We Meet Again, Cabbagehead
He may be terrifying, but that doesn’t mean Mr. Cabbagehead doesn’t have enthusiasms. Farming his cousins, for example, followed by a village-wide exhibition of their corpses and a pale supper of their crisp flesh. Such is life for a ghastly were-vegetable.
In the three years since I reviewed Todd Sanders’ Mr. Cabbagehead’s Garden, everybody’s favorite sentient leafy green has grown up. Now he’s got a publisher, a posh production, and even a two-player mode. Guess he sufficiently impressed Eudora Brassica after all.
Three vegetables. That’s the decision space that spurs each and every turn. Three vegetables laid in a row, some combination of turnips and beans and radishes and pumpkins — some of which are botanically not quite “vegetables,” but you have no idea how little patience I have for pedantic botanists. Three veggies, one of which will be planted into your garden. Over time, fifteen of which will hopefully win a blue ribbon from the garden committee, and, more importantly, win the heart of Mr. Cabbagehead’s village crush, the oh-so-leafy Eudora Brassica. Trust me on this one: in the were-plant world, “leafy” is quite the turn-on.
Like many of Todd Sanders’ best games, this plain-jane getup is something of a ruse. Packed into those three vegetables is an entire canning factory’s worth of considerations. Placement, sure. Which seeds you’re failing to plant, absolutely. Some light card-counting, made easy by the game’s functional iconography, yes. But also smaller, subtler details, such as whether you need to draw more or fewer nosy neighbor tokens, or how smoothly your bee economy is buzzing.
This rectangle of soil may look like a garden — but son, that’s a minefield. Let’s rake down into it and see if we can’t make it explode.
Back to those three vegetables for a moment. Like I said, there are a few things to keep in mind. The card on the left costs a bee, while the one on the right earns a bee. Depending on your previous spending, either might not be possible, effectively eliminating that card from consideration. Meanwhile, you’re also evaluating things like that veggie’s fence number, which marks it as appealing to those buzzards you call neighbors. And since it’s possible to prevent them from wandering into your garden in the first place, you’re also trying to draw the right number of tokens.
The main thing, though, is that you want to plant the very best vegetables. And suitably, the foremost obstacle to winning that blue ribbon is the layout of your garden.
At its most basic, a vegetable is worth points when planted next to the same vegetable. Two pumpkins next to each other are worth twelve points; on their own, or spread too far apart, they’re worth less than the dirt they were planted in. But arranging clumps of greenery isn’t enough to win a ribbon. You’ll also need to earn a merit award or two. These are granted by the garden committee for certain arrangements, like having the same veggie planted in the far corners of your plot, framing the entire garden between two solid columns of veggies, or having three different seeds in each row, with the toughest arrangements conferring entire wheelbarrows of points.
In essence, it behooves you to bring a plan to each play of Mr. Cabbagehead’s Garden, while remaining flexible enough to adjust on the fly if you don’t uncover the right seeds. It’s tempting to gamble on rarer flora for the plus-sized value they confer, but a few precious turnips won’t save your score if they prevented you from grabbing any merits. On the other hand, all the rancid carrots in the world won’t earn enough to peel away Eudora’s lettuce wrap. Every pick is a massive trade-off between points secured immediately or gambled for later.
I’ve mentioned your neighbors. They’re gits. Let’s gossip about them.
Whenever you plant a vegetable, the remaining pair are discarded forever, but not before one of them vomits neighbor tokens onto the table like infectious blight spores. Drawn at random, these tokens pile up over multiple rounds, signalling which neighbor intends to swing by to, um, pickle some of your veggies while you’re on holiday. Like I said, they’re jerks, and each swaggers around with their own brand of jerkiness. Lord Carrotbody protects his carrot cousins by digging up an adjacent plant, the Ferwig-Raddishers steal a card from your next trio of picks, and Horace Savoy-Brassica gets revenge on your desire to sleep with his sister by sabotaging your largest plot. There are ten in all, and their appearance can spell doom for your
sexual horticultural ambitions.
But while there’s a significant element of chance to which tokens you’ll draw, it is possible to exert some minor control over your neighbors. Every fifth round, only the neighbor with the most tokens will sneak into your garden. Better yet, a tie will leave your “guests” nattering on the front walk instead of swinging around back. It’s one more thing to consider, but each turn’s vegetable selection may result in more or fewer tokens being loosed upon the world, tweaking whether you’ll draw or deflect a neighbor’s attention.
Either way, it’s helpful to enter into Mr. Cabbagehead’s Garden with a firm understanding of how neighbors and merits work. A complete play only consumes about fifteen minutes, making it a perfect solitaire option for a gentleperson on the hustle, but spending some time acquainting yourself with these elements will pay off in the end.
Perhaps the coolest addition to Mr. Cabbagehead’s Garden is the two-player mode. Which, unlike those found in some solo games — how’s the war going, Captain Nemo? — doesn’t feel tacked on in the slightest.
It’s pretty much the same thing, plus a bit of additional card-counting (because your opponent might nab something you wanted) and some minor screwage. Each pick of three vegetables is split between your garden, one buried beneath the deck, and the third passed onto your rival, making it possible to plop a turnip into their costly bee spot or burden them with yet another carrot. The result isn’t mandatory gaming by any means, but it makes for a nice duel of wheats.
Despite his shocking appearance, I couldn’t be more pleased to spend more time with Mr. Cabbagehead. This is one of my favorite brisk solitaire games, providing a stiff challenge in only a quarter of an hour, and doing so with Todd Sanders’ usual keen eye for strange illustrations and sharp graphic design. An excellent choice for the discerning gardener.