Die Garten von Versailles
- Designers: Lena and Guenter Burkhardt
- Publisher: Schmidt Spiele
- Players: on box: 2-4 (though the rules include rules for 5 players)
- Ages: 8+
- Time: 20-30 minutes
- Times played: 4, with review copy provided by Schmidt Spiele
In Die Garten von Versailles, players are Royal Gardeners, trying to impress the Sun King with their ability to plan the best garden. In this game, players will vie for tiles on which there are different arrangement of garden pieces – 72 different ones in the game.
The game is played in two rounds. In each round, there are 7 turns, and in each turn, each player will receive one tile from the table. To set up the first round, shuffle all the tiles face down and then make 7 groupings of tiles, each group with a number of tiles equal to the number of players. There is a king token which is placed next to the first group of tiles. Place the groups in some arrangement so that it is clear what order the groups are in – either all in a column or perhaps in a circular trail around the table. Just make sure that players know the order of the groups as well as which tile in each group will be closest to the king.
The deck of 55 numbered cards (from 1 to 55) is shuffled and each player is dealt a hand of ten cards. At the start of each turn, players secretly and simultaneously choose a card from their hand, and then they are all revealed. The player who played the lowest numbered card gets the leftmost tile from the current tile group (closest to the king). The next higher card gets the second tile, and so on until the highest valued card takes the rightmost tile from that group.
Each player now places their newly gained tile into their garden. The goal here is to create the largest contiguous areas of same colored garden elements. All tiles (except the first, of course) must be placed so that they are adjacent orthogonally to at least one other tile. The tiles do not have to match exactly, they can be staggered by half a tile. The tiles are played in the same order in which they were obtained; thus the player who played the lowest numbered card is also the first player to place their tile.
The reason for the timing is that there are majority tokens – for having the largest contiguous area of each of the five different garden colors. Once someone has an area of at least 4 fields, he takes the majority marker. These markers are worth 3VP in the first round. Once another player has exceeded the current leader, he takes the majority marker – thus, it does not change hands if someone merely ties the current leader. There are a few “wild” fields on the tiles – these areas can be quite valuable as they count as a match for any or all adjacent garden areas.
Once the seven groups of tiles have been distributed to the players, the first round ends. There is an intermediate scoring round that occurs. The owner of each majority token scores 3VP. In addition, each player totals up the number of fields in the largest contiguous fields of two different colors and scores 1VP per field in those two areas. Keep track of your score with pen and paper.
All unplayed cards are returned to the deck, which is reshuffled. Each player is dealt a new hand of 10 cards from the remaining deck. The remainder of the garden tiles are again shuffled, and 7 new groups of tiles are created. The majority tokens are now flipped up to their other side so that they are worth 5VP. They will be passed around in the same manner as in the first round. The secondary majority tokens are also placed on the table – they are worth 3VP and will be awarded to the player with the second largest area of each color.
A second set of seven turns is played in the same fashion as the first round. At the end of these seven turns, each player will have 14 garden tiles in their tableau. There is then a final scoring round. Now, each player scores 1 VP for each area in the largest contiguous section in each of three different colors. 5VP goes to the holder of the current majority token in each color and the small majority token worth 3VP is given to the player in sole possession of second place (it is not awarded if there is a tie). Finally, 3VPs is given to the player with the largest contiguous area of brown Construction sites. The player with the most points wins.
My thoughts on the game
Die Garten von Versailles is a really simple game – bid on a tile, get your tile, place it next to other tiles trying to keep colors together, score points based on how well you managed to keep colors together. That’s it. For a few gamers that I’ve played this with, it might actually be a bit too simple for their tastes. But as an introductory/gateway game or a light filler, this one has a lot going for it. The rules can be taught in about 2 minutes. One example round with randomly drawn cards in front of people and you’re pretty much ready to go.
The big decision in each round is trying to get the best tile for your garden. The secret and simultaneous selection of cards will keep you guessing. You could try to figure out what tiles your opponents want – which might tell you if they’re likely to play low, middle or high. But, in the end, you don’t really know what they’re going to play because you don’t know what sorts of cards they were dealt. You can’t even really count cards because there are enough cards from the deck that remain out of play (whether not dealt or not played by players) for you to ever feel like you know what’s coming.
Then, once you get your tiles, it’s just a matter of figuring out the best way to use them. Certainly, trying to keep the majority marker in at least one color is a decent goal. The 3 points at halftime and 5 points at the end of the game are definitely nothing to sneeze at. Our games have been ending around 55 to 65 points, so it’s not an insignificant contribution to the final score. Past that, it seems like consistency is the key. Having strong second and third place colors may get you a second place marker, but they will also score lots of VPs in the final tally. Putting too much effort in a single color can end up limiting your scoring.
My initial games have caused some of my opponents to wonder if there is any skill at all in the game (thinking that it is just a big random-fest) – and while I will certainly grant that luck plays a large role in the game; you can still put yourself in the position to have a better chance at getting the tile that you want with skillful card play. Also, by examining the layout of the tiles at the start of a round, you can try to move towards a strategy that will use the tiles that your dealt hand will most likely provide you. Sure, in the end, a lot of it comes down to just luck, but that’s just how the game works. It’s light and easy.
I wish that there were a player aid card to remind people of the scoring – though for veteran gamers, there’s not much to remember… it would be more for gaming novices, and they are the sort of people that you’d be playing this with. It wouldn’t be hard to make something up, and if I decide to keep this in the collection, I’ll surely make something up to throw in the box. I also wish that there were a scoreboard included in the game. I guess that it’s pretty common for someone to have an app on their phone to mark scores, but there are a lot of punchboards in the game. If the tiles were just 5% smaller, there probably would have been space to add a track and scoring chits as well. (I’m probably just showing my curmudgeonliness by complaining about this – as I’m probably the only one that is bothered by it).
It’s not a game that I’m going to play every week, but it’s a decent super filler. It would not surprise me at all if this were a Spiel des Jahres nominee (given the jury’s recent track record), and this game actually boots off another Schmidt Spiele game from my short list (Baumeister des Colosseum). While there are a few rounds where players might try to examine the board closely to try to pick the “right” card to play, generally the turns go by in a blink. Our games have all ended in under 30 minutes thus far (all 4p or 5p games).
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Craig V (1 play): The Gardens of Versailles is a light game that’s easy to learn and quick to play. I’m a bit burned out on the secret and simultaneous play mechanism in general, but I did enjoy the feel of it in this game since players are basically using their randomly dealt number cards to bid on the best garden tile for their individual gardens each round. Neither high nor low number cards are inherently better or worse than the other since it entirely depends on what tile is desired and its relative position to the other tiles up for offer. It’s a clever system that adds quite a bit of speculation and excitement to the game. The card play is reminiscent of 6 nimmt!, but the tile laying puzzle and scoring aspects really makes it feel like a different game. The garden theme is pleasant, but there is no reason given in the rules as to what the number cards represent within the context of the theme. As a result, I feel like I’m just exercising the mechanisms of the game rather than buying into the theme and creating a garden. Regardless, I liked The Gardens of Versailles and would recommend it as a casual/family game.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y, Craig V
- Not for me…