Edith, who is apparently a very evil rival farmer, crosses things off all over your score sheets every turn, which I found a very frustrating experience compared to competitive play. That’s a glitch too, but we all thought it was odd that the final action of the game was another rain rather than a visit to the farmers market – mechanically it makes sense, but thematically it seems backward. You end the year selling your wares, don’t you? Harvest in September and go to market. Instead, it’s raining.
My wife and I were up until 1am the night before I wrote this review, playing this game just one more time, and in our final game we were tied at 115 points despite extremely divergent: she went heavy on the apiary, I went heavy in the garden and timed everything well so that the last phase of rain earned me 19 extra points. I know people have been reporting higher scores online, so we haven’t fully cracked the code, but even breaking the triple digits felt like an achievement. Packing it all into a game that takes around 45 minutes is impressive. Clearly I’m very careless never to play Fleet: the dice gamebecause these two designers have created a winner here.
Keith Law is the author of The inner game and Smart Baseball and a senior baseball writer for Athleticism. You can find his personal blog the dish, covering games, literature, and more, at meadowparty.com/blog.