A game by Mark Tuck
And so you take a breath, your mind still, even in the center of the whirl of reds and yellows and purples, and the harvest begins.
I was really surprised to see this game show up so high on my list, but I think I know why. No other game in my collection puts me in such a state of relaxed, but focused, hypnosis. For me, playing Orchard most closely approximates the experience of pure flow.
I draw a card, I look for patterns in the cards on the table, I lay the card down. This is the game.
Orchard is a microgame utilizing the so-called “tile-laying” mechanism, though you create your orchard using cards. Your goal is to reap the biggest harvest by progressively laying nine cards, drawn at random, on top of each other. You always have two cards in hand, and you choose one to lay on top of the starting orchard card on the table.
You can’t just lay the cards randomly on top of each of other, of course; you have to match apples with apples and pears with pears, then place a die on the matched icons to represent the harvest. (You always start with 1 pip.) Each successive match (i.e. a third, then a fourth card on top of the previous cards) increases your harvest, symbolized by turning your die to 2 pips, then 3, and so on.
Granted, there isn’t much to the decision space, so I would steer gamers looking for a crunchier microgame to something like Sprawlopolis. Orchard is also ultimately too dependent on the order by which the shuffled cards are drawn, but it nonetheless requires a good eye to discern the possible combinations.
Orchard is a game you can take (and play) almost everywhere. The dice are merely representational—they’re never thrown—which is one reason why Orchard is such a nicely portable game. The game doesn’t take up much of a footprint, and the game box itself (just a smidgen larger than a regular deck of Bicycle cards) is perfect for tossing into a backpack. Orchard also comes with 18 cards, which means you can start a second game immediately after the first, without having to reshuffle the deck.
In this year of chaos, I have found stillness in the trees. (And Orchard is also a good reminder to go out and be among the trees as well.)