One of the cool things I love about finding older games at thrift stores is the fact that the industry went through a phase when bigger was better. When plastic was introduced to board games, publishers raced to see what crazy things they could utilize. This is when games like Mousetrap, Hurry Up, Hoopla and Battling Tops ruled the shelves.
Most of today’s hobby games are flatter and use wooden blocks and meeples to represent pawns and actions. That’s not to suggest there aren’t games with vertical table presence. Both Kodama 3D and Everdell are fitting examples of recent titles which rise from the tabletop. Lately we’ve been playing a new game by Arcane Wonders called Four Gardens which surpasses both of those in height and movement.
At its heart, Four Gardens is a game about filling recipe cards to improve the landscape. First, you’ll need to assemble the tall pagoda. This tower is comprised of four levels, each representing a different type of resource needed for construction. Place the completed pagoda in the middle of the play area with a different side facing each player.
The deck of seventy cards is shuffled and five dealt to all participants to form a starting hand. Three more cards are turned face-up and become a market. The rest of the deck forms a draw pile next to these three. Cardboard planning tiles are also given to each player and features their player color. Matching-colored cubes begin on the “3” space of each God track on the scoreboard (also placed within reach of everyone). Wooden resources are kept in piles around the pagoda while bonus tiles are stacked in decreasing order of value next to the scoreboard. The person who has most recently visited a pagoda becomes the start player.
The object of Four Gardens is to be the person with the most points on the God tracks at the end of the game (plus any bonus points). To earn the Gods’ favor, you must build out your landscape and create a picturesque panorama. On each card are a few symbols that dictate what you can do on your turn. On a turn you will take three actions from a list of four possible. You may perform three different or double (or triple) up on just one.
First, you might choose to play a card from your hand in front of you, groundwork-side up. You may have up to three unfinished cards to work on, and these represent parts of the panorama you plan to complete. The upper right of the card has a colored area which denotes which panorama set you’re working on along with a series of dots. These dots signify the frame of the picture that card represents and how many are in the set.
A second possible action can be taken if a card in your hand depicts the pagoda. It will also have a level highlighted along with a direction of collection. Discard a card and turn the level of the pagoda shown along with all levels above it in either direction 90 degrees. Then you’ll collect the resources depicted on the side of the pagoda facing you in order from bottom or top, depending on the arrow on your discarded card. These resources must be placed in your planning tile, which only holds four in total (five, if you upgrade it later).
If a card has a wild symbol on it instead of a pagoda, you may discard it to collect any one resource and assign it to one of your deployed groundwork cards instead of moving it to your planning tile. Lastly, all cards have the reallocate icon present. Discard a card to move as many resources as possible from your planning tile to matching groundwork cards, between groundwork cards or discard them from your planning tile to free up space. After taking three actions, draw back up to five cards from either the market or the draw pile (or both).
Once you have collected all the needed resources shown on a card, it is immediately turned over as complete with all the resources being returned to the pools. The symbol in the upper left of the card is colored to match the God tracks. Move your cube up one space on the matching track, or if already maxed out, move everyone else down one.
Every time you complete another groundwork card from that colored set, you will not only earn the right to move your cube on the current God track, but you will also move on the tracks of all previously completed cards from that same set! If the card has a wild color symbol, each time you can collect for that card, you get to choose any of the four tracks!
When you manage to finish all the cards necessary for a complete panorama, you will also earn one of the three bonus tiles. One expands your planning tile to hold another resource. One is a wild resource tile which awards you with several free resources to immediately place on your cards. The last one is simply end-game points. You may only take one of any type of tile and the earlier you collect, the more the tiles may be worth.
Players of Four Gardens take turns until one has completed a minimum number of landscapes, determined by the number of participants. Finish the round until everyone has had the same number of turns, then add up all of the points from the Gods’ tracks along with the bonus tiles. The player with the most points is the winner!
Part of the Dice Tower Essentials line of games, Four Gardens can be found at your favorite local game store, major retailers, direct from the publisher or online via Amazon. Arcane Wonders is currently redesigning their website, so be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter to find out the latest!
Do you prefer games with great table presence?