PLAYlist 30: Citrus

Aug 09, 2018 By Austin Trunick Bookmark and Share


Few annual occurences are as rewarding as seeing a summer’s worth of sweat pay off as you watch your garden grow and bear fruit. Now, imagine that instead of a garden, it’s an entire orchard, and instead of real trees, your orchard is made up of colorful cardboard tokens on a game board. Got that? Okay. Welcome to Citrus.

Citrus is one of the best-regarded games from esteemed designer Jeffrey D. Allers (also author of the snappy-looking New York Slice, which we covered in a prior PLAYlist column.) The game was first released five years ago, but from a German publisher – meaning only those most up on their international game releases had the wherewithal to purchase it. In that half-decade, though, Citrus has picked up momentum through word-of-mouth and high ratings, leading to this wider release from North American publisher Tasty Minstrel Games.

The game begins with up to five players looking out over a nearly-oppressive sea of beige. The board won’t remain that way, fortunately, and this was one of those tiny cosmetic touches that occasionally enhance a game for me in big ways. As the game plays out, the board will gradually become a bright splash of colors – red, orange, green, yellow, pink – as your orchards take root and spread. This is a game that rapidly goes from butt-ugly to gorgeous, the way a freshly-tilled patch of dirt sprouts a colorful flower garden. It feels a little shallow to be going on about so much about something so cosmetic, but you shouldn’t underestimate the way clever aesthetic designs can really open up a game’s theme.

You and your opponents will be stepping into the shoes of Spanish citrus moguls as you try to cultivate and harvest the biggest and the best hauls of oranges, lemons, limes, and so forth. To come out ahead in the points game you’re going to want to have the biggest orchards, but also the most varied portfolio of fruits. The game doesn’t make it easy to have both, and that’s the puzzle of Citrus.

Well, see, you’ll need to buy the orchards before you can plant them. (They’re purchased from a zig-zagging, rapidly-changing market in rows of 1 to 4, meaning you’ll often need to also purchase fruit trees you don’t want in order to get the ones you do.) Of course purchasing takes money, and like in life there’s a limited supply of that. To earn coins, you’ll need to harvest some of your orchards. But when, and where? Holding out and cashing out larger plantations will yield more points, as well as hold down important territorial controls over valuable fincas – we’ll call them “houses” – which pop up across the board, and burp up tasty bonus points whenever they’re fully surrounded by tiles. If you don’t have a farmer hanging out in an orchard nearby, you won’t get in on that sweet point action.

So, you could stretch out and sit on a bunch of plantations all over the board, but you’ll soon run out of farmers and, worse, money. When you harvest, coinage isn’t determined by the size of your plantations, but how many farmers you’ve got hanging out back at headquarters not farming the board. (I guess they’re the ones actually selling the fruit?) This means that if you spread yourself too thin, when you do decide to sell out and harvest an orchard you’ll only get a piddly number of coins. Plant and harvest quickly for big money gains, or play the long game and exercise patience to earn points. The winner of Citrus will be the player who finds the best balance between the two.

Many sessions of Citrus will include more than one deliciously tense game of chicken. You’ll stare down your opponent as you each have orchards sprawling out from the same finca/house tile. You both want the points for it, but neither has the money to buy any more orchards to surround the tile and score it. You’ll stare your opponent down with cold, narrowed eyes, like a geeky Clint Eastwood – who’s gonna cave and be the one to take the money first, sacrificing potential points to their foe across the table?

Citrus offers a good amount of variety from game-to-game, with special action tiles being spread across the board that grant extra points at end of game or special, one-time-use abilities during it. The orchards and fincas will show up in wildly different orders every time, as well.

And here’s maybe the best thing: at a full player count, Citrus plays in a relatively quick 60 minutes. It’s a big-feeling game without a huge time investment. If that’s somehow not fast enough for you, the flipside of the thick board features a smaller playfield, which will significantly decrease the amount of time it takes to get from game start to game end. You’ll also find a simplified family variant that makes the game more approachable for younger kids, but we’ll also mention that our 10-year-old playtester had no issues grasping the fully-leaded ruleset. This is a relatively easy game to learn and teach.

With an MSRP of $59.99, Citrus earns itself a worthy recommendation for fans of tile placement and area control. It’s fast, elegant-looking, and fun – and Tasty Minstrel Games have printed it on cardboard thick enough to feel like it will hold up for many years.

No board game playlist yet has been this effortless thanks to the number of great musical acts weirdly named after citrus fruits. Our hour-long playlist for this column includes rising indie stars The Lemon Twigs, Dev Hynes’ latest musical incarnation as Blood Orange, bubblegum psych rockers The Lemon Pipers, seminal U.K. post-punk unit Orange Juice, Evan Dando’s classic output with The Lemonheads, and influential electronic pioneers Tangerine Dream. Drink up!

***

Previous PLAYlist columns: History of the World, Altiplano, Pioneer Days, Crystal Clans, Jurassic Park: Danger!, PhotosynthesisIce CoolFood Truck ChampionArs Alchimia & LemuriaA Game of Thrones CatanTroyesTwilight Imperium: Fourth EditionFlip ShipsNMBR 9UnearthEscape from 100 Million B.C., Orleans (plus Trade & Intrigue)Whistle StopCaverna: Cave vs CaveTwilight StruggleHonshuBärenpark, Notre Dame & In the Year of the DragonYokohamaClank! A Deck-Building AdventureVillages of ValeriaNew York SliceWatson & HolmesHanamikoji.



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