Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Thursday, 29 March 2018

Thoughts from the Yellow Meeple:- Topiary

Game: Topiary

Publisher: Renegade Games

Designer: Danny Devine

Year: 2017


Topiary made me a victim of board game media - it filled up my twitter feed when it was released in the USA and the great topiary artwork caught my eye. I wasn't expecting a thematic game, but if you think about it, if you'd put all the effort into making fantastic animal hedges, then you would want to try and create a garden to give yourself the best view.


Topiary is an abstract game for players where each player is trying to occupy the best view points of a common topiary garden. Apart from one central topiary sculpture the central 5x5 grid starts with all tiles facing face down. On your turn you place a Meeple at the edge of the board, then you take a tile from the corresponding row or column in the garden. You look at this tile and decide whether to flip it over and put it back, or instead place a face-up tile from your hand. Your goal is for your Meeple to see many topiary plants in ascending order of height – logically larger sculptures will block your view.

The game setup for two players. Your number of meeples is modified by player count, as well as removing the 5 value tiles for the 2-player game.

Scoring for the game happens in a few ways, which keeps the game interesting. Bigger sculptures have higher values – 1 to 5 and each Meeple will score the face value of sculpture they can see. In addition there are bonus points for being able to see sculptures of matching types. It’s not always easy to create the ascending order you want, especially since an opponent can place a Meeple opposite from yours and will try to build up in the opposite direction. Worse, they could just place a 4 or 5 tile right in front of your Meeple, which is a pretty harsh attack, but at least you’re getting the 4 or 5 points! With two players, there is sufficient space on the board for you to build up some good point scoring opportunities, but I can imagine that with 3 or 4 players, it can be really crowded and pretty mean.

I really like dinosaurs! They make the best topiary and definitely remind me of the movie Edward Scissorhands.
Topiary has some interesting ideas and it’s not as cut-throat as many abstract games when played with two players. Unfortunately we find that luck can play quite a large part in who wins. If you start the game with a hand full of ‘1’s’ then you have fewer opportunities to score high points – I initially felt like maybe you had more opportunity to build a long run, eg. a 1,2,3 and 4, but your progress can so easily be blocked that I don’t think that outweighs the hand of someone who has a hand full of fours or fives. You can also spend a lot of the game flipping tiles to look for a specific number or sculptures of a specific type, and you might never find them.

I wanted to love Topiary – the artwork is so great and it’s an interesting theme, although it's not present in any gameplay of course. Unfortunately we just didn’t find that it made for a very interesting game. It had some moments with interesting decisions, if you happened to have a blocking opportunity or some interesting cards in your hand, but otherwise it was quite forgettable. In addition Topiary will inevitably be compared to Photosynthesis, another game about line of sight with different heights of trees, but one that we really enjoy because it's got less luck and more critical decisions.

Ultimately there is nothing that really makes us want to play Topiary over and over again. It is definitely more accessible than Photosynthesis and may work for introducing people to the hobby, but only if they don't mind the cut-throat nature, which I would personally find off-putting. For the Yellow Meeple, Topiary is a 5/10.

Topiary was a review copy provided by Asmodee UK. It is available for an RRP of £28.99 at your friendly local game store or can be picked up at http://www.365games.co.uk/.

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