Three Sisters [Review]: Growing the Perfect Roll & Write

Agriculture is a pervasive theme in board gaming, with titles such as Agricola and Viticulture often topping lists of the best board games. There’s something incredibly appropriate about it as a board game theme—the slow but rewarding development of crops over time, the logistics of land management, and economics of resources and labor. So from the moment I heard about Three Sisters, the new farming-themed roll and write game from dynamic duo Matt Riddle and Ben Pinchback, I knew it was a title I wanted in my silo.

Cover for Three Sisters; Prototype Quality and not the Final Presentation or Components

Three Sisters is the spiritual successor to the critically acclaimed Fleet: The Dice Game. It features gorgeous cover art by the fabulous Beth Sobel (Wingspan, Viticulture, Arboretum, etc.). The game supports 1–4 players and plays in about 30–60 minutes. Published under Matt and Ben’s own company Motor City Games, you can back it on Kickstarter come March 9, 2021.

A game of Three Sisters is played for eight rounds, with each round finishing with a special event. These events all result in a particular benefit, and since it’s known when and which each event will be triggered, it is possible to plan around them strategically. Strategy is core to Three Sisters. It’s not a game ruled by the luck of the dice roll, nor is it really a game of mitigating randomness and calculating probabilities (this is not to say it’s not an element of gameplay); it’s a game where long term planning is genuinely possible.

Several dice are rolled and placed around the action rondel in ascending value at the start of each round. The dice’s location represents the actions you’ll be able to perform when you draft them, and the pip value determines which garden you’ll be able to water or plant (mitigated by accumulating “Compost”). The next round will have dice placed on locations around the unoccupied rondel locations this round, opening up an additional opportunity for long-term planning.

Three Sister: action rondel with Farmer Edith

Planting and watering, one of the more critical sets of game actions, present some fascinating dynamics. The term “three sisters” refers to a technique that Indigenous groups used to better grow corn, beans, and squash—the primary crops in the game. These are the crops grown with the planting and watering actions. Beans can only be grown once your corn is at least two boxes high. It only takes two boxes for beans to produce one victory point, unlike corn, which takes four boxes to fill but produces three victory points. Pumpkins (squash) produce good upon completion, for which every five yields a free, wild action. When you’ve completed two different pumpkins that straddle a perennial flower, you get to take a corresponding action along that track.

planting and watering: gardens in Three Sisters

Every action interconnects in Three Sisters! It’s very much a game of comboing and chaining, much like my other favorite roll and write, Ganz Schön Clever (That’s Pretty Clever in English markets). To illustrate: Depending on which perennials you decide to focus on developing, it may unlock numerous scoring bonuses, Shed actions, earn you Goods or Compost, Fruit, or Apiary actions. More Goods will unlock more value when you take Farmer’s Market action. Advancing along the Apiary unlocks more Fruit, victory points, or may help you plant/water more crops, further opening the game to even more scoring options. As with any good strategy board game, it requires careful planning to optimize these chain reactions and score the most points.

“Three Sisters is what a good roll and write game should aspire to be. It’s a rewarding, strategic experience from the first to last round. I can’t recommend Three Sisters enough.”

Common to many eurogames, players will find it impossible to do everything they want to do in a single play of the game, and you’ll need to focus on one or a couple of strategic paths. Do you try and maximize your Good production to unlock Perennials and bonus actions? Or perhaps you should maximize efforts to earn additional opportunities to plant and water in the Garden? Should you completely ignore the Apiary? Whichever way you decide to go, you’ll find the journey rich and rewarding. And although it behooves you to focus, the gameplay does allow you to mix things up, pick and choose from a myriad of point-earning actions each turn. In this sense, it is indeed a point salad eurogame embodying a roll and write—and indeed, the absolute perfect blend of the two.

I’ve played Three Sisters at all player counts, each many times, including a significant amount of solo gameplay. I can unequivocally say that among the dozen or so different roll and write board games I’ve played, that is by and far my favorite. It isn’t overly simple, nor is it too complicated. There’s a lot of depth to explore within the game, and I’ve had fun each and every play. If you are a fan of eurogames and enjoy the roll and write genre, I strongly encourage you to back Three Sisters on Kickstarter.

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