Build a beautiful and tranquil garden fit for the Emperor
Lucky Duck Games
Note: Lucky Duck Games sent us a copy of Tang Garden for an unbiased review
When Jess and I first came across Tang Garden it was on virtual board gaming site Tabletopia, and we honestly both thought ‘there’s no way the real thing can be this beautiful’ and it turns out we were wrong. Tang Garden has the best combination of artwork and component quality of any game we own (although Jess might fight Everdell’s corner and the mechs in Scythe might have a thing or two to say), but what you will want to know is, is the gameplay as beautiful?
Set during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), players take on the role of engineers who must build a garden using elements of rock, water and greenery. The garden will be decorated with trees, birds, bridges and pavilions and be surrounded by beautiful landscapes. While the garden is being constructed, various characters will enter the garden to inspect elements and enjoy your handiwork.
How the game works
Tang Garden is basically a tile laying game, where garden tiles are placed to gradually increase the size of the garden throughout the game. The board comprises a grid where the garden is built and a set of spaces around the outside ready for landscapes to be slotted in. Decorations such as trees, flowers and bridges are added to enhance the garden and players will also get the chance to add landscape tiles around the edges.
On a players turn they must either select one of the available face up tiles to lay in the garden or add a decoration to the garden.
In each corner of the board is a pile of tiles (one for each of the three elements and one for special tiles), with the top one faceup and the rest face down. A player may take any of the face up tiles and add it to the garden on the board, ensuring the edges match up with any adjacent tiles. Doing this either earns coins (points) or allows the player to move the matching element marker up their personal track (either greenery, water or rock). The further these element markers get the greater rewards players will get. The next tile in the pile only gets turned face up once somebody adds a decoration, or when there are no face up tiles to choose from.
Some of the spaces on the board have landscape tokens on them, which mean the player may select a landscape piece and place it into one of the slots around the board. I’ll explain why this is important a bit later.
Adding a decoration
Instead of laying a tile, a player may instead draw cards from the decoration deck (the more piles without a faceup tile the more cards the player can draw, making this action more appealing), selecting one to place into the garden. These decorations score you points at the end of the game.
-12 points to whoever has the most pavilions, 6 points for the second most.
-6 points for each pair of fish/birds
-6 points for each pair of lotus/peonies
-2 points per bridge
-1/4/9/16/25 points for 1/2/3/4/5 unique types of tree
There are only two of each type of tree so grabbing both of the same type may not help you that much but it will certainly hinder your opponent!
In taking the decoration action you reset the tiles, so that the next player has all four to choose from.
Each player will begin the game with one of twelve characters, each with a unique ongoing ability, and a unique end game bonus. The ongoing ability will reward you with extra points for certain actions (e.g. 2 points each time you place a fish or a bird), and the end game ability will reward you depending on how the character’s surroundings match their preferences.
Each character has certain decorations/land types/landscapes they prefer to look at, so will reward you based on what they can see in the garden. For example the Hermit will reward you with 2 points for each garden tile that has rock on it within his line of sight, and the Merchant will get 2 points for each Village visible on the landscapes that he can see. The placement of your characters in the garden can be crucial, so think carefully and point them in the right direction!
Because placing a character in the garden means you can’t use their ongoing ability any more, timing is really important so that you can get the most out of them.
The game ends once one of the piles of tiles is empty or when there are three or fewer landscape tiles left on the board and everyone has had the same number of turns.
I make no apology for mentioning again how good this game looks. Not only are the decorations, landscape tiles, garden tiles and miniatures beautiful they’re also very well made. The cardboard is nice and thick and the plastic parts are sturdy. We did have a little trouble constructing the pavilions but once we did they have stayed upright! It would’ve been cool to have miniatures for the flowers, fish and birds as well but I don’t think the box size could’ve coped and it would’ve made the game more expensive.
We did have to Google how to put the game back into the box so that it fits nicely as it is a bit of a tight squeeze, but once you figure it out its not so bad. Also the iconography isn’t as clear as some other games we’ve played and the rulebook is probably longer than it needs to be, but once you crack it, there’s no trouble.
By the end of the game you have a 3D game board, the landscape tiles around the edge and the towering trees and pavilions, it looks incredible. I’ve never come across a similar game that uses the 3D technique of the landscape tiles to add that extra depth to the game and it works so well here. The characters, which are placed either on bridges or pavilions, look completely at home gazing out over the garden.
The gameplay is so chilled out its a joy to play. Just laying tiles and building a lovely garden. Scoring is simple and logical, and even though there is some luck involved (e.g. when you draw cards from the decoration deck, its possible that you won’t be able to place any of them), it never feels like the game is against you and you never really feel like you’re in direct competition with the other players, more like you’re building the garden together. The only “take that” elements are if you spot someone else wants a particular landscape tile so you place it on the opposite side to what they want, or if they want a particular tree and you take it instead.
I wouldn’t say there are loads of strategies to take during the game as it is so simple, but the puzzle of trying to maximise the benefits from your characters both by your side and in the garden is a really fun one to solve. The further along the element tracks you get the more characters you can deploy into the garden, the more points you’ll get, so match up as many land types as possible to get the biggest benefit on your turn.
It’s an easy game to teach, since the possible actions are so simple. It’s a perfect game to introduce people to as its so much fun whilst looking so good. We’ve loved showing it to our friends who of course all love it as well.
I’ve not played it solo, but it certainly works just as well with two, three or four players which can’t be said of all games.
With a game this beautiful it can sometimes be hard to judge how good the actual gameplay is. Would I play this game if it was as ugly as Castles of Burgundy? It’s certainly not as strategic or complex but there is definitely enough going on so yes, we would still play it even if it looked horrible! It is simple and yet thinky too. Highly recommend it to all levels of board gamer.
Now I must check out the expansion…
Get this game
Check this game out on Board Game Geek