Full disclosure: A review copy of Horticulture Master was provided by MOZI Games.
This is a tough week for reviewing, but alas. Accidentally scheduled my work trip on two of my big posting days, so I’m dropping this right before I go on my flight and I’m going to figure out the social media things later on, which will be an adventure. In the meantime, let’s check out another game from MOZI, who also published Mini Garden and Sheep Dog, two games I’ve reviewed previously.
In Horticulture Master, you’re attempting to embody the spirit of the elements by creating a beautiful garden. At one with nature, you need to rely on these elements and your animal companions if you want to attain the coveted title Horticulture Master. Just be careful, as when the seasons change, the elements respond in kind. You’ll also need tools and just a bit of … magic mushrooms? What kind of garden are you building? Guess we’ll find out.
To start, lay out the Element Board:
Then, add tiles to it corresponding to the number of players:
- Grass Tiles: Always use 10, face-down. They may randomly have rabbits on them, so don’t peek.
- Cabin and Station Tiles: These are the big ones, and they depend on player count:
- 2 / 3 players: 2 tiles.
- 4 players: 3 tiles.
- 5 players: 4 tiles.
- Other Gardening Tiles: These also depend on player count, but less specifically:
- 2 / 3 players: 3 tiles of each type.
- 4 players: 4 tiles of each type.
- 5 players: 5 tiles of each type.
Have each player place an Animal Marker on top of one of the stacks of tiles. It doesn’t really matter which animal, as long as every stack has an animal on top of it. Leave the Horticulture Master token (the fancy cat) aside, for now.
Give each player a Magic Mushroom card to start their hand:
Shuffle the Tool Cards and the Element Cards together:
Place the deck on the top-left corner of the board; this is called the Source of Gardening. Between it and the Discard Pile is the Prepared Area. Now, flip 10 cards face-up, placing them on the Prepared Area and spaces 1 – 9. Then, give each player a Gardening Board:
You should be ready to start!
Over the course of a game of Horticulture Master, you’re going to strive to become one by strategically building up your garden through collecting and spending elements. Be careful, though, as more complex garden fixtures are going to require tools, so you may end up needing to borrow some! Once a player has completed their garden, the game ends and the player with the most points wins!
To that end, on your turn you must Work and then Refill Elements.
During this phase, you can work with Elements or Garden Tiles.
Collect Elements and Tool Cards
To mess with elements, you may do one of several things:
- Take 1 – 2 identical and adjacent Element Cards. Generally, you may take one or two of the same Element Cards if they’re adjacent (horizontally or vertically) to each other. If you want to collect 1 or 2 Blooms, you must discard a Sunshine; a Magic Mushroom does not count for that effect. Just remember; you have a hand limit of 5.
- Claim Reborn Cards. Similarly, you may claim 1 or 2 Fire or Snow Cards (must be the same type of card). You can use three of any type of Reborn Card on subsequent turns as any Element. Place these in your Restoration Area; there’s no limit to the number of cards you can store here.
- Take Magic Mushrooms. You may discard 1 or 2 of any Element Card to take 1 – 2 adjacent Magic Mushroom Cards. If you want to use Reborn Cards to do so, it’ll run you 3 or 6 Reborn Cards, depending on how many cards you take.
- Purchase a Tool. You may buy a Tool Card if you don’t already have one by discarding the Element Cards pictured on the card. Tools give you a permanent upgrade, but you can only hold one at a time. If you ever need to use an opponent’s Tool Card (mostly for playing Garden Tiles), you must give them a Magic Mushroom. Note that you cannot discard Tool Cards once you pick them up; they’re yours forever.
- Clear a row. You may clear a row of the element area, refill it, and then take any one Element Card.
Plant and / or Transplant Garden Tiles
Each turn you chose to not gain Element or Tool Cards, you may instead Plant and Transplant Garden Tiles.
To plant a tile, discard the Element Cards displayed on the board under that tile and place the tile on your board. If it shows a Tool symbol, you must have that tool or pay the player who has that tool one Magic Mushroom.
When you place a Garden Tile, you must follow a few rules:
- Once placed, you may not move the tile.
- The tile must fit completely on the board.
- You may rotate the tiles, but you cannot flip them.
- You may have more than one of the same Garden Tile. The effects stack, also!
- If a Garden Tile stack runs out, no player can use it.
- If you are the first player to take a Garden Tile of a particular type, you may also take the Animal Marker. It’s worth a point at the end of the game!
Now, you may be wondering how you buy some of the ridiculously expensive Garden Tiles, given that you have a finite hand size. I’m glad you vaguely asked! One way you can do that is by Transplanting tiles.
To Transplant, simply remove the tile from your board and flip it over, placing it in the Warehouse section of your Garden Board. This reduces it back to its component elements and earns you one point. However, these elements expire at the end of your turn, so make sure you use them! The last thing worth noting is that if the tiles have an effect, that effect is removed immediately. Make sure you plan for that!
Since they are the largest and smallest tiles, you cannot Transplant Station / Cabin / Grass tiles.
Refill Elements Phase
This part is interesting — if you moved any elements on the board during your Work Phase, refill the board now.
Start by shifting cards in each column along the direction of their arrows. Note that any Snow Cards cannot be shifted. The spaces below them will remain empty.
Now, for all the spaces not below a Snow Card, refill those by taking the card from the Prepared Area and placing it in the lowest space, numerically. Keep doing that (and refilling the Prepared Area from the deck) until the board is full.
Additionally, every Fire Card burns the card below it (sending it to the discard) and falls to take its place. Cards do not shift to fill that space this round. If the Fire Card is at the bottom, it does nothing.
As with many games, if the deck is ever depleted, shuffle the discard pile to form a new deck.
End of Game
When one of these two conditions is fulfilled, the game ends after that round is completed:
- 3 different gardening tile stacks are now empty.
- One player has completely filled their Garden Board.
Once that happens, have players calculate their scores:
- Horticulture Master Marker: 3 points.
- Garden Tiles: Each tile scores differently, between 1 and 8 points generally.
- Removed Garden Tiles: 1 point each.
- Animal Markers: 1 point each.
- Tool Cards: 1 point each.
- Magic Mushroom Cards: 1 point each.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I mean, the big unexpected one was just that the tiles are more likely to run out as your players increase. Everyone wants one! At two, players can get what they need with little consequence, but at more than two suddenly it’s possible to take two of a tile, ensuring that your opponent cannot! Hadn’t much considered that. It’s something worth watching for, though, since a player emptying enough piles ends the game, so pay attention to the status of each pile. Personally, it’s a bit nice having more people since there are more people moving around the Elements, so it’s less likely that you’ll get stuck, but I don’t really have a strong player count preference on this game.
- Get useful tools. There are several; some let you take extra Elements, some let you take more usefully adjacent elements, and others just let you take two of the same thing if it’s there. Part of “useful” is also making sure that they set you up to either take enough Element Cards that you can get whatever you want, tile-wise, or that you control a hard-to-get Tool so that players are always paying you to buy the tiles they want.
- Boosting your hand limit isn’t the worst. Especially if you have the “if a third Element is nearby, take that one too” Tool, it’s nice to know that you’re not going to get crushed and have to consistently discard cards. Plus, it’s not terribly expensive, either.
- Honestly, your mileage may vary on whether or not the Station / Cabin tile is worth it. See how the game is progressing. You usually have to get rid of a few tiles just to make space for it, so maybe it’s not necessarily worth it? It’s likely definitely not worth it if you’re not going to be first to it for that extra point, but again, see how the game is progressing. It may be better to shoot for earlier in the game than later.
- Similarly, there are only so many Grass tiles that will give you points. Don’t just buy them because they’re cheap; buy them to quickly patch holes that will potentially fill in the Garden so you can claim the Horticulture Master token. Plus, you can’t get rid of them once you take them, so make sure you’re not punishing your future self.
- Collecting Reborn cards isn’t bad, but don’t just take one on turns. You really want multiple so that you can stack them for a free element. If you’re just taking one, you’re going to spend a lot of time ramping up to that freebie, which may not be super worth it.
- Magic Mushrooms are also worth holding on to, for several reasons. First is that they’re widely useful for buying tiles and Tools, since they count as anything. Second is that they can be used to augment a tile purchase by paying for the temporary use of another player’s Tool. The third is that they’re just straight-up worth points at the end of the game, so that’s great. Even one point can make a big difference.
- Clearing a row usually sucks, but better that than letting the game grind for a while for no real reason.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- It’s a really beautiful game. Like, it’s super pretty. The game has a feel that’s somewhere between pastoral and ethereal, but save the mushrooms, the game is very low-magic. If you’re looking for a beautiful gardening game, it’s really this or Herbaceous.
- Pretty peaceful, too. I like that it’s fairly low-conflict; players end up being much more mad at the Reborn Cards junking things up than any other player in particular, which is nice. I don’t think I could get into a high-conflict gardening game, though, to be fair.
- I do like the theme quite a bit. Gardening games are pretty much nice, pleasant, and relaxing, even when I’m not a huge fan of them. Thankfully, I do enjoy this one pretty solidly.
- Once you get the Element Card-taking process down, the game isn’t too hard to learn. It’s mostly pick up cards to buy tiles to gain abilities to make buying tiles easier. The strategy is in the tiles you choose and the tools, and there are plenty of ways to approach each decision. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily complicated either; just a good amount of stuff to think about.
- I worry about five players; it seems like the game would take much longer, especially for your first time. Players can’t agonize too much over which Element Cards, but I assume there’s potential for some. The real issue is that there’s not really anything to do when it’s not your turn, save for occasionally getting a Magic Mushroom. This may lead to some player disengagement, which isn’t particularly great.
- The box is kind of a weird shape, also, being real. It’s a bit too long to fit flat, and a bit too wide to fit vertically. The weirdest thing is that the insert seems designed to hold everything in if the box is stored vertically, but it does not. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to clean up this game.
- If no player is willing to refresh the Element Board, the game can slow to a painful crawl. This can happen a lot at two players, since the other player obviously heavily benefits from a refresh, so you’re less incentivized to take one yourself. This can really cause the game to drag, so, if you see that starting, it may be better to bite the bullet for everyone’s sake.
- Similarly, if it takes a while for Tools to come out, the game can move pretty slowly. This one is just because it makes it hard for players to buy later-game tiles once they’re ready. Thankfully, this one is much less likely, as players are pretty content to buy early-game tiles for a bit, and at higher player counts that usually means that there’s been enough of a cycle to see some of the tools emerge.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, I think Horticulture Master is a nice title! I think its main strengths are that it really should appeal to the peaceful gamer, one who looks for a game without direct conflict and aggression. That said, that should be pretty obvious from the cover, which I appreciate. It’s nice when the theme and the gameplay match up pretty well. For me, my favorite parts of the game are building your board and collecting the Animal Tokens, but I find the Element Card management puzzle to be interesting, as well. I think many players will enjoy the challenge of trying to set up big turns for themselves or trying to block their opponents’ turns. Hard to say. Either way, it would be interesting to see what would happen if this one got localized; it’s functional, but having some extra care put into the translations I think would decrease the (already admittedly not terribly high) barrier to entry, which I think could be cool. In the meantime, though, it’s a pretty game and it’s fun for me, so if you’re looking for a really peaceful game of garden management or you just like games with solid art, I’d recommend taking a look at Horticulture Master! I’ve enjoyed it.