Full disclosure: A review copy of Four Gardens was provided by Korea Boardgames.
Alright, let’s head out of the US, a bit, for a couple weeks. I’ve got a few new games in from Korea Boardgames, and I’m trying to get coverage out for them before Essen, in case any of y’all are attending their online shindig. That may be the closest I get to Essen for a long time; in terms of international cons, my ambition has long been to get to Tokyo Game Market. But perhaps some day. Anyways, I digress; we’ve got Four Gardens here, so let’s check it out!
In Four Gardens, you play as challengers competing to earn your place as the new monarch. The queen has posed a simple contest: create the most beautiful landscape around the pagoda to honor both her and the gods. If you can cultivate a perfect environment here, then you’ll certainly be able to cultivate a beautiful kingdom. I assume that … makes sense. I dunno, I’d ask about long-term economic policies and how they feel about education, law enforcement, and rent, but this is why I’ll never be a monarch. Anyways, will you be able to create the most beautiful garden and claim the crown for yourself?
Alright. First thing you’re going to need to do is build the Pagoda:
Nice thing is, there are instructions and everything mostly snaps together. Don’t forget the spire-y part! Now, give each player a Planning Tile in their color of choice:
You can give them scoring cubes in their color, as well:
Those will go on the “3” space on each color of the Gods Track:
Set aside the resources so that they can be easily reached by players:
Place the Bonus Tiles near there, as well:
Last thing to do is to shuffle the Landscape Cards:
Deal each player 5. You should be all ready to start!
The game’s surprisingly straightforward. Your goal is to earn points and pay respects to the gods by creating various Landscape panoramas. To do so, you’ll have to do a fair bit of groundwork and also make sure that the Pagoda treats you favorably. Let’s dive in and find out how!
On your turn, you have three actions that you can perform. There are four possible actions, and you may take any of them more than once. Note, however, to perform an action, you must always discard a card from your hand. As a result, you’ll finish your turn with two cards in hand. Let’s go through the actions.
This one’s gonna be pretty core to your game. In order to complete Landscape panoramas, you need to play them as Groundwork Cards, first. To do so, play one Landscape side-down so that the resource costs on the back are exposed. There are a few restrictions, of course:
- You may only have three Groundwork Cards out at a time. If you want to free up space, complete the card.
- You may not play any duplicate cards. There are various panorama types; check the color / number of dots and the indicated dot (a possible card could be Green-1 or Orange-3, for instance). You may not have two Green-1 cards out.
- Once you complete a Panorama, you may not start a new one of the same type. Technically, these are considered “duplicates”, but it’s worth reiterating just because there’s potential for confusion.
Rotate Pagoda / Collect Resources
This one’s fun. Look at the card; it indicates a tier of the pagoda. You may take that tier and rotate it (and all levels above it) once clockwise or counterclockwise. Once you’ve done that, you may begin collecting resources at the bottom (going up) or the top (going down), depending on the arrow printed on the card.
The key thing here is that you cannot choose to skip any resources. Resources go directly to your Planning Tile, and once it’s full, you forego collecting any more resources. Better plan ahead!
Collect Wild Resource
When playing a card with a Wild Symbol on it, you may take any one resource and add it to an available Groundwork Card or your Planning Tile.
Players can reallocate their resources by discarding a card with a handcart symbol on it (all cards have this symbol). When they do, they may freely move resources between three zones:
- Moving resources to / from their Planning Tile.
- Moving resources to / from their face-up Groundwork Cards.
- Returning unwanted resources to the supply. Note that this is the only way you can get rid of unwanted resources.
Very importantly, this is the only way to move resources from your Planning Tile to your Groundwork Cards.
Completing a Landscape Card
As a result of reallocating your resources, you may have enough resources on one or more cards to complete them, creating the landscape on the other side! Reveal the card, and then do the following:
- Advance one space on the Gods track corresponding to the symbol in the top-left corner. If it’s a wild symbol, you may choose any track.
- Advance one space on the Gods track corresponding to each other symbol on the other cards in the Panorama you’ve already completed. This happens every time you add a new card. You score the new card, and then you re-score all the old cards.
- If the full Panorama is completed, take the top Bonus Tile of one of the available stacks. You may not take a Bonus Tile of a type that you’ve already claimed. They let you collect bonus resources, bonus points, or another empty space for your Planning Tile.
End of Turn
To end your turn, draw back up to five cards, one at a time. You may take any face-up cards or the top card of the deck, but do not refill the face-up cards until you’ve got five cards in hand.
End of Game
The game ends when a certain number of Landscape cards have been completed, depending on your player count:
- 2 players: 10 Landscape cards
- 3 players: 9 Landscape cards
- 4 players: 8 Landscape cards
After a player hits that threshold, complete the round so that all players get an equal number of turns. Then, count your points from the Gods tracks, as well as other points you may have gotten from Bonus Tiles, and the player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
The things you’re going to notice most readily as the player count increases is that the pagoda is even more unreliable and that you also can’t rely on the open draw to have any cards you want. In a two-player game, you’ll likely see the pagoda moved once a turn, maybe twice. Similarly, you can see four cards; they’ll only be able to take three. Between your turns in a four-player game, that’s happening two more times (three total). That’s going to be a lot of uncertainty, if you’re planning the perfect maneuver. It also, unfortunately, means that you don’t have a ton to do between your turn; there’s no point planning ahead because you don’t know what the state of the pagoda will be. It’s also a lot harder to draw cards with pagoda turns on them since you’re not sure how helpful or relevant they’ll be by the time you get to use them. There’s still that uncertainty at lower player counts, but it’s lessened considerably. Also expect a similar bump in entropy on the Gods track; if everyone goes for the same color it’s going to be a slapfight that nobody wins, but if players are all going for different colors exclusively they may shut their opponents out of those colors pretty quickly, if they get the right Landscape cards. Overall, as y’all probably know, I’m fairly low-entropy as a preference, so I tend to prefer this game at lower player counts.
- I think completing one panorama as quickly as you can should be a priority. For me, this let me get the 4-wild bonus tile, which helped me start my foray into the larger panorama much faster (since they require more resources to complete than the smaller ones) and that helped me surge forward on the Gods track much more quickly, as a result. You may also opt to get the extra planning tile space, which will help you even more (since you now have access to one additional resource). Either way, I think it’s worth trying to get an early bonus in place as fast as you can.
- Don’t get the points bonus until near the end of the game. It’s not very functional, honestly; you’re better off with other things, if you can get those early. If it’s the choice between a 2-wild tile and the 4 points, though, you might as well get the 4 points since the 2-wild will always be there for you, I suppose. Just don’t get stuck.
- The 5-card panorama is great for crushing your opponents on the Gods track. They’re harder to complete, but you can keep getting a ton of points on the Gods track (since each card you complete activates every other card in the panorama), since completing the 5-card panorama means you will have gotten 15 spaces on the Gods track of advancement. Just make sure you’re keeping an eye on other things; this panorama requires a lot of resources, and they’re not always easy to get.
- The smaller panoramas are better for getting bonuses. It’s easier to complete smaller panoramas since they both have fewer cards and the cards generally require fewer resources. Just make sure you don’t lose out on the Gods track while you’re doing that.
- Either way, don’t fight your opponent for control of one track. Just do enough that you don’t get kicked off the track. If you’re constantly pushing each other back and forth, you’re not keeping an eye on other tracks and that gives your opponents additional chances to push you both off. Then you wasted a ton of time fighting each other. It’s better to get 4 on one track and 8 on another than 10 and 0, after all. Just keep that in mind.
- Keep in mind that you need to plan out your turns pretty specifically. You can’t really wing it, given that you need to have the right resources at the right time with the right cards for the right things to happen. If you get the 4-wild tile and you have no cards out, the resources go to your Planning Tile, which is nice but still negates a key advantage of the 4-wild tile (which is that they could have gone to cards). 4 wild resources could complete the red panorama completely, if you play your cards right. Make sure you’ve thought through your turn and its subsequent effects before you play cards, or you’ll be wasting a lot of time.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The pagoda is pretty darn cool. As far as resource-collection mechanisms go, it’s pretty nice. I’m also a fan of the assembly and how it’s different every game! That means certain cards become easier or harder to complete by virtue of which resources are easiest to get, and I think that adds a cool metagame effect so that you can’t just pull the same strategy every time.
- I’m easily a sucker for games with panoramic full-bleed cards. I loved them in Unfair, as well, and I love them here. The entire art style is quite nice, being honest; it’s very bright, colorful, and inviting. The pagoda obviously adds a lot to the table presence, as well.
- Not too tough to learn. There are only four actions, they have strong icon associations for most of them, and you kind of just do them until the game ends. For the size of the box, it’s got a relatively small cognitive footprint, which is really nice, once you learn the icons.
- I actually really like the resource constraints, as a mechanic. It forces you to think, but it more importantly forces you to plan. You can’t just go into a turn and figure it out, otherwise you’ll end up with your resource track junked and have to waste one of your distressingly few actions resolving that problem. Three actions seems like a lot, but two of them are often taking resources and moving them around. Lots to do in this space around resource constraints, and I think Four Gardens is doing pretty cool work, here.
- It’s also very easy to keep track of how many actions you have left, since you have to discard every time you perform one. That’s honestly just nice from a bookkeeping standpoint. Players are thinking and planning a lot, and this solves the often-clunky “action cards” system that a handful of games use (where you pass an action card to the next player every time you do an action). This is much more elegant and functional!
- The box insert is also very nice. Super nice box insert, which I love. Spaces for the resources, the cards, and the disassembled pagoda. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a truly great insert for a game box; I was briefly overwhelmed. It doesn’t help that I’ve been doing Kickstarter prototypes for a month and they’re all just “we put all the pieces in the box”, generally. Not their fault, but, a nice insert is a welcome change.
- Pretty much every game that has you lay cards flat on the table and then pick them back up makes me wish that I had a better playmat for them. This is a pretty common complaint here at What’s Eric Playing?, but, it is a common complaint for a reason. I routinely have trouble picking cards up from the table, and games where you’re doing that a lot do make me wish that there were some kind of playmat solution.
- Being able to bump another player off of a track so they can no longer score that color is … fairly mean. It feels like a hint of take-that, since you make them incapable of scoring that track (and with the right cards, can do so fairly quickly). I don’t really like it, but it usually means they basically blew off that track anyways, so, I suppose that’s fine?
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, I think Four Gardens is a lot of fun! I will say that the pagoda and the box make the same seem a lot larger and crunchier than I think it is? I’d call it a medium-light resource management game with a lot of emphasis on efficient turns. You want to be able to gain at least a card every turn, if you can, but if you make a mistake, have the wrong cards, or rely on the wrong plan, you’re going to have to move the pagoda twice or move the pagoda, dump your resources, and then move it again to get what you want. Beyond that, you’re just turning resources into cards into points. There aren’t a lot of exceedingly complex additional mechanics, but I think that’s part of the success of the game; there don’t need to be! There’s a cool schtick, some smart design decisions, and great art, and often that’s enough to get a game moving and keep it in motion. Plus, you get a big spinning pagoda in the middle of your play area. It’s like the tree in Everdell. Is it necessary? No, you could just use a spinner or something. But is it cool? Absolutely. And sometimes games just … need to be cool for their own sake. I’m not terribly bothered by that. I perhaps wish that the end result of the Gods track isn’t players getting booted into the abyss, but beyond that I think this game does a lot of things that I do like. So if you’re looking for a tightly-wound resource management game that will challenge you to plan, I’d recommend checking out Four Gardens! I’ve certainly had a good time playing it.