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Mighty Trees Ecological Card Game Review
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Eric Boyd blogs about sustainable transhumanism and serious games at Digital Crusader.

Have you ever taken a walk in a forest and been deeply impressed by the trees? You are not the only one! Mighty Trees lets you plant, grow and protect trees, in realistic ecological card game. Of course, your opponent tries to one-up you with stronger trees and devastating natural disasters...

From the back of the box:

Mighty Trees is the strategic educational card game that places you in command of a vast legion of mutant trees. At your disposal are a multitude of beguiling tree species, zany forest animals and devastating natural disasters. Pit your forces against an opponent to capture scenic habitats across the southeastern United States. Master the forces of nature before they master you...

The website is impressive and well done. From it you can learn that Mighty Trees is a "Scientifically Modeled Immersive Learning Experience" - a SMILE. The game includes not only the Mighty Trees from which it takes its name, but also cloud cards, trend cards, storm cards, mutation cards, and critter cards. The interplay of all these cards makes the "Elder Stage" game quite challenging, but fortunately the game has been designed to grow in complexity with the player through three stages.

Seedling stage consists of just the trees themselves, which you endeavor to plant and grow into the canopy, thus capturing the climates needed to win the game. In Timber Stage, the weather becomes a factor: climates can be modified via clouds and trends (like drought), and storms can be used to destroy trees. At Elder Stage, mutations can make your trees stronger while critters give you special powers. The design of the draw piles forces you to balance the quantity of seedling, timber and elder cards that you use, ensuring that every game will include the full range of possible game play.

What most impresses about Mighty Trees is the ecological principles which underlie the game mechanics. Players turns are governed by Sols, which represent the solar energy available to their Tree Legions. Trees must be played into climates which support them - so the Willow trees do well in warm wet southern forests, while Pine trees thrive on mountain tops, and Oak trees need drier places. Disasters require certain preconditions to be met - you can only flood a river valley, while only mountains can have steep terrain disasters like landslides, and fires are weakened in wet areas. Mutations, although generally stronger than would really occur in nature, provide a mechanism to illustrate how trees may evolve over time, and make game play more strategic. Critters have powers that are related to their natural abilities - for instance the Eastern Chipmunk has "Big Cheeks: Draw until there are 10 cards in your Command," which gives you a substantial choice advantage over your opponent for several turns.

In fact, so ecological is the game that the manual includes several sections about how the cards can be used in real life. For instance, if you want to plant trees (good for you!), the tree cards can be used to help identify a species which will thrive in your area. The manual includes a handy "hardiness zone" map, as well as a wetness guide, so that the climate ranges given on the tree cards can be related to your local area. Combined with the other information on the cards such as sun strength and tree height, you can learn more than enough about a tree just using the cards alone! The cloud cards include real pictures of the clouds along with their names, international symbols, and descriptions of weather they spawn. Critter cards show the "tracks" (footprints) and some vital stats such as average height and weight.

Game play is balanced and fun. On your turn you spend considerable time trying to balance achieving your own tree growth with efforts to frustrate the other players growth. Some climates are so extreme that trees are quite rare and a lot of the action consists of countering via storms like your F3 Tornado, while in other climates tree battles go back and forth for many turns, until the remaining trees are so strong that you have to block further action with your Black Bear... Some cards require multiple-turn strategies to use properly, challenging your memory.

The staged nature of the game actually means that Mighty Trees is more like three games in one - it will keep you coming back for more, because the game has more to offer. Yet the complexity of the Elder Stage is not crippling or even confusing, because your fundamental goals in the game remain the same: win those climates by growing trees into the Canopy, while preventing your opponent from doing the same.

The game also comes with a supplemental rule set explaining how to play with more than two players - it is largely a playing area issue, because even the two player game requires a fairly large playing area. Restrict the game to only one climate, and arrange yourselves around it - competition is intense, winner take all.

At present, only Chapter 1: Southern Roots is in production. It contains trees from the south eastern region of the United States. People outside that region can only play with a set of trees which are not necessarily native to their area. It would be great to have three or more additional versions of the game representing Western USA, Northern areas, and of course radically different places such as the rain forests of Brazil. Given the obviously large amount of research and knowledge which went into creating Southern Roots version, we can hope that future versions will also have such great attention to detail - likely requiring local knowledge.

Mighty Trees is great game, with serious educational and entertainment value. A testimonial from the website sums it up:

"After the boys played Mighty Trees one time we went on a nature walk. The boys were throwing around words like habitat, under-story, canopy...I was truly impressed..." -- Joy Herring, Cub Scout Pack #33 - Bear Den Leader

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Comments

Wow - I'm a gamer geek and that sounds like a really immersive system. And I've got no complaints with the theme, either.


Posted by: Patrick on 10 Jan 07

This is a great review. And, as I look for gifts / such that are environmentally focused, this could be great. One thing that I would love to know/see in the review: what is age target?


Posted by: A Siegel on 11 Jan 07

A Siegel,

The box says Age 8+, 2 players, time 30-90 minutes.

In my opinion an 8 year old would have trouble with anything other than Seedling Stage, but slightly older children should do fine.

Eric


Posted by: Eric Boyd on 11 Jan 07

Really like the site. I have added a link to my blog at http://timkevan.blogspot.com where I write a bit about surfing in the UK. If you'd like to add a link back that would be much appreciated. If not, no worries at all. Best wishes, Tim Kevan


Posted by: Tim Kevan on 13 Jan 07



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