The Game: Zen Garden by Queen Games
How Many Players: 2-4
Age Range: 8+
What Type of Game: tile placement
Difficulty/Complexity: low to moderate
Average Length: 35 minutes
You should try it if you like: Patchwork or Kingdomino
What's The Story
In Zen Garden, you are a royal architect commissioned to create a beautiful garden for the Emperor to relax in. The Emperor has a few preferences for the garden (which change each game as they are based on random tiles drawn before the game starts). It is up to you to try to keep in line with the Emperor's preferences and create a better garden than your opponent. And have fun while doing it!
What the Gameplay Feels Like
Each player has their own game mat with a grid for creating their perfect garden. With each round, there is a market of tiles to chose from. Some of the tiles cost 2 gold, some 1 gold, and some are free. At the start of the game, you only have 12 gold to spend, although you can earn more through the strategic placement of your tiles. Once a tile is purchased, you can lay it anywhere you would like, as long as it is adjacent to a tile that is already on the board (the first tile can go anywhere). Each turn you can select one tile. At the end of the round, the market is refilled, with unpurchased tiles sliding down in cost.
Sounds easy enough, but then the various strategies come into play.
Depending on how many players you have and how complicated you wish to have the game be, you can add layers of Emperor preferences. For a simple game, you can leave it at 4 preferences from the Emperor, which is decided by selecting from a special set of tiles. These may include things such as specific decorations, walkway style, or “floors” (which is just the background of the tile). These will have different point values based on which order they were drawn when selecting Emperor preferences.
For more complex games, there are layers of preference boards that add additional possibilities for scoring points. These can include things such as only have a couple of styles of floors on your mat, having your walkways match, or other tile requests from the Emperor.
Once everyone has filled their gardens, you tally up the points and see who impressed the Emperor the most!
What I liked
First of all, this game plays wonderfully with only two players. I always love games that my husband and I can play without having to try to wrangle up a large group.
Additionally, this game is true to its name and is very zen. The artwork is beautiful, the pieces are all very well made and sturdy. You can play as seriously or as relaxed as you would like. It is just fun.
My husband and I also love that you can add or remove challenges at the start based on how hard you want the game to be. Typically we were adding challenges, but it is a nice feature. Having the different layers of complexity helped to create more engaging gameplay for us as we focused on all the varying strategies.
What I didn't like
I do wish that the box had some inserts or bags for holding some of these pieces. There are a lot of parts to this game and the box is just a jumbled mess. I will absolutely be creating my own insert and bags to separate things, but for now, the inside of the box is the opposite of “zen”.