Garden Nation – Smurf Skyscraper Strategy
Which clan will rise and rule the Garden Nation?
This 2021 release by Bombyx, designed by Rémi and Nathalie Saunier is themed around different exiled clans of very small woodland people (like different clans of Smurfs) joining together to settle a new Garden Nation.
But each clan has an ulterior motive alongside their cooperative rebuilding effort. Every clan wants to be the supreme clan through their various successful miniature building projects.
A little competition will just help the whole garden nation grow, build, and thrive even better, right? Who knew, these Smurfs are capitalists!
The Garden Nation gameboard is made up of seven big curly-star shaped interlocking tiles. Each of these has seven different land type circular spots on it. These big tiles can be in different positions and rotated differently every game for a fresh setup.
Each player receives their tower pieces, game board, and four ploy tokens. Everyone also chooses two secret mission cards (from four options dealt to them).
They’ll set their inhabitants marker on either 35 or 38 depending on player order.
Flip four public ‘common project’ cards onto the objectives board. These are basically architecture-scenario objective cards.
Gameplay in Garden Nation follows the placement of the “Torticrane”, which marks the active territory.
The first player in a round gets one action, while each other player gets two on their turn: build, abandon, or invade. Immediately after an action, the active player may be able to complete a common project. More on that later.
The active player will usually spend at least one action to build a tower layer in their color. Players can only build on an empty spot, or a spot they’ve already built on. Building a floor costs (in inhabitants) the number on the space plus the number of floors already already constructed in that location. Then, the player moves the Torticrane to the larger tile that is directionally represented by the tile they acted on.
Abandoning a Building
The rarely-used ‘abandon a building’ action deconstructs a player’s tower. They may choose to do this to receive back double the number of inhabitants it took to build. This is Smurf-skyscraper-capitalism at its finest, always getting 100% return on inhabitant investments.
This is a way to both regain inhabitants and return tower pieces back into the your supply. Getting inhabitants back is good if you are running low from building expensive tall towers, or because inhabitants count towards a victory point payout (or loss) at the end the game.
Ploy Tokens and Special Actions
Players get four ploy tokens they may use during the game to complete any of the following special actions;
Relocate a roof to make use of a tower again (for common or secret objectives). It can be tricky, though. You must transfer the roof from a tower in the active territory to a roofless tower on the same color land. This ploy does not cost an action.
Play a ploy token to modify which territory tile number is active by +/-1. Since placing tiles is random during setup, this doesn’t necessarily mean an adjacent tile. For instance, if the Torticrane is on tile three, one could choose use a ploy token and instead play on either tile two or four.
This greatly increases flexibility and is a great reason to hold one ploy token until near the end of the game if possible. This ploy does not cost an action.
Invasion is a very expensive option which does count for a main action. One ploy token allows you to conquer an existing tower belonging to an opponent’s clan (in the active Torticrane territory). Remove their tower and pay them in inhabitants from your supply as if they had abandoned it. Replace it with a tower of the same height in your color.
Complete A Common Project
A player can fulfill a common project only if:
- The building they last built on fulfills one of the constraints.
- After completing a common project, the player adds a leaf-shaped roof token on top of the tower where they just built a floor.
Towers with roofs on them cannot be used for completing future common projects and will typically not even allow scoring for secret missions either. This is where that “Roof Transfer” ploy token comes in handy.
After completing a common project and scoring points, the player flips out a new card so that there are always four common projects available.
Interestingly, the active player chooses who will go next when their turn ends.
After all players have taken their turns, assess who controls each of the seven territories. This brings “income” (more inhabitants) to whoever has the most tower floors in each territory tile.
The last player always goes first in the next round, which means three actions in row (two, then one).
End of the Game
The game ends when a player places the last floor from their supply.
Players finish the round and assess inhabitant income one last time. Then it’s time to tally final scores.
First, check the inhabitant count for a positive or negative victory point award.
Then, add points from secret projects.
The player with the highest score wins!
Garden Nation does a great job of combining the simple and complex. Just build one tower layer. Simple and straightforward, right?
Wrong. Many competing priorities tug as you decide exactly where to build your next tower floor.
There is some really good brain tension while constantly weighing, contrasting or blending these five priorities in your mind.
Where you build within the current tile determines what territory tile becomes active next for your second action. This will often guide your first action decision so your second action can take place where you really want to build.
Your second action location can be to minimize what your opponents can do next.
Tower floors can create scenarios that will satisfy your own two secret mission cards for points scoring at the end of the game.
Tower floors help fulfill one of the ‘common project’ objective cards or at least build towards completing one in the future. You must scan these four cards regularly since they refresh often. Build accordingly when you are able.
Having the most floors present in each of the seven territory tiles provides inhabitants. Adding a tower floor might augment your inhabitant-income stream.
Different lands in each territory may have wildly different costs (1-5 inhabitants). Sometimes you’d rather just build as cheap as possible, hoping it will be useful in the future. Sometimes you blend cost considerations with all the other factors.
Garden Nation blends very neat elements. You must balance building toward goals, spatial movement, and sequential, programmatic thinking.
Kids who enjoy these elements in other games will probably like Garden Nation, and they were my favorite aspects as well.
I enjoyed every player count. At two players, I had more control over my own destiny, since turns simply alternate between players. However, the four player experience lets the “next player selection” shine.
It’s not all roses in the garden, though. Some secret missions are much better than others. And the timing for common objectives is governed in part by luck.
The area control element of Garden Nation does not score victory points (as in El Grande, Rialto, etc.), but instead provides small income bumps at the end of each round. I appreciated this interesting twist.
“Order fulfillment” is refreshingly different here. It’s more intriguing than the overdone set-collection type. Instead it’s tied to geographic positioning and structure size.
Add to this (a) the tension of roofs invalidating one’s towers for future projects, (b) players choosing both who goes next and where, and (c) the ability to do expensive tower takeovers (and other ploys), and you have a really compelling, dynamic game.
I didn’t feel the the theme of Garden Nation strongly, but it works. The components and artwork are colorful, intricately beautiful, and high quality, especially the unique 3D tower floor pieces and roofs.
But my final question is…are they as cute as the Smurfs?
Find out yourself by picking up a copy of Garden Nation at Amazon (US) or directly from Bombyx (EU) today!
The Family Gamers received a copy of Garden Nation from Bombyx (via Flat River Games) for this review.
This post contains affiliate links, which do not change your price, but help support The Family Gamers.
Garden Nation – Smurf Skyscraper Strategy
Age Range: 10+
Number of Players: 2-4
Playtime: 60 minutes