Full Disclosure: A demo copy of Orchard was provided to me by Sideroom Games, then sent on to another previewer.
What is Orchard about?
Orchard is a small box puzzle game designed by Mark Tuck. With only nine cards and some colorful dice, players will work to build the most bountiful orchard. Each turn, you will choose where to lay down a new card in the orchard, with the goal of overlapping several fruit trees of the same type. The more trees you overlap, the better your harvest. But be careful: You can't just go piling up trees of different types. In fact, you can only do this twice, using one of the two "rotten fruit" cubes—and it will lose you three points each time you do. Orchard is a lightning fast game that is finished in under ten minutes. It's designed for solo play, and seems like it would be best that way. Technically, it's possible to play multiplayer if you have multiple sets.
Things I like about Orchard
Orchard is exactly the sort of game I like to have on the go. It's easy to set up, plays super quickly, and is a snap to reset and play again. The rules are very simple, but you'll get a lot of play out of it, and you have just enough interesting choices to make you want to play a few times in a row every time you pull it out. This is exactly the sort of light, charming solo game I'm looking for when I'm on the go and don't want to burn my brain out on something like Sprawlopolis.
Possible Concerns about Orchard
I have only one complaint about Orchard: It's a little difficult to deal with the dice. When you are tracking your score, you put dice on top of overlapped trees and change their values. This means that if you make a big play with multiple overlapping trees, you have to remove multiple dice, then put them back. The game is so small—only nine cards are involved—that it's possible to work around this. But it is definitely a possible annoyance.
Should I back it?
I'm personally very charmed by Orchard and want a copy of my own. It's worth looking into if you want a super quick solo puzzle that is easy to transport.
What is this game about?
A4 Quest is a PnP, and now print, game that lives up to its name—it's a quick, dice-driven dungeon crawl that can be printed on a couple of A4 sheets of paper. As with most dungeon crawls, you will get to choose a character with their own specialized stats, and the options are what you'd expect from a game with a fantasy/medieval theme: a knight, an archer, a paladin, and a mage. You can also get fun companions with special abilities, such as a dog or a hawk. (Or... you know... a chicken.)
While each adventure in A4 Quest is printed on its own sheet and has its own little rule tweaks, the essence of the game remains the same from play to play. Each quest will have several panels that you progress through in a fixed order, from left to right. (If you PnP the game, you can also cut up the panels and deal them in a random order.) You will then choose a character, put down markers for your starting stats, and roll a pool of four dice. These dice will allow you to take one action in each room/panel, such as hunting or gathering treasure. Sometimes you'll have to choose between multiple actions, but whatever you do, your actions will succeed or fail depending on the value of the die you choose to complete it. You'll also need dice to pay movement costs at certain points in the game, as well as to fight against monsters (you can't avoid conflict, so save those high-value dice when a fight is coming up!). To refresh your dice pool, you'll need to take rest actions, which cost you food. This means you'll also need to keep an eye on your resources. Throughout the game you can gain experience that will allow you to level up and improve your attack or defense stats, so you get stronger as you progress down the page. While sometimes your luck is against you and you don't make it all the way through an adventure, other times you can finish the game with a much-improved character, and some treasure to boot!
How does it play solo?
The box says 1–2 players, but A4 Quest is definitely a solo game—just pick a character, grab an adventure page, and go to town.
There are a lot of good things to appreciate about A4 Quest. It's quick, easy to set up, easy to learn, and visually appealing. If you don't want to get the print version, it's a PnP, so if you're looking for a free game to while away an afternoon, then you will probably have a good time. A lot of work went into the arst for this game, even in its PnP form, and it's clear that it's been produced with a lot of love. Also, while A4 Quest is a dice game, there is some degree of choice involved. While you can't control the die values you will roll, you do get to decide how best to deploy your dice as you go, and some decisions are better than others. I enjoyed playing A4 Quest.
That said, I don't think that A4 Quest is great. It's fine, but ultimately forgettable. The decisions you make in the game aren't particularly challenging ones, especially once you know what you're doing. If you're good at counting ahead, then it doesn't hold its mystery for long. On top of that, too many bad rolls can totally tank you, with little opportunity to mitigate. That said, I'd be interested to see how this game would feel if it had a campaign, or higher stakes than just making it to the bottom of a page. There is no story to speak of in A4 Quest, so you don't get particularly attached to any of the characters or scenarios. Would it be a more intense game when played with a character I cared about?
Do I recommend it?
Maybe. A4 Quest isn't one of the greats, but it's pleasant—and if you PnP it, then it's free. If you're looking into PnP games and you want one that you can truly just print and play (no cutting involved), then you might enjoy trying this one.
Overall Rating: 3 stars
5 stars — I love it!
4 stars — I really like it.
3 stars — I like it.
2 stars — It's okay.
1 star — Meh.