Bonsai – Peaceful Potted Potensai

Bonsai game

The ancient discipline of bonsai has long been regarded as an interesting and curious art.

Bonsai challenges our gardening skills, artistic aesthetics and design capabilities, and is indeed a blend of horticultural knowledge and art. Now 1-4 players can try their hand at crafting their own miniature tree in Bonsai from dV Games. A game takes about 45 minutes and is best for players age 8 and up.


Bonsai literally translates to “tray planting”, so each player sets up their tableau by choosing a colored Seishi tile and matching tray with a seed wood tile on it. Put the board for the Zen cards in the middle of the table and deal four Zen cards face up. Depending on player count, you may need to remove certain Zen cards from the deck. Randomly select three Goal colors and lay out the corresponding Goal tiles. Deal starting tiles depending on player order and begin.


On a player’s turn they may Meditate or Cultivate.


When a player chooses to Meditate, they draft one face-up card from the central board. If there is an icon below the card, the player may take those Bonsai tiles as well.

Taking a Zen card from the board
Taking this card allows the player to take a wood tile and a flower tile.

Master cards trigger when a player takes them. The player takes the Bonsai tiles pictured on the card in addition to any tiles on the board in that location.

Helper cards allow players to play Bonsai tiles into their tree, following placement restrictions. These tiles must come from the player’s personal supply but can include tiles the player took on that turn.

Tool cards increase the number of Bonsai tiles a player may have in their personal supply. This starts at five (depicted on the Seishi tile) and increases by two with each Tool. Players overlap these on the left side of Seishi tile.

Tool card and Seishi
Adding a Tool card increases how many bonsai tiles can be held in reserve. Add another Tool to increase capacity again.

Growth cards increase the number of Bonsai tiles a player may play during a Cultivate action. Players overlap these on the rightside of Seishi tile.

Finally, Parchment cards provide end-game bonuses for various conditions, related to the number of specific Bonsai tiles or cards the player has.

Bonsai Zen cards: Master, helper, tool, growth, parchment, deck.
Master, Helper, Tool, Growth, Parchment, and the deck.

Once a player takes a card, slide the cards away from the Zen deck and refill the empty spot next to the deck.


When a player chooses to Cultivate, they place Bonsai tiles from their personal supply into their Bonsai tree. Players may only place Bonsai tiles of the types shown on their Seishi tile and any additional Growth cards. Additionally, players must follow placement restrictions for each tile:

  • Wood tiles must have at least one side touching another wood tile
  • Leaf tiles must have at least one side touching a wood tile
  • Flower tiles must have at least one side touching a leaf tile
  • Fruit tiles cannot be placed next to each other, and two adjacent sides must touch leaf tiles.
Placing two wood tiles, a leaf, and a flower.
This player had 4 tiles in their reserve (fewer than the 5 maximum). Their Seishi and Growth cards allow placement of 2 wood tiles, 1 leaf tile, and 1 additional tile of any type.

Goal Tiles

In addition to cultivating a beautiful bonsai tree for end-of-game scoring, players may work toward Goal Tiles. These Tile sets each represent thresholds. The green Goal Tiles, for example, represent thresholds of five, seven, or nine adjacent leaf tiles in a player’s Bonsai tree.

Bonsai goal tiles

When a player achieves a certain goal threshold, they may immediately take the Tile or pass on it. Players may only take one Goal Tile of a given color, so they may choose to pass to work toward a higher threshold. Once a player passes on a Goal Tile, though, they can never claim it, even if they realize they can’t get a higher threshold tile after all.

Blue Bonsai tray with a few hex tiles forming a small tree
Blue player makes a tree that goes past the edge of their tray and grabs this Goal Tile.

End Game

Revealing the last card in the Zen deck triggers the end game. Everyone gets one last turn.

Then players score their bonsai as follows:

  • Three points per leaf tile
  • One point per side of a flower tile not touching another tile
  • Seven points per fruit tile.

Sum this number with the additional points earned by Goal Tiles and Parchment cards. Whoever has the highest score wins!

Final scoring purple tray bonsai
10 leaves (30 points) + 21 open sides of flowers + 5 fruit (35 points) = 86
+ 28 points from Parchment cards (10 for wood + 8 for flowers + 10 for fruit)
+ 23 from Goal Tiles = 137 total points

Solo Play

Bonsai also has a robust solo mode with four difficulty levels and five solo scenarios. The gameplay remains the same as a two-player game with slight variations to move the Zen deck along.


I wanted to play Bonsai from the moment I saw it online, and even more excited when I pulled it out of the shipping box. It is gorgeous. Artist Davood Moghaddami could do nothing but illustrate bonsai trees for the rest of his life and it would be just fine with me. I loved some of the subtle extra touches as well, like the golden crack in the trays as a nod to the Japanese art of kintsugi. Simply, the art in Bonsai is stellar.

The graphic design is similarly excellent. Nearly every icon in the game stands on its own without additional explanation needed. The arrows on the Helper and Master cards were the only thing that I needed to check the rules about, but even they make perfect sense.

Master and Helper cards
Master lets you take more tiles, while Helper lets you place tiles in your tree.

On the table, I love how the finished trees look as well. Real bonsai trees tend to have a fairly sparse, trimmed look to them and the hexagonal pieces represented it well. Although there is a certain oddly digital look to a tree made of small hexagon tiles, it really worked for me.

Perhaps the thing that clicked best for me with Bonsai is how approachable it is. I’m able to play Bonsai with everyone in the family, from our nine-year-old to Anitra. The game might run a little long at a full four players, but the gameplay is low key, and apart from snagging Goal Tiles or cards before someone else can, there isn’t a lot of player interaction that could frustrate kids.

I’m also a sucker for a game you can learn from. dv Games committed three pages to the back of the rulebook to interesting and fascinating facts about bonsai trees, and I love it.

Bonsai rulebook, picturing real styles of bonsai.

Bonsai is a game where I really don’t care whether I win or lose. I enjoy building a beautiful miniature tree every time. Perhaps more than almost any other game I own, Bonsai helps me enjoy the journey more than the destination.

Try your hand at trimming tiny trees yourself when Bonsai premiers at Gen Con 2023, or order your own copy at the beginning of September.

The Family Gamers received a copy of Bonsai from dV Games for this review.

Bonsai - Peaceful Potted Potensai
  • 10/10
    Art - 10/10
  • 9/10
    Mechanics - 9/10
  • 8/10
    Family Fun - 8/10


Age Range: 8+
Number of Players: 1-4
Playtime: about 40 minutes