Stats at a glance
Ages: 13 +
Publisher: Inside Up Games
Our busy day-to-day responsibilities in concrete-filled cities make us forget that we’re a smart part of a living, breathing organism called planet Earth.
Earth the board game provides a clean slate to develop a functioning ecosystem, one organism at a time. The ecosystem is your engine, and as you add more plants, animals, and terrain types, you’ll see your small chunk of Earth flourish and thrive in the most satisfactory way! Let’s dive into our Earth review and see what you think.
Brief Overview of Earth
Earth can be described as a grid-based engine builder with a point salad scoring mechanic. The goal of the game is to build up an ecosystem by placing 16 cards in a 4×4 grid.
Complexity is at a moderate level, with the game relying on the grid and the cards to create a variety of strategies and replayability. Earth can be played by 1 to 5 players, with the average playing time between 45 minutes and 2 hours, depending on the number of players.
It feels like board game designers are currently in their “nature” phase, with so many ecosystem-based games coming out every year. Despite that, Earth doesn’t feel like yet another title — it has a lot of great things going for it.
Earth comes with the following components:
- 1 Rulebook
- 364 Cards
- 120 Plant Cubes
- 107 Soil Tokens
- 90 Trunk Pieces
- 70 Canopy Pieces
- 25 Leaf Tokens
- 5 Player Boards
- 1 Gaia Board
- 1 Solo Mode Board
- 1 Team Mode Board
- 1 Flora & Fauna Board
- 1 Score Pad
- 1 Active Player Marker
Earth has some really nice components to it and I’m quite impressed with the package. The cards, wooden tokens, boards, and punchout tokens all look and feel well-made.
Cards are the highlight of the game, with over 300 fauna, flora, ecosystem, and other card types. The layout of text, icons, and functional vs flavor elements is nicely arranged, although some cards feature confusing action descriptions.
To me, tokens and interactable pieces have always been more important than cards, as you really have to try to mess cards up. Most of the tokens in Earth are made of wood, something I love to see and prefer over plastic. The canopies have a shape reminiscent of Lego heads, allowing them to easily stack vertically.
There are a lot of tokens that are made of cardboard, and while I’d prefer them to be different, I can understand the decision as it positively affects the game’s price.
All of the game boards are sturdy and well organized and I have no criticisms of the rulebook apart from the missing card glossary.
How to Play Earth
Earth is an engine builder where you form an ecosystem on an island represented by the 4×4 grid of cards you’re working towards. The game has a lot of depth, but it’s actually very easy to learn — let me show you how it’s played.
Everyone starts the game with a player board in front of them and ample space to one side for a 4×4 grid of cards. Each player gets an island, climate card, and ecosystem card to place on their board, as well as some leaf tokens.
The fauna board sits in the middle of the table with four randomly chosen fauna cards on it, along with two ecosystem cards. Next to the fauna board, you’ll place the earth deck and supply tokens.
Randomly pick the starting player and give them the first player and action player tokens. Now everyone draws a number of earth cards as indicated on their island card, discards some to make compost, and takes soil tokens.
Earth has 7 different types of cards: island, climate, ecosystem, and fauna cards determine the starting resources and optimal strategy, while flora, terrain, and events are played out during the game.
The important elements cards may contain are:
- Cost in soil
- VP value
- Card type
- Habitat elements
- Growth space
- Maximum growth size & reward
- Sprout spaces
Most are self-explanatory, but sprout and growth spaces are a core mechanic that awards extra VP if you work towards it. I’ll cover what they do in the section regarding actions.
The Flow of the Game
Earth offers a choice of only four actions, found at the top of every player board. The actions are divided into the top section which describes what the acting player can do, the bottom section, describing what everyone else can do, and the middle section which says which abilities everyone can take.
So, regardless of whose turn it is, everyone can perform the action in some capacity, as well as activate the abilities of the cards from their grid.
You can place the first card on the grid as you wish, but all subsequent cards must be placed adjacent to another card, with respect to the 4×4 layout. The game will continue clockwise until the end-game condition is triggered — someone placing their 16th card on the grid.
Planting is the first action that allows you to place up to two cards on your grid, provided you pay in soil. Then, you get to draw four cards and put three back into the discard pile. Other players get to place one card on the grid and draw one card. Everyone triggers green abilities on their cards.
Composting provides 5 soil from the supply and two cards from the Earth deck to be turned into compost. Everyone else either gets 2 soil or two cards to compost. Composting triggers orange and multicolored abilities. Every card in the compost pile grants VP.
Watering will give you up to 6 sprouts to place on your flora cards and two soil. Others get either two sprouts or two soil, and this action triggers blue and multicolored abilities. Sprouts placed on the grid will grant VP.
Growing lets you draw 4 cards from the earth deck and gives you 2 growth to place on flora cards with space for it. Everyone else either draws 2 cards or gets 2 growth, and this action triggers yellow and multicolored abilities. Growth on the grid will grant VP with extra VP granted for a fully grown-out flora.
Card abilities are triggered whenever one of the actions is taken, provided that the color of the action matches the card or that card has a multicolor action.
To trigger the effect, the player must pay the requirement and then execute the reward. Green, red, blue, and yellow abilities are triggered by actions, but brown and black are not. Black actions have an immediate, single-use effect, while brown cards count toward end-game scoring.
Your First Game of Earth
My advice for your first game of Earth would be to read through the rules, then just dive into it! With only four actions available, you don’t have to overthink your turn — just pick the one that seems the most sensible for the moment and see what happens.
The first session of any board game shouldn’t be about who wins or get the points high score, but to familiarize yourself with the mechanics and learn how the game flows. Try everything, or stick to the strategy that seems like it’ll work, even if it turns out it was not as points-generous as you had hoped.
You’ll definitely make mistakes and see in hindsight how a different action 2 turns ago would greatly benefit you now. This is totally okay and exactly what you want to happen, as learning from mistakes, especially when you’re just getting into a board game is the best way to learn.
Pros & Cons
- Low Barrier of Entry
- Excellent Learning Curve
- Bonus Game Modes
Some board games require you to invest a solid chunk of time and energy to just be able to fumble your way through the first session, but Earth does things in what I think to be the right way.
It allows you to start your first session after reading through a dozen or so pages from the rulebook and have a quite good understanding of what’s going on. Sure, that first game will take a lot longer to complete, but by the end of it, you’ll be ready to properly compete in the next one!
And as you play through more and more games, you’ll realize there’s more depth to each of the strategies you’ve encountered. Earth is not an infinitely complex game by any means, but the way the starting cards and the grid affect each game makes it very engaging to play.
Most “lighter” engine builders are designed for up to four players, but Earth supports the 5th player, as well as a solo mode. The cherry on top is a 2v2 team mode that works rather well and requires minimal preparation.
- Hit or Miss Theme
- Convoluted Card Text
I can’t speak for everyone, but the whole planet Earth theme does very little for me. Maybe the genre is becoming saturated or the way cards look, but I can’t help but ignore all the flavor text and focus only on the information important to the gameplay.
Earth’s second con is that some cards are difficult to interpret and the rulebook does not offer any assistance in this regard. Certain cards can legitimately be interpreted in two different ways, which can slow the game down as you try to come to a resolution.
I’ve faced the same problem with Terraforming Mars, but for that game, forums are filled with Q&A and I was quickly able to find the answer. In the case of Earth, things will be a bit slow at the start and you might have to be the one to post that question on BGG and wait for the devs to respond.
Earth Review (TL;DR)
Earth does not bring anything revolutionary to the engine builder genre, but to call it “yet another game” would be a huge disservice.
The tempo of the game is amazing and players will be constantly engaged from start to finish. The 1-5 player support along with a solo mode and 2v2 team mode brings added value to an already highly replayable game!
The low barrier of entry and gradual skill curve make Earth a perfect choice for a family game or for a group of players with various skill levels. Its versatility and solid mechanics will earn it a place on many people’s shelves, that’s for sure!
Every Thursday night, my wife and I get together with three other friends to play board games. We start the night off with way too much food for dinner, then proceed to play one of the few enjoyable 5-player games we have — usually Terraforming Mars or Lords of Waterdeep.
The size of our group prevents us from playing a lot of great titles, with Ares Expedition being the most relevant title. So when I got my hands on Earth, I knew it was going to be a game we’ll play regularly.
The game is very enjoyable and the engine building is quite satisfying. I’ve recently gotten on Ares Expedition again, and while I like that game a bit more, I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily better than Earth. In Ares, the number of cards you play can get unwieldy, but in Earth, the 4×4 grid makes things far easier to manage.
Earth’s theme is the only aspect of the game I’m not crazy about — it’s implemented in a nice way, but I just couldn’t be bothered to care about a type of moss or grass I’m planting, and it devolved into a numbers game almost immediately.
Still, this doesn’t take away from the gameplay and you may have a completely different impression of the theme. I can easily recommend Earth as it has a lot of good qualities of a deck-builder game. Combined with the player count and 2v2 mode, it offers enough extra content to make a strong contender for your next board game purchase!
We hope you enjoyed our Earth review and board game guide! What did you think about this top-rated environmental board game? Drop a comment below and let us know your thoughts! We’d love to hear from you.
If you liked Earth, we just know you’ll love these other games too: Terraforming Mars, Ark Nova, Everdell, Wingspan, Great Western Trail, and Cascadia!
When I first got into the hobby some 10 years ago, my friend circles didn’t know that board games went further than Monopoly and Risk. Now everyone I’m close with is into board gaming and my collection really has something for everyone.
My favorite games are Terraforming Mars and Lords of Waterdeep and I’m a fan of Euro, strategy, and engine-building games in general. I also enjoy the Warhammer 40,000 universe, which pulled me into the miniature painting hobby.