Two weeks ago JW and I had an argument.
He came into my office – I was playing Puzzle Dungeon on my lunch break of the afternoon – and he dumped a copy of Tulpenfieber on my desk.
‘You know we are Uwe fans here at Solitaire Times, do you?’
‘I know you are.’
‘Well, I won’t play the lesser ones. But we still need to cover them. Hence you.’
‘Let’s see what this one is about… What? Flowers? In the Netherlands? Are you kidding me?’
‘You’ll love it. It’s colorful. You like colorful.’
‘And… wait… A 4.7 rating on BGG? No way I’m going to waste time on this.’
‘In your job interview you said your main asset was your anti-conformity.’
‘Well, isn’t it?’
‘Only insofar as you are reviewing the Uwe crap I’m feeding you.’
Then he made his big, pulpy eyes that scare me like crazy and left without any additional word. I knew I had to do it – and if not, I can still look at the two suspicious film posters of Michael Keaton’s Batman and Val Kilmer’s Batman Forever that JW put on the wall in front of me (what was it already? 'only the bat matters, no one cares who's actually behind the mask').
So, Tulpenfieber. A 4.7 on BGG. Barely a game. Usually, when a game has this rating, it means it is close to being broken, borderline unplayable. And indeed, just looking at the rulebook, you understand things are really, really wrong. For instance, the tiles are colored. The rules almost never make any reference to their colors, except in an obscure note saying “they have no particular meaning” (but they still have some right?), but “aesthetically pleasing was a concern 400 years ago”. So, how do I score aesthetical pleasure from colors? Do I have bonus points if my field is subjectively pretty? This is all so disturbing. Same with the solo mode. It only says “Play as usual”. As usual with respect to what? If it’s the first time I play there is no “usual” I can refer to. And if that means “as per the multiplayer rules”, then it doesn’t explain how I can “take turns going clockwise” when I’m alone. So, very confusing overall. I understand the discontent.
Box and components.
More precisely, in this game, you roll dice. Then you win a tulip field tile that you randomly draw from a bag, no matter what you rolled. So, it all feels very much pointless what you roll, because all you care for is the pretty colored little square, and you’ll get it no matter what. What you draw doesn’t matter either, because apparently aesthetic pleasure is not a concern of the designer. However, to place the tile somewhere on your board, you must match a specific dice combination, Yahtzee style. To achieve it, you have two free re-rolls – and you re-roll dice as you deem fit, freezing those you want to freeze, re-rolling some that you had frozen in the first place, etc. If you match a board square requirement, you may place the tile there. Otherwise, it will hang around mi-air, never to be planted again. Furthermore, you can flip down two pretty tulip fields (including those you didn’t plant) to get another re-roll. Hence the purpose of the floating unplanted fields. But, sure, it breaks all ornamental considerations in your field when you flip down tiles. And it ditches the theme overboard in the process.
Anyway. The goal is to plant tulips on the bottom rows (maybe the perspective from there is prettier, I don’t know). When you plant enough (and there are three ways to achieve this “enoughness”), you win. Well, not so fast. You win the first round. Or rather, you score it. And you get as many points as you planted tulip fields (yeah!). Except you don’t want points – to achieve victory, you must score less than 60 across the three rounds. It’s a game about planting tulip fields, where the less you plant, the better you fare. Weird, isn’t it? Anyway, to get back to the game’s flow, after the first round comes the second one. And then the third. And then you’re done. These rounds are identical, except you get one bonus tulip field that remains on board every round. This is actually extremely helpful and considerably speeds up the last round.
A clunky dirty drag to victory (three tiles planted on the bottom row).
There are some other considerations. You can go straight toward the objective, but it is almost unfeasible “as is”. You can try to gain additional dice. You can also gain “freezing spaces” if you fill a 2x3 space on your board: the tulips get replaced by a wheelbarrow, and the wheelbarrow allows you to set one die on a specific value before you roll.
What do I make out of it, for real? Actually, I think it’s a perfectly decent dice game. You have decisions to make, objectives you can aim for, and sudden tactical reversals when what you roll is too far from what you wanted – leading to ask yourself: “how can I make something useful out of it?”. The main flaw is that it’s pretty long – 40 minutes of frantic dice rolling. But it is split into three separate rounds, and you can play them separately as long as you remember where to place the bonus tile. I have fun with it and don’t see a reason to remove it from my collection. It’s a minor game, thematically weak, but it’s well-balanced, engaging, and basically fun, provided you enjoy rolling, and re-rolling, and re-rolling dice. Which I definitely do.
Almost a perfect win! I went straight to the bottom row.
You can see how useful the multicolored tiles can be.
I can understand the negative reviews though. This game screams to be played solo. The multiplayer must be atrociously boring, as there is exactly zero interaction. You could almost play simultaneously if you had enough dice. The incentive to play solo is so strong that ALL player boards have a solo board on the flip side, so you have four of them, all identical, even though you only need one. But as a solo game, it lacks some thematic flavor, or some spark of excitement to make the succession of rounds less samey. Anyway, although it might not make you feverish about tulips, it is definitely the work of a designer who knows their job pretty well and has achieved an acute understanding of the most fundamental game mechanics.
My job done, I left the review on JW’s desk. When I came back to the ST headquarters three days later after the mid-week break, I hadn’t to wait for long before JW stormed into my own office (either he doesn't take many mid-week breaks or he lives there, I still haven't figured out), handing me back the whole stuff.
‘Is this your review? Really?’
‘Err, it did seem so at the time at least.’
‘It’s weird. I don’t even get whether you like the game or not.’
‘Can’t I be undecided, like, Schrödinger’s cat-like?’
‘We’re Solitaire Times here, not Quantum PETA.’
‘Hmm, I just wanted to stress out that the game is grinding and thematically off, but that it is by no means the junk it seems to be according to the BGG ratings.’
‘Grinding, hmm. I like grinding, especially when it gets crunchy.’
‘Not sure tulip dice are that crunchy though.’
‘Well, I only see one way to know.’
And on these words, he handed my review to our devoted company comfort sheep, who munched it into oblivion, with its eyes glaring at me as if saying: ‘I replaced my Agricola sheep meeples with Atiwa bats to feed upon them every game’. Such a scary creature.
Disclaimer: All the ST-office dialogues and situations are fictional. To begin with, I wasn't even given an office. I work in the cafeteria.