Have you ever asked yourself who is the most evil animal villain of all time?
Captain Maugrim (see 7:32 in this video) from the original BBC version of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe used to seriously test my bladder when I was a nipper – a test it was prone to fail. My wife won’t even look at a picture of Mordor’s most famous spinster Shelob, let alone watch.
Then there’s Nagini – You-Know-Who’s trusty sidekick. I think any animal that thinks its somehow acceptable to take up residence inside the body of an elderly lady must be up there in our rankings…? Eeeshk.
Well, don’t bother thinking about that question now because today’s protagonist will be waltzing down the garden path, taking the proverbial biscuit and then savagely devouring it before your disbelieving eyes…
What is First Orchard?
First Orchard is a cooperative game for 1-4 players published by German giant HABA in 2009 as part of their “My Very First Games” series for young children. It’s advertised as suitable for ages 2+ and takes 5-10 minutes to play.
Imagine the scene – you’re casually reclining in a hammock between two large trees in your orchard, drinking home-made lemonade and munching on some fresh strawberries, when you peer down the garden path and see a small black bird standing there. Eyes unblinking and wearing an eery smile, you suddenly feel a wave of fear cascade over you – The Raven is here.
Somehow deep in your chest you know what it wants – to systematically strip every piece of fruit from all the trees in your orchard and imbibe it all, bringing the financial ruin and emotional turmoil on which it thrives…
The race is on to pick all of your fruit as quickly as possible before The Raven makes it down the path and wreaks devastation upon your plot…
What’s in the box?
In the box, there are 16 wooden replica fruits, 4 cardboard trees, 5 square path tiles, 1 Raven that looks a lot like a crow, one die, a rulebook and a cardboard basket. Setup takes 30 seconds or so – each tree has 4 fruits of the appropriate colour placed on them, the path is laid out in front of the trees and The Crow is placed at the start of the path.
Play starts with whoever has eaten an apple most recently – this player rolls the die and play proceeds clockwise. 4 sides of the die have colours which match the different fruits – when rolling one of these, players put a fruit of that colour in to the basket. If all fruits of that colour are already in the basket, then it is the next player’s turn.
One side of the die is a basket – players rolling this can choose which fruit to put in their basket.
The final side of the die represents The Raven and when this is rolled, The Raven moves one step up the path towards your unsuspecting orchard.
If you get all your fruit in the basket before The Raven arrives through the gate then you win, but if the Crow gets there first then you lose – not only the game, but also your livelihood, your joyful spirit and your self-respect.
What did Ezra think?
Ez really enjoys this game. He loves rolling the die (as we said last week) and takes immense pleasure in dramatically dunking the fruit in to the basket. But the thing that really gets him going is the inexorable march of the dastardly Raven. “It’s the Raven!” he cries, “Aaaark! Aaaark!”
Every step it takes towards the Orchard seems to heighten his enjoyment and he seems to thrive on the tension of the ticking time bomb.
When he first rolled a basket, I thought he’d instantly worked out the strategy required (the only piece of strategy involved in the game) as he always seemed to choose the fullest tree to pick from, but later in the week he seemed to lose that ability. I wonder whether he started wanting the Raven to win, but actually \i don’t think he fully understands the reasons behind choosing the fullest tree (as discussed below).
Interestingly, Eli (our 16 month old) also enjoyed playing – he was rolling the die, putting the fruit in the basket and generally having a merry old time and I can see this being a good way for him to start learning colours. The die and fruit are all big enough not to be hazardous at his age and he loves the chance to join in.
However, I don’t think older children would be particularly exhilarated – more on that in a moment.
Ezra’s score – 17/25
The first few times we played together, it was quite fun for 2 reasons.
Firstly, seeing Ezra’s incremental excitement was in itself entertaining and watching him bounce around as the “raven” gets closer keeps you smiling.
Secondly, watching your offspring try to develop a strategy is engaging. Whenever he (or I) rolled a basket, I asked him which colour fruit we should choose. Seeing those cogs turning does provide an unusual insight in to his inner workings. I’m still not sure if he quite gets it, but it is fascinating to watch him take on a different type of puzzle.
But the above factors do get old reasonably quickly and it then becomes a bit of an exercise in rolling a die. The 5th or 6th time you play is pretty dull for the parent and I find myself suggesting playing a different game in spite of Ezra’s continued enjoyment.
Daddy’s score – 12/25
Overarching principles of gaming
Aided by having a die to denote whose turn it is, this game does a good job of honing the little gamer’s ability to take turns.
Different actions on your turn
Similarly, the use of a die provides a straightforward way to establish that there are different things that you can do on your turn – a useful concept for days to come
Probability, resource management and future consequences of decisions
Now you’re talking.
One of the great things about this game is that, for the first time, it exposes Ezra to the idea of probability and resource management. Now it may appear to be at a very basic level, but it’s actually quite a complicated logical process that is needed to develop a sensible strategy for when you roll a basket. You need to recognise the following:
1) There is an equal chance of rolling all of the fruit colours.
2) If there are no fruit left of a certain type, rolling that colour is a waste of a turn, effectively increasing the chance of getting a Raven on the next actionable roll.
3) Therefore, we should always choose the tree with the most fruit to avoid emptying trees and wasting future turns.
None of these points are trivial and they require some level of abstract thinking, with a grasp of probability and the awareness that our actions now will affect our position in turns to come. Thinking about it, I’m sure Ezra doesn’t understand fully why he should choose the tree with the most fruit, but in practice he mostly does.
Whilst I am impressed with the level of logic required for what appears a very simple decision, once this concept is mastered, the child’s interest in the game is likely to wane and I don’t see it following us up much beyond the age of 3. But for its intended age, it does a good job of getting them started.
OPG – 17/25
The Other Stuff
Cost – 3/5
It costs £21 off Amazon ($23 in the US), but it does include 16 beautiful pieces of wooden fruit that you could use for free play as well as for playing the game. In my experience, though, once it leaves the box, at least one piece will disappear forever.
There’s more in the box than a lot of games at this level, but it is a bit steep.
Theme – 4/5
I quite like the theme. It’s a little bizarre but is a nice gentle introduction to the idea of an “enemy” in a game and it does all make sense.
Art/design – 4/5
The box art is fun and a fair representation of the game and the green and yellow colour combination on the graphic design works well.
Rulebook – 3/5
As in last week’s review, the rulebook suffers from some unfortunate translation issues, which I generally find amusing rather than annoying. There’s also a lot of empty space in the rules and not many pictures to engage you.
The rules are, however, simple – Ezra was able to explain to my wife how to play after only a couple of plays himself when they’d lost the rules and she wanted to play ‘s game with him.
Components – 5/5
The wooden fruit is beautifully made and the right size for little hands (including smaller ones) to grab and dump in the basket. It’s clearly colour-coded, although the pears are paradoxically yellow. The trees are made of a cardboard of decent thickness and the path does its job.
The Raven does in fact look like a crow (or a blackbird), which irks me slightly. Perhaps he is masquerading as a crow to avoid detection? The fruit basket is nicely printed on top and bottom, easily holding all the fruit from the trees.
Total score – 64/100
A great game for 1 to 3-year-olds that will challenge and excite your blossoming gamer.
Next week – character lotto by Orchard Toys
So – post your comments below. Which animal villain has tested your bladder and bowels?