Tang Garden is a surprisingly competitive game about building a beautiful garden in Imperial China. The game has great table presence with lots of garden props and custom miniatures for each character. For the Kickstarter, the full game was ported to Tabletopia and available for play. We take a look at the game, what features make it stand out from other strategy games?
Stand Out Features
Beautiful Board: This is a board-building game, and one of the prettiest I've ever seen. Every turn players will add something to the board, whether it's a new tile or a bird fountain. The satisfaction you get from building this board is one of the biggest draws for me to this game.
Simple Actions: The game moves fairly quickly; every turn you have only two actions to pick from. However the depth of the decisions what exactly to pick, and then where to place it in the garden is where the depth of strategy emerges.
Many Avenues to Score: Players earn points for increasing their element tracks, for positioning the game's characters in advantageous sections of the garden, and for collecting sets of garden items. You can't win the game with one approach alone, but focusing on the right one in the current game is how to focus your strategy for a win.
What We Liked
This is a medium-weight strategy game that could serve as a fantastic gateway for players that might be interested in the beauty, and then uncover the depth of the strategy underneath.
Tang Garden is a surprisingly fierce game once you've mastered the basics of the game. You'll be trying to undercut your opponents' set collection, character and tile placement to score on your own. Particularly in the two player game, it is vitally important that you pay attention to your player's movement so you can try to break their sets (prevent them from scoring the final tree in a set, or grabbing an available character before they can.) Additionally, once the board is significantly filled in, the game can be abruptly ended by any player. Deciding when to pull the end-game trigger is a major key to victory.
As mentioned above, creating the garden is immensely satisfying. You'll be a bit proud of certain sections of the garden. If you manage to pull off a nice lake filled with fish for the Emperor to gaze at as he stares off at the dragons on the horizon, it's quite gratifying.
What Could Be Improved
I think the only thing thematically I didn't like about the game is that it is often advantageous for players to close off sections of the gardens, and in particular put walls in weird places in order to score bonus movement on the elements track. This felt unthematic, as our main goal should be to make the best garden we can (and the competition could encourage this.) It would have been nice if aesthetics somehow scored points.
Additionally, it doesn't feel like there are enough element combo tiles. It's rare that you come across a tile that has the odd combo you need to close off an open tile, and this can be frustrating when there is only one of that tile type in the "yin/yang" stack. I'm not sure what this would do to the balance, but it would have been nice to see more elements residing in the other stacks (two-element combos.)
This is absolutely not gameplay related (and doesn't count against the score), but since this game is getting a lot of buzz about its components, we did feel some of the components felt a bit flat (literally.) While the Trees, Bridges, and Pavillions get nice cardboard standees, the flowers, bird fountains, and fish have flat tokens that don't pop like the rest of the board. Checking the Kickstarter, we were surprised that even the upgraded "Deluxe" version of the game did not feature upgrades for these components.
Notes on the Tabletopia Version
For a game with a lot of 3D components, the Tabletopia adaptation is superb. All of the miniatures in the base game (none of the expansion content or stretch goals) are available on TT. This is plenty to get a full sense of the game. Also, all of the cardboard components are represented, with only the pavillions being a bit weird with an odd billboard effect that was added to ensure they don't block visibility of tiles.
Time To Learn: Taking 20 minutes to read the manual.
Price: Free on Tabletopia. The game costs 45 Euros for the base version on Kickstarter, or 65 Euros for the deluxe version which includes an expansion and some upgraded tokens (no upgraded flowers, fish, or birds though!)
The Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gonab/tang-garden?ref=nav_search&result=project&term=tang%20garden
Kickstarter Verdict: Tang Garden is a really fantastic game, and I am very much on the fence on backing. I have a sneaking suspicion that due to the success of this Kickstarter, there's going to be a second edition with upgraded components (I may be biased on this because I just had to back Trickerion's new Kickstarter for all the upgraded components.)
I hope you enjoyed our review. We do a Kickstarter roundup, review games on Tabletopia and recently-arrived Kickstarters that we backed. If you'd like to subscribe to our reviews, you can do so here: http://newsletters.sgl.la
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