Based on the large pumpkins on the box and the connection between the name and a coven, one might think that Three Sisters (see at amazon) is a game about Halloween. In fact, it’s a game about farming: Three Sisters is a name for a free planting method used in Mesoamerica since ancient times. The squash plant covers the ground, prevents weeds, and is planted with corn and beans, the latter using the former as trellis.
This unlikely theme is the inspiration for a roll-and-write game in which players roll and select dice and fill out portions of their score sheet. Yahtzee is the most well-known game in this genre thanks to its mass-market production, but Three Sisters is as far removed from Yahtzee as you can get.
What’s in the box
As with most roll-and-write games, the bulk of the box in Three Sisters is made up of game sheets that you can tear off and write on to play. Unlike most of these games, it has two separate hands. Your flower and vegetable garden is being followed. The other has your shed, your beehives, a long way for the goods you will produce and a place to take notes. This latter addition may seem odd to you, but you’ll soon find out why it’s helpful.
The art is fine, all the greens and oranges you would expect in a growing garden. The rest of the components consist of some nice orange cubes with pumpkin symbols where the “1” should be and some wooden components. There is a pumpkin for the first player, a top hat to keep track of the round, and a black wooden farm marker to follow the current space on the rondel.
rules and how to play it
There are eight rounds in a game of Three Sisters and each starts with a dice pool based on the number of players. You sort dice into groups of the same value, and then place each group on a square on the board, following a cycle called a rondel. Each space on the rondel corresponds to an action that you can take in the game: the roll of the dice thus limits the available actions.
Players then take turns choosing a die and performing the appropriate action. But first they can take care of their garden. At the top of one of the score sheets are six crate slots for pumpkins, which you can use to sell goods at the market, and corn and beans, which give you points. In the zone corresponding to the cube you choose, you can either create two new plants or pour water, which will cause all existing plants to grow a box.
Other actions include growing one of several fruits, tending your hive, getting a box of goods to sell, the market itself, and the shed. The latter lets you check boxes from a variety of tools that give you special powers. They range from mason jars, which let you sell fruit picking as an extra good, to a tractor that does nothing but score a whopping eighteen points if you can fill in all of its crates.
Growing two adjacent pumpkins to full height also allows you to perform a multi-year action, and like fruit, there are a number of them. For example, hyacinths give you bonus goods, while hydrangeas give you bonus fruit-growing actions. You also get continuous promotions for selling goods in the market, and the more goods you have, the more such promotions you get. Replenishing your goods bar also gives you free actions that you can spend as you wish on fruit, perennials or the beehive.
As you might notice, Three Sisters is quite complex when it comes to role-playing and writing games, although that’s still simpler than many of its bigger brothers. But there’s another reason we’ve been working on the rules rather than telling you how it plays upfront, and that’s because you need to understand how all the game elements intersect before you can understand what it is makes it so special.
Let’s say you decide on a free goods action on your turn. First you get to water and that will grow some pumpkins to increase your goods lane. This earns you a free action, which you can spend on some raspberries to increase your goods track even further. Combined with your pumpkin harvest, this gives you a second bonus action, and you haven’t even filled out your free goods yet! Even with two unresolved actions in the bank, this grown pumpkin will bracket a perennial, allowing you to take that action as well: and resolving those three actions could earn you even more actions.
For this reason, there is a notes field on the score sheet: this allows you to keep track of unresolved actions as you work out your move. Those huge combo chains are what Three Sisters is all about, and they’re awesome. Tax to work through and train to maximize their potential, perform satisfactorily and often bring about large swings in points. Few other roll-and-write games go this route, and none quite like this one.
Since players take individual dice rather than all throwing the same dice like most games in this genre, rounds can be a bit slow. But people can sort their combo chains themselves, other players do their actions. However, it is easy to make mistakes and accidentally miss an action or do something that is not strictly allowed. It also makes for a very top-heavy game where you focus on your own scoresheet and don’t care about what other players are doing. The only sound is the scratching of pencils and the occasional ooh and aah over a particularly large cascade of dots.
However, the complexity of the scoresheet makes it easy to try several strategies. While grabbing a few scale items early on might seem like an easy decision, there are all sorts of ways you can succeed afterwards. Your garden, beekeeping, orchard, market sale and perennial borders are great sources of points and support each other in different ways. So while your decisions may be shaped by the fate of the dice early on, there are many different strategic routes to explore as the game progresses.
Where to buy
https://www.ign.com/articles/three-sisters-board-game-review Three Sisters Board Game Review