I’ve never had much of a green thumb, or an artistic eye. Luckily, Topiary is a game that lets me excel (or at least try!) in both, letting me line up visitors to the park to see what is hopefully the very best arrangement of the very nicest looking bushes they might have ever seen. It sounds delightful, but the pressure can be beyond be-leaf.
Gameplay is super straight-forward, and you’ll play around until folks run out of visitor pieces. Starting with a completely face-down grid, players just have three tiles in their hand to gauge what they are doing – so, you’re a little in the dark. Like, I’ve never made a nice looking plant in my life, so it feels too real when I’m sweating, wondering how I’ll arrange all these things nicely, not knowing what everyone else will do. Each turn you’ll position a visitor piece facing a row, column or diagonal of tiles, and then you can choose to pick up a face down tile, do some sort of Edward Scissorhands-ing looking at the four you have, and selecting one to place back down.
Early on, of course, there will be plenty of opportunities for other players to uncover and arrange tiles as they see fit, which could mess up your plans. But your visitors are placed and can’t be moved, so you have to strive on tactically. “Over here you’ll see the twisting-topiary garden, uh, well at least a little bit of it.. And, well, doesn’t that very tall whale shaped bush in the back look just lovely, yes yes.” Cross your fingers, because you’re mostly hoping that the visitors you place will just be able to get a nice view, regardless of shape. If you’re able to place a visitor so, looking along your row/column/diagonal, they can see increasingly taller shrubs, you’ve done really well. Even maybe just a 2 height, then a 4 height! Who cares what stubby little 1 height shrub’s beyond? That’s a good 6 points right there.
And of course, even if you only score a few out of a selection of tiles, you may manage to score some bonuses on top of that. As the grid of topiary shapes starts to reveal itself as players take their turns, you might be able to sneak into a row where you’ll score reasonably well with height increases – and manage to get a little extra for every repeated shape of bush you see. Although it can take a while to visualize all the combinations, it can work out nicely for some extra points. As well as that scoring, you’ll also still have three tiles left in your hand at the end of the game – this was something that took my brain a little while to catch up on, but basically just as long as any of your visitor pieces see the same shape of bush, just taller, out on the table, you’ll score points for what’s in your hand. So rotating these as the board state changes can give you a little push. And, as more and more tiles are revealed, although there are increasingly less options for spots to place your visitors, you can sort of sneak in to find something that will give you a decent score later in the game too.
The game itself just consists of tiles and meeples, so there’s not a lot of fancy to it. But the art of all of the topiary shapes is just so charming, and it looks wonderful when everything is laid out at the end of the game. Not to mention the changing detail on each different height of the same bush – a squirrel here, a bird there, makes for some nice little touches on each tile. The Fever Games version of the game I have has regular shaped meeples, but I’ve seen the Renegade Games release and I love what they did to differentiate each player’s pieces not just by colour, but also shape! A nice, inclusive touch. The simplicity and the lovely spatial puzzle of this game will keep me coming back. I keep making sure to warn fellow players that things can get mean. I don’t want to put that 5 height T-Rex shrub right in front of your visitor, but.. Well, I need the points.
And you will too, with the bonus of not having to go to the lengths of scissor hands to impress folks!
Thank you to pal NikolasCo for sharing the Topiary love! Topiary plays 2 – 4 players in about 15 – 30 minutes. Originally released by Fever Games, it’s just come to stores this week in North America through powerhouse Renegade Games. Designed by Danny Devine, art by Danny Devine, Jeff Oglesby.