Everdell is a worker placement and tableau building game that I seem to enjoy more and more after each play. Not only are the production values fantastic, but I really enjoy how the game is more card driven than worker driven. A Gen Con this year I was given a copy of the new Pearlbrook expansion that promises to not only add more variety to Everdell, but also some quality of life improvements to the base game. So, let’s check out Pearlbook and see if this is a must have expansion for fans of Everdell.
Pearlbrook comes with several new components for Everdell. The most notable is the new sideboard that fits right in on the left side of the board. This board houses worker spaces for the new frog ambassador (one for each worker color), river destination cards, and the pearl resource space. A player’s frog ambassador is the only worker that can visit these new spaces, which allow the player to acquire pearls by spending goods and cards.
Also included are new event cards, forest cards, and another 20 critter and construction cards that will get shuffled into the main deck. The basic events from the core game are replaced with wonders. Wonders are expensive buildings you can construct that are worth a lot of victory points (10-25).
Another notable inclusion are the Adornment cards. Two of these are dealt out to each player at the start of the game and can be played by paying one pearl. Each card will grant an immediate benefit and a way to earn bonus victory points at the end of the game.
Finally, Pearlbrook includes a few replacement cards for the core game, 4 new sets of workers (Platypi, Axolotls, Otters, and Starlings) and a set of Open/Closed standees to better notate when players have open building spaces their opponents can use.
Game Overview with the Expansion:
Everdell was already a tight engine building game with a solid amount of replay value, so I was curious what this expansion would bring to the table (and if it was even necessary). Sometimes less is more if you know what I mean.
My favorite part of the expansion are the new Adornment cards. The immediate bonuses they give are nice, but the end game victory points are great for new and veteran players alike. It’s always nice when you have a goal to work towards at the start of the game and knowing you can score an extra VP per green building will help tailor your strategy. You definitely want to play both of your Adornment cards if possible. The only downside is they cost a pearl to do so.
So, let’s talk about pearls. They are the new resource in Pearlbrook and also worth 2vp for each at the end of the game. The only way to get them is to send off your frog ambassador to one of the sideboard locations (while the frog is the only worker that can visit a sideboard, it also can’t be used anywhere else). The four main location can also only be visited if you’ve built enough of the required color locations. The first player to visit the location earns a free pearl and flips the card over. The card will spell out a requirement to earn an additional pearl and sometimes VPs.
Overall though, I found pearls to be frustratingly difficult to obtain. As players only have 1 frog, that means you only have 4 chances to earn pearls (3, really, as a first-round trip to the sideboard will require a lot of luck). And once you flip over the card, you’ll need a bit more luck to make sure you can satisfy the objective on the card to get a second pearl. There is a main hub you can visit to just pick a pearl, but it requires discarding 2 resources and 2 cards.
As pearls are needed to play your Adornment cards and you need 2-3 to build a wonder, I found myself having to choose from doing one or the other. That 25-point wonder is very tempting, but if it takes all my Pearls, that means I can’t score any of my Adornment cards this game. Overall the difficulty in getting pearls made the whole sideboard feel a lot less useful.
Speaking of the wonders, these are powerful tokens worth a lot of victory points. The 25-point wonder in particular has the potential to swing the balance of the game. To be honest, I’m not sure I think it’s an upgrade over the standard event spaces. Those spaces you could achieve in the natural course of the game, while the wonders feel like something you must budget and plan to get. As resources in Everdell can be fairly tight, I think I prefer the original way, but that is really just personal preference. If you would prefer something where players must actively work towards, then I could see the wonders being an upgrade for you. Yet be aware that the high point ones can be really powerful, especially in a game at the max player count.
Finally, the new critter and construction cards work well and offer some increased variety. However, they also have the downside of adding a bit of deck bloat, making it harder to fish out the cards you want for your combos. So that’s a trade-off between added variety and more powerful card play. This, again, will probably come down to personal preference for you.
So where does that leave us with Pearlbrook? It’s an expansion that does a lot of things right, but I feel like it’s stronger in some areas vs others. The Adornment cards were a solid win for me, and I loved playing with them. But the River Destination cards were very hit or miss in their usefulness, and pearls felt both expensive and difficult to get. In the end of the day, Pearlbrook is a solid expansion, but probably not one everyone needs.
If you casually play Everdell, or are a new player wondering if you should buy it with the base game, I’d say go ahead and give Pearlbrook a pass. The Everdell core game already has a ton of replay value and feels flows really well. If you are an Everdell addict, then Pearlbrook can worth adding to your collection for the Adornment cards and the quality of life upgrades alone.
• Adornment cards are great for early game goals and bonus points
• Some nice quality of life upgrades
• New critter and construction cards were enjoyable
• Pearls felt too hard to obtain
• Wonders feel a bit swingy
• More cards can create some “deck bloat”