No, not that kind of dirty. Sorry to disappoint, but I already wrote an article about naughty games. This time around I mean actual dirt. The kind that gets under your fingernails and makes you feel like you got something accomplished. Not that you’ll have to put in any actual dirty work. Nope, these games about bugs and mud can all be enjoyed from the cleanliness and comfort of your game table. 

Loam – Gamefound (April 22) 

Dirt is the enemy. Pets track it on to the furniture, your children get it on their clothes, and it’s the reason you have to sweep your house nineteen times a week. That last one is, admittedly, hyperbolic but the point is made. Dirt is often only thought of as a chore when in reality it is crucial to our survival. 

Loam from Cardboard Revolution is here to remind you of that fact. In this set-matching game for 2 – 4 players, each player is a plant with a bit of a Goldilocks complex. In other words, the soil around you has to be just right. Your goal is to pack the surrounding dirt with the 3 essential soil components, Soil Structure, Nutrients, and Food Webs. The healthier your soil is at the end of the game, the more points you’ll earn. 

To get those soil components, you’ll need to create a thriving ecosystem. The game takes place over the course of 4 Seasons which define how many extra Creature cards you can draw that round and how many you can play. Each Creature brings 1 or more soil components has a ranking of 1 to 3. Level 2 and 3 creatures are of course more beneficial to the soil, but food webs are tricky things that require a lot of balancing. On your turn, you can play Creatures into stacks called communities. A community can support as many level 1 creatures as you want, but inserting a level 2 or 3 requires specific community compositions that are not so easily attained. Each player also has 2 hidden bonus cards with specific scoring requirements, requiring you to specialize your communities even further.  

This game is as light and well-balanced as the best mulch. The rules are very light (just one page), but the extremely limited number of actions make all of your choices feel significant. The art draws inspiration directly from the games subject with all of the images being created out of adorable clay sculptures. Plus, it’s highly educational. The cards are loaded with scientific vocabulary, helping every player to fully understand and appreciate beauty and complexity of good ol’ dirt.  

Wild Gardens – BackerKit (TBD) 

Soil microbiology was surprisingly enjoyable, but now we’re going to head above ground for a minute. But don’t worry, you’ll still be getting some dirt under your nails.  

Wild Gardens from Rose Gauntlet Entertainment ( Keystone: North America) is a game that is just breaking ground and spreading its leaves, and not a lot has been released about it yet. What has been released shows that this game is in keeping with Rose Gauntlet’s mission of introducing people to the natural world through board games. 

Unlike Loam which put players into the role of plants, Wild Gardens is a game about eating them. But not just your garden-variety, thorn-free blackberries. Wild Gardens is a game whose goal is to teach people about the joys of foraging.  

This game for 1 – 4 players is played over three rounds, and the player with the most points at the end wins. Each round, a new location is revealed which gives players access to new foraging zones and new, delicious ingredients. Players will move around the Path Board foraging ingredients to complete recipes, thereby earning points.  

As players move, they will also encounter other friendly wanderers who have worked up an appetite. Players may invite these new friends home as Guests, and each Guest is hungry for something different. Feed your guests their favorite dish, and they will repay you with points or special abilities.  

This game is not only beautiful, but it has such a charming theme to it. Plus, the idea that the world around us is not only edible but delicious is a topic I think a lot of us would like to hear more about. 

The Search for Lost Species – Kickstarter (Jan. 31) 

While this next game won’t have you digging in the dirt per se, trekking through jungles looking for possibly extinct species is bound to involve a few mud stains.  

In 2020, Renegade Game Studios (Arboretum, Power Rangers: Heroes of the Grid) released The Search for Planet X. Players were tasked with locating the real-life Planet X, a theoretical ninth planet in our solar system. The game combined the classic logic puzzle format with a clever action management system to simulate astronomers scouring the skies in a race to find this mysterious missing planet.  

The Search for Lost Species is a 1 – 4 player game that feels very similar to its predecessor. But instead of turning their eyes to the sky, players are now scouring a hex-based board representing the Indonesian jungle looking for a particular lost species of animal. The target species resides in one of the board’s hexes, and comes with a starter clue as to its location. For instance, toads will only reside next to a truly empty space.  

To gain more clues, players have a menu of actions they can choose from. However, each action moves a player forward on the Time Track, with more powerful actions moving you further along the Track. If time runs out and you haven’t located the target, you lose. For example, a Survey by Boat which only gives you clues along coastal regions will cost you 2 spaces on the Time Track while a powerful Camera Trap will automatically reveal an animal on a space but costs 4 Time and has a limited number of uses. Once you think you know where your target species is hiding, you can make your guess. But make sure you’re right, or else it will cost you a whopping 5 Time! Be the first to get it right, and you’ll earn 12 points toward your final score. Other players can still guess, of course, but your status as “Supreme Animal Tracker” means that their guesses earn fewer points. 

Like Planet X, The Search for Lost Species also requires a free app to assist with gameplay. While you’re able to write down clues, there is a lot to keep track of. Hence, the app. It will help you keep track of where each of the animals and terrain types you’ve discovered are located, as well as keep your secrets from the other players. For instance, you make your guess about the target species’ location through the app, preventing other players from knowing if you guessed correctly or not. So polish up that pith helmet, grab your satellite phone, and get to searching! 

By Zane Messina

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