Dale Yu: First Impressions of Four Gardens

 Four Gardens

  • Designer: Martin Dolezal
  • Publisher: Korea Board Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 10+
  • Time: 45 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by Korea Board Games

Four Gardens is the winning entry in the 2018 Korea Boardgames Design Contest – apparently winning the award two years ago and then going into more development until its full release at Spiel.digital 2020.   In this game, players take on the role of aspiring rules of a “beautiful Eastern Kingdom”.  There is a competition for the crown, the player who builds the most pristine garden around the mystical pagoda will become the new heir.


The game is dominated by a large four level pagoda that has to be constructed prior to play.  The four floors are randomly arranged and secured together; then the whole pagoda is placed on the base.  Each player sits so that they are facing a different face of the pagoda.  The floors of the Pagoda are arranged so that the bottom floor has 3 resources showing on it, and then other floors are arranged such that there is a 3-2-1-0 arrangement of resources from bottom to top seen.

There is a deck of Landscape/Groundwork cards.  They are shuffled, and each player gets a hand of 5 cards.  The remainder of the deck is placed on the table with a three card supply Groundwork-face up next to the deck. The scoreboard with its four tracks is placed to the side, and each player puts a scoring marker on each track on the 3 space.  The three bonus tile types are arranged and each stack is placed next to the board.


The game is played over a number of rounds – until at least one player has completed a fixed number of Landscape cards.  In each round, players each take a turn in which they must do three actions.  There are four different choices, and the same action can be done multiple times.  Each action requires you to play a card from your hand.  The four action options are:


1] Lay Groundwork – play a card from your hand into your garden, with the Groundwork side face up.  You are limited to having 3 Groundwork cards at any time, and you cannot play a duplicate card nor can you play a Groundwork card of a Landscape you have already finished.  The goal for Groundwork cards is to later play resources on them which will let you flip them over and convert them to Landscape cards.

2] Rotate and Collect – play a card from your hand with a Pagoda symbol on it.  Rotate the floor dictated by the card and then collect resources based on what you see on the face of the pagoda towards you.  You collect the resources in the direction indicated on your card.  Collected resources are placed on your Planning Tile, one resource per space.  You cannot collect more Resources than spaces in your Planning Tile.  Once your Planning Tile is filled, you simply do not collect any more.

3] Take a Wild – Discard a card with a wild symbol on it and then take any one resource and place it either on a Groundwork card in your area or on your Planning tile


4] Reallocate Resources – Discard a card with a Handcart symbol (Pro tip – all cards have a Handcart), and then you can move your resources around between your Groundwork cards and your Planning Tile.  You can also move unwanted resources from the Planning Tile back to the supply – this is the only way to get rid of resources you don’t want. 


At any point, if you fill a Groundwork card with the necessary resources, it is flipped over to be a completed Landscape card.  You more ahead one space on the scoring track corresponding to the God symbol in the top left.  Additionally, if you have completed any other cards in this color landscape, you score their bonuses again now.  If you are at the rightmost space of a track, you cannot gain any more points – if you score a point, instead move everyone else’s marker back one space.  If you move a marker off the left end of the track when doing this, it is removed from this track for good for the rest of the game.  If you complete an entire panorama, you choose the top Bonus tile from any of the three stacks.  You cannot have more than one tile of each type.

Again, on a player turn, the active player takes three actions. When he is done, he draws cards from either the top of the deck or from the display until his hand is back up to 5 cards.  After all cards are drawn, the supply is replenished.  The next player takes their turn.


The game continues until the end of a round where a player has finished 8/9 cards in a 4/3 player game.  At the end of the round, scores are calculated.  Each player scores points for their three markers on the score track.  They also score points if they have collected the Bonus tile worth VPs.  Ties go to the player with the most completed Landscape cards.

My thoughts on the game


Four Gardens was a delightful surprise. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, though I was instantly enamored with the huge pagoda.  In fact, it was the pictures of the pagoda alone that caused me to investigate the game further and then ultimately ask for a review copy.  As a resource distribution gadget, it’s pretty neat, and it does help set the game apart.


We played as a three player game, and it worked really well, we were able to actually set it off to the side a bit (where the fourth player would have been sitting) and it didn’t get in the way.  We were all able to see the scoreboard and what all the other players were doing.  When the pagoda was in the center of the table, it was a bit of an obstruction to vision.


The way in which the cards rotate the pagoda and change the resources is an interesting puzzle.  Players definitely have to figure out how to get the resources they need, especially when limited to only four on their planning card!  Sometimes, you had to use a wild card instead, which only gives you one resource, but it allows you to get the one you specifically want, and it also saves you half an action as you can put this resource directly on the Groundwork card.


The cards are set up to offer both short and long term strategies.  The smaller landscapes tend to have cards which need fewer resources to complete.  Thus, you can rush a bit and finish cards to score a few VPs as well as getting a nice early landscape bonus – possibly a straight VP grab or maybe a little bit of engine building with an expansion to your planning tile.  On the other hand, the larger landscapes often take 3 or 4 resources to complete, but you do get the additive scoring effect as each later piece in the large landscape scores all the ones completed before it.   For the small 2 card landscape, you will score 3 VP for 4 total resources.  For the large 5 card landscape, you will end up scoring 15 VPs for 20 resources.  You will also be able to nearly max out a color if you do it right, as your first color in this landscape will score at least 5 times…

The scoreboard rule of knocking people back when maxed out seemed really weird at first, and when I read the rules, I thought it was broken.  But, once we played the game the rule is most definitely not broken and it adds an extra interesting race element to the game.  If you see that an opponent is going to max out a scoring track, you either have to rush to increase your score in it – or you might be better off abandoning the color altogether.  It’s hard to do well in all four tracks, and it may not be worth the effort to get started in a color if you already know someone could possibly knock you off the track permanently.  In the end, this added an additional level of complexity in choosing what colors to score and when to do it – a nice facet to the game.

The graphics are well done, and I like seeing the landscapes come together as the game progresses. The pagodas are also nicely constructed and they turn nicely and easily.  There is a decent vac tray setup in the box to hold all the components, but be warned – it will only work well if you store the box flat.  If you stand the game up on its side, all of the bits will fall out of the custom vac tray slots.


The game appears to be well received by others, and my Instagram feed tells me that the game has been picked up as part of the Dice Tower Essentials line (via Arcane Wonders) – though it is currently available from the BGG SPIEL store right now!

Provisional Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y, John P
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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