The gardening theme and gorgeous components might trick you into thinking this game will be a walk in the park (ba-dum-psh!). Don't be fooled! Tang Garden is heavier than it looks -- and not just because of all that super-cardboard.
Jeremiah & Kara
Theme and What is it?
You stand on a high-arched moon bridge, overlooking the tranquil pond below. Lotus flowers float lazily on the surface; Koi fish swim slowly around each other, sunlight glistening off their orange and white scales. All around you the air is filled with birdsong and the smell of flowers in full bloom. You breathe deeply, drawing the fresh air into your lungs. This is calm. This is peace. This is the Tang Garden.
In Tang Garden players are in charge of constructing a magnificent garden for the Chinese emperor. Building the garden and enhancing it with enchanting buildings, bridges, flowers, and creatures will draw many notable Chinese citizens to the garden. By influencing these citizens, and ornamenting the garden more effectively than their opponents, one player will become the most renowned garden designer in all of China.
When the game is set up, there’s the big garden board with the starting terrain tile in the center. There are 4 stacks of terrain tiles around the edges, and a few landscape tiles slotted around the perimeter of the garden.
At the beginning of the game, the garden is very small and basic. Over the course of the game, players will expand the garden by adding tiles, landscapes, and decorations. By the end, they’ve transformed the barren board into a flourishing oriental oasis.
Tang Garden is a tile placement game with elements of set collection as well. The mechanics aren’t especially innovative — the tile placement is similar to Carcassonne, the set collection is similar to many other card drafting games — but the presentation and execution of the mechanics here in conjunction with the theme is phenomenal. Players get to watch the garden grow physically as terrain tiles are added, and thematically as trees, flowers, bridges, and fish spring up from the ground. Throughout gameplay, it feels as if the game itself is actually alive. It’s immensely satisfying.
When The massive Quartermaster box showed up on my doorstep, I was giddy with excitement. Impatient as always, I tried to rip the box open with my bare hands. Turns out, my bare hands are weaker than string cheese in a sword fight, so I ran to the kitchen to retrieve the scissors. Snip, Slip, Slice – the tape was cut. I lifted the flaps, thrust my arms into the bubble-wrappy depths, and hefted Tang Garden into the gentle morning light.
The rules for Tang Garden were short, sweet, and well explained. Besides the initial assembling of the pavilions, bridges, and trees, and attaching all the bases to the miniatures, setup was pretty painless.
The rules were straightforward and mostly easy to teach (I was first taught by someone else, and then read the rules before writing this review), but for some reason people really struggled with remembering which rewards they got from placing tiles in the garden and had to constantly be reminded by those who had read the rules. I was one of those people who kept forgetting. Whoops! Buy by my second playthrough though things just clicked, and I was able to remember the rules much better. Maybe it’s just one of those games you have to play once to fully understand everything.
Game Build Quality
The component quality for Tang Garden is phenomenal. I don’t know what kind of cardboard they used for everything, but you could probably build a small house out of it and be fine — at least until it rained, or the wind blew really hard. It’s seriously thick!
The miniatures are small but nice. The bridges and pavilions are made of part super-cardboard and part plastic, which makes them strong and pretty at the same time. I love that you can actually put characters on the bridges and inside the pavilions because it enhances the theme so much — like tiny people are actually roaming around this gorgeous garden, admiring the fish and flowers.
The box is massive and comes with a custom insert into which everything fits, with just a little bit of finagling. You can literally see the quality of the cardstock they used for the cards.
Ultimately, Tang Garden has some of the highest component quality I have ever seen.
There’s no denying that Tang Garden is one of the most beautiful games on the market right now. The artwork is vibrant, beautiful, and full of detail. The table presence is astounding! But there are is one thing I didn’t like, and here it is.
All the character and decoration cards described their abilities and points in symbols, which is great because it saves space and it looks nice. Unfortunately, the symbols are small, and at a glance many of them look the same. Many of them are unintuitive and we found ourselves referring to the rulebook again and again to look up the different abilities of various cards because we just couldn’t glean their meaning from the symbols alone.
That’s my only issue with the artwork though. Everything else is great. The details on the landscape tiles are captivating; the colors used for the trees, tiles, and decorations are mesmerizing; everything comes together to create a tiny garden that looks and feels alive. It’s absolutely stunning.
This is a very fun, immensely gratifying game. It’s one where I’m so amazed by what we’ve built at the end that I don’t even care about winning.
Even though the theme of the game is literally ‘zen’ it can feel pretty intense at times! Maybe there’s a tile out there you really want to place because there’s such a good spot for it, and you’re just hoping no one else realizes what a good move it is before your turn comes around. Or maybe there’s a character card up for grabs that would fit perfectly with your strategy and you’re hoping no one else takes it before you’re able to. There’s a constant feeling of excitement and anticipation during your turn, and also as you’re waiting for your next turn to roll around.
Age Range & Weight
The manufacturer recommended age for Tang Garden is 14+, which is probably just about right. Some younger players might be able to play, but there’s just so much to remember that it might be difficult for players under 14 to fully grasp.
The gardening theme and gorgeous components might trick you into thinking this game will be a walk in the park (ba-dum-psh!). Don’t be fooled! Tang Garden is heavier than it looks — and not just because of all that super-cardboard. I mean intellectually heavier. The options players have on their turns are simple, but there’s a lot of brain-processing that goes into making the best decision each turn: Do I place this tile here, or that tile there? Do I decorate now, or wait until next turn? It’s not heavy enough to squish your brain into a dried up cranium-raisin, but it definitely requires some critical thinking.
The box says this is a 45 minute game, but we have yet to finish in under 90 minutes. There’s just so much to think about, I don’t know how someone could play a full game in under an hour.
Tang Garden is a stunning game that will tickle your green thumbs and awaken your inner gardener. It’s fun, strategic, captivating and I would recommend it to anyone, but especially to those who love Chinese culture, gardening, or tile-placement games. For a beautiful tabletop experience, you can’t go wrong with Tang Garden.
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