'Tis the season... Christmas tree trimming game review

With Thanksgiving around the corner, most of us are ready to welcome in the Holiday season. The time good  food, decorations, friends, famil...

With Thanksgiving around the corner, most of us are ready to welcome in the Holiday season. The time good food, decorations, friends, family and of course setting up the Christmas Tree. It is also a time where you might be struggling for activities to do as a group and bond together. Well, the people at the boardgame company Gamey might just have the answer for this festive season. They were so kind to send us a copy of the Tree Trimming Game to check out.  A (mostly) cooperative boardgame all about creating a beautiful tree, spending time together, eating food, singing songs and naming elves. Let's see what it is all about.
Santa needs your help trimming the tree

What is it?

The Tree Trimming Game is a cooperative puzzle game for family and friends that can be played with 2 all the way up to 24 players. There is a light element of non-coop as the "winner" gets to place the star on the top of the tree at the end.  During the game, you will take turns placing tiles that represent ornaments in order to create the best-looking Christmas tree. Holiday Spirit cards prompt the players to have a discussion of their favorite Christmas moments, sing holiday songs and even eat yummy holiday treats.

Production quality
The big red box the game comes in is pretty heavy and that is a result of the use of nice thick card stock for all the elements (except for the wooden star) and a big part of that is the massive play board. This board took up a large portion of our 6 seated dining room table, but that makes it so easy to use and looks impressive in its size.

As the description suggests this is a tile laying game, so naturally the game comes with a bunch of tiles to pop out, each of them on nice thick cardstock. Lastly there is a small stack of Holiday-Spirit play cards and a wooden star which does not come into play until the very end.

The artwork of this whole set is pretty basic but effective for what it aims to achieve. Of course, there are a lot of Christmas red and greens and the ornaments on the tiles are varied and well-drawn, despite the simple design. There will be a lot of duplicates which makes sense based on the gameplay, but within that there are a few unique ornaments as well which delighted us as they were discovered during the game.  

One of the things about the box layout I was not a fan of was the way the tiles are packed in when you are done playing. As you can see in the picture below it works fine stacking them 3 high, but since they are basically loose in the box, I would have liked to have seen a dedicated space in the inlay of the box, but it only has inlays for the Spirit Cards and the Star. There is plenty of room to make space for the tiles but for some reason they opted to fill it with a cardboard tray instead. Perhaps I will feel crafty one day and make that myself.

How does it play?

The game setup of the Tree Trimming Game is a breeze, first you lay out its enormous gameboard in the middle of the table, the instructions are printed all over the border of the gameboard so everyone can see them at any time while playing. Some people might not like this design and find it distracting, but personally it showed me that the game is simple enough to not warrant a whole instruction booklet, nor does it have any rules cards for every player that can get lost. 

The game tiles are kept in the lid of the game box making it easy to pass around. You can of course place them anywhere you want if you prefer to do this differently.  The rules state they should be placed face down (and shuffled) to create a bit more challenge but if you play with very young kids you can decide to leave them face up for them to make the game a little easier.  Each player then receives 3 tiles in their hand. 

The goal of the game is to place ornaments in the tree and create the most beautiful design without clustering the same ornaments together. This means you cannot connect the same design to any side of another one even diagonally. Once the tree is complete the player with the least amount of left over ornaments in their hand gets to place the star at the top and is the "winner" of the game. 

The first player (the youngest) starts the design anywhere on the tree and places the first tile. From there the game moves clockwise placing tiles attached to ones already placed on the board. You can only place to each side, not diagonally. 
Once your hand is empty you draw three more tiles at any time before your next turn. This is a distinct detail easy overlooked. There are more tiles in the box then needed for the tree, so you do not want to keep pulling a tile each turn or right away. At least not near the end of the game. Remember you want the least amount in your hand when possible. If you have no tiles that fit on the board on your turn you keep pulling tiles until you have one you can match.

There is a place on the board for the holiday spirit cards which will have a variety of activities on them to do. These cards are pulled when you land a tile on a star in the game. The player who placed the tile will read the card out loud and then they with or without participation of the rest of the players will initiate the task. This could be for instance singing a Christmas song, normal or really fast or really slow. It could mean grabbing a nice snack or wear a winter item to stay warm. 

Be sure to prepare some Christmas Snacks

Some cards prompt discussions about their favorite holiday things, or to come up with silly names of elves that are pictured on the card.  Most cards are just fun activities like that that can actually prompt larger discussions and laughter, often bringing smiles to everyone's faces. There are a few cards that effect gameplay as well, such as removing tiles of the board, giving tiles to the other players or swapping them.

Once the tree is full, it is time to check who has the least number of tiles left in their hand. That person gets to put the star on the top of the tree. In our case we had a few people with the same number of tiles, so we collectively decided to place the star together at the same time creating for a heartwarming moment.  

Final Thoughts

The Tree Trimming Game is a fun activity in a box with some real light easy strategic elements of pattern recognition and a coop gameplay that works for all ages. If you are looking for something that is competitive or that requires a lot of brain power in order to solve complex puzzles, then this is not the game you are looking for.

The activities on the spirit cards were a lot of fun, it did put some of us on the spot to come up with something, but because all was not so serious, we supported each other and helped out. The table went from skeptics to willing participants quickly. We did feel the variety of activities could become repetitive quick, but it is easy enough to make your own cards and add them in the deck. There is definitely room for card expansions, and you can even use these cards by themselves outside of the game to spark conversations in your group. 

The Tree Trimming game really is an activity in a box, that sparks cooperation, warm memories, fun conversations and involves everyone at the table. The smiles and laughs it creates allows for core memories to be unlocked and leaves everyone in a good mood. So instead of everyone staring at their electronic devices, pop this game on the table and create some bonding moments. The whole game takes 20-30 minutes, but the conversations after will last a lot longer.  You might even replay the game a few times while you take another candy cane or sugar cookie, or perhaps that glass of mulled wine you have been eyeing. Leave the cynical world at the door and take a seat at the table. 

Lastly, I want to mention the price. The game was sent to us by Gamey for free but if you go out to buy the game it will cost $40 MSRP. Depending on what you are looking for in a game you might consider that price is a bit steep, and I would tend to agree. 

To determine if that is worth it, you have to consider how often you want to bring this game to the table, and of course it could become a Christmas tradition you pull out every year and the components are well built and should last a while. Just something to think about when you look for the game. But then again if you have 23 friends, have them pitch in for a night of fun and holiday cheer.

Designer:   John Carimando
Artist:         John Carimando
Publisher:  Gamey LLC
MSRP:        $40.00


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