Full disclosure: A preview copy of Gartenbau was provided by Fisher Heaton Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
It’s mostly been Oinks and Kickstarters this month, hasn’t it? I guess that’s sort of a March thing; we’re finally far enough away from the holidays that people feel like spending money again, so the Kickstarter sharks are beginning to circle. That’s always a fun season. Either way, let’s check out another Kickstarter from Fisher Heaton Games: Gartenbau!
In Gartenbau, players take on the roles of competing gardeners vying for the ultimate patch of land and flowers. Starting with Seedlings, cultivate your garden up until you can watch the giant flowers bloom. It’s a lengthy process, sure, but your opponents aren’t making much faster progress either. Will you be able to make good on your horticulturist ambitions?
Not a ton to do, thankfully. Give every player 5 flowers:
You’ll draft those. If you’re unfamiliar with drafting, every player takes one, puts it face-down, and passes the rest to their left. If you’re playing with fewer than four players, pretend you have four players and throw out a card randomly from each hand as it passes by the nonexistent player(s).
Either way, set out the Plants in a row, stacked from highest-Prestige to lowest-Prestige (lowest on top):
Next, set out the Seedlings:
They’ll go in a row of 5, below the Plants, within reach of all players.
Give each player a Wheelbarrow, Trowel, and Special Delivery Tiles. These didn’t come with my preview copy of the game, but what can you do.
Once you’ve done that, have every player take 5 resources of either type:
Those are Sunshine and Water, two things plants love. Once you’ve done that, you should be ready to start! Deal each player a random Seedling for their Garden.
Alright, so, in Gartenbau, you’re trying to become the best gardener in town. To do that, you have to have flowers (typically speaking). If you want flowers, you gotta plant them and cultivate them, which isn’t too bad. First player to four flowers ends the game; finish the round and the player with the most points wins!
Let’s dig into how that works.
On your turn, you’ll take one of four actions:
For this one, you’ll take a seedling from the board and place it in your garden. You may take the leftmost seedling for free, or place one resource (of either color) on each Seedling you pass over on your way to the one you do choose.
Placement rules are what you’d expect; it must be adjacent to another seedling and it must line up (it can be flipped 90 or 180 degrees in either direction, of course). I’ll have some photos throughout the review with examples; just follow those.
The next step up is a Plant! Each Plant has a combination of Seedlings it can cover up; pay its printed resource cost and place it in your Garden. If it’s visible at the end of the game, it’ll be worth points equal to the value printed on the bottom.
Note that a Plant may only be placed across two Seedlings; even if you have a single seedling that’s the appropriate color(s), you cannot place a Plant on it.
The final stage is placing a Flower. Choose one of the Flowers in your hand and place it on top of the two Plants required. It’s a square, so, however you do.
Once you do that, take three resources of your choice from the supply as a bonus. Only catch: they can’t all be the same color.
If you can’t or don’t want to do any of the other actions, you may take 3 resources of your choice. Like for placing a Flower, you may not take 3 of the same resource.
Your three bonus tokens can give you a special ability, as well:
- Wheelbarrow: When you take the Plant Seedling action, you may play this to take another Seedling, following the same rules (placing resources if you need to do so). If you still have not used this by the end of the game, it’s worth 2 bonus points.
- Trowel: Swap 2 Seedlings in your Garden or move one Seedling anywhere else in your Garden, following normal placement rules. I assume you cannot use this to break apart your garden. If you keep this until the end of the game, it’s worth 3 bonus points.
- Special Delivery: Use one of these to clear out the Seedling Row and replace it with new ones. Place the cleared ones on the bottom of the deck in any order. You get two of these, and if you haven’t used them by the end of the game, you get 5 bonus points.
End of Game
Like I said, once a player places their fourth flower, the game ends. Finish the round (the first player will not get another turn) and then calculate your scores. Seedlings are worthless, and only visible Plants score. The player with the most points wins the game, and is the best gardener around!
Player Count Differences
Well, at higher player counts there’s a lot more instability in the Seedling pool, as players are frequently taking Seedlings and that causes a lot more shifts. I wouldn’t rely on a Seedling sticking around in the pool for more than a round, if I were you. Additionally, Plants become much more challenging to purchase, as their cost only increases, so players must get more resources to make those Plants work for them.
The other major component in player count changes is downtime. There are just players who take a fair bit of time to get things done and it’s going to be tough for them in this one. Having more of those players will slow the game down, as there are just enough decisions to steer the game into analysis paralysis territory. That said, it IS really fun to have to feud over who gets what plants, so, I don’t have a strong preference on player count, as long as everyone plays quickly.
- Play to win in the Draft. Make sure you’re taking Flowers that synergize well; if you don’t, you run the risk of having a really weird mix of Flowers that don’t really … do anything useful. That said, I played against someone who won because they took a lot of no-nonsense, no-frills Flowers and that let them diversify quite easily. I appreciated that. All I’m saying is you should have a strategy when you’re drafting Flowers.
- Watch your opponents. If you see someone enter Endgame Threat (has three flowers and two adjacent Plants), you better be ready to drop your fourth Flower as soon as they do. You do not want to end up missing out on bonus points if they make sense for you.
- Don’t put all your stock in Flowers. You can totally win the game with only 3 Flowers, if you’re pulling really high values on each of them (or if you have additional Plants scoring). You don’t necessarily need four flowers you win; you need a lot of points. Do whatever scores you the most points. Actually, in a similar vein:
- Don’t put down a Flower just because you can. If a Flower doesn’t properly accentuate your strategy, you either risk getting basically nothing for it or having this new flower wreck your strategy because you try to forcibly make sure it scores you points. Neither option is particularly good; honestly, they’re both distractions, at best.
- Don’t forget. The biggest thing that happens to players is that they place a Seedling somewhere so that they can play a Plant on it later and they then forget all about it, which lets them put another Seedling next to it that doesn’t help them set down a Plant (and often blocks it entirely). That’s … bad, obviously, but it can be avoided if you maintain focus on your Garden. That said, there are enough Seedlings that this will happen to you, eventually.
- The Special Tiles can be a huge help. Certain Flowers reward things that the Special Tiles help with, like having a lot of a certain color (Wheelbarrow) or having Seedlings in certain positions (Trowel). The Special Delivery Tiles just help you achieve a better level of flexibility with regards to which Seedlings to have to take each turn.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is very nice. It’s got an almost mosaic / tile sort-of-look to it; it looks great on the table.
- A very nice spatial game. I’m always a big fan of games where you can sort of see what you’ve built up over the course of the game, and this really has that down nicely. That said, it does take up a lot of space, so prepare accordingly; you may need a bigger table.
- The myriad Flower scoring styles can make for some really interesting combinations. There’s a lot to do, there. Certain Flowers play off of each other, and certain ones force you to really approach garden construction differently (rewarding holes or how many edges your garden has). Secretly hoping they add more during the Kickstarter campaign to really mix it up!
- Surprisingly easy to learn. Place Seedlings, cover them with Plants, cover plants with Flowers. Place four Flowers to win. That’s not a lot of rules overheard, which is nice. If anything, the Special Tiles add a bit of complication.
- The color theory aspects are nice. I appreciate the way that the colors combine to form mixes and blends rather than just BLUE + BLUE = BLUE. It’s a nice gameplay touch for sure, but it also makes the gardens a lot more colorful and vibrant, which I appreciate even more.
- It’s always fun when vital components are missing from your preview copy. Not really game relevant but gently frustrating. That’s Kickstarter previews for you, though.
- A poor move can destroy your garden. Hopefully the final version of the game comes with heavy tiles that can’t be easily moved, because in its current state, I could sneeze and ruin someone’s game.
- I would really like a solo mode! The puzzle aspects of this game appeal to me and I feel like I would enjoy playing it solo. There currently isn’t one, so, I’m hoping one comes up during the campaign.
- Lots of downtime. The game is very spatial, so, at higher player counts it’s almost certainly going to result in players getting stressed and taking more time on their turns to decide not just what to get but also where to place it. There’s not a whole lot you can do in the meantime, so you’ll be sitting around a fair bit.
- The myriad Flower scoring styles can overwhelm new players. Thankfully, they include suggested setups for your first game, but this doesn’t really change the fact that players are going to be checking the rulebook every turn so that they can check to see what the various symbols mean, which will also slow the game down.
Overall: 8.25 / 10
Overall, I’ve really enjoyed Gartenbau! To be fair, it definitely appeals to the tile-laying part of my brain, but manages to push clean through it with bright colors and a cute theme to keep me hooked. Personally, I’m a big fan of how similar it is to classic domino games, as that makes the game feel more accessible to players that are already familiar with those core mechanics. Beyond the art and theme, I appreciate how much variety the various Flower scoring criteria have, though I’ll admit it overwhelmed me when I was trying to learn the game. It is definitely good that the Flower cards are mostly unique, yes; it just can be A Lot to learn all of them at once. That said, I don’t really mind. The thing that it’s missing compared to, say, Realm of Sand, is a coherent engine-building aspect; this is perfectly fun for me to play, but I never feel like I’m moving more quickly than I ever have (likely because I’m always fairly resource constrained). On the plus side, it makes your opponents easier to predict, which is helpful as well. All in all, it strikes me as a nice gateway – gateway+ game, and I’m never going to complain when another one of those rides around. If you’re looking for some nice, simple, tile-laying games, or you want to develop your competitive green thumb, I’d certainly recommend checking out Gartenbau!