Base price: $25.
1 – 4 players.
Play time: ~15 minutes.
BGG | Board Game Atlas
Buy on Amazon (via What’s Eric Playing?)
Logged plays: 3
Full disclosure: A preview copy of Gardeners was provided by Sit Down!. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the final product, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
At some level, I’m making progress, probably. I think I’m finding that I need to start doing at least one or two “Mini” or “Micro” reviews in a week if I’m having an off week (like I’m having this week, unfortunately), or else I can’t make a ton of progress. That said, if you’re publishing three reviews in a week, to get “ahead” you need to fundamentally write more than three reviews in a given week, which can be challenging on its own, you know? A week ahead is a week where I write six reviews, and unfortunately we’re in the Spring TV season. I gotta see what’s happening with that Mandalorian guy. I’ll figure it out. Anyways, I was fortunate to get to try a prototype of Gardeners, new from the minds at Sit Down!. Let’s see how it plays!
In Gardeners, players are working together to garden for the King as fast as they can! He’s particular, unfortunately, and his ears are very sensitive. You’ve decided it’s better not to talk, frankly, but that does make it hard to let someone else know the very specific instructions he gave you. It’ll probably be fine, right? Play tiles, build a garden, and make sure you get it right! Can you make the perfect garden for the King?
So there are a few different ways to play. There are tutorial modes, where you should use the tutorial-specific tiles. There are also tutorial-specific constraint cards:
If you wanna use them, you can. Otherwise, shuffle all the tiles together and then make equal stacks, one for each player:
And shuffle the standard constraint cards together:
Set aside the timer, and you should be ready to start!
So, over the course of Gardeners, you seek to satisfy the King’s myriad constraints on the garden! Each game takes place over 15 minutes, composed of a series of rounds. You can’t talk, though! At least, not about the game. Each round, you do a few things:
To start the round, the first player will draw a Constraint card. This determines what requirements the King has set for the garden. Everyone should be able to see the back of the card, but only you should be able to see the front. At the start of each new round, the player to the left of the last player to draw a Constraint card draws one themself. You cannot have more than three Constraint cards out at a time, so if you’re playing with two players one player will have two. If playing with four, one will have zero. If you find the current set of Constraint cards too difficult, you may discard one for free once per game; otherwise they count as negative points.
After getting a Constraint Card, the garden is arranged! This is done by simultaneously adding and removing tiles from the central play area, making a maximum size of 6×6 (smaller, in the tutorials). You can add a tile orthogonally to any existing tile, and you may remove any tile, provided it has at least one free edge (and doesn’t split the garden into two pieces). When you remove a tile, however, you pass it to another player, and then they can play it. You better hope they know what you wanted to do with it!
While doing this, players may check their constraint cards. Once their Constraint card is satisfied (rotations are generally fine, but there are a few different kinds of Constraints), they may announce that The King is Satisfied! If anyone is not, they must say “His Majesty is Angry!”, and you must go back to rearranging. As soon as all Constraint cards are satisfied, you restart the round! Draw a new Constraint, and if there are already three Constraint cards in play, retire the oldest Constraint.
As soon as the sand timer runs out, the game ends! Count up all your retired Constraint cards, and subtract any discarded Constraint cards.
Player Count Differences
There’s only one really large one, and it happens at four players. The constraint cards are distributed as evenly as possible, meaning at two, one player will end up with two cards and the other will have one; at three, each player will have one; and at four, one player will have 0 (but that player with none will rotate). As a result, there will always be one player who knows essentially nothing, just like real life. I don’t love that personally, just because there’s a real tendency for players to not pass you any tiles since you fundamentally don’t know anything, which just kind of takes you out of the game. I mean, I get it; why bother passing tiles to a player who doesn’t know any of the constraints instead of players that do? I suppose it makes sense. But it does feel like a gap in play for that player, which isn’t amazing. As a result, I’d probably stick to two or three players. There’s also a solo mode included for players who are into that sort of thing.
- Try to think of why another player keeps passing you tiles. Usually that means that you’re not “doing it right”, which does beg the question of what “doing it right” looks like. Look at the back of the card for more clues as to why they keep rejecting the tiles you’re placing and try to come up with plausible configurations that work. Remember; you’re on a timer.
- I use a quick technique of just passing two tiles to my coplayer whenever I want them to swap. It’s pretty clear what you want when you do that; that said, it gets a bit more complicated when you need to dig towards the center. You’ll kind of generate these pseudo-communication methods as you play more, though.
- Sometimes you have to dig a tile out; it’s not ideal but it happens. There’s often no better way to get to the middle than just pulling out as many tiles as you can to get there and just … digging out the tile you need. Since you can only pull tiles out if they have at least one free side, there’s just no better way to go about it.
- Keep an eye on the backs of cards; they can tell you a lot about what your other players want. They indicate a pattern of some kind that you need to adhere to, and they’re usually pretty specific, like specifying diagonals or a row of three in between two rows of three. It’s a whole thing. Regardless, take a look at what you see and plan accordingly. It will help you know which tiles to play and which to leave behind.
- Also try not to necessarily break up paths; that’s usually a thing that other people care about. If there aren’t any path-related cards, go nuts, but if there’s even one, try to keep the path tiles together, as best you can. Again, there will be times that you have no choice but to break them up, but generally speaking, those are spots that other players do care a lot about.
- Early in the round it’s not necessarily a bad idea to just play tiles as fast as possible so you can get to the ideal 6×6 shape. Once you get to the 6×6 shape, you can start planning around getting the tiles you need in the configuration you want. That will help you get to the point where you can start scoring cards. If you’re trying to play ideally from the get-go, you run the risk of just wasting a bunch of time to only fulfill one constraint. That said, keep an eye on the back of the card so that you can try and at least not waste time.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Trying to deduce your constraints is a lot of fun! I mean, that’s kind of the crux of the game, but it’s entertaining to try and have to quickly come up with a reason for why the other player keeps rejecting all of your plays. I think it’s funny, at least.
- There’s some nice frustrating play where you and your other players keep violating each others’ constraints. As the game progresses, it’s not just about one Constraint card; it’s about figuring out how all three of the constraints you’re under can be satisfied, which is pretty challenging sometimes! Plus, you don’t get to know what you’re up against; you just have your own goal. Honestly, it reminds me a bit of Magic Maze in that you very clearly want someone else to do something that only they can do, and they just have no idea what it is. It’s a very fun gameplay avenue to explore.
- Plays pretty quickly, which is nice. Most games take pretty much exactly 15 minutes, and you can quote me on that. So that’s likely got to count for something.
- The art style is quite pleasant. It’s just a nice garden-themed game. Kind of like Paint the Roses, but without as much of a playing card aesthetic. Both are pleasant from an art standpoint, though!
- The various training modes are a nice way to ramp up, though you may not need them if you’re already experienced with this type of game. I appreciate that you can just dive right into this if you already kind of get what the game is doing, but having some ramp up modules for newer players is great, too. It helps make the game more approachable overall, and it doesn’t take away from the experienced player’s experience at all. It’s nice to have that sort of thing, especially for cooperative play.
- I appreciate the silent play, though I’d recommend just casually talking about something not game-related while you play. We just end up grunting more aggressively at each other while we play, but that’s more of an us problem than anything else. As you get experienced with the game, you can likely just chat about whatever; just make sure you’re not accidentally talking about your constraints!
- I appreciate that you can dump one constraint card for free each game; it does nicely account for the randomness of drawing cards. Given the random draw, it’s decently likely that at least once per game you’ll run into some configuration that doesn’t quite work, or one that’s just frustrating to set or reset or change. I appreciate that the game gives you a lever to get out of a bind for free one time! Just make sure you don’t overuse it, otherwise you’ll have to take a penalty if you’re really stuck.
- There are a couple things you can do that aren’t really within the spirit of the game. You can technically, as far as I understand it, receive a tile, play it, remove it, and pass it back to the player that handed it to you, so that they can just do what they want. I don’t think that’s really within the spirit of the game, though, so don’t typically allow that.
- A 15-minute sand timer is very funny until you pull it out of the box and it’s halfway run, so you just have to wait. There’s nothing for that, really, so we typically opt for using a phone timer, but it is nice to have the visual reminder of how much time is remaining. I just never know what to do if there’s still some time left on the timer when you open the box. My current trick is just always check the sand timer first, and if it’s not empty, let it run while you set up the game and explain the rules.
- It’s a bit odd that the preview copy bothered to include a bunch of expert Solo Mode constraint cards that just say you’ll have to wait for the main game. Just strange. I’m not sure why they were printed if they all say the same thing? Just felt odd.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, I think Gardeners is a blast! I really love real-time games, and this is the most fun I’ve had with real-time deduction since The Key series. That said, this is much more of a deduction game whereas The Key has more logic-puzzle elements to it, so you may lean towards one more than the other. I do appreciate that like Magic Maze, Gardeners has a great ramp-up progression, so you can start with some pretty simple tutorials and get gradually more complex, or you can just jump right into it! I do like the length of each round, though a 15-minute sand timer is kind of hilarious on principle. Like, what do you even do with that? Ideally, your copy arrives with the timer drained, otherwise you’ve got a bit to wait. Otherwise, though, this is a quick, simple, fun, and pleasant deduction game. Nice art, very approachable, right up my alley. Fans of “hard” deduction may not find the deduction as satisfying in this one, though; the game isn’t really built for that. It’s more about how quickly can you arrive at something that works than it is about doing a complex set of deductions to arrive at the “right” answer. I enjoy the cooperative nature of that, and I think the constraint here is around speed and timing rather than the deduction element, so that’s a fun spin on things. If you’re looking for that sort of thing, you enjoy real-time games, or you just want to garden as quick as you can, I’d recommend taking Gardeners for a spin! It’s been a lot of fun.
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