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.

Get in touch by emailing thegameshelfblog@gmail.com

Sunday 3 December 2017

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Samurai Gardener

Game: Samurai Gardener

Publisher: Osprey Games

Designer: Hisashi Hayashi

Year: 2017

As a fiercely competitive lord in the time of the Samurai, there are many ways you could demonstrate your prowess, but why not wow the Shogun with your house and garden?Take some time away from your training, tend your plants, feed your koi carp, get a dog, or maybe a cat. Design pathways for your garden, so that if the Shogun ever visits, he'll look past your shoddy Samurai skills, caused by lack of training, and be won over by your fantastic horticulture and landscape garden design.

Samurai Gardener is a game with quite an odd name and no real theme. However, the Japanese setting has inspired some lovely card art, from Kevin So and Ryo Nyamo, for this simple tile-laying game from Osprey Games.

Samurai Gardener starts by presenting each player with one card, representing the start of their garden. They also receive a point-scoring reminder and a feature card representing each of the 4 terrain types in the gardens (Pond, Tatami, Paths and Garden). At the start of each round 1 card per player is dealt to the center of the table, players must start with their hands placed firmly on their knees as the lead player calls out "Ei! Ei!". To which every will reply by shouting "Oh!" before moving their hands as quickly as possible to cover the card they want. Card selection is first come, first served so you have to be quick to get the card you want. If you aren't willing or able to play the game like this you can always draft the cards instead.

Once you have a card you must add it to your garden, You are allowed to rotate the card 180 degrees, but it cannot be turned sideways. You can partially cover up previously laid cards, but cannot cover up any lines of the same kind of terrain that are 3 or longer. After you place it you are able to score any and all terrains which you have just created a line of three or more in, the longer the lines the more points, although you score nothing for lines of 6 or more. 

You also gain bonus points for scoring 2 or more rows in one turn. When you score the line of any terrain you must turn your feature card representing that terrain upside down, you are no-longer able to score cards of that terrain type. When all 4 of your feature types are upside down you can flip them all back over allowing you to score again. The game continues until one player has exceeded 25 points, at the end of that round the player with the most points wins.

Amy’s Final Thoughts
Samurai Gardener is a slightly unusual tile laying game, the restriction on tile placement (either of the short ends must face you) seems rather unnecessary, only serving to reduce player choice and, frankly, infuriate you when you see the perfect move only to realise you can't do it. The restrictions on which tile type you are able to score is actually rather clever, meaning that you have to balance your garden well in order to score well in all 4 terrain types.

The weakest part of the game is how you pick your cards, using the shouting method isn't practical more often than not, and does feel especially silly when you do it as a couple, these kind of things tend to work better for large groups, but Samurai Gardener can only support 4 players. If you decide to draft instead then you will find the drafting rules are extremely bare bones. The starting player picks up all the cards, picks one and then passes it to the left, and so on until the last player is forced to take what they get.

Tile placement and scoring is done well, creating a combo where you score 2 or even 3 lines in one turn is pretty challenging and it does reward a combination of forethought and patience in waiting for the right card, while ensuring that when you get it you are able to score those types of terrain. Overall Samurai Gardener is a pretty average warm up game, it could have been better with a bit more polish, but as it is I doubt that it will be gracing our table that often, there are simply better options.

Fi’s Final Thoughts
My favourite part of Samurai Gardener is the spatial puzzle. It's really satisfying to try and identify optimal locations for a card that either build a long single row of five, or preferably trigger two or even three lines to score simultaneously. With a little more practice, I hope it will be possible to plan out my early moves so that I'm able to maximise these double and triple scoring opportunities, but right now it does feel a little bit like there is some luck of the draw determining whether those opportunities become available.

Perhaps Samurai Gardener doesn't make for the greatest two player experience. Whether you're choosing cards with the speed method or drafting, there's only two cards in each round, so the chances of  seeing a really good card for your current board situation are lower. The speed method of card selection does seem a little ludicrous to me in a game that is otherwise quite serene and thoughtful. The card drafting seems better, but it does seem like the puzzle of the game was the core concept and the way that you actually got cards each round was an afterthought. Although drafting with two players is barely a draft at all, it does introduce a lot of denial, making the game perhaps more interactive than it would be at higher player counts.

Samurai Gardener is a nice game, but nice is about where it ends for me. I enjoy the tile laying and puzzle aspects, but I don't see myself going back to the game again and again because it just doesn't really excite me. Although it probably isn't the right game to introduce to my parents, I can see it filling that niche because of it's inoffensive theme and puzzly aspects. The rulebook is short and very accessible so it could make an inexpensive gift for family members.

The Good
  • The game looks good on the table.
  • It's an interesting game for people who like spatial puzzles.

The Bad
  • Card selection feels like an afterthought of the game's design
  • The need to place cards in a 'portrait' orientation always feels restrictive.
The Verdict
5.5/10 - Samurai Gardener is a relaxing tile-laying game, that is suitable as a filler. However, in our opinion, in a crowded market, there are more refined options, such as Honshu that fulfil the same goals.

Samurai Gardener was a review copy provided to the Board Game Exposure reviewer collective.

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