Full disclosure: A review copy of Miyabi was provided by HABA.
One last rally! Not sure what I’m going to do, to be honest. I’ve reviewed so many HABA games, one a week, for the last several months. It’s been exciting! But all good things have to come to an end or at least a temporary delay because all game companies pretty usually release new games on a pretty consistent cycle. To that glorious end, let’s talk about the last HABA game currently in my queue, Miyabi!
In Miyabi, you want nothing more than to tend your new terrace garden, but other players are also making some. Naturally, it’s going to upset you if theirs is more impressive, so you have to challenge them! May the best person win. Everything sort of converges to a point, so a strong foundation is going to be your ally if you plan to ultimately make a garden of note. Will you be able to stand above your opponents’ best efforts?
Ironically, not that much setup. First, place the score board in the center of the table, with the score token on round 1:
Give each player a player board, next:
Then, give each player 6 lanterns in their player color:
Place one above each column on the player board (off of the player board, for now). Add the scoring stones to the 0s on the player board:
And set out the bonus tiles:
The slightly annoying one is this one; you need to shuffle and organize all the tiles of each size. Once you do, you’re roughly ready to start!
A game of Miyabi is played over a few rounds. During each, you’ll draft tiles to add them to your terraced garden, building it up both figuratively and vertically over that time until the game ends. When it does, the player with the most points wins!
Each round is set up before you start playing by randomly revealing tiles of each of the four types: 1s, 2s, 3-corners, and 3-straights:
- 2 players: 4 1s, 4 2s, 2 3-corners. 2 3-straights
- 3 players: 6 1s, 6 2s, 3 3-corners. 3 3-straights
- 4 players: 8 1s, 8 2s, 3 4-corners. 4 3-straights
Once you’ve got that set up, the round can start! Each player will take at most 6 turns. On your turn, choose any face-up tile and add it to an available part of your garden.
What does available mean? Well, on each tile there’s objects, and each tile must be placed following some rules:
- The square containing the objects must be in an unused column. This is a column without a lantern on it already. The empty green parts can go anywhere.
- The square containing the objects must be in its corresponding row. The green parts, again, may go anywhere, but the objects are restricted to specific rows.
- You may place the tile on top of other tiles, but it must be completely on top of tiles that are all on the same level. You cannot use a tile to cover holes, for instance.
- The tile may not be placed with any part extending outside of the player board. As you’d expect.
If you cannot place a tile following these rules, your turn ends. Otherwise, place a lantern on the space matching the column you placed the objects in, and you then score the tile as follows:
You score the number of objects on the tile times the tile’s height. So a three-object tile on level 4 is worth 12 points. Move your scoring marker ahead to track that. If you place an object on the fifth level and you’re the first player to do so, immediately gain the points pictured on that object’s bonus tile and then remove it from the game.
Once all players have placed all six of their lanterns or passed, the round ends. All unused tiles are removed and players move their lanterns back above their player board. Start resetting the round again by following the instructions at the top of this section.
After the final building round, the game ends and you move on to final scoring. This is some bonuses based on which players had the most objects of each kind in each row. First place gets the higher score, and second place gets the lower score. If there’s a tie for first, all tied players get the higher score and the lower score isn’t awarded. If there’s a tie for second, all tied players get the lower score. Total your scores, and the player with the most points wins!
If that weren’t enough, there are also expansions that add new elements to the basic game, such as scoring adjacent groups of objects or adjacent empty spaces, scoring for surrounding a single object, scoring for having groups of 7 objects in rows and columns, and even a friendly froggo! I’d recommend adding them in if you want to further increase the complexity of this game, but thankfully they’re mini-expansions and not terribly taxing to learn.
Player Count Differences
Not really a ton in theory; it’s another one of those things that I refer to as that weird line between expectation and variance. Since there are more players, you may potentially have access to more large tiles on your turn. Will you be able to get that many more? Probably not; it’s likely that they’ll be fairly evenly split between players. But, at higher player counts, there’s more of a chance that they won’t be, and that split could potentially benefit you. That’s the nice thing about these kinds of drafting games; that possibility could happen! The problem is, it’s not a terribly interesting possibility, so I regret highlighting it in its own paragraph about player count differences, sorry. Another thing that’s actually worth worrying about is the breakdowns of the rows may not work favorably for you at higher player counts, since there will be more competition. More types of objects aren’t added, so, it’s really the same number available but with more players vying for pieces of that pie. It means you may want to prioritize depth over breadth, where you can, whereas at two players you do have a bit more room to explore (even if you’ll ultimately take the same number of tiles over the course of the game, generally speaking). I don’t have a strong preference for a particular player count, for this one, though, as a result.
- You’ve kinda got to go in with a bit of a plan. This is a game that gradually builds on previous moves that you make in the game. This means that if you move sloppily, you’re going to have a crummy foundation for later. Try to build a wide enough base that you can peak in certain rows enough to either earn bonuses or cement majorities. Either way, this requires a bit of forward-thinking, so make sure you’re doing that.
- Prioritize certain objects in your garden, if you need a way to align your thinking. I usually work top to bottom. The red trees are the most valuable if you can get the majorities or the 5-level bonus, so, if you’re not sure what else you should be going for, try to align yourself so that you can go for that? That’s what I tend to do.
- You can use the two-square tiles to sort of pile on each other, which is great. You can only use two per round, but, you can reverse them and stack them on each other to continually ascend in height without taking up too much space, which is nice. Low-footprint work. It’s especially nice if you use this to propel yourself to the first to five levels bonus for any of the objects in your garden; it’s a very clean maneuver.
- Don’t cut yourself off too much. This is mostly my way of saying that you shouldn’t leave too many holes that you can’t cover and you shouldn’t place in ways that are going to cover massive chunks of objects in your garden. Both of those decisions are hasty and they’ll mess you up farther down the line (especially late-game).
- Additionally, remember the row bonuses at the end of the game. These can be huge boosts; often more than 10 points if you have the majority in that row! This is a really important thing to work towards. Plus, you’re really only going to be able to lock down two or three rows unless you’re playing a two-player game; even fewer at four, expectedly.
- Since the game sort of spirals upwards, blocking your opponent becomes multiplicatively less optimal as the game progresses. Taking a 3 that your opponent wants at the beginning of the game might be worth 3 points to them, 3 points to you. At the end of the game, it might be 3 points for you or 15 points for them. That seems like it would be better to take it then, sure, but what if taking something else will give you 24 points? You need to keep options open for that, as well. Wasting points you could earn to block someone else will only hurt you both and help the unaffected player(s).
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I do love games with verticality. It’s cool! I’m not … explicitly as familiar with Japanese terrace gardening (and a cursory Googling suggests that might not be a thing), but the stacking of tiles to make a multi-level landscape is pretty cool. I’m generally a fan of them.
- The thickness of the tiles helps a lot with making that verticality feel more potent. They’re extremely good tiles, is the thing. They’re some of the thicker tiles that I’ve seen in a game, and that makes the actual stacking nature of the game pretty great, especially by the end. You’ve got a lot going on, at that point, and it’s excellent.
- The column-level limitations make placement challenging and interesting, which I appreciate. It had to be something, right? But forcing players to align the objects placed along free columns makes the placement elements of the game focus a bit more around logical rotations and translations, both of which are super fun. It’s a good challenge and I think the restrictions help a lot, which isn’t terribly surprising.
- The five included mini-expansions are really solid ways to add additional complexity to the game, if you’re looking for that. Generally a big fan of additional variant play options, and I like that there are a bunch that aren’t quite as complicated as other ones. I’m still a bit intimidated by The Taverns of Tiefenthal because it has a bunch of additional modules.
- If you’re looking for a heavier alternative to NMBR 9, this is definitely that. I like NMBR 9 a lot, but it’s definitely on the more casual side. This leans more strategic, which is excellent, if you’re looking for that sort of escalation after the other game.
- Setup can take a bit. This is, again, the difficulty of being compared to NMBR 9. Is this heavier? Significantly; that’s a pretty casual game, where I’d call this one a lot closer to Strategy, if I were coming up with a four-tier classification system for game complexity. Who knows. This has a lot more to do! Tiles need to be shuffled and laid out, and they’re not particularly easy tiles to shuffle, so that can take a bit of time. I think it’s not terrible, though, and certainly not as much setup as some of the other games I’ve reviewed this week.
- I think I just don’t like scoreboards where every number isn’t labelled. I’m a dream-team combination of bad at math and lazy, and having to try and guess up to five numbers is apparently more than my hamster brain can figure out. Alas. This goes into a larger and more complex diatribe about scoreboards in modern gaming which we don’t have time for in the space of this review. Maybe some day I’ll start a channel or something.
- The first couple turns of the game play pretty similarly. I was told once about a game design principle which is “if all players are going to do the same thing on the first turn, just have them start with it already done”. It’s a problem that NMBR 9, this game’s simpler counterpart, doesn’t have, but generally speaking most players play the entire first round grabbing the big pieces first, then the smaller ones, then the smallest ones. It would be kind of nice if there were some sort of variable setup configuration to make that first round feel a bit less rote.
- This one really could benefit from an insert. It’s not that bad since there aren’t that many bags, but HABA’s ongoing insert-negative policy is starting to get a bit frustrating with games like this one. Thankfully, I’ve got a lot of bags, so, not a huge problem.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I like Miyabi! If you’re asking me to be a bit unfair, then yes, I’m aware I scored it slightly below NMBR 9, and I’ll stick by that; I prefer lighter games, generally, as they’re easier to teach, set up, and get played. That said, this one, while being a step up on the strategic scale, is also worth the increase in weight, I’d say. It’s not approaching heavy, by any stretch of the imagination; I’d say Tiny Towns, for instance, is the heavier of the two by a long shot. But I think that that’s nice, honestly. It’s good to have a wide variety of games with related mechanics at various weight classes; it means that you can tell someone, “oh, did you enjoy this game? Are you looking for something heavier but in a similar boat?” and if they say yes, you can show them Miyabi. That’s cool! It helps people find their weight niche, and I think that’s great. I think I’ve warmed up to it a bit as I’ve been playing heavier games in the last several weeks, as well, which has been a nice bit of a break from my usual light games (don’t worry, more doujin game reviews are coming and they’re all fairly light). It’s nice to vary your perspective every so often; makes you a better reviewer and all that. And Miyabi is definitely going to be on the far end of the scale away from NMBR 9. I think you could make an argument that they’re both casual games, sure, but this is strategic-casual at best and NMBR 9 is firmly casual. I find that interesting, personally, and I’d love to explore what other games have similarly weighty partners. Anyways, I do love games with a vertical element, and I particularly like how physically weighty this is (nice tiles always help; jot that one down), so if you’re looking to step it up a level from NMBR 9 or you’re wanting to see what games HABA’s putting out there on the more strategic side, I’d suggest taking Miyabi for a spin! I’ve found it interesting.