15th March 2022
We're with the Woking Gaming Club at The Sovereigns for some Tuesday evening entertainment.
Four Gardens is a game about you guessed it... four gardens, it's also about spinning a pagoda! I'm not sure if Spinning Pagodas would be a better name or not?
Why are players spinning a pagoda? Apparently, the pagoda contains some gods! Who... I guess... like... being spun?
What's in a game?
The resource tokens felt like they were wooden and the wooden cubes were pretty standard wooden cube components, which is something I like.
The tiles were standard quality card tile and fine, I thought having tiles with little hole to hold resource tokens was a pretty smart move.
The card were also pretty standard quality from what I could tell.
From the large, eye-catching and rotating pagoda to the tactile resource tokens shaped and coloured identically to their icons in the game; Four Gardens has excellent presentation.
The backs of the cards which, when placed together form the panoramic views of the titular feature excellent, colourful and interesting art.
Four Gardens features a fair amount of iconography, from the 4 scoring tracks and types of gardens to symbols for resources and different actions available on cards. For the most part, it's instantly understandable and there should be few problems with the iconography.
How's it play?
On to play
As the name suggests, the objective is to create 4 garden panoramas using the backs of the cards.
Four Gardens uses the traditional turn, with the active player acting with play then progressing to the player on the left.
During their turn, the active must perform exactly 3 actions. Each action also requires the player to play or discard one of the cards in their hand. There are 4 actions that can be performed, these can be performed in any order the player sees fit. The actions are:
Depending on the player count, once 8-10 panorama cards have been constructed by any player, play goes into the endgame and the current round is completed.
Players calculated VPs earned from the 4 scoring tracks and points they may have gotten from a bonus VP track.
Points are tallied, highest score wins.
I'll start by discussing the pagoda - the game's most obvious feature.
Is it a gimmick mechanic? Maybe. Does it work well? Definitely.
It's also quite a unique mechanic and not something I've seen anywhere else.
When used in conjunction with the rule limiting how many resources can be collected on the planning tile, it forces players to really think about how they have to manipulate the pagoda to get the resources they need:
It takes an action to empty a planning tile that's been filled unnecessarily and that's an action that could be used elsewhere.
I think it's a set of mechanics that works very well.
Talking about the pagoda does lead me to one gripe: Which is the rule where all players should sit around the pagoda at 90' angles. Players don't always have the right gaming space to accommodate this and while strictly speaking, it's not necessary as players can remember what side of the pagoda is meant to be facing them, it's inconvenient and finicky.
The card-synergy, or more accurately score-synergy is a pretty clever rule, providing players a reason to work towards completing panoramas.
The 4 scoring tracks seem a little unnecessary but in practice they work fine.
This brings me to the knock-back mechanic. It feels a little harsh that, if a player gets their scoring marker knocked off the board, it can't come back into scoring. On the other hand if a player has reached maximum on a track and other players are lingering at the bottom, it's probably not a priority for those other players, so not that much of a loss.
So yes, it feels a bit harsh but it's not game breaking.
All of this means players will look to optimise the order in which they play cards to optimise how they increase their scores. Concentrating on increasing scores in 1 or 2 tracks can potentially knock-back other players. Conversely, working towards completing panoramas can earn bonuses which may prove useful elsewhere; sometimes you'll be able to do both but sometimes not and looking for opportunities to exploit these times is vital.
The also makes use of a variation of the hand-as-currency mechanic, except here it's used to trigger actions and not to actually pay for something. Despite this difference, it places that same conundrum on players; which is how to choose which card to discard? Obviously, they'll be times when it has to be a card with the action they need but otherwise, it's another meaningful decision to make.
In conclusion; Four Gardens is a fairly easy to learn set-collecting game that provides players with enough decisions to be engaging, fun and provides unusual resource gathering and scoring mechanics which makes it feel unique.
I enjoyed it and think it's worth a try.
I play, I paint.