- Designers: Nathalie and Remi Saunier
- Publisher: Bombyx
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 10+
- Time: 60-75 minutes
- Played with review copy provided by Flat River Group
In Garden Nation, players take on the role of one of 4 factions of garden denizens; each working to have the most influence over the garden. The garden itself is made up of 7 territories, in a familiar hex pattern, and each of those territories has 7 action spots, which mirror the orientation of the larger territories. The territories are numbered, and they are randomly placed in the frame. Each player gets a scoreboard, the building pieces in the matching color, and each is dealt 4 secret missions, of which they need to keep 2 different ones. A display of 4 common projects is placed on the board. The torticrane is placed near the board; you will use it soon. A starting player is chosen, that player starts their population counter at 38. All other players start at 35. The starting player places their turn order marker on the first spot of the turn order track, and the other players place theirs next to the track.
The game is played in rounds; each following the same three phases: Player Actions, Territory Control, Prep for Next Round.
In the Player Actions phase, the starting player for the round acts first. He takes an action in the area where the Torticrane is located (except the very first action of the game, which can be taken anywhere). In the case that a player can’t take an action in the current territory, he then looks at the next higher numbered territory and takes an action there (with 7 looping around to 1). The active player can take one of two action choices: Build a building or Abandon a Building.
To build a building, a player places one of their building floors on either an empty spot or on a previously constructed building in his color. When you build, you must pay the cost in inhabitants. If you are building on the ground floor, pay the cost as listed on the space itself. If you have chosen the bramble space for the territory, you can decide the color of the space by choosing an unused bramble token and placing it on the board; this token stays there for the rest of the game. If building on a previous building, pay for the value of the land plus 1 for each previously built level. Mark the new inhabitant total on the track on your player board. You must have enough inhabitants to place your building piece.
To abandon a building, you remove it from the board, but you gain double the number of inhabitants needed to construct it in the first place. You can either calculate it yourself or use the handy chart provided on your player board. Again, mark the new total of inhabitants on your player board.
As you take your action, you also have the option of scoring a shared objective. If the floor that you place causes the board situation to match one of the shared objectives, you collect the card (to score at the end of the game) and you place a roof on top of the last floor that you placed. This building cannot be built higher nor can it be used to score a shared objective. The roofed building can be abandoned later, and if so, the roof is returned to the supply. You can only score one objective per action. Replenish the supply after you take the scored card.
Each player also has four ploy tokens which can be used – no more than one per specific action. There are three options:
- Strategic movement – take your action in a territory one higher or lower than the location of the Torticrane. This does not count as your action.
- Move a Roof – move a roof from one of your buildings (in the Torticrane’s territory) to another of yours on the same type of land, anywhere on the board. This does not count as your action.
- Building Invasion – This special action DOES count as your action. Choose any opponent’s building and invade it. You remove it from the board and gain inhabitants as if they had abandoned that building. You now build the exact same building, paying the double cost. Your opponent cannot refuse this action.
Regardless of which action type was taken, make note of the position of the space within the territory where the action occurred, and then move the torticrane to the matching placed territory on the board. That is, if you take an action in the center space of a territory, the torticrane is moved to the central territory of the board, and the next action of the game must happen in that territory.
The other interesting thing about the next turn is that the current player gets to choose from amongst the remaining players as to who goes next. In a 4-player game, the first player in a round only gets one action, while the remaining players each get two actions on their turn (the location of the second dependent on the position of the first).
Once all players have taken their actions, there is territory scoring. Look at each of the seven territories. The player with the most floors in a territory scores 2 inhabitants; if there is a tie, all tied players get 1 inhabitant.
To end the round, the player who is in the last space on the turn order track now moves to the first space and takes the first action of the next round; thus that player will get three actions in a row. This process continues until a player places their last floor in their supply. The game will end at the end of that round, even if that player who triggered the end gains back floors later in his turn.
In the end game, players reveal their secret missions and score them. Players also gain points based on the location of their population marker at the end of the game (0 to 10 VPs). The player with the most points wins. There is no stated tiebreaker.
My thoughts on the game
Garden Nation was a game that came out in 2021 which I completely missed due to the pandemic. I’m glad that I was approached by Flat River Games to look at it, as it is quite an intriguing title. You will score points by manipulating the buildings on the map to score the shared objectives; while also setting up the board to score for your secret objectives in the end game.
Interestingly, you are not always building – there will be turns where you have to abandon a building in order to replenish your inhabitants – to allow you to build again on a later action. You will always be gaining inhabitants as each abandonment returns double the amount of inhabitants needed to build it.
I like the way that the position of the previous action determines the territory in which the next action needs to be taken. This is not a common mechanism for me, and there are times where you can help yourself (when you have 2 actions in a row) and times where you can place an opponent in a territory they don’t want to be in – because you choose both the territory to be used as well as the next player.
Speaking of turn order, there is an interesting dynamic in letting the players choose who goes next. There is a fair bit of strategy as you can try to put certain players in bad positions. Additionally, there is a fair amount of power in going last in a round as you will end up with three consecutive actions – and this almost always leads to the scoring of one or two objective cards in that stretch.
The downside of these turn location and turn order systems is that it adds a lot of complexity to the decision of where to act – for those with AP issues, this game could definitely bring those issues to the forefront. That being said – the game is mostly snappy, and we have yet to see a game go over the one hour mark. Just be prepared for the occasional turn to take awhile as players have to figure out what action they want to take, while also deciding who needs to go next and where that action should happen.
The special actions granted by the ploy tokens can be extremely useful; so you need to carefully decide when to use each of your four tokens. There are definitely times when being able to perform your action in a different territory is key; oftentimes the decision on which player gets to play next is based upon their current situation in the Torticrane’s territory – and you can thwart such play by moving to a different area. The ability to invade another building is super-expensive; but it is also the only way to play multiple building floors on a single turn; you can use this is score a valuable shared objective in a way that is hard to predict. Finally, the roof removal option can be strong as it allows you to use a tower again for scoring; whether for a shared objective during the game or for end-game goal scoring.
As far as the rules go- there are some weird tidbits that are hard to remember. Only one of the ploys takes an action; why isn’t this marked on the player board? This was missed by a few players in their first games; it seems easy enough to have marked this somehow. Also, there is a prolonged 4-page intro story to the game when you open the cover; it is super confusing and maybe would have been better served to be flavor text on the final 4 pages.
I would also recommend reading the rules carefully; they are set up in an order which I found difficult to follow; but the problem might lie with me and not the rules because the other gamers in my group did not have the same issues. You will get an overview of the turn first, and then on later pages, you’ll get the descriptions of what you do in the phases outlined at the beginning. Again, YMMV – and the problem may be with me, not with the rules.
The art theme is quirky but visually interesting. The idea of being beetles or gnomes or whatever is pretty neat, and I like the touches such as soda can pull tabs being used as one of the tokens for special abilities. The iconography on the cards is pretty good. The one thing that didn’t please me is the busy dark graphics, especially on the shared objective cards. I get it that the use of the earth tones is thematic for a “garden”, but all the dark colors blur together a bit.
The game definitely ebbs and flows; the start of the game is dominated by floor building as everyone starts with a bunch of inhabitants. Once that initial push is done, then players will need to take turns to abandon buildings to get more inhabitants. The game will constantly grow in total inhabitants, as you get double the cost when you abandon, and there are at least 14 inhabitants added to the table in total at the end of each round.
The game moves pretty quickly until you get to the last third; then it can slow down a bit. This is in part due to an increased bit of thinking needed to work on the end game bonuses. It also can take a bit longer to make a move as the territories tend to me more congested, and this can give you more things to think about. I would say there is moderate risk for analysis paralysis; but we have still yet to have a game go longer than an hour; and that is a good time frame for this game.
Garden Nation is by no means perfect, but it is an interesting tactical game that employs two mechanics that are uncommon in Eurogames – having one player get to choose who goes next, and the neat idea that the location of one action determines the territory when the next action occurs. These two things help provide a neat puzzle to solve each turn, and this ends up with an enjoyable game to play.
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Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
- I love it!
- I like it. Dale Y
- Not for me…