Miyabi : Gradually Growing Graded Gardens

Miyabi game
Miyabi game

I don’t like gardening.  I’m rather indoorsy. But I love building a garden in Miyabi, by HABA Games.  I know game reviewers should keep their feelings until the end but, I can’t hold it back.  It’s a great game.

Miyabi, by designer Michael Kiesling of Azul fame, is one of those easy-to-learn but hard-to-master games. Your gardens will have maple trees, pagodas, fish pools, azalea bushes, boxwood trees, and large decorative stones.  But how many of each? And possibly more importantly, how large of a hill will they be on?

MIyabi box lid full of face-down tiles
Shuffle the tiles and let’s play!

Game Play

Each player takes a mat marked with a grid to construct their garden upon.

Put out an assortment of 4 polyomino tiles each round.  A tile has 1-3 objects on it with # of objects matching tile size (i.e. size 1 tile with 1 pagoda, size 2 tile with 2 fish, size 3 tile with 3 rocks, etc.).

tiles: 3-unit lines, 3-unit L shapes, 2-unit lines, and 1-unit squares.
A random selection of tiles for a round with two players.

Players take turns choosing one tile and placing it in their garden.  Tiles score immediately upon placement, equal to the # of objects on the tile multiplied by the height of the layer they’re on (i.e. 3 pagodas on the 2nd layer = 3×2 = 6 points).

But the tile placement constraints get tricky. First, an object must be placed in the row matching its type. Second, the objects pictured on a tile must always be placed in a different column every turn. Use each of the columns only once per round. Third, a tile can only be placed on top of other tiles if every space under the new tile is supported.

Instant bonuses are also awarded to the first player to place a tile on the 5th level for a given object type. These are difficult to earn and easy for competing players to block.

Maple tree bonus tile (10 points) in foreground. Stacked levels of tiles in background.
Five layers of maple trees gets you a 10-point bonus.

The game goes quickly, lasting only four rounds with four players (six rounds for two players). At the end of the last round, final scoring occurs for each object type/row. The player with the most objects showing gets the most points, but a second-place value goes to the player with the second most objects.

Miyabi is very simple, but packed with such depth, both figuratively (layers of decision-making) and literally (layers of soil). I totally dig this game (sorry, couldn’t resist).

Two complete gardens in Miyabi
At the end of a two-player game.

Strategy

There are a lot of strategic angles which all till around in your mind simultaneously.

The basic strategies are obvious. Get bigger tiles with more objects on them, giving both a higher multiplier and a larger base to build on.  Focus on maple trees or pagodas, because they score highest. And always try to build upwards to increase your multiplier.

Miyabi game after first round
After the first round.

But that’s where it gets very challenging. Building up is slower and harder than it would seem! An opponent takes the perfect tile that you planned to use. You would love to grab a certain tile but you’ve already exhausted the column in which it would be best placed. Keep placing single square tiles once per round in the same column to simply keep going upwards? Those tiles only have 1 object on them (x1 multiplier – yuck). Is that worth it?

With two players, you will absolutely find yourself making choices based on watching your opponent. Maybe you’ll procrastinate on tiles you want because you know they can’t even place those tiles on their board now (but maybe they can on their next turn). Or you’ll grab tiles that don’t do much for you, to block them from getting to the fifth level.

All the while, you’re trying to not cover over objects (especially the symbols with 3 objects) so you can win the final scoring bonus for as many rows as possible. With more than two players, these end game bonuses are MUCH more important and you watch opponents less for tile usability and blocking (reaching the 5th layer seems even harder) and instead for getting the lead for these end game scoring.  You need to really specialize in an object/row to get to that 5th level bonus but you certainly can’t specialize so much that you let your opponents win most of the end game bonuses.

And then sometimes you just maximize your multiplied score for a single tile placement without a view to anything else.

placing a square maple tree tile in Miyabi
Sometimes, you take the only placement you can.

Difficulties

There don’t seem to be many problems with Miyabi and those that do exist are minor.

The first player marker is not built symmetrically, so it falls over too easily – a strange miss.  The player mats are thin cardboard but this saves on weight in the box.

When first learning Miyabi, it’s hard to remember that you can’t re-use the same column each turn (mostly because you want to ignore this constraint so badly!).  Our first game, we found ourselves accidentally needing to undo a few turns where we’d accidentally broken this column rule.

The last round or two can introduce a little ‘analysis paralysis’ trying to calculate how you can actually get to the fifth level (if you can at all). You’ll need to consider all the factors and interferences (can’t re-use columns, tiles available, if your opponents can stop you, etc.) to determine whether it’s worth “going for it” or not.  But it’s a quick game (even at four players), so these pauses at critical strategic junctures are really no big deal, just an effect of the decision depth embedded in the game.

The fact that these petty little things are the only negatives I can mention shows how good Miyabi truly is.

fish tiles in Miyabi, stacked four layers high.
Fourth layer in fish row – can you do five?

Conclusion

I think Miyabi will appeal to the vast majority of strategy gamers (both light and heavy) and will be easy to get to the table.

The component artwork is simple, cute, clear, and yet still beautiful enough to fit the garden crafting theme, especially the box cover.

I am curious how much the luck of the tile draw is a factor, especially with 2 players. Right now I am so caught up in maximizing points and doing the best thing for my situation that it’s hard to step back and assess this.

I am a big fan of Azul, and in my mind I can see this game having similar longevity if I see the luck factor remaining relatively low. And with longevity and replayability, this brings me to mention the expansions. There are 5 little mini-expansions included in this game to add even more replay value possibilities.  Wow. I’m not even close to exhausting my interest in the base game for now. Who knew gardening could actually be this fun?

Tiles for bonus points.
Add more variability with meadows, zen tiles, sevens, and frogs.

Find Miyabi on Amazon for around $40, or ask for it at your local game store or toy store.


The Family Gamers received a copy of Miyabi from HABA Games for this review.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.

Miyabi
  • 8/10
    Art - 8/10
  • 9/10
    Mechanics - 9/10
  • 9/10
    Family Fun - 9/10
8.5/10

Summary

Number of Players: 2-4

Age Range: 8+ (we agree)

Playtime: 45 minutes

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