Topiary: Review

The smell of fresh cut grass and well-watered gardens. Large bushes in the shape of Tyrannosaurus Rex. Errr… yep. That’s just a normal day in the life of Fairway: horticultural artist extraordinaire. Or at least, that’s his favorite tiles in the game Topiary by Fever Games and by designer Danny Devine.

Topiary is a two- to four-player tile laying game in which players compete for the best views of a topiary garden. The game plays in about twenty minutes and is pretty easy to learn.

Initial Impressions

  1. The art is adorable, albeit simple. It consists of mostly tiles with grass on one side and a series of topiary plants.  But the topiary creations are all very creative and fun.
  2. The game has a very fun “best view” scoring that uses meeples, their placement, and the height of various topiaries to score points based on how many topiary tiles are visible.
  3. While there is some competition for spots and the potential for some cut throat play (blocking the view of other players), the game feels a bit like a casual stroll through a garden.

How to play

In Topiary, players are competing to score the most points by placing their meeples in the locations with the best views. Players will take turns placing a meeple around the edge of the garden and then planting a topiary sculpture in an open spot in front of that meeple.  The meeples view in straight lines up and down columns or rows or along diagonals through the corners of the tiles. The meeples can only see topiary sculptures that are in ascending order and will score points for all that are visible in that line to them.  Bonus points are earned for matching sets of topiary sculptures in the same line of sight.

At the start of the game, the square topiary tiles are shuffled — for games with less than four, one of the suits of tiles is removed. A garden composed of a five by five grid is set out in the middle of the table. The middle-most tile is revealed.  Each player is then given three tiles and a set of colored meeples. Any unused topiary tiles are set aside and not used.

Then, starting with a first player and proceeding clockwise, each player takes a turn. On your turn, you will first place on of your meeples along the edge of the garden next to one of the tiles either looking straight ahead or along either diagonal. The meeple’s direction matters as whatever tile are straight in front of it form it’s line of sight. While more than one meeple can be on the edge of a single tile (there are at least three directions on most and five on the corners), only one meeple can be in a particular position.

Then, you take an open space (face down grass tile) along the line of sight and add the tile to your hand. Finally, you plant a topiary tile into the open space.

The game continues this way until everyone has placed all of their meeples.  At which point, players score their “views.”  Each view is the sum of the “visible” topiary sculpture. Each sculpture has a suit such as pyramidal, spherical, elephant, t-rex, whale, etc. In addition, each sculpture has a value from one to five representing its height. A view’s score is total of the visible topiaries. A topiary is visible only if it’s in ascending order from the previous topiary. So, for example, a view with 1, 3, 5, 5 and 2 (in that order) would score only the 1, 3 and 5.  In addition, a view will score one point per matching topiary in the same line of sight. Player with the most points wins.

On the green

Topiary is a bit of a gem lost amid a flood of other tile laying games and with only a very limited US release. I snagged one of the last few copies from the designer himself.

The Art.  Love it. It was well-received by everyone that played it and most everyone understood both the aesthetic and the purpose. Those adorable topiary plants serve a particular purpose. Moreover, the topiary plants also changed size along with their height. Well played.

Game play.  The line of sight and “best view” scoring were fun and original. I couldn’t really think of a game to compare it to, but everyone who played it figured it out. The one difficult concept was the diagonal views which were harder to understand for some. Otherwise, the game was a refreshing twist on a few common mechanisms: area control and tile laying.

The game also has a nice competitive, puzzle feel to it. And while there’s definitely some competition for the best views, the game didn’t feel over the top competitive. Some players did actively try to block views or lines of matching topiaries, but it was usually not an effective strategy: if you put a five-height topiary in the way, you’re giving the other player five points. So the competition was present, but not over-powering.

Play, learning, and set up time. The game was both quick to learn, quick to play, and relatively quick to setup and break down. For all of these reasons, it’ll be a nice game to have for friends who don’t play a lot games.

Where it comes up short

Other than the fact that this game has limited release, we didn’t have any real complaints or concerns.

On the green

Topiary is a refreshing take on tile placement games. The soft colors and cute art are nicely paired with gently competitive game that would be great for new gamers and those looking for something different to try. We enjoyed the way the puzzle-like game play made it feel like you should be playing this game on a white table in the middle of a garden sipping hot tea. If you can get your hands on a copy, you absolutely should pick it up.

Topiary is in the hole for a birdie.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Topiary: Review”

  1. I love this game! My wife and I spend most games just straight blocking each other. Usually I start by being obnoxious then she keeps it up. Such a brilliant game, Danny killed it!

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