Dale Yu – Review of Alice’s Garden

Alice’s Garden

  • Designer:Ikhwan Kwon
  • Publisher: Lifestyle Boardgames / Mandoo Games
  • Players: 1-4
  • Age: 8+
  • Time: 30 mins
  • Played with review copy provided by Mandoo Games

alice's garden

I’ve generally been a fan of tile-laying games, and I recently ran across one which had an Alice in Wonderland theme.  In this game, players try to construct a garden while trying to keep to the Queen of Hearts’ multiple rules.  The player who does the best will score the most points, win the game, and hopefully manage to keep his or her head…

In this game, each player gets a small square player board, on which lies a 6×8 grid of garden spaces, with the middle two columns having a checkerboard pattern on them.

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The bottom of the board has a nice player aid which summarizes the four ways in which you can score points in the game (we’ll talk about this more in a bit)

There are a bunch of polyominoes in the game, all 4 small squares in size, and each of the 5 types is segregated into its own bag (13 each per bag).  There is a sixth bag which holds the 30 one-square bonus tiles.

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On a turn, the first player chooses one of the bags and pulls out as many tiles as the number of players (with the exception that an extra tile is pulled out on the very first round of the game).  Then, starting with the first player, each player takes one tile from the (N+1) tiles available and then plays it to their board.  As each player will take a tile, there will always be one tile left at the end of the round.  If you are able to place a tile, you must take it and play it – even if the placement is not beneficial for you!

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Tiles must be played so that they fit completely on your player board, they may not hang off the edges of the 6×8 grid on the player boards.  Also, while playing tiles, it is possible to earn bonus tiles by placing gardener icons orthogonally adjacent to each other.  You draw tiles equal to the number of orthogonal gardeners created by the tile placement.  These tiles will be placed after the final round of the game (but before scoring).

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Then, the first player marker moves clockwise, and that player now chooses one of the bags to draw from, draws tiles equal to the number of players, and the game continues on.  The game continues until a round where one or more players is unable to play a tile from the supply.  Instead of taking a tile from the supply, they do get to draw a bonus tile.

Prior to scoring, players are now able to place all the bonus tiles that they’ve managed to collect to this point.  Then, the players tally up their scores:

  • Chess Pieces – score 5 points for each Chess piece that is placed on the two columns with the chessboard pattern
  • Roses – look at each contiguous area of roses.  Score 1/4/9/16/25 for each area of 1/2/3/4/5+ roses together.
  • Mushrooms – score 8VP for each column that has 2+ mushrooms somewhere in the column
  • Trees – in each row, score VP equal to the largest number of spaces between two trees in the row (inclusive of the spaces with the trees)

Finally, there are some penalties.  Players take a 5 point penalty for each empty space on their board as well as a 5 point penalty for each bonus tile not placed on the board.

The player with the most points wins.  There is no tiebreaker.

My thoughts on the game

When I saw this game, I was first drawn in by the art.  It’s definitely well done, wild in the Wonderland sense.  It’s not often that I say that, so I wanted to lead off with it.  I don’t have many Alice in Wonderland themed games, but it is common enough that it’s nice to have this as a hook to play games with non-gamers.

The tile-laying game here is surprisingly complex.  The board has 48 squares on it, and if all players play perfectly, the game could go on for 12 rounds and end.  In reality, it usually ends around round 9 or 10.  This works out fine in general as most players will have bonus squares acquired during play and can fill in lots of the holes.  In fact, you almost have to get some bonus squares because the game ends whenever anyone on the table can’t legally place a big tile – and if you don’t have any small bonus squares, you’ll be absorbing a lot of -5 penalties!

The scoring is nicely set up to give you enough things to think about as to actually prevent AP (at least that’s what I think).  The polyominoes are nicely designed to include multiple scoring features on each tile – generally, i take one for a specific feature I’m searching for – and then just hope that the rest of the tile works out.  I feel like the tiles with chess pieces often have trees on them – which is an interesting push-pull – as the chess pieces want to be in the center of the board while the trees want to be at the edges.

alice's garden bits

Thus far, I haven’t found that any one type of scoring is more powerful or more prevalent than the other.  Roses score the most, but they tend to have the highest level of competition for them.  The trees max out at 8, the same as the mushroom columns; but there are many more trees available than mushrooms, and that makes them easier to plan around.

Going first in a round is a huge boon as you get first pick of the tiles AND you get to choose which shape to draw.  It’s rare to not get a tile that you want.  Additionally, if you look at what your opponents are doing, you might be able to choose a shape that doesn’t really work well with their current layout and cause them problems trying to fit the piece in their tableau.  There are enough tiles for each bag to be used three times in the game, so you should try to keep track of which bags have been used (or count the shapes on your own board).  Finally, near the end of the game, you might be able to decide when the game ends by specifically picking a bag that you know an opponent can’t place.

It is a little interesting that the last players in turn order are not given a handicap – as I feel they are in a slightly poorer position all game; they have last pick in the first round so often do not get a good start, and then they also have the highest probability of not getting to start a round near the end of the game.  I’d think that a one or two bonus square draw at the start would be a fair tradeoff, but this isn’t in the rules.  I’ll have to wait and see if future plays shows a consistent decline in scores in the fourth starting order position.

For now, this has been an interesting tile laying game, and one I think I’ll continue playing.  It has the added advantage of the Alice in Wonderland theme that may make it more appealing to non-gamers, though the strategy required to play the game might be a touch more than a non-gamer have.  Right now, I don’t know if this game has any EN distribution (the game was designer by a Korean, published by a Russian company and then licensed to a Korean company…) but it is one that might be worth trying to track down!

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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