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

Friday, 5 June 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Tang Garden

Game: Tang Garden

Publisher: Thundergrpyh Games, Lucky Duck Games

Designer: Francesco Testini, Pierluca Zizzi

Year: 2020

Do you consider yourself a little green fingered? What if we upped the stakes? Nobles would like to visit your garden! A few herbs and some straggly tomato plants will not impress, try koi carp, lilies, beautiful willow trees. Only the best vistas will please the nobles, full of interest in the foreground and just the right scenes on the horizon.
Don't be fooled by the 3D trees - Tang Garden has a lot more to offer in the component territory than Photosynthesis or Bosk. Make way for 3D pavilions, bridges and miniatures, and we're not even talking about the deluxe Kickstarter here, this is all in the retail edition.

Thundergryph Games successfully ran Tang Garden on Kickstarter in 2018 and Lucky Duck Games have now licensed the game to release it to retail, first with an English and then a French edition.


Tang Garden starts each player off with a player board, a character and a dream of a beautiful garden. The central board contains a starting tile in the middle along with four stacks of tiles. One stack always contains forests, one always features lakes, another always has rocks and the final one is random in contents. On a players turn they do one of two things, they either take a tile from the board and add it to the map, or you take a number of feature cards and choose one to keep, adding the relevant token to the map.

When you take a tile you must place it following the usual tile laying rules. Lake must touch lake, forest must touch forest etc. Whenever you do connect two tile edges of the same type you can push your cube up the related track one space. Should you complete an area of a type then you gain a  further increase of one. Many tiles feature roads on one boarder, these give you a coin for each side you match, with the option to turn two coins gained on the same turn into a cube increase of your choice. You'll also find tiles with walls - walls can be placed against anything, but don't match, so the only way they will give you cube movements is if you complete an area. Whenever a tile is taken that stack remains empty until there is only one tile left at the start of someone's turn, at which point you refill all the stacks. As you approach the edges of the board, when you place tiles you might cover up tokens on the board which allow you to place backdrops. These backdrops have certain iconography that certain characters want to see for end game points.

Alternatively, instead of taking a tile on your turn, you can take a feature. Taking a feature allows you to draw two cards from the feature stack, plus one for each tile currently missing from the display. You may choose any one card to keep, so long as there is a legal spot to place the feature. Most feature cards have some kind of set collection rewards.

As you play, the three tracks on your personal player board will gradually increase. Once they pass a certain point you will earn a new character. You can't own two characters at once, so you'll have to place one of them in the garden immediately. Each character wants to see different things, but will generally give you one coin at the end of the game for each feature they are looking at in addition to their personal desires. Every character also has an ongoing effect that you can use to make your turns more impactful, before they are placed out onto the board.

The game will end once the number of backdrop tokens on the board gets close to running out. At this point each player will earn bonus coins for fulfilling their placed character's requirements, along with bonus coins for their features placed during the game. The player with the most coins wins.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Tang Garden is undoubtedly a gorgeous game, from the tiny miniatures, to the bridges and pagodas the game has brought in numerous 3D elements to make the game pop. Even the backdrops for each area provide height and table presence in the game. However the same care hasn't be brought over to usability. The symbology on some of the characters is small enough that it's hard to work out what it means, and the coloured bases that are meant to help you spot synergy at a glance are completely ruined by the inclusion of three shades of orange. Perhaps they run out of colours you might think? Maybe, but if so then someone needs to enlighten them onto the existence of black and white! The game comes with an absolutely fantastic insert, is what I would say if it didn't force you to partially disassemble some of the 3D elements every time you put the game away. I'm willing to believe that there is someone out there who can manage to put this game away neatly inside its box. But I'm pretty sure they must be a Timelord!

It is such a shame that there are issues with the design because it is obvious that someone put a lot of effort into making this game as beautiful as possible. The gorgeous components work well with the wonderful tiles. The Tile laying is all very Carcassonne, but that's hardly an insult. It works well and presents constant choices. The need to increase all 3 rows of your player board evenly means that you can't afford to focus solely on the one terrain type that your character happens to like. At the same time you have to build while planning to retire your character, so you end up engineering the garden to have a great view for them, hoping that one of your rivals doesn't nick that spot first.

That's where the player interaction really comes in. You know what characters are coming up and currently in play, so you can deliberately poison the well as you go, lowering your opponents potential score with every place of a lake or misaligned backdrop. Fortunately each player has four chances to pull a complete surprise, you can use the tokens you start the game with to move a character around, double place tiles/features or to choose from the entire deck when taking a new character. And experienced player might set up a beautiful view for a character who hasn't shown up in the game yet, knowing they can call on them when the time is right. Just be careful that no-one else does so first.

Overall Tang Garden is a beautiful game, yet another wonderful mix of easy to play, but difficult to know what best to do. Do I wish a bit more thought had been put into the symbology, colour choice and insert design? Yes, absolutely. But these flaws don't detract much from the incredible looks and fantastic gameplay. Unusually for a tile layer Tang Garden manages to hang on to its theme, thanks to great art and component design and thoughtful mechanisms too.

Fi’s Final Thoughts

Tang Garden certainly captures that zen-like look and has a very calming feel as you play. There's no direct player interaction, although someone might take an opportunity before you get the chance. But, that zen like feel certainly shouldn't make you think that Tang Garden is a game of easy decisions. Tang Garden is filled with tricky decisions and your management of your personal player board, advance planning and opportunistic gameplay will all play a part in your chances of victory.

I like how Tang Garden gives me so many options on each turn and how it creates a situation where I have the same action choices on each turn, but they might be more or less powerful depending what other people have done. There's a good and a less good time to draw feature cards, there's a good and bad time to add a vista. Even more so it's important to plan the right moment to take a boost to one of the cubes on your personal player board to take a new noble and take advantage of the perfect spot to place that noble for the best views in the garden. Your nobles really guide your strategy so everyone will be forced to try and achieve different objectives with the same common garden that you are collectively building. While most noble powers don't interact, you may still want to try and undermine what other players are trying to achieve, on a turn where you have nothing more constructive to do for your own gain.

Tang Garden is an extremely well thought out package, both in terms of raising up a simple tile laying game to a new and more complex level, and also in terms of its production. Except for one thing...How can the box be both too large and not large enough? We are exceeding limited on storage space for games and the experience in the box needs to match or exceed the size of the box. Tang Garden doesn't really do this. It's a 30-45 minute tile laying game whose extremely nice components inflate its box size. On the other hand, I can't fit all of the pieces into the box while they are assembled, and believe me, I've tried! Setup time is increased because I need to build some components for every game and that is a barrier to getting it to the table.

But, let's be honest, box size it a nit pick, and while it is a real decision point for me, for most people a game will simply be judged on its design merits, of which Tang Garden has many! Tang Garden proves itself to have layers because I like it more and more with each game we play. You have so many smart choices to make and it all meshes together into a clever spatial puzzle or interwoven elements. It's a high quality showpiece for your collection that is unlikely to intimidate anyone who you choose to show it off to.

You Might Like...
  • Fantastic component quality and visual appeal.
  • Lots of different ways to score, but you'll be guided by the nobles that you choose.
  • Great game length with the ability to rush it or prolong it depending whether you feel the game is swinging in your favour.
You Might Not Like...
  • You can't leave the 3D components assembled and fit it back in the box!
  • We're not sure tile-laying is always better as a more complex game. Simple, elegant tile layers definitely have a place in our hearts.

The Verdict
8/10 Tang Garden is a really wonderful game! It has a fantastic look to it, as well as offering a tile laying experience where you can really diverge from the strategies of your opponents. We've preferred it as a faster game with just two players, but it works just as well with more and really seems like the style of game that will please experienced and newer gamers. 

Tang Garden was a review copy kindly provided to us by Lucky Duck Games. It releases to retail in English on 4th June 2020. Photographs were provided as part of the press pack.

1 comment:

  1. Lovely photographs of an equally lovely board game, publisher Thundergryph Games certainly knows how to put together an aesthetically pleasing board game in terms of components and artwork. :)