What is this game about?
Herbaceous, from Pencil First Games, is a lushly-illustrated game about gathering and potting herbs. To win, players need to collect sets of herbs and plant them in ways that maximize the points they score. Each players only has four pots, and each pot can only hold certain types and combinations of plants. For example, one pot holds multiple pairs of herbs, one pot holds a lot of the same herb, and one holds one of each herb. There is also a glass jar that can be used for special, higher-scoring herbs. On top of limits on what they can plant where, players are only able to use each pot one time—meaning they have only one shot at scoring for each pot.
Players can collect herbs in their private gardens, but they are also free to help themselves to a "community garden," which consists of herb cards that all players can take and use. Another aspect of strategy in Herbaceous is deciding when to grab herbs from the community garden. If you take cards and plant them too soon, you could miss out on better scoring opportunities. But if you wait too long, someone else could grab those herbs before you do.
How does it play solo?
Herbaceous comes with a solo variant in-box. To play solo, you shuffle the herb deck and remove half of the herb cards from the game. On each turn, you draw three cards, one at a time. You have to choose where to place each card as you draw it: One goes to your private garden, one goes to the community garden, and one goes to the discard pile. Discarded cards are removed permanently from the game, and there are limits to what you can put in the community garden. Once a fifth herb card would be placed there, all of its cards are discarded and you lose the chance to use them. This mechanic forces you to make quick decisions about what you will pot and when.
Herbaceous is an absolutely beautiful game, and it can also be very relaxing. I like playing it in a group because Herbaceous has enough tension to be a real game, but it's still a chill filler game that is quick to play and easy to teach.
For me, however, the solo mode is lacking. Taking half of the cards out of the deck leaves you without the ability to gauge how much of any particular herb might be left. You can wait and wait hoping to get a good combo, but there is a possibility that the cards you need just aren't there—and you have no way of knowing that. In a group game this doesn't matter as much, because your goal is to beat another player. But the solo mode is about trying to beat your own score, and there will be game setups that won't actually allow that, no matter how well you play.
Additionally, the guarantee that the community garden will be wiped out every time a fifth card would be placed in it forces you to pot early and often, which makes sense in terms of creating tension, but it is also more artificial than worrying about what one of your neighbors will take from the community garden—and when.
Overall, my issue with the solo variant of Herbaceous is that I can't actually feel proud of my higher scores, because they don't represent any particular successful strategy on my part. I'm just lucking out. This is true of other solo fillers I enjoy, like The Game, but I feel like Herbaceous asks me to make a lot of decisions—and I like my decisions in a game to be a bit more meaningful.
Do I recommend it?
For purely solo play, I wouldn't recommend Herbaceous. It's not bad, and there are lots of things to like about it. But I also think you can do better where solo games are concerned—in fact, Sunset over Water, from the same design team, is another relaxing filler game with a significantly better solo variant.
Overall Rating: 2.5 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.