When the original boardgame is so fundamentally sound, simplicity in its expansion can be a great thing. Everdell was already a tight experience and it would have been easy for any additions to make the game feel bloated. Adding much more in the way of building/critter cards would upset an already precarious balance. Spirecrest does come with all the flashy pizazz that one would expect, but it keeps itself in check by adding only as many gampeplay elements as it can handle.
At its core Spirecrest adds something negative, something positive and something with the potential of being positive. Each season will now randomly have one of three unique weather effects, all of which are negative. These can range from slightly annoying to downright brutal. The art on them is fantastic and it almost hurts your heart to see the cute little critters struggling with natural disasters. Despite the negative effects I actually think that they significantly enhance the gameplay. Everdell is primarily a game about tactics rather than strategy and seasonal effects play into that style. In a game of Everdell you should be playing in a way that is agile and able to adjust to situations on the fly. With maybe one or two exceptions (Tornados and Fires) I always enjoyed seeing the weather card flip over and thinking “Hmmmm, how am I going to deal with that”.
To offset the negative effects of weather, Spirecrest adds Discovery cards that always provide positive effects. During the game you’ll get three cards total when preparing for Spring, Summer and Fall. These cards are the real star of Spirecrest and contain fantastic art and potentially amazing gameplay effects. Some might be as innocuous as potentially more victory points but some might make you think “Where was this ability all my life!”. Some standouts are the “Tutoring” cards that let you name a construction or critter and search the deck for them, unique action spaces for your town with shockingly powerful abilities or the standout large critter meeples. These new meeples enhance one of your workers by granting them special abilities, plus seeing your worker ride a large other animal is just adorable. In each game with Spirecrest the most exciting part was always acquiring a new Discovery card.
The final gameplay component is your Rabbit Traveler. They make their way along a trail picking up a map piece before each Prepare for Season step. These pieces have a cost and a number of victory points on them. At the end of the game you go through your map tiles in the order you received them and pay the resources listed to gain its victory points. Only if you complete that map tile can you move onto the next one. It does a nice job of helping you plan ahead and steer the game. Given how tight resources can sometimes feel, it’s not a guarantee that you’ll complete your map. While it is possible to get enough victory points elsewhere to offset not completing your expedition, you’ll definitely want to make it one of your higher priorities.
There isn’t much negative I have to say about Spirecrest. Some people might not like the extra randomness in the game but it’s not obtrusive. Besides, those people would have checked out after playing the base game. The only niggling thing that makes me scratch my head is drawing Discovery cards. Players draw three and lay them out one at a time, the first one is free but the other two cost additional resources. It felt pointlessly random as the order they are displayed in is completely arbitrary. Other than that, the Collectors edition components are nice but not anit-consumer. You get a few unique sets of meeples and another 9 discovery cards, 3 of which are the popular large animals. That isn’t too much of an exclusivity issue and players should still be happy if they’re only ever able to get the standard version of Spirecrest.
If you liked Everdell, Spirecrest is “THE” expansion to play with. I see myself using it every game and only putting it away when I want to play Pearlbrook for a change. The mechanics are so smoothly integrated that I feel comfortable including them in the first game of Everdell I teach someone, as long as they are experienced gamers. Everdell was already one of my favorite boardgames and Spirecrest dials up the charm, the immersion and the gorgeous aesthetics up to a notch that I didn’t think was possible. Anyone that enjoys Everdell needs to add this to their collection.